History of Military

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Evolution or Revolution: Did the Chicken or the Egg Come First?

Lynn, John. “The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West, 800-2000,” The International History Review 18, no. 3 (1996): 505-545.

John Lynn in his article “The Evolution of Army Styles in the Modern West” gives an alternative view to conceptualizing the evolution of the armies in the west. Lynn argues that it is institutional factors that are of great importance in understanding the evolution of militaries in the west. Although Lynn does not reject the technological and tactical components in the process of the creation of modern militaries, he does not view these factors as a driving evolutionary force. The author sees the evolution of western militaries as a continuum that is shaped by what Lynn refers to as “paradigmatic states”. Lynn suggests that other states with similar infrastructure imitate the paradigmatic state either converging in military structure and practice or diverging from the paradigmatic army due to the differences in infrastructure, which does not allow the state to adopt the paradigmatic militaries practices. The article divides the western military evolution from CE 800 to 2000 into seven stages with each being defined by its army style. The author is in opposition to the revolutionary view and attempts to describe the western military evolution through the core-periphery dichotomy. Lynn as a military historian makes a useful contribution to the literature, but in this article he does not give sufficient information in regards to the driving force behind the evolutionary process. In this article review I will argue that Lynn’s alternative approach is useful in understanding western armies’ history, but this explanation is only partial. It is not clear whether institutional factors shaped armies or the other way around. Undoubtedly, it is contextual and at certain times institutional forces may have influenced the military structure, but at other times the military organization would have had a great influence on the rest of society. The author undermines the importance of military technological and tactical “revolutions”, without explaining the reasoning behind it. A more productive approach would have been to realize the importance of institutional factors, but to also understand the crucial role of technology and tactics in the transformation of militaries. Lynn’s insistence on evolutionary approach and rejection of the revolutionary aspects of military history simplifies and weakens his argument. A more integrated approach between evolution and at times acceptance of technological revolution would have strengthened the article. Lynn tries to define and categorize the different army styles in the west from CE 800 to 2000 to describe the evolution of armies in the different stages. The transition of western armies happens at three different rates. First, gradual evolutionary change progresses by imitation and limited innovation. Second, a more rapid change occurs when the state is not able to imitate and demands substantial innovation to reform the military system. Lastly, radical structural change occurs when the state infrastructure (social, economic, political and cultural) demands the reconstruction of the military system1. This pattern is what Lynn describes as the driving evolutionary force in the military structures of western armies. The author then goes on to describe the relationship between state infrastructure and the level of imitation. The closer the state is in its infrastructure to the paradigmatic state the easier and more likely it is that “other” states will adopt the military practices of the paradigmatic state, causing a convergence. If the state infrastructure is radically different from the paradigmatic state then these states resort to innovation which could result in a new paradigmatic army to emerge2. Lynn views this process as the core of transformations and change in western militaries. Lynn...
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