The Professional Soldier

Jeremy Hubble
February 8, 1997
Synopsis I

In defining the "professional" soldier, one has first to provide the context in which the word "professional" is used. While, in some usages, professional denotes a ‘career’ or lifelong occupation, the term professional here will be used for a much more concise meaning. The precise definition is what we use when we refer to Doctors and Lawyers as professionals. Artisans, line-workers, and even enlisted men may perform important functions in society, but they lack the true professionalism that will be used here when referring to the professional soldier. This sense of professional is that which demands respect.

Three main characteristics are used to define professionalism are expertise, responsibility, and corporateness. All professionals must have expertise in their field that sets them apart from common people. A doctor must go through years of school and residency in order to learn the details of the human body and the methods for treating illness. Even after completing this training, he still has to pass examinations that certify his competency in the field. Likewise, the professional soldier goes through a general and technical education in order to become a professional military leader.

A professional man is also responsible to society. Instead of being set purely by the market forces, his salary is often regulated by professional customs and law. If the professional chooses to act in opposition to society, he ceases to be professional. Only by improving society can he accomplish his goals.

Corporateness is the final key aspect of professionalism. Members of a professional body are unified together. Their extensive training allows them to share common interests. Furthermore, the organization of this unified body allows them to be separated from commonmen. Furthermore they can assure that all can use their professional competence only in ways to which it is suited.

The professional military officer is skilled in the management of violence. This is the primary skill which sets him apart from the common man. In carrying out his ability in this skill, he is not working solely for the monetary gain. He is not a mercenary, but is instead a loyal member of society. His motivation stems primarily from a love of the military craft and a desire to so utilize it for the benefit of society. A complex systems of rules and regulations are followed by the officer in carrying out his duty. His ‘clientele’ is not any individual, but the collective state.

The professional soldier is set apart from other members of society. In order to enter into the profession, he must undergo a great deal of training and education. An officers commission is only offered after a soldier has proved himself competent in the art of violence management. As a group, officers tend to be more isolated from society than other professional men. Their uniforms and associations tend to set them apart from common man. Furthermore, he is greatly separated from the enlisted man. The enlisted man’s focus is the application of violence, while the officer is concerned with the management of violence. The strong line drawn between the two emphasis the nature of one as a profession, while the other is a mere trade that requires a much less extensive training and education.


The military profession has only recently come in to existence. Like other professions, the profession of soldierhood is a product of the modern age, and cannot be found in the past. Prior to the 1600s, military officers were primarily mercenaries. They’re success was measuredsolely by success on the battlefield. Thus, they were in constant competition with each other, and lacked any form of corporateness. They were in the profession for the money. They may or may not be highly skilled. They were primarily individuals, trying to obtain personal gain and shared no common standards.

Following the Thirty-Years War of the early 1600s, the officer corps switched from mercenary to aristocratic. In an attempt to consolidate their power, Kings appointed nobles to leadership positions in the military. Often, this nobles had little or no formal military training. They were in the military leadership do to their position in society. Formal education and training were not required for they conflicted with the "aristocratic belief that the only requirements for command were the inborn talents of courage and honor." (Huntington, p. 24) Many officers viewed their commission as a pastime or hobby. There was no body of professional knowledge. While other professions at the time were growing, the military profession had yet to take form. Not until the 19th century did the true professional soldier begin to emerge.

The nonprofessional nature of the 18th century military leadership was clearly evident. "It had no unity, no focus, no theory, and no system. It accurately reflected the primitive state of military technique and the absence of professional institutions." (Huntington, p. 28) Most military writing of this time period was marked by a similar view of the military as unprofessional. The only notable exception was Henry Lloyd who argued that the art of war was governed by fixed principles, the application of which could be varied. However, most of his contemporaries did not share his beliefs, and instead glorified the "born general." Even Lloyd himself held that "no rule, no study, or application, however assiduous, no experience, however long, can teach this part; it is the effect of genius alone." (Huntington, p. 30)

In this environment that stressed the inherent nature of military leadership, it must have come as a great surprise when Prussia proclaimed a decree concerning the meritorious. appointment of officers. On August 6, 1808, Prussia essentially gave birth to the modern professional soldier. Their initial decree concerning the appointment of officers stated: "The only title to an officer’s commission shall be, in the time of peace, education and professional knowledge; in the time of war, distinguished valor and perception. From the entire nation, therefore, all individuals who possess these qualities are eligible for the highest military posts. All previously existing class preference in the military establishment is abolished, and every man, without regard to his origins, has equal duties and equal rights." (Huntington, p. 30-31)

In one fatal blow, Prussia eliminated the aristocratic military (at least on paper), and instituted the first professional military. As time would progress, other countries, such as France and Britain would also proceed to eliminate the aristocratic qualifications for leadership. Prussia however, would still be ahead of them in the development of professionalism. Their peculiar situation and need for a strong military led Prussia to help maximize the quality of their armed forces. Not only did they remove the ‘aristocratic requirements’, but they were also the first to instigate comprehensive education requirements and opportunities for their military officers.

By the 19th century a movement towards a professional military was inevitable. The industrial revolution and the rise of urban culture had contributed to increased specialization and increased reliance on technology. No longer could a man simply pick up a sword and fight. Now, there were many different weapons, and many different units to control. A military leader, thus had to have knowledge of effective leadership involving all the various units which to him were available. The complexities of the system made it infeasible for effective leadership to be carried out by a "part-time" leader. The functions of a military leader were also distinct fromthose of a diplomat, and it became impossible for one to obtain the degree of excellence necessary to effectively carry out both responsibilities.

Furthermore, by the 18th century, the resources were available to support the professional soldier. The rise of the nation state placed a direct need on a professional soldier. An inferior military would pose a direct threat to the national security of a country. By installing competent, well trained military leaders, a state could more surely defend itself from its enemies. Thus it comes as no surprise that Prussia, with its very insecure borders, was the first to professionalize its army. (Furthermore, no ‘natural’ leader had emerged in Prussia. Thus it became a necessity to train the average man to assume the responsibility of leading the military.) Furthermore, since the ‘modern’ nation-states of the day had a single, constant leadership, the military was able to achieve professionalism. (When their remains competition for leadership of a country, military professionalism is nearly impossible.)

The institutions of a professional military are not aligned with any particular political ideology. In the democratic United States, the evolving professional military was seen as aristocratic. In aristocratic Europe, it was seen as democratic. Both sides failed to see that they were witnessing the emergence of a non-political body. Instead, they were seeing the emergence of the military ideal. In the pre-professional army, the enlisted men tended to be the only bearers of the military "ideal". However, due to their nature as enlisted people, they were for the most part ignored. However, with the rise of a professional leadership, the "military" was plainly visible to all. Now the officers had become the most "military" members of the armed forces.

Huntington describes three main steps for the emergence of professionalism in the military:

1) the elimination of aristocratic prerequisites for entry

2) the requiring of a basic level of professional training and competence

3) the requiring of a minimum general education and the provision of this education in institutions not operated by the military (Huntington, p. 39)

Prussia had initiated the abolition of aristocratic requirement in 1808. By 1848 they had moved on to make a clear distinction between the general education and technical education requirements for officers. Now in order to enter officer school, candidates must first complete their primary education in standard school.

France also began to implement a professional school. However, France held a requirement that a certain percentage of all officer come by way of elevation from the ranks of the enlisted men. "The ‘privates with stripes’ promoted from the ranks were frequently unaware of the difference in the responsibility and duties between the commissioned and noncommissioned officer, and the contributed little to the intellectual level of the officer corps. Those officers who entered from the military schools possessed in contrast both a good general and a good technical education." (Huntington, p. 42)

The British were the last of the major West European powers to professionalize their army. Previously they had required the purchase of officer ranks. Coupled with the impossibility of living on the small officer salary, an outside income became a must. Thus, the officers almost invariably came from the ranks of the well-to-do nobility. The British were reluctant to change this procedure (for it apparent created harmony among the political and military leadership, for they would both represent the same moneyed interests.) However, by 1903, the British navy was finally reformed to include the stipulations for the general education of the leadership.

Prussia however, was far ahead of its counterparts in the organization of professionalmilitary. In the early 1800s, they had organized the first true professional military staff. Furthermore they were among the first to start a military of common men rather than natural geniuses. "Probably the most revolutionary aspect of the Prussian system was its assumption that genius was superfluous, and even dangerous, and that reliance must be placed upon average men succeeding by superior education, organization, and experience." (Huntington, p. 51) Thus, the individual soldier was subservient to the collective will of the body as a whole.

Karl von Clausewitz theorized the dual nature of war. "War is at one and the same time an autonomous science with its own method and goals and yet a subordinate science in that its ultimate purpose comes from outside itself." This marks an endeavor that demands a true professional. The military leader is engaging in the "true science" of warfare. However, at the same time, he is subordinate to the needs of the state. He is thus providing a professional service to the state, utilizing his expertise to manage violence to protect the state.

The Military Mind

When thinking of the military mind, characteristics of bellicosity and authoritarianism are most often brought forth (Huntington, p. 60). This definition, however, misses some of the key characteristics of a military man. A true professional solder subscribes to a ‘universal’ military ethic. This professional ethic is the same regardless of the national or personal associations of the individual military man.

The military man is essentially Hobbesian in his view of mankind. Like Hobbes, the professional soldier views man as inherently selfish and evil. "The military ethic views conflict as a universal pattern throughout nature and sees violence rooted in the permanent biological and psychological nature of men." The military man owes his very existence to the conflicting natureof men. Were all men inherently good, there would be no nature for military. Furthermore, success in the warfare depends on the organization of groups. One man cannot win a war. The military must be made up of a group of people. Accordingly, corporateness is crucial for the military man. Only in groups can man realize his true power. Furthermore, man must learn by experience. This experience can come either personally, or through the annals of history.

The military man also owes his livelihood to the many conflicting nation states. War is always caused by the political means of the country. Due to the nature of human beings, war, however, is inevitable. The military man, however, must be prepared for any such conflict. He sees any increase in the power of a another nation state (no matter how close its ties) as a threat to his states security. Thus, the military man is driven towards the increasing and strengthening of his military forces. Alliances and territorial expansion must be carried out in such a way to provide benefits that exceed the burdens placed on increased jurisdictional needs.

The military man does not desire to engage in war for war’s sake. He may engage in a "preventive war" in order to safeguard national security. "He always favors preparedness, but he never feels prepared... He is afraid of war. He wants to prepare for war[,] [but] he is never ready to a fight a war." (Huntington p. 69) The professional military mind only goes to war when so ordered by the civilians. It is impossible for a man of today to be simultaneously well-versed in both the military and political roles. Thus, the military depends on the state for ‘direction’. The military, however, is neutral. The political orders of the nation supersede the military ideals held by the officer.

The military thus exists to serve the state. He must carry out the orders of the his political leaders no matter how militarily unsound they are. A soldier who ceases to be loyal and obedient ceases to be a professional. The soldier "is judged not by the policies he implements, but ratherby the promptness and efficiency with which he carries them out." (Huntington, p. 73) If the military man feels a requested operation will prove to be disastrous, his responsibility is to inform is civilian superiors. If they still demand that he carry out the course of action, he is bound to so do, no matter how ridiculous it may scene. However, when the course of action conflicts with the law of the land, the officer has the duty to appeal the order to the appellate body of his country. Some instance, however, involve situations which are strictly military. If a civilian leader attempts to mandate details of a military operation, the soldier can rightfully object. The civilian can tell the officer what to get done, but shouldn’t mandate the strictly military details of how to do it.

Revolutionary Soldier

While the professional soldier is subordinate to the political desires of the state, the revolutionary soldier takes it upon himself to control the politics of the state. The professional soldier is often found in advanced, well organized states. "Officers in poorly institutionalized politics, on the other hand, need not be restrained by rebuffs of civilian leaders. When they are convinced that military rule would be far more salutary for society than civilian government, they can seek to exercise their authority over the entire political process, rather than limiting themselves to a single (though significant) aspect of policy making." (Perlmutter & Bennet, p. 3) Today, these ‘poorly institutionalized states’ are primarily those of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and some of Eastern Europe. The revolutionary soldier can be of two different types. The praetorian is a soldier who has escaped the bounds of control of the political system. The professional revolutionary soldier, however, is "an independent and coequal part of the government." (Perlmutter, p. 4). Military revolutions need to include the development of theprofessional revolutionary soldier in order to have continued success and stability.

In some cases the state attempts to mandate its interest by filling the military ranks with like-minded revolutionary soldiers. The Russian army was an example of an attempt by the state to gain control of the army. Many of the professional soldiers had viewpoints differing from the Bolsheviks. Thus, the party systematically recruited soldiers that would share in their revolutionary views. To further their interests even more, they installed political officers in the military ranks. Thus they essentially combined the army and politics to further their revolution.

In contemporary praetorian states, the military moves in when they government becomes ineffective. Praetorianism is defined as "a situation where the military class of a given society exercises independent power by virtue of an actual or threatened use of force" (Perlmutter, p. 9) This most frequently occurs in the case of developing countries. When the ruling regime fails to achieve its goals, or problems occur in the country, the poor institutional structure allows the military to easily step in and help restore unification and order. Actions of praetorian armies can be either "ruler" armies which have a political organization and assume the leadership of the country, or "arbitrator" armies which have a common ideology, but no organizational structure. In early Latin America, the military would often intervene as the arbitrator to restore order in society. However, recently, the military has switched to the "ruler" mode and taken over the leadership of the society.

Praetorian soldiers further differ from professional soldiers in that political ambition takes on a more important role. A professional soldier’s role is determined by his seniority and rank. However, the ruling revolutionary soldier will often not be the one with the highest rank. Instead, he will be the one who is most politically ambitious. He will be the one that seeks after a military coup in order to assume power for himself and his regime. While a professionalsoldier is subordinate to the state, the revolutionary tries to make the state subordinate to himself.

The praetorian regimes also have tendencies to make changes in the political organization of a state. The military generally rises to power because it is the most cohesive and best organized institution in the country. Once in power, the military generally tends to remove legislative, electoral, and judicial branches of government. Instead, it begins to emphasize the executive and a single political party. However, the ability of the praetorian to maintain sustained leadership is limited. "After a decade, their ideological motivations has dissipated and their political organization survived, merely because they are the best organized interest group in weak societies... In the final analysis, military regimes are authoritarian and therefore incapable of efficient mass mobilization and sustained political institutionalization." (Perlmutter, p. 20)

The second type of revolutionary soldier is the professional revolutionary. He differs from the professional and praetorian soldier in that "he will not defend the principle of exclusivity... He is anticorporate or noncorporate." (Perlmutter, p.12) Professional revolutionary soldiers come from all backgrounds. Unlike professional soldiers who arrive from a dedicated military background to serve their military purpose, the professional revolutionary arises from all classes of people. His military activity is directly tied to the revolutionary movement of his state. The professional revolutionary soldier is more ideological than either of the other types of soldiers. He is dedicated to the mass military operations necessary to secure the desired revolutionary outcome. The professional revolutionary military is dedicated to the regime and a generally large-scale public movement. He is untainted by the corporatism of the professional soldier.

Civil-Military Relations explained

The civil-Military relationships can be described using two basic models: Subjective Control and Objective Control. When the military is said to be under subjective control, it is subordinate to the desires of the state in all activities. A Military under subjective control would find the government interfering in its everyday decision making, and utilizing this influence to control the affairs of the military and the country as a whole. Under objective control, the military is allowed autonomy in its decision making process. The civilian government may still oversee the military, however, it will not interfere with the day to day decision making procedures of the military, and remains a separate entity.

Obtain pure subjective control by all civilians is an impossibility. Thus subjective control often implies that a single group influence the military to so adhere to its desires. "In its various historical manifestations, subjective civilian control has been identified with the maximization of the power of particular government institutions, particular social classes, and particular constitutional forms." (Huntington, p. 81) Subjective control by government institutions of the past often involved conflicts between parliament (claiming "civilian control") and the monarch (who, incidentally was also a civilian.) Today similar conflicts can be seen in the battles between congress and the executive for control of the army. In both cases different groups of civilians are fighting for their own control, claiming to be closes to the people. The military has also been used as another fighting ground for past class struggles. Others have viewed certain institutions, such as democracy the best suited for civilian control of the military. However, in this as with all other cases, civilian control had not been accurately defined.

Objective control is advantageous because it invites the maximum level of military professionalism. "[Objective control] is that distribution of political power between military and civilian groups which is most conducive to the emergence of professional attitudes and behavioramong the members of the officer corps." (Huntington, p. 83) It is thus directly opposed to subjective civilian control. Objective control allows the state to achieve its maximum military potential, thus becoming a tool of the state. In objective control, the military refrains from participation in politics (whereas in subjective control, military and politics are inherently intertwined.) The military seeks to maximize their objective control, whereas power-monging civilian groups seek to maximize subjective control. Instead of serving one civilian group as would happen in subjective control, the objectively controlled military stands ready to serve whatever body legitimately comes to power in the state. Thus only a professional military can be under objective control.

The ideology of a state, the power of the military and the military’s professionalism help to determine the civil-military relationships. Most common ideologies, with the exception of conservatism are antimilitary. Liberalism glorifies individualism, fascism intuition, and Marxism the inherent goodness of men. Military political power can also differ in being either high or low, depending on the state of affairs in the country. Finally military professionalism is often sacrificed in order for the military to maintain its power in non-compliant states. States with few major threats are likely to have high professionalism and low military political power (with or without a pro-military ideology.) A nation with continued security threats and an ideology sympathetic to the military, (such as Prussia and Germany in the late 19th century) is likely to have this makeup. Nonprofessional militaries are often found in nations with anti-military ideologies. A powerful nonprofessional military may occur in developing nations that have not yet fully developed military professionalism or in nations facing sudden increase in conflict. A weak nonprofessional army is often found in totalitarian regimes that assume absolute power, such as Nazi Germany.

Civil-military relations in Praetorian regimes differ in that the military assumes a major rule in the leadership of the country. There are four basic models of praetorian regimes: predatory, reformist, radical, and guardian. Each of these roles presents a different type of relationship between the civilians and the military.

In a predatory regime, the upper class maximizes its power through military intervention. Thus the upper classes succeed in gaining complete control over the lower classes through using the military to further their interests that weren’t concluded by standard means. Commonly the upper classes are represented by the elite landowners, while the lower classes are represented by the poor agrarian farmers.

While predatory regimes are often dominated by the influences of the upper class, a reformist regime is usually dominated by the middle class. They seek reforms for the betterment of their class, and thus call the military in to the political arena. Cromwell’s revolution and the in England may be considered a loose example of the reformist intervention. Here the middle classes used the military to obtain concessions from the ruling body, and eventually took control of the country themselves to further their reforms.

Radical regimes are generally brought in to power through the bonding of the lower classes with the military. An example of this may by in Peron’s initial regime Argentina. Through a series of military coups, the government was replaced. Eventually, Peron through his bonding with the peasants was able to assume command of both the military and the support of the peasants thus discouraging other office-seekers from interfering with his organization. The regime, however, had little influence in the political progression of the country, however. This is often characteristic of radical regimes. Military officers enter en masse to the political arena. However, in there, they fail to make many decisive political decisions.

Guardian regimes are the final of the four types of military regimes. A guardian regime is highly nationalistic in attitudes and outlook. It proposes to protect the nation from all enemies that might provoke. These enemies may be dissidents or anyone within the country that the regime sees offensive. They may also be outside forces, such as other nations that the regime finds offensive in some way or another. Thus, by its nature, the guardian regime tends to be quite oppressive and aggressive.

In each of these forms of praetorian regime, the military seeks a closer bind with a certain group or class of people to further its goals. By nature of Praetorianism, the soldiers lack the professionalism that would be present in a true objectively controlled military. Thus, military strength begins to weaken in a praetorian regime. Due to the complexities of today’s society, a man may be a great soldier, or a great politician, but not both.


The development of the professional soldier is a relatively new phenomenon, only gaining prominence in the last century. The professional soldier is marked by his expertise, responsibility, and corporateness. He must undergo a great deal of training to be able to master the skill of the management of violence. A professional soldier will remain in the field of military affairs, while allowing the statesman to run the political affairs. He seeks for a degree of autonomy and objective control. Praetorian and professional revolutionary soldiers are marked by a lack of key characteristics that make up a professional soldier (such as expertise, corporateness, or confinement to area of expertise), thus they are not true professionals. While a doctor serves his patients, and a lawyer his clients, the professional soldier has the high calling of selfless service to his state.


Perlmutter, Amos & Bennett, Valerie Plave. The Political Influences of the Military: A Comparative Reader. New Haven, CT: Yale. 1980

Huntington, Samual P. Soldier and the State. Cambridge, MA: Balknap/Harvard. 1957