Men of Energy

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Turkey remained a succesful military despotism as long as the Sultans remained men of energy:

The principal causes assigned for the decline of the Turkish power were the habit contracted by Suleiman I., towards the end of his days (he died in 1566), of no longer presiding in person at the divan, the promotion of his favourites to the first dignities of the State, the influence of the harem in public affairs, and the immense power and wealth of the grand vizirs.

More than a century after this, however, the Turks threatened all Europe; but they never altogether recovered from the defeats they received, first, from John Sobieski, under the walls of Vienna, in 1683, and thirty-three years later, from Eugene, at Peterwardein. The strength of their position still protected them from total destruction; and in their case the world was enabled to see of what quality are the dregs of a military despotism suffered to run out its full course.

For a time the head of a military despotism must possess some of the qualities, such as courage, hardihood, and sagacity, which raised the first man — of whom he is the representative — to his post. But when conquest has procured wealth and the means of luxury, and time has given a certain degree of stability to the dominion at first conquered and held by valour, unremitted toil, and peril, the head of a military despotism no longer possesses either the qualities of a general or a statesman, of a hardy soldier or a constitutional king. He becomes an effeminate sensualist, who rules his empire and commands his armies through the ministers of his pleasures, and the whole machine of his government becomes one mass of imbecility, rottenness, and corruption.

Thus the strength of the Turks lasted as long as the Sultan was a man of energy, who devoted his time to labour and not to pleasure, and while, as a consequence of this devotion to the duties of his place, he gave all the highest posts under him to the greatest military merit. But even when Montecuculi wrote, this mortal disease had commenced in the Turkish government. After speaking of the valour of the Turkish troops and of the experience and military qualities of their officers, he adds that corruption has already appeared among them: men totally unfit being raised at once to the command of armies. The source of this abuse, he continues, is that the Sultan, plunged in sensuality, and neglecting the observance of the Mahometan laws, never goes to war in person.

The history of Rome under the empire, and the whole history of Asia, exhibit the same result, and demonstrate by unmistakeable signs the goal to which all military monarchies are drifting; though the history of the Turks shows that they may take ages to reach that goal. This explains why the Turks of the present day, though they may be as stalwart men and as good horsemen as the Spahis, who were once so formidable, make so poor a military figure; all their officers above the rank of captain being appointed, not for their military qualities, but for having been “a Pasha’s pipe-bearer or something worse.” The men have no confidence in them; and if they had, their confidence would be much misplaced.

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