Weapons systems have been decisive in shaping human social, economic, and political decisions

Saturday, January 22nd, 2022

Throughout history, society’s decisions regarding its weapons systems have been decisive in shaping human social, economic, and political decisions, as Harry J. Hogan explains in his foreword to Carroll Quigley’s Weapons Systems and Political Stability:

Dates Weapons Politics
970–1200 knight and castle feudalism
1200–1520 mercenary men-at-arms and bowmen feudal monarchy
1520–1800 mercenary muskets, pikes, artillery dynastic monarchy
1800–1935 mass army of citizen soldiers democracy
1935– army of specialists managerial bureaucracy


  1. Sam J. says:

    It appears to me off hand to be a straight rip off of James Dale Davidson and Sir William Rees-Mogg set of books.

    I talked about them here. These books influenced my thinking a great deal. They categorize how political entities are shaped by technological material states and is very profound.

    I talked about this here before in a long comment.


    A good review of the books is here,


    It’s particularly noteworthy to notice just how fast feudalism was blown away by the gunpowder revolution. A prime example of technology driving political structures.

    We are right now in a decentralized mode moving towards a more feudalistic power base. The opposite could also happen with deep centralization, depending on robots.

  2. Isegoria says:

    The Great Reckoning is from 1993. Quigley’s book was published posthumously in 1983.

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    That link gives us 1,043 pages to read during the long dark winter nights!

    From a quick scan, Quigley’s analysis is subtle and needs a full reading. It is not clear that Hogan’s foreword captures that. After all, there was great specialization in military forces long before 1935 and the “managerial bureaucracy”. Ancient Greeks, Persians, Romans had charioteers, heavy cavalry, light cavalry, skirmishers, bowmen, infantry, siege engineers, and many more.

    Nor is the link between political structures and weapons systems so obvious. Democratic Ancient Greeks could fight autocratic imperial Persia with both sides having broadly similar weaponry.

    Keeping an open mind about Quigley’s thesis, but it deserves a critical review.

  4. Sam J. says:

    Isegoria says, “The Great Reckoning is from 1993. Quigley’s book was published posthumously in 1983.”

    I stand corrected. I had no idea it was written earlier. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest that Sir Rees-Mogg knew Quigley and talked with him at some length about just such things. So I will now assume that they stole it from Quigley. The topics, the lay out of the ideas and the points it reviews are so similar that it’s hard to believe that they were not lifted wholly from either one or the other.

    I wonder if Quigley knew and approved them writing their books to get the idea out there but to not have his name attached to it. Lots of people became very disturbed at the idea that people don’t make politics, technology does. Very disturbed. If he would have printed this in his lifetime, it could have caused him no end of problems with people protesting these ideas.

  5. Sam J. says:

    In the comments on Amazon:

    Ragdoll Radio, “You learn at least two things: as long as psychopaths rule the world we will have wars and that the only protection against tyranny is an armed populace.”

    I’m going to have to read this. Difficult because my attention span has been shortened by reading so much Internet stuff. My mind wonders on long stuff. I used to really like long books, the longer the better. Now, not as much.

  6. Felix says:

    The idea that predominance of offensive or defensive weapons is a key factor in X is sure interesting. Couple of thoughts, though:

    1) How “key”? I’d put both “population * cooperation” or “tech-level” above off/def in key-ness. But YMMV.

    2) How are “offensiveness” and “defensiveness” measured? Like, for starters, are they measurable only after the fact?

    Let’s consider drones. With drones, a tiny force can defend itself against a huge adversary. Drones clearly swing the power to defense.

    But wait, there’s more: With drones, anyone can attack at a great distance with anonymity. OMG, we’re all gonna die! Drones swing the power to unstoppable offense.

    Hey, there is really no problem figuring out whether drones swing power to offense or defense. Simply wait until one side wins and it’ll be clear. Or, find someone who is skilled at measuring the off/def balance and use their predictions to know the truth.

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