The Man on Horseback
The Role of the Military in Politics
The role of the military in a society raises a number of issues: How much separation should there be between a civil government and its army? Should the military be totally subordinate to the polity? Or should the armed forces be allowed autonomy in order to provide national security? Recently, the dangers of military dictatorships-as have existed in countries like Panama, Chile, and Argentina-have become evident. However, developing countries often lack the administrative ability and societal unity to keep the state functioning in an orderly and economically feasible manner without military intervention.
Societies, of course, have dealt with the realities of these problems throughout their histories, and the action they have taken at any particular point in time has depended on numerous factors. In the "first world" of democratic countries, the civil-military relationship has been thoroughly integrated, and indeed by most modern standards this is seen as essential. However, several influential Western thinkers have developed theories arguing for the separation of the military from any political or social role. Samuel Huntington, emphasized that professionalism would presuppose that the military should intervene as little as possible in the political sphere. Samuel E. Finer, in contrast, emphasizes that a government can be efficient enough way to keep the civil-military relationship in check, ensuring that the need for intervention by the armed forces in society would be minimal. At the time of the book's original publication, perhaps as a consequence of a post-World War II Cold War atmosphere, this was by no means a universally accepted position. Some considered the military to be a legitimate threat to a free society. Today's post-Cold War environment is an appropriate time to reconsider Finer's classic argument.
The Man on Horseback continues to be an important contribution to the study of the military's role in the realm of politics, and will be of interest to students of political science, government, and the military.
“The Man on Horseback is ‘old school’ in ‘new clothes.’ In the current era of renewed interest in civil-military relations, it is important to revisit previous work on this important topic. Finer’s thesis is dynamic and raises a much needed ruckus in the civil-military debate….Indeed, the interdisciplinary nature and comparative features of The Man on Horseback makes it especially exciting and timely.”
– Morten G. Ender, United States Military Academy
“Stanley’s masterful introduction paints a lively portrait of Finer’s life and work and instructs us all on the increasing relevance of Finer’s arguments. It will shake the complacency of those who do not know or cannot say when, why, and how militaries intervene in the politics of countries they are supposed to defend.”
– James Burke, Texas A&M University