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So I was watching a somewhat recent video from the Leftist Youtuber Renegade Cut about why Star Trek has appeal among conservatives. Among other points, he notes that while Star Trek eliminates inequality caused by capitalism, it still has the inequality caused by having a powerful military organization as one of the most important elements of Federation society.

So this leads to a question, how could one build a military with a much weaker hierarchical and more democratic structure?

EDIT: To contradict what I'd originally said, here I'm going to assume an economic system loosely similar to Star Trek in which it is socialist, that individuals get paid regardless of whether they serve in the military or not, which avoids some of the problems suggested below.

I'm also not really suggesting that this is a good idea, but that I think it is potentially interesting.

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    $\begingroup$ Whatever you gain in democracy/anarchy, you will lose in lack/weakness of central command, which leads to overall military weakness. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 12 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ According to Sun Tzu, this should be avoided at all costs. He doesn't have good things to say about a military which isn't wholly under the command of a single general in The Art of War. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Feb 12 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ ... it still has the inequality caused by having a powerful military organization as one of the most important elements of Federation society That doesn't necessarily follow. You are basing your question on a non sequitur. Simply having a powerful military does not, by itself, create nor cause inequality. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 12 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ Simply being heirarchical does not create those problems by themselves. Your ignorance on the rest I won't waste time with, but the basics of those two real life problems are, and were when I was serving, cultural not organizational. It was by using the very tools of that kind of organization - and changes in the laws that were a result of cultural change - that change was implemented (and as far as I can tell, is still being implemented) Remember this fact, Adam: Lt Paula Coughlin brought down three and four star admirals as a result of speaking up. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 12 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ "Anarchist" and "Structure" are mutually exclusive. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Feb 12 at 14:58

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In the real world, this experiment has been disastrous for the Anarchists, such as the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), militias during the Spanish Civil War. The need for speed of action and unity of effort was constantly undercut by the desire of the members to debate every single decision.

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POUM propaganda poster

OF course POUM had the additional issue of fighting not only against the Francoists, but fellow Communist groups which were under the control of the Third International. However, even without that additional complication, POUM simply could not function on the battlefield as a debating society.

The more modern idea of non hierarchical warfare isn't anarchy at all, but various forms of networks, such as the cellular structure of guerilla armies and insurgencies. In this case, the forces may be animated by a central idea or ideology, but each individual cell is largely independent of any other one, preventing the adversary from crippling the entire organization by striking a headquarters or logistics node. This principle has been applied to Revolutionary Warfare theory and now to "4GW" (Fourth Generation Warfare) thinking, which covers more spatial and temporal domains in attempts to ride out military force applied against it and apply pressure against the adversarial leadership and society to convince them their goals are not achievable, or not achievable at a price they are willing to pay.

Wether this is a viable social structure for a society is another issue altogether.

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  • $\begingroup$ A somewhat similar situation arose in Russia when the Communists attempted to create a militia style army with elected officers and traditional military discipline replaced by propaganda and political dedication. The Communists kept getting their asses kicked until Trotsky reformed the Red Army along traditional lines, bringing in experienced Tsarist officers and non-coms to impose structure, discipline, and organization. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 13 at 18:42
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Not Possible for several reasons:

A well-run hierarchy ensures proper stewardship of resources, good morale, and unity of effort.

A lack of hierarchy (or a poorly-run hierarchy) is likely to result in squandered or stolen resources, low morale (and consequent desertions), uncoordinated (and less-effective or wasted) efforts, and ultimately loss of the war effort to an otherwise-inferior foe.

First, Von Clausewitz identified that war is, essentially, an extension of politics. For a war effort to lack hierarchy, your politics must also lack hierarchy...but that turns into a big problem: The most respected political authority might be the local dog-catcher, but does that person have enough influence over the rest of society to provide the political leadership needed to win a war? And the political tools to wield their power wisely? Doubtful.

Second is simply the fact that war is phenomenally expensive. Wealth is a tool that can overcome strategic obstacles -- like hiring ships to project power overseas, or buying tanks to cut through stalemated trenches. A hierarchy is needed to raise the funds, to order the ships and tanks, to train the skilled staff needed to buy the right kinds of ships and tanks (or warp-powered starships), and to operate that equipment to best use toward the war effort.

Finally, a hierarchy is needed to define who is in charge of what, who is responsible for what, how much latitude each of those leaders has, and who takes charge when a key leader is unavailable. And it does so quickly, without the need to do much negotiating. Let's take Port Operations for an example: A hierarchy is needed to standardize (and promulgate the standards) for who is in charge of loading/unloading the trucks and trains and ships, who pays for the labor to do the unloading and marshaling and re-configuring and final loading, who plans the overall activities, who supervises execution of that plan, who provides security and how much, and who fixes the equipment that invariably breaks down. The hierarchy also (importantly) decides on the latitude of disciplinary or corrective actions that supervisors have available to use on folks who aren't doing their job.

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  • $\begingroup$ The most important feature of a functional military hierarchy is not only that everyone knows who is in what position, they know who will take over if something happens to the person on charge without it needing debate or decision. Consider what would happen on a ship if the captain is killed and the ship damaged and taking on water. There isn't time to have a debate over who should be issuing orders, nor whether or not those orders should be followed. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 13 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison good point. Edited. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Feb 13 at 18:50
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Ad hoc militia.

The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people. - James Madison.

In your scenario where people fear standing armies, your central government owns the machinery and weapons of war. The soldiers, however, are part time volunteers; militia who take time from their civilian jobs to train and practice together, and who come together when there is a need for a fighting force. In the US this is how the National Guard works. The force needed is assembled in an ad hoc manner, according to need.

As opposed to professional military men whose raison d'être is to fight, these citizen soldiers have regular jobs to go back to. They do not have an insular military culture. They are less likely to be used as weapons against the citizenry because they are the citizenry.

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  • $\begingroup$ Isnt there is still a structure though? The local lord or there would still be generals. Some soldiers may stay in the army and a structure would form naturally from there wouldn't it? $\endgroup$ – neo flare Feb 12 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ @neoflare - Stay in what army? If you have a volunteer fire department and after the fire is out someone decides he wants to be a full time fire fighter, how will he make a living? No-one is going to pay him to stand around with a hose in his hand. Same with the militia. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 12 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ @WIlk not really a good example with fire fighters. Normally when people were called to arms to defend their nation there were still lords/ generals who would lead these people but also had a personal army. These people could ask to stay in said army. $\endgroup$ – neo flare Feb 12 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ This would be an interesting answer until one takes into account how levees were the least useful of troops in the ages of kings, and how the militia (untrained) ran in the face of Hessian bayonets when the British landed in New York. (Washington's first battles were quite frustrating for him, since he'd enough experience to know how a trained military was supposed to fight). (the best part is your last two sentences, IMO) $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 12 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ Efficiency is not one of the selling points of anarchy. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 12 at 3:19
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STOCK This may not be as democratic as you want but in companies the more stock you have the more voting power in the company you have. If the world is a mega corporation the company's miltary and tactics could be bought per-say. Example the miltary is a sub company or a branch and its stock is sold. The people with the most stock has the power.

Purely democratic way Well you could have a system where there is hierarchy but promotions are based off of your squads opinion/ forces opinions. The general is elected due to him being liked by most of the military and the way to get promoted is to essentially be a well liked politician.

Mercenaries Pretty self explanatory Mercs Have whatever structure they want and who ever hires them doesn't care as long the job gets done. In this system there would be chaos as multiple groups hired by the same people may fight each other for whatever reason. The people hiring have no real control.

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the thing about a lack of hierarchy is that the moment two people disagree about what to do, your army grinds to a halt.

"Okay the enemy is coming, let's ambush and flank them."

"No let's concentrate at the top of the hill and turtle this battle out."

"Flank"

"Turtle"

"Flank"

"Screw you I'm outta this"

With a hierarchy, the same situation as above would result in the following dialogue:

"Hostile forces are inbound. Prepare to ambush and flank them."

"Yes sir!"

The only way armies without hierarchy work is if you have cells of volunteers doing guerrilla warfare. Those guys will need some motivation other than a proper military career, something leaning more towards "die for your country". They will either be defending their home land from invasion or doing terrorist attacks. The former may sometimes lead a conflict to a war of attrition and may make things harder for the attacking side. The latter does not win wars.

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Insect swarms do this pretty well, being able to carry out highly coordinate operations without any hierarchy. It may require members of your society to be more like social insects than current humans, but this is Sci-Fi and anything goes.

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This is pretty much how medieval armies worked

When a medieval (by which I mean the typical feudal European) nation went to war, the king would call on his vassals to fulfill their military obligations. This typically involved showing up with some number of soldiers (depending on the exact details of the vassal agreement, as well as how invested the vassal is in the conflict) and then following the Marshall (this may be the King, or whomever the King decides to appoint in his stead) around as they all did army things.

There was a hierarchy, but it was about as clear as in civilian life. Ie, not particularly, once you got close in rank. The only clear heirarchy was as follows:

The King > The Marshall > The Vassal Commanders > The Troops

Within these groups was a lot of jockeying for position, and a fair bit of blurring happened at the borders as people's social rank started interfering. Such examples included:

The lord of some backwater province (who thus can't afford the latest equipment) vs an unlanded knight within another lords household. Technically, the landed lord had superiority, but if the unlanded knight's liege was particularly wealthy and prestigious, he could get away with a lot more than his apparent social position.

The wealthy landowner vs any poor noble. At this point the differences are almost impossible to tell just by looking at them, so whislt the noble is technically of a higher rank, if the commoner acquits himself well he could have far more clout than expected.

The Marshall vs the King's favoured lords. Typically, the Marshall is also a favourite, but if he isn't, or just if he doesn't get on with them, the King's favourites could use their personal connection to form their own factions within the army and do their own thing.

A commanding lord vs a designated stand-in. For one reason or another, a lord may not attend the army personally (health, prior commitments, just not caring enough) and so will send a stand in, such as a son or trusted Captain. As this individual will be acting under borrowed power much of the time, they will naturally be in a weaker position compared to a Lord who attended personally.

One commander vs another. The man who brought more soldiers with him on campaign typically took higher precedence as well. This typically meant the richer lords had another fact in their favour, but a local, poor lord could probably scrape together more soldiers than a rich one on the other side of the kingdom could be bothered to send, which muddied the waters yet further.

Thus compared to a structured, professional army, the ranks of the people in charge are much less clear and can shift depending on providence, favour and power. The Marshall may have to offer concessions to powerful factions within the army to entice them to support his plans, and a particularly poor showing on his behalf combined with a united opposition could see him stripped of his title by the King.

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If a society placed a very high value on both independence and community, then you could conceivably get this kind of weakly hierarchical military.

The commitment to the community above themselves means they would be willing to fight, and the strong independence would likely result in small independent units.

Issac Asimov's Foundation Series had a period of time under the ‘Merchant Princes’ were small independent traders effectively went to war with remnants of the Empire. And in the Probability Broach, by L. Neil Smith, the author explores a libertarian army in the USA invading Nazi Germany, all the while maintaining a near anarchical military force in ways that only the most committed Libertarian could imagine.

In both these stories, the military forces were voluntarily associated and self-funded. They fought because they thought it was right, and they fought together to increase their chances of prevailing.

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  • $\begingroup$ @JRE, yes, you are absolutely correct. Fixed my misattribution $\endgroup$ – EDL Feb 12 at 17:16
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Possibly the best examples I can find of anarchist military would be some of the Indian tribes in the west of the USA. They had many different social structures and many of them had very weak forms of government compared to European societies.

Participation in war was largely voluntary, and warriors were largely self directed in battle.

Such anarchist warriors were often quite effective in raiding other societies, especially raiding civilian sources of loot, but tended to usually be defeated more or less badly by disciplined armies of European cultures.

The best performance of such anarchist warriors was probably in the Modoc War of 1872-73 and in the Nez Perce War of 1877.

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Athenian Military Structure

While ancient Athens wasn't anarchist, its military organisation definitely offers some insight into a more democratic military. The Athenians would elect ten generals each year. If the assembly decided to launch military expedition, the generals and the Athenians would debate about who would be in command of the expedition. Once the general had been sent, he would run the expedition like a normal general and decide how to do things. He would however usually have to stay in line with the will of the assembly.

If the gerneral did something outrageous or upset the people he could be accused and would be juged. A general could be sued once every month. Don't think that this was an empty threat. Both Cimon and Pericles, two great and successful generals and leaders, where exiled after their performance had dissatisfied the Athenians.

TLDR: The Athenians where successful in electing their generals each year and in giving them absolute command for a spicific mission. However they could usually be sued if they performed badly/inappropriately.

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