First Principles

The Perils of Praetorianism

Do we really want to normalize the view that the military is the protector of republican government?

From the time of Augustus Caesar until Constantine, the Roman emperor was protected by a corps of soldiers known as the Praetorian Guard. Over time, the Praetorians became the real power in Rome, appointing and deposing emperors at will.

In our time, praetorianism has come to mean despotic military rule, something associated with countries in which the army is the real power behind the government. Praetorianism would seem to be incompatible with republican government, although the attempted coup against President Charles de Gaulle in 1961 arose from a praetorian bent on the part of the French officers who sought to depose him over of his intention to grant independence to Algeria.

It is troubling to note that when it comes to President Trump, many people who purport to be defenders of healthy U.S. civil-military relations have adopted what can only be called a praetorian view. The most recent examples have come in the wake of his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria against the advice of the military or “without consulting the Pentagon.” I happen to believe the decision was a bad one but the idea that the president is always obligated to accept military advice flies in the face of the meaning of civilian control of the military.

But the apparent allure of anti-Trump praetorianism can be traced back to the beginning of his presidency . . .

Read the rest at the Providence Journal.