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  • War in the Age of Enlightenment, 1700–1789
  • Peter Paret
War in the Age of Enlightenment, 1700–1789. By Armstrong Starkey. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. ISBN 0-275-97240-2. Notes. Index. Pp. ix, 232. $67.95.

The "Age of Enlightenment" in the title of Professor Starkey's work is programmatic. It indicates the author's intent to trace the relationship between the ideas of the philosophes and their impact on social attitudes on the one hand, and the wars of their time on the other. His book does both less and more. It outlines and briefly comments on the reflections of [End Page 227] Voltaire, Robertson, Vattel, and other contemporaries on the history, laws, and morality of war, and their arguments concerning men's rights and duties—including the obligation of military service—in a just society. But a paragraph or two can hardly analyze their major theses, nor indicate the disagreements among them, and the compressed accounts of this side of the philosophes' readings of the modern world do not provide an adequate basis for a systematic exploration of their impact on military institutions, the place of war in foreign and domestic policy, and the conduct of operations. On the other hand, the book offers an overview of war in Europe and overseas at the time that goes far beyond tracing the links, positive and negative, between the moral and political theorists of the age and its military reality.

The book is divided into six chapters: "The Culture of Force," "The Military Enlightenment," "A Culture of Honor," "Fontenoy, 1745," the case study of one battle, which seems to me the strongest part of the book, not only because the author allows himself the space necessary for a thorough discussion of his subject; "Popular War," and "The Conflict of Cultures," this last a rapid comparison of conditions in Europe with those in the near and far East, Africa, and North America. Professor Starkey bases himself very largely on the secondary literature, which he employs to good effect as he moves rapidly from topic to topic, weaving a concise summary of a vast and complex subject. Specialists will not find anything surprising in his conclusions, for example that the Enlightenment influenced the growth of military education and—to some extent—of professionalization; that military reality was more complex "than the rococo battle portraits of the age might suggest;" or that "eighteenth-century technical developments contributed to the success of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic armies." But the book has much to offer to graduate students and the general reader (though they, especially, would welcome a separate bibliography), and even the historian of war may find reading the author's succinct, thoughtful overview a profitable encounter with a clear, well-informed mind.

Peter Paret
Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton, New Jersey


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pp. 227-228
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2010
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