Progress, determinism and contingency.

Reading a comment about the importance of the war and the conflict in the book of Joas and Knöbl, Social Theory: Twenty Lectures, arose in my poor little head a few ideas.

The first is that definitely if we’re going to use the word progress it is necessary to remove all residual of moral character. The authors to show that you can’t analyze history as progress, mentioned the importance (constant and not decreased) of the war. Clearly there would be no progress if the war was still important.

But if there is an aspect of social life where there is progress it is in matters of war. Let’s say that a roman legion would have no chance against a brigade by napoleon, and the same thing happens if you face the brigade, with a outside, contemporary. If someone says, ‘but a modern army can be defeated by a guerrilla army, which is technologically inferior’, that is correct; but the comparison must be like with like: Hosts formal against armies formal, guerrillas against guerrillas. Within each comparison we will probably progress. If progress simply refers to a linear progression in a path is given, then if, we can find it.

With which we pass to the second of the points that I wanted to discuss. Another of the conclusions that extract of the importance of armed conflicts is on the importance of the contingency. To be relevant the wars, and not being predictable, the victorious side, then clearly the contingency and not the necessity it is relevant.

Which may be correct but with the condition to understand it at a specific level. Because while it may be very contingent respect to the result of the conflict, at the level of mechanisms, we find greater determinism. A cavalry charge against a defensive position, prepared it was difficult at the beginning of the NINETEENTH century, and practically suicidal at the beginning of the TWENTIETH century. A need for better communications that enable faster reactions is usually an advantage. And so with many other things (although clearly the mechanisms in operation are more specific than the simple description given above). But it serves to illustrate a point of general importance: In our rush to dismiss the determinism of the great narratives, we have not become aware of its importance at other levels of analysis.