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Discipline and the Mechanical Man

I would like to bring the city into focus here, and perhaps offer up another direction of thought provoked by Antoine Bousquet in his intriguing The Scientific Way of Warfare.  Bousquet spends a lot of time developing the intellectual antecedents of various dominant forms of warfare over the past several centuries.  Most strikingly, he reminds us of the march of science in Western culture, and in this sense, I am most interested, at least right now, in his explorations of the regulation of time, and the mechanisation of human life.

In his second chapter, Bousquet talks about the “clockwork universe”, which led to the rise of mechanistic warfare, most clearly demonstrated through Frederick Wilhelm I and Frederick II The Great of Prussia and their innovations in the training and development of the Prussian Army in the 18th century.  Indeed, Bousquet ties this to Enlightenment theory and thought; the clockwork universe is the rationalisation of time.  Time then becomes a form of discipline, which can be tied to Foucauldian notions of discourse and power.

Indeed, this is a point made by my favourite historian, E.P. Thompson, in an article initially published in 1967.  Thompson notes the rise of the clock, the discipline of time, and its role in mechanisation and the development of the urban industrial working classes during the industrial revolution in England. 

The industrial revolution is, of course, what brought the metaphor of the machine to life in Western Europe and is the basis of military discipline and the technological advancements on the battlefield, especially as noted by Bousquet in his third chapter, “Thermodynamic Warfare and the Science of Energy.”  Certainly, the industrial and technological developments of this era were predicated upon the epistemological and intellectual developments of the Scientific Revolution, but the metaphors of machine, and indeed, of man as machine, were based firmly in the development of industry in the late 18th century, primarily in England.

At the same time that Frederick Wilhelm and his son were drilling discipline into their army in Prussia, the English were developing industry in their burgeoning cities.  One of the reasons why Prussian ideals of martial time, discipline, and mechanisation were so successful, I would suggest, is who came to fill the ranks of the armies of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: the sons of the working classes.  These were lads born and raised in the discipline of time.  Their entire lives were regulated by the clock: time spent in school, at work, in church, asleep; the hands of the clock carefully regimented their days.

To a great degree, the success of military discipline and the rise of mechanised warfare over that period can be attributable to the new way of thinking that arose amongst the working classes of the urban centres of Europe in the industrial revolution.  These men were accustomed to the discipline of time and were fully embedded in the metaphor of the machine, given that most of them worked with, repaired, or built machines at work.  Thus, the discipline of the army in times of war, or as conscripts, was not a foreign concept to these men.  Rather, it was a simple extension of the régime under which they lived.

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