The role of the military in a society raises a number of issues: How much separation should there be between a civil government and its army? Should the military be totally subordinate to the polity? Or should the armed forces be allowed autonomy in order to provide national security? Recently, the dangers of military dictatorships-as have existed in countries like Panama, Chile, and Argentina-have become evident. However, developing countries often lack the administrative ability and societal unity to keep the state functioning in an orderly and economically feasible manner without military intervention.Societies, of course, have dealt with the realities of these problems throughout their histories, and the action they have taken at any particular point in time has depended on numerous factors. In the "first world" of democratic countries, the civil-military relationship has been thoroughly integrated, and indeed by most modern standards this is seen as essential. However, several influential Western thinkers have developed theories arguing for the separation of the military from any political or social role. Samuel Huntington, emphasized that professionalism would presuppose that the military should intervene as little as possible in the political sphere. Samuel E. Finer, in contrast, emphasizes that a government can be efficient enough way to keep the civil-military relationship in check, ensuring that the need for intervention by the armed forces in society would be minimal. At the time of the book's original publication, perhaps as a consequence of a post-World War II Cold War atmosphere, this was by no means a universally accepted position. Some considered the military to be a legitimate threat to a free society. Today's post-Cold War environment is an appropriate time to reconsider Finer's classic argument.The Man on Horseback continues to be an important contribution to the study of the military's role in the realm of politics, and will be of interest to students of political science, government, and the military.
Samuel E. Finer (1915-1993) was professor of government at Manchester University and Gladstone Professor of Government and Public Administration at Oxford University. His published works include the monumental The History of Government from the Earliest Times. Jay Stanley, professor of sociology at Towson University, is a member of the advisory council of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, and on the board of editors of its journal Armed Forces & Society. He is the co-editor of Challenges in Military Health Care, published by Transaction.