The Military Mind and American Public Philosophies: A Q-Methodology Approach
This article examines the veracity of longstanding claims that military leaders develop a coherent public ideology that is, first, distinct from the mainstream of their parent society and, second, that this military belief system is predictably conservative in character. In the American case, these claims depict self-selected and socialized military leaders as sharing in a conservative "military mind" that remains isolated from the mainstream of the American liberal tradition. Using a combination of Q-methodology public values sorting exercises followed by semi-structured, in-depth interviews, these arguments are tested through an intensive examination of the public philosophies of forty-five mid-level and senior U.S. Army officers and forty-five civilian community and business leaders. The result was the organic construction of four primary public belief systems, labeled here as Triumphant Individualism, Communitarian Democracy, Traditionalism, and Neo-Traditionalism. When these belief systems are matched to the conventional military mind wisdom, however, the basic claims of distinction, coherence, and conservatism are not supported. In place of ideological solidarity, one finds a diversity of value orderings and descriptions that do not easily fit the typical military-civilian categories and often belie the military respondents’ own self-identified political labels. These findings challenge existing shibboleths regarding the prospect of a "military mind," while questioning attendant claims regarding the capacity of military service to shape individuals' public values.