Praetorian Guards and Authoritarian States: the KMT and the SS

praetorian units collage

One accurate and sensitive barometer of Authoritarianism within a given state structure is the ceremonial lavishness bestowed on the Monocrat’s self-defense forces. From Imperial Rome to Imperial France and (in the 20th century) the neo-authoritarian states born from the 20th century’s “total war” episodes, self-appointed autocrats inevitably and correctly perceive that their personal power (thus “order” in general) depend on solving the ancient problem of “who shall guard the guards”?

Such forces must, by their existential logic, be better equipped and have tougher recruitment standards than the mass of conscripts that make of the overwhelmingly greater portion of all standing armies, the more so as the scale of mobilization expands with the expansion of war itself. But the same phenomenon is already apparent in the 18th century, if not within individual armies, then between them when they take the field in multi-state alliances. Nor is it confined to non-Anglophone armies: even in Great Britain (as far back as the 17th century Civil War) the Royalists (taking their cue from Louis XIV) were led by Prince Rupert’s elite heavy cavalry, who (for a while correctly) believed that expensive cavalry arms reflective of feudal heraldic glory could overcome the larger masses of “plain” Protestants that Parliament mobilized against them. Later on the Coldstream Guards(originally Scottish Highlanders), one of the seven regiments in the Household Division – the personal troops of Her Majesty the Queen – broke the association with heavy cavalry (cuirassiers), since they coalesced from the Cromwellian “New Model” infantry, but that dismounting did not prevent them from defecting to Charles II as one of 7 “King’s Own” guards units. The “inner” ring that was deployed to protect the Monarchy still survives on the Horseguard parade units the tourists all want to see – perhaps because it is a last living relic of the days/times when the outfitting of “Royal” units was a no-expense-spared dress affair and expertise in parade-ground marching maneuvers took up most of their daytime labors. But nowadays, of course, they are given the cachet “Queen’s Own”.

Prince Rupert’s Charge at Edgehill

prince rupertzpage034

Its pre”modern” apotheosis was of course the (usually mounted) Garde Imperiale who famously charged Wellington’s “riff-raff” squares in the final act of the Battle of Waterloo.


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