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War Philosophy of Clausewitz

War Philosophy of Clausewitz

War always took a key place in the history of all countries and nations. It is the attribute of the mankind presented and revealed in various aspects of its life. Carl von Clausewitz, the confessor of the German army, is one of the greatest and most original authors writing about war. Clausewitz is an immortal military teacher, who showed the importance of a fight in the war, protecting nations from the wrong theories. The philosophical books of Clausewitz about wars written at the beginning of the 19th century received a new sounding at present as the principles of war, strategy, and tactics of military operations are perfectly applicable in the modern life.

Born in 1780 in the family of the Prussian officer, Clausewitz started his military career at the early age. After participating in the war of the first coalition against France in 1793-1794, he served as an officer in a small garrison in the city of Noyruppin. During this period, he improved his education carefully studying the works of the Friedrich Prussian King, whose character and concepts about a debt were admired by him (Strachan, 2007).

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Due to the restraint and shyness, which gave him the reputation of a cold and haughty person, Clausewitz could hardly become a successful military leader. He was both too sensitive and too intellectual for the absolute realization of the unity problem demanded from a military leader. On the other hand, the boundless energy and the sense of reality induced him to realize the ideas and propose the theories on the military issues (Klinger, 2006, p. 79).

Clausewitz was the contemporary of the French Revolution. The dictatorship of the Jacobeans smashed a feudal serf system in France. The new army created by the revolution victoriously defended the country from the impact of the reactionary Europe and bravely cleared the way for a new social structure. Thus, Clausewitz understood that the French Revolution and its successor, Napoleon, had a deep impact on the character and methods of war. War was no longer a process of maneuvering of rather small armies with the purpose of coming to a final decision in the least bloody and expensive way of cutting the opponent from supply. The war turned into a fight of big armies in which the speed and concentration of superior forces again gained a crucial importance. “Blood is the price of victory, and the absolute victory can be achieved only by the destruction of the enemy’s forces”; this is the unlimited war by Clausewitz, his “absolute war” (Kaiser, 2009, p. 671).

The political ideas of the French Revolution remained alien and hostile to the Prussian nobleman Clausewitz, who was a monarchist. All his practical military activities passed on the service of the European reaction. The political image of Clausewitz is also characterized by the fact that in 1810 the Prussian yard elected him as the teacher for a throne successor. The monarchic belief of Clausewitz found reflection in his main work On War. However, being an absolute enemy of the French Revolution, Clausewitz managed to understand the value of the revolution in the military science caused by revolution. Together with all participants of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars as he endured the cruel crash of all “invariable” and “eternal” norms of the military art of the 17th and 18th centuries (Kaiser, 2009, p. 673; Strachan, 2007).

In his research regarding the military methods, Clausewitz resolutely refused to analyze the formal logic and metaphysics which dominated and still dominate in the bourgeois military science. The immortal value of the Clausewitz’s work consists in a dialectic method, concreteness, and comprehensiveness of the analysis without any schematics. Clausewitz neither created an eternal strategic theory nor created a textbook with the ready dogmatic formulas. He considered the phenomena of war and military art to be the problem of the strategy research. He tried to open the dialectics of war and reveal the basic principles and objective regularity of its processes.

The most part of Clausewitz’ works is devoted to the critical analysis of the 18th century wars. This preliminary research work and his personal experience led Clausewitz to the denial of “the eternal principles” of the military art. He regarded such “invariable rules” as a direct source of cruel defeats and an indicator of poverty and stagnancy of a military thought. Clausewitz carefully and comprehensively investigated the changes of the war nature during various eras considering the phenomena of war and military art in their development and movement (Strachan, 2007). According to Howart and Paret (1984),

War is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will. Because war is an act of force, committed against a living, reacting opponent, it produces three interactions that, in theory, lead to three extremes: maximum use of force; total disarmament of the enemy; and maximum exertion of strength. (Howart & Paret, 1984, p.127)

Being a dialectician, Carl von Clausewitz studied the dynamics of each military phenomenon discussing the regularity of its development and internal mechanics of its transformations. The main idea about the movements of war and its development in contradictions is present in all Clausewitz’s works. He considered all the phenomena of the military reality from the point of view of the basic dialectic law of unity and mutual penetration of contrasts. The philosopher did not see any defense in an attack and vice versa; he perceived defense as preservation (Kaiser, 2009, p. 675).

The object of defense is preservation; and since it is easier to hold ground than to take it, defense is easier than attack. But defense has a passive purpose: preservation; and attack a positive one: conquest. . . .  If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, if follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object (Howart & Paret, 1984, p. 357).

War is understood by Clausewitz as a real chameleon because it changes its nature. Characterizing war as the manifestation of violence without limits, he could also differentiate the wars waged only for the negotiations and threating an opponent. Also, Clausewitz has a dialectic approach to the ways leading to victory. Along with two main types of war – the war seeking for the destruction of an opponent and the war resolving the tasks of local and private character – he saw a number of intermediate forms. Clausewitz clearly established the distinctions between the nature of war – political and strategic. The politically defensive war is the one waged for the defense of the independence. The strategically defensive war is limited to the fight with the enemy (Klinger, 2006, p. 79).

According to Clausewitz, war is only a policy tool, a special form of the political relations, which define the nature of war. The changes in a military art result in the change of policy. A military art is a policy replacing a feather with a sword. Therefore, Clausewitz resolutely struggled against all the attempts to subordinate the political point of view to the military one. The policy is a reason why the war is only a tool, not vice versa (Strachan, 2007).

The radical defect of his theory consists in the idealistic understanding of policy. According to Carl Clausewitz, policy is the expression of the interests of the whole society, the concentrated reason of the state. Having understood the dependence of war on policy and public conditions, Clausewitz could not go further. The limitation of a bourgeois outlook deprived the philosopher of the opportunity to understand the driving forces of the political development as a historical form of social development the content of which is presented by a class struggle (Klinger, 2006, p. 80).

In his works, Clausewitz diligently avoided the character and measure of judgment to adjust to any general theory. With the flexibility of mind peculiar to him, the philosopher tried to feel the peculiarities of people and situation for the creation of the generalizing idea connecting the parts into the whole. Clausewitz’s thoughts were closely weaved with the experience of his country and a political situation in Europe. This communication includes the factors strongly influencing creativity, understanding, and a world view of a military philosopher (Strachan, 2007).

Carl was not the enemy of liberalism as well as all famous politicians in Prussia. He realized it both in a way of a social life expansion, as well as a condition of deployment and competition of all national forces and a guarantee of its power. He did not love the Prussian feudalism and stiffened forms, but adored the movement and the direction of forces by turns. On the other hand, the historical intuition clearly prompted the natural disappearance of an old regime (Klinger, 2006, p. 83).

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Resuming the leadership essence of Carl Clausewitz, it is possible to say that the ideas of the philosopher still live and can be applied in all the spheres of life, especially business competition. If to name trade a war, then it is the essential part of competition; it is the war of the human interests like a real one. The main important thing includes the necessity of the clear and simple plans and things, which make leaders.

Thus, the war methodology of Clausewitz was quite important for the understanding how the social forces can affect the competition leading to the war. Moreover, his theories represent the learned lessons for the future generations and can be effectively applied in the dogmatism. The leadership of the philosopher represented in his books and memoirs gives us the valuable insight into the waging of war and military profession as well as can be easily applied to the modern business practices.

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