That Clausewitz used a dialectical approach is well known. Less known is that there are serious questions as to which dialectic(s) Clausewitz was in fact employing. The best known form of the dialectic is perhaps that of Plato, simple question and answer going back and forth between two sides which may not agree but who both wish to arrive at a clearer understanding of the topic under discussion. Absolute truth may not be attainable, but a better understanding can be arrived at through two minds working through the dialectic of point and counter-point.
This is the most common form of dialectic, and one finds it often in On War, Clausewitz attempting so to speak to bring us into dialogue, invite us to consider his sometimes radical statements, get us to think about the complex subject he is discussing.
It may surprise some to hear me say that the dialectic that Clausewitz uses the most in his general theory is that of the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher . . .
Friedrich Schleiermacher is known today mostly only among students of theology. In Berlin in the early years of the 19th Century he was one of the leading thinkers of his time and a member of Prussian patriotic societies after the defeat at Jena. Schleiermacher was a close friend of Maria von Clausewitz’s family and had confirmed her. His thought seems to have had an effect on Clausewitz’s approach, especially his hermeneutics and critism, since for Schleiermacher the psychology behind a written text was as important as the actual text construction itself.
In my view, and this is based on the work of Uwe Hartmann in his book, Carl von Clausewitz, Erkenntnis – Bildung – Generalstabsausbildung, Clausewitz does not use the dialectic commonly associated with Hegel (although actually propagated by Chalybäus) of thesis + anti-thesis = synthesis, in Chapter 1 regarding the general theory, but that of Schleiermacher:
Thesis – – Anti-thesis, where the two remain in tension, there being no synthesis or resolving of this tension between the two. The result is rather a “return” or “reduction” to those areas of conflict between the two which do not allow a synthesis. Thus in Section 28 we see that the remarkable trinity of passion, uncertainty and subordination to politics/policy is actually the area of unresolved tension between the two ideal types introduced in Book 1 Chapter 1, those being “absolute war” and “war in reailty”. It is actually the tensions of the two unresolved ideal types which provides for part of the dynamic quality of the general theory.