Clausewitz, On War, Book 2: Clausewitz as social theorist

In Book 2 of On War Clausewitz attempts to clarify the reasons why formal theories of war are no help to a commander-in-chief. He criticizes contemporary theorists as being too mechanical, too reliant on material factors. Clausewitz reminds us that war takes place in a social space, with social conventions that are fluid and cannot be pinned down by static “rules of war”. However, he fails any attempt at social analysis. Rather, he spends his time trying to differentiate between “knowledge”, “intellect” and “judgement”. This muddles what is otherwise a brilliant observation: “War is an act of human intercourse” (pp. 149).

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Clausewitz, On War, Book 1: On Wrestling

On my first day at the Royal Military College of Canada the professor used our scheduled three hours by asking simply one question: What is war? Three years later I still have no ready definition that satisfactorily answers this deceptively short question. Carl von Clausewitz spent twelve years and wrote an entire (unfinished) book about the topic!

Defining general terms of inquiry is essential for debate, and critical to the type of activity we of the Roundtable are trying to do: namely, analyze On War in a radically different context. A common understanding of the terms is essential to the enterprise.

Clausewitz takes a complex, multi-layered approach that some scholars have argued as Hegelian dialectic. The first book lays the basis for his definition of the word, a definition that transforms throughout the entire book — constantly being challenged, extended and refined. This suits Clausewitz’s underlying argument since the terms of war itself change from situation to situation. Spectrums and probabilities reign in his explanation. Often though, he turns to analogy as a means of explanation.

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