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📙 Clausewitz's Puzzle: The Political Theory of War by Andreas Herberg-Rothe — epub download


Dr. Andreas Herberg-Rothe's book Clausewitz's Puzzle is a book for those interested in cutting-edge strategic theory from a Clausewitzian perspective. Clausewitz's On War is a complex work because, as the author points out, it actually contains two different books at the same time: one is a Napoleonic "art of war" which is of more interest to historians, although certain aspects still apply today. The second "book" is Clausewitz's general theory of war which is the basic element of Clausewitzian strategic theory, provides the base upon which all the various theorists of this school of theory have built their applications. What complicates matters is that the two books are jumbled together as it were (although On War's Books 1, 6 and 8 contain most of the general theory). However it is Chapter 1 of Book !, What is War?, which provides the clearest explanation of the general theory as a whole. It is for that reason that Herberg-Rothe focuses on this chapter. The first section is devoted to an interesting discussion of the effects of three Napoleonic battles that Clausewitz had personally experienced and how these three very different engagements influenced his ever more complex view of unlimited war. The first was Jena-Auerstedt in 1806 which destroyed the Prussian Army inherited from Fredrick the Great and forced the defeated Prussian state to not only renounce important territorial holdings, but enter into a humiliating alliance with Napoleon. This opened for Clausewitz the way in which political changes lead to changes in how wars are fought, the mass mobilization of disciplined and dedicated citizen soldiers allowed for concentration of mass armies in place and time and led to decisive victories. Instead of allowing the troops to loot the battlefield as in earlier times, or failing to pursue due to fear of losing control of one's army, as had been the case during the wars of Fredrick the Great, Napoleon's forces were able to chase the retreating Prussians to the point where their army essentially disintegrated. Jena represents four essential ideas for Clausewitz according to Herberg-Rothe, these being war as an existential struggle, the principle of violence/destruction, orientation towards the primacy of the offensive, and military success itself can take precedence over "political" considerations, that is in effect create the political purpose through the achievement of military means. The author then does the same analysis for Moscow and Waterloo coming up with quite different and at times seemingly contradictory ideas gleaned from these two very different battles. From these various sources and complex ideas, Clausewitz began the long development of his general theory of war. Herberg-Rothe concludes that there are four fundamental antitheses in Clausewitz's general theory which were the result of his study of these three campaigns, these being: the expansion or limitation of violence (as in three tendencies to the extreme and the three limiting factors of "real war"; the existential as opposed to the instrumental understanding of war; the primacy of military force or that of policy, and; the priority of the attack (as a means of achieving a decision) combined with the superiority of the defense (page 37). I found the author's handling of this first anti-thesis to be particularly enlightening in that it encompasses not only symmetrical responses, but asymmetrical responses as well, providing the general theory with a (at least for me) unnoticed additional flexibility and depth. The author continues his analysis with the three interactions to the extreme which apply to the military aim, but not the purpose of the unlimited war, that is war seeking the overthrow of the enemy. Here, various elements are incorporated including fear, power, duration, and concepts of time and "timelessness". This brings us to what Christopher Bassford calls the "capstone", and Herberg-Rothe refers to as the "true legacy" of Clausewitz's theory, that being the "wondrous trinity" described at the end of Book 1, Chapter 1 of On War. Whereas "fighting" is the common element to all unlimited wars, this does not work for limited wars which proceed to a certain point and then turn into mutual observation. Instead a new common element is necessary to bind both types of war - that is the entire theory - together. This common element is "the continuation of state policy by other means" (page 94). It is important to note here that for Herberg-Rothe and Clausewitz, war is not part of politics, but separate from politics while at the same time providing politics/policy with an instrument to achieve political purposes through the attainment of supporting military aims by use of organized violent means. Herberg-Rothe explains the wondrous trinity in a very interesting way by comparing and contrasting it to the earlier "instrumental" trinity of unlimited war mentioned at the beginning of Book 1, Chapter 1, that being the trinity of purpose, aim and means (pages 99-102). In so doing he develops a series of "conceptual fields" in which any type of war can be described and analyzed. Moving somewhat beyond Clausewitz, the author then explains three different concept s of politics/policy which are nevertheless compatible with Clausewitz's general theory. He also gives a new interpretation of Clausewitz's dialectic using the Clausewitzian concept of a "true logical antithesis", this concept being illustrated by the relationship between attack and defense. The intricate nature of Clausewitz's general theory with its ambiguities, multi-sidedness, antinomies, and paradoxical relationships make it more the nature of "a puzzle than an exact conceptualization", thus the reason for the book's title. Suffice it to say that Herberg-Rothe's expansion of Clausewitz's fundamental antitheses, as well as his concepts of politics, takes Clausewitzian theory several steps forward and provides a response to some of the important questions brought up by Herfried Münkler's The New Wars. As to areas of potential improvement, I think an analysis of the German 19th Century concept of Bildung would have been appropriate since that would do much to explain Clausewitz's Nietzschean standard of intellectual conscience and ceaseless striving to understand his subject. Also, while the author goes to some length to describe the influence of Georg Hegel's thought, there is no mention of the theologian Friedrich Schliermacher whom Clausewitz actually knew. Schliermacher used three different forms of the dialectic which arguably appear repeatedly in On War. My final point here is that there is no discussion of the connections between the political/social action theory of Max Weber and Clausewitz's political theory of war. This seems to many the logical next step, but who will take it? Münkler mentions Weber repeatedly in his books, but also makes no attempt to my knowledge to connect to two thinkers into a general theory of politics. This book and this subject would appear to many to be of only academic interest. Why study Clausewitz at all, surely there must be more modern writers who can allow us to better understand our confusing times? Part of the problem here is a prejudice for the new and the "modern". We are so different (or so we try hard to convince ourselves), that how could a long-dead Prussian General help us to understand The Great War on Terror? Of course the Prussian would first tell us that one can not wage a war against a method, but only against a political community which opposes our policies that we attempt to impose by force. War begins when the defender resists the aggressor and since Al Qaida are reacting to our actions, that puts them on the defensive. Terror comes in many forms, and the Prussian would also tell us that states practice terror as well, as he was well aware. Wars are the continuation of policy by other means, so what exactly were our policy goals in attacking Iraq? Also since our military aim was the destruction of the Iraqi will to resist, that is the total overthrow of the Iraqi state, the Prussian would point out that our unlimited war goals required extensive moral and physical resources to achieve. Also once the Iraqi state was overthrown, it was up to us to win over the Iraqi people to the new state we were establishing as quickly as possible to preclude them taking up arms against us, that is arming the people and conducting a guerrilla war which would have unleashed great energy to feed a continuation of the war. For Clausewitz, victory is the aim of tactics, but only the means of strategy, whose goal is the return to peace. This great energy on the Iraqi side, this rebellion, would trigger escalation on our part to overcome the new situation and impose our will anew, violence following violence in ever more intense cycles. The original policy goals change under the pressure of war and domestic political interests (objective versus subjective policy in Clausewitzan terms) join in changing political considerations. The danger exists that the war may lose its instrumental character, at least for the side that started it, taking on an increasingly autonomous nature. This analysis is possible with Clausewitz, but not with the thought of his positivist detractors such as the historian John Keegan who avoids the political element altogether, nor with the Boydian/4GW school tainted as they are with their close connections with Dick Cheney and their fixation on their bugaboo of "Trinitarian Warfare", whatever that might be. As Dr. Herberg-Rothe's impressive book indicates, Clausewitzian strategic theory is still the cutting edge and will continue to be so until someone comes along with a better general

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