Everything you need and want to know about Karl von Clausewitz
Can someone help me to undestand Carl von Clausewitz, please?
Like the whole thing or specific concepts because you tagged him under realism and it would take a mad long time to explain the whole works of one of only comprehensive writers on the study of war and Clausewitzs methodology isn’t realist at all
You’re maybe right, because I’m still on the very first semester of my course and still didn’t get the whole idea about the classic realism nor neorealism. In fact, I’ve only read Martin Wight’s “Power Politics”
Firstly, sorry for being a dick earlier I’ve been up all night and I tend to get aggressive on the International Relations tag.
So firstly, Clausewitz’s methodology. Realism/Neorealism are both positivistic methodologies, meaning that they use the sciences as their model for how they look at the world. They try to find universal laws and then try to predict the events of the world based on what they think they’ve found.
Clausewitz’ methodology was historicist, that is he used the historical method as a way of teaching students to better understand reality. Instead of looking at a general’s decision and saying that it was right or wrong, Clausewitz said that we should go into the head of the general and ask why he made that decision. Instead of teaching rights and wrongs Clausewitz argued that we should try to understand the decision making abilities ofothers. This makes us better at predicting the moves of an opponent and helps with panicking (more on that later).
Secondly, Clausewitz broke war up into two types, absolute war and real war. Absolute war is well imagine a nuclear war. It is a single blow which completely incapacitates the enemy at a massive cost to ourselves. Now while Clausewitz believed that absolute war was what war was when you really boiled it down, in reality there are a huge number of factors which prevent absolute war from happening. There are time issues—you can’t strike with all your forces at the exact same time. There are military concerns—you want to save stuff for later. There are economic concerns—nuclear war would suck. There are humanitarian concerns etc. This is where we get ‘real war’, which is the kind of limited wars we have and have had. However war has an escalating logic which leads to ever increasing acts of violence, meaning that the longer a war goes on the closer it gets to ‘absolute war’.
Clausewitz saw this coming the the advantage of the defender: the defender simply had more stakes in the game and was thus more willing to escalate the conflict than the invaders. Also, despite people saying that Clausewitz doesn’t understand modern war, Clausewitz was a huge proponent for guerrilla warfare, both in On War and during the Napoleonic Wars. He saw the full mobilization of the populace (IE the draft) and guerrilla warfare as steps on the path towards absolute war.
Another reason which Clausewitz gives for the superiority of the defense over the offense is what he calls friction. Say you take a trip through the city. You have a slow person standing in front of you on the escalator so you miss the subway. You get on the next one but then it stops once. Then there’s a red light when you get out. None of these things are stuff you write home about but these minor, ‘unseen’ (that is unseen by the eye of history) variables have caused you to lose ten minutes. Now apply that to a ten thousand man army. Friction is all the little things that you just can’t account for which lead to bigger problems. Friction is why Clausewitz argues for a historical mode of thinking rather than a scientific one (someone taught using an abstracted system will be unjustifiably secure in their abilities and will thus be tripped up when something goes off that they weren’t taught about. Someone who is trained to deal with uncertainty won’t panic as much), and is another reason that the defensive is stronger than the offensive (friction hits the attacking side more because there is more risk involved in going into enemy territory).
Those are the big 3 takeaways, though there are more. If you’re really interested I would recommend checking out Understanding Clausewitz by Sumida as a primer. It’s a tough read but jesus god On War is a slog to get through.