Clausewitz's Puzzle: The Political Theory of War

Clausewitz's Puzzle: The Political Theory of War

Clausewitz's Puzzle: The Political Theory of War

Clausewitz's Puzzle: The Political Theory of War


Blending detailed contextual analysis with issues in modern-day international relations this book provides a major new analysis of the theory of Clausewitz and its relevance to contemporary society.

This book argues that Clausewitz developed a wide-ranging political theory of war by reflecting on the success, the limitations, and the failure of Napoleon's method of waging war, a theory, which is still relevant in light of contemporary conflict. This new interpretation is the result of reflecting on Clausewitz's theory in light of the new developments and lays down the foundation of a general theory of war by concentrating on Clausewitz's historical analyses of war campaigns.

For the first time analysis of three paradigmatic military campaigns is placed at the centre of understanding surrounding Clausewitz's 'On War'. The author argues that the limitations of Napoleon's strategy, as revealed in Russia and in his final defeat, enabled Clausewitz to develop a general theory of war.


The statements and counter-statements made by Clausewitz ‘are like
weights and counterweights, and one could say that through their play
and interplay the scales of truth are brought into balance’.

Carl Linnebach

Jena, Moscow, and Waterloo. These are more than just the names of towns or cities, more than mere battles and locations of military victories, defeats, and destruction. Napoleon’s victories over the Prussian forces at Jena and Auerstedt in 1806 were so overwhelming and comprehensive that they led to the collapse of a whole conception of the world. Moscow (1812) was the turning point of the Napoleonic Wars. the Battle of Waterloo (1815) was the final battle of the wars of liberation and a total defeat for Napoleon. All these places are associated with the name of one man: Napoleon. in the beginning there was Napoleon. For Clausewitz, however, Napoleon, the ‘god of war’, stood both at the beginning and at the end of his lifelong study of the theory of war.

The literature in this field is united in its assessment that Napoleon’s successful way of waging war had a significant influence on Clausewitz’s theory. However, no one has yet asked how Clausewitz’s theory dealt with Napoleon’s later defeats, especially the failure of the Russian campaign and the final defeat at Waterloo. It is true that Napoleon’s victorious campaigns led Clausewitz to develop a theory of successful warfare. But it was only Napoleon’s defeats in Russia, and then at Leipzig (1813) and Waterloo (1815), that made it possible for Clausewitz to develop a political theory of war. of course, this does not mean that Clausewitz’s political theory of war is a theory of defeat. However, it does mean that the successes, limits, and defeats associated with Napoleon’s way of waging war forced Clausewitz to reflect on questions that went beyond purely military matters and led him to a political theory of war.

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