Soldiers, Statecraft, and History: Coercive Diplomacy and International Order

By James A. Nathan | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

War and Order: The “Juggernaut of War” Meets a “Legitimate” Peace

Napoleon had grown fat and removed from the contemporary calculus of power. He refused to countenance a real understanding with Europe, even on the basis of French conquests the year following Louis XVI’s judicial dispatch. 1 Perhaps, given what he deemed the essence of his position, he could not concede there was an alternative. To Napoleon—more a fifteenth-century condottiere 2 than a nineteenth-century Revolutionary—his power, and indeed that of France, required victories. 3 Perhaps Napoleon’s position was now that of the Revolution’s ineluctable dynamic. As Clausewitz concluded, France had become a “juggernaut of war,” “pulverizing through Europe”; for France, every “breath” was “an act of force” in which “moderation would be just as irrational for her as slackness would be for anybody else.” 4

The only valid—that is, the only competent—response to the challenge of total war would be its mirrored counterpart. 5 Yet it was not until 1813 that France would be met by coalitions universally informed of war’s changed nature; and it was not so much a discovery as an organic reaction to France’s method. For wherever Napoleon’s forces traveled, the message of popular politics traveled with them. Clausewitz observed the etiology of Europe’s counterstroke to the protracted challenge presented by the French Revolution. First, an “interest in politics grew more and more widespread among the upper classes.” 6 In time, “the reaction set in.” 7 With sufficient experience at war, and with the masses both introduced to and used in war, their numbers became in aggregate an explosive force equal to the French. Then, and only “[j]ust in time,” 8 as Clausewitz writes, were whole

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