Clausewitz, Karl von

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Clausewitz, Karl von

Karl von Clausewitz (kärl fən klou´zəvĬts), 1780–1831, Prussian general and military strategist. Clausewitz was an original thinker most influenced by the Napoleonic wars in which he fought. He served in the Rhine campaigns (1793–94), won the regard of Gerhard von Scharnhorst at the Berlin Military Academy, and served in the wars against Napoleon I. In the service of Russia from 1812 until 1814, he helped negotiate the convention of Tauroggen (1812), which prepared the way for the alliance of Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain against Napoleon. Later he reentered the Prussian army, played an important role at Waterloo, and was appointed (1818) director of the Prussian war college. His masterpiece On War was unfinished and was published posthumously. Written in a dialectic style influenced by Hegel and subject to varying interpretations, it remains influential. Clausewitz argued that although most conflicts tend toward total war in the abstract, the "friction" of reality keeps war limited, unpredictable, and dangerous. His most famous dictum, that war "is merely the continuation of policy by other means," emphasizes his conception of war as one part of normal and pragmatic politics. At the same time, he stressed the need to strive for the most complete military victories possible, using whatever reasonable resources were available. While his work echoes themes from the ancient text The Art of War, attributed to Sun Tzu, and even more from the work of Machiavelli, Clausewitz has influenced many 20th-century strategists and historians, especially Bernard Brodie. See strategy and tactics.

See P. Paret, Clausewitz and the State (1976).

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