23 Jan 2009

Clausewitz, On War, Book 1, Chapter 1, §6 Modification in the Reality

by Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]
[Clausewitz, Entry Directory]
[Clausewitz On War, Entry Directory]

Clausewitz, On War

Book I "On the Nature of War"

Chapter I "What is War?"

§6 Modification in the Reality

We have seen that both sides reciprocally escalate their force. If we merely think about this abstractly, we only obtain a basic principle that is not yet in a practically applicable form. If we only say that the basic principle of warfare is that both sides escalate to the extreme, than we have done little more than given a "paper law" that is unadaptable to the real world.

But, States have limited resources. So they cannot escalate to infinity. Also, wars do not always require an absolute expenditure of resources. And if all a nation's resources are exhausted in warfare, then there exists none left to run the country. War protects the country, so if we deplete the country in the process, we defeat our purposes for fighting. So we need a more concrete way to conceive the basic principle of warfare.

There three conditions requisite for an actual war to play-out the way it would in its abstract conception: if the war
1) is a completely isolated act that suddenly arises and bears no relation to the States' histories.
2) is limited to either one single solution or to several simultaneous solutions
3) contains within itself its own perfect and complete solution. This ideal outcome must result in a political situation that cannot result in further conflict. And, that outcome must have been calculable before the war began.

Clausewitz will proceed to explain why all three conditions are unrealistic.

If the enemy's resistance is greater than our powers, then he will defeat us. Thus

If we desire to defeat the enemy, we must proportion our efforts to his powers of resistance.
To calculate one's powers, one multiplies
1) the sum of one's available means, by
2) the strength of one's Will

We can total our troops and resources, so we can numerically calculate our available means. Will power is not something so objectively manifest, so it is harder to quantify determinately. Our best means is to estimate the strength of one's motives.

We can thereby calculate the proportional difference between our power and our enemy's. Also, after determining our available means for warfare, we can then try to increase them as much as possible.

Yet we should expect that the enemy likewise is increasing his power as much as possible too. Since both sides continue calculating their proportional differences of power while trying to increase them, we see a "new mutual enhancement" which escalates the power of both sides. This is the THIRD RECIPROCAL ACTION.

Original text from the translation:


Thus reasoning in the abstract, the mind cannot stop short of an extreme, because it has to deal with an extreme, with a conflict of forces left to themselves, and obeying no other but their own inner laws. If we should seek to deduce from the pure conception of War an absolute point for the aim which we shall propose and for the means which we shall apply, this constant reciprocal action would involve us in extremes, which would be nothing but a play of ideas produced by an almost invisible train of logical subtleties. If, adhering closely to the absolute, we try to avoid all difficulties by a stroke of the pen, and insist with logical strictness that in every case the extreme must be the object, and the utmost effort must be exerted in that direction, such a stroke of the pen would be a mere paper law, not by any means adapted to the real world.

Even supposing this extreme tension of forces was an absolute which could easily be ascertained, still we must admit that the human mind would hardly submit itself to this kind of logical chimera. There would be in many cases an unnecessary waste of power, which would be in opposition to other principles of statecraft; an effort of Will would be required disproportioned to the proposed object, which therefore it would be impossible to realise, for the human will does not derive its impulse from logical subtleties.

But everything takes a different shape when we pass from abstractions to reality. In the former, everything must be subject to optimism, and we must imagine the one side as well as the other striving after perfection and even attaining it. Will this ever take place in reality? It will if,

(1) War becomes a completely isolated act, which arises suddenly, and is in no way connected with the previous history of the combatant States.

(2) If it is limited to a single solution, or to several simultaneous solutions.

(3) If it contains within itself the solution perfect and complete, free from any reaction upon it, through a calculation beforehand of the political situation which will follow from it.

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War, Vol.1. Transl. J.J. Graham.
Text available online at:

No comments:

Post a Comment