Primacy of ‘Culture’ over War in a Modern World?

John Keegan's Critique Demands a
Sophisticated Interpretation of Clausewitz


Andreas Herberg-Rothe
[See Vita HERE]

From Herberg-Rothe, Andreas. "Primacy of Politics or Culture in a Modern World? Clausewitz needs a sophisticated interpretation." Defense Analysis, Volume 2, August 2001. Reproduced here with the permission of Defense Analysis
Keegan against Clausewitz
Clausewitz’s Contrary War Experiences
Clausewitz’s different views of ‘absolute war’
Is There a Primacy of Policy in General?
‘Primitive Warfare’ and the Contradictions of Modern War
Primacy of Culture or of Politics?
End Notes

Keegan against Clausewitz

Does Clausewitz’s thesis of “war as a continuation of policy by other means”, actually amount to “war, all against all”? In A History of Warfare, the British military historian Sir John Keegan suggests this idea. Keegan denounces Clausewitz as “the apostle of a revolutionary philosophy of war making” that derived from the French Revolution. [1] The British military author, Sir Basil Liddell Hart had already interpreted Clausewitz between the two World Wars as “the Mahdi of the masses and mutual massacres”[2] Following this tradition, Keegan states that there are places in the world riven by tribal wars and saturated with cheap weapons, where the “war of all against all” takes place. He insists that it teaches us to what afflictions war may subject us if we do not refuse to accept the Clausewitzian idea of “war as a continuation of policy” [3]

Keegan refers to two different and controversial themes, which he regards as being directly combined in the theory of Clausewitz. First, ‘absolute warfare’ and the ‘concept of war’ are both absolute and extreme. Second, the primacy of policy dominates over warfare. We have to concede to Keegan that there are some positions Clausewitz conveys in On War [4] which seem to confirm a part of his criticism. But Keegan overlooked the fact that there are other contrasting principles in the same work. These other contrasting principles are, first, caused by the fundamental change in Clausewitz’s theory over time and, second, by the unfinished character of his works. As we know, Clausewitz intended to revise the whole text of On War, but he was only able to complete the first chapte [5] and some parts of the second in Book One before the political and military crisis of 1830 compelled him to put the manuscript to one side [6] For this reason, there are different structural layers, or patterns, in parts of On War that appear contradictory.

Clausewitz clearly specifies his planned revisions in a note dated July 1827. It is no coincidence that these intended revisions affected both his controversial theses and their interpretation. In his July note, Clausewitz emphasized that war can be of “two kinds: Either the objective is to overthrow the enemy to render him politically helpless or military impotent, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we please; or merely to occupy some of his frontier-districts so that we can annex them or use them for bargaining at the peace negotiations”. Transition from one type to the other would continue, but the fact that the aims of both kinds of war are quite different should be made clear and their points of irreconcilability brought out. [7] The early Clausewitz adapted the concept of unlimited warfare of Napoleon; the latter points out the differences between the two kinds of war.

Keegan like most of the interpreters emphasizes the influence of Napoleon’s successful campaigns on Clausewitz’s theory of war. No one has questioned to which obvious conclusion Clausewitz came after Napoleons failures in Russia, Leipzig and his final defeat at Waterloo. Exclusively Napoleons failures and defeats resulted in developing a political theory of war by Clausewitz, whereas his successful campaigns, for example at Jena and Auerstedt, only led to a theory of conducting warfare.

Clausewitz’s Contrary War Experiences

We can elucidate the change in Clausewitz’s thinking from his different war experiences. The Prussian defeat at Jena and Auerstedt by Napoleon was so devastating and complete that Clausewitz’s whole concept of the world collapsed. The mere existence of the Prussian state was uncertain after experiencing the unlimited warfare of the French revolutionary armies and Napoleon’s strategy of warfare. In order to defend themselves against Napoleon’s military prowess, the Prussian reformers drafted an adaptation to the drastic change in military action and warfare. The young Clausewitz developed a theoretical concept of war containing three main aspects from Napoleon’s successful warfare patterns: primacy of the offensive; orientation in the final battle; and primacy of military power over political ideals.

After the failure of Napoleon’s campaign in Russia, Clausewitz’s concept needed reconsideration for a first time. Clausewitz was certain that Napoleon's strategy that the Russian army had to be defeated and Moscow occupied to allow for negotiations with Czar Alexander was correct from a military point of view. But this strategy was not effective, due to Russia’s vast territory, evasion of every battle by the Russian army, the conflagration of Moscow and Alexander’s refusal to negotiate.

Clausewitz thought that Napoleon’s concept of war was right with respect to Prussia or Austria, but it did not apply to an enemy like Russia. Napoleon’s unsuccessful campaign there made it clear to Clausewitz that defence was superior to attack. The avoidance of a military solution became an advantage, and the achievement of political aims by military force had its limits. Regardless of how Napoleon could have conducted his campaign in Russia, Clausewitz was certain that it was impossible for Napoleon to be successful. Nevertheless, Clausewitz admired Napoleon as a military genius, but he also realized that even a military genius with a perfect military strategy was not enough to beat Russia. [8]

The final defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo had two consequences for Clausewitz’s theory of warfare. First, he regarded the disadvantageous political circumstances as being responsible for the defeat. The political situation in France after Napoleon’s return from Elba had forced him to lead an offensive war without adequate means. For the first time, Clausewitz used the expression that made the primacy of politics famous in his work On War. In his analysis of this war campaign, he concluded that war could not be considered as an independent act. Instead, he formulates the proposition, that war was a “modification of political transaction”, the accomplishment of political plans and interests by means of battle. [9]

The second consequence concerns the limitation of warfare. Clausewitz names three main reasons for Napoleon’s defeat: the political circumstances; the equalization of the military capabilities on both sides; and Napoleon’s decisive mistake. After criticizing different aspects of Napoleon’s procedures while defending them in general, he identifies the decisive point as being: when the battle was lost, Napoleon continued fighting until all his reserves were depleted and his army was destroyed.

In Clausewitz’s view, it was Napoleon’s duty to turn against the Prussian army once more, but only in order to gain space for his retreat. “The battle was lost, but there was a great relevance influencing Bonaparte’s further affairs based on his decision. Either to leave the battlefield overwhelmed by superior forces, courageously fighting at the head of an undefeatable army or to return as a refugee, laden with the reproach of having first wiped out and then deserted his army”. [10]

Without discussing the historical correctness of his criticism concerning Napoleon, we must emphasize that Clausewitz marks his main argument in his political theory of war: Napoleon did not limit his military defeat. Clausewitz believed that those military strategies that led Napoleon to success were exactly the same ones that led to his failure. The conclusion of Clausewitz' political theory was that warfare must be limited. The limits of unlimited warfare strategies were manifested at Waterloo.

The specifics of absolute warfare reappear in On War, Book Four, and are about the thesis of battle and, specifically, the final battle. Book Four, therefore, is an unrevised remnant of the early Clausewitz and his orientation in relation to Napoleon’s warfare. A detailed portrayal of defence as the stronger form of fighting appears in Book Six and Book Seven and is influenced by Clausewitz’s experiences of the campaign in Russia. Finally, Book Eight concerns itself with differentiating between war plans with limited aims and those with the aim of the total defeat of the enemy; as well as with the primacy of politics. Book eight of On War therefore can belong only to the late Clausewitz.

Clausewitz’s different views of ‘absolute war’

Keegan reproaches Clausewitz for having insisted that armies must ensure that ‘absolute war’ is the only ‘true war’. [11] Such assertions do not take into account the fundamental change Clausewitz formulated in his later years. This same transition is the main stumbling block when interpreting Clausewitz. His concepts of ‘absolute war’ become more obvious when we compare the first chapter of Book One with Book Eight.

In fact, there are distinct sections in Clausewitz’s writings where an interpretation of ‘absolute’ and ‘extreme’ warfare as an ideal is possible. In Book Eight, he states that his theoretical objective is to give priority to the absolute form of war and to make that form a general point of reference. He continues by saying that whoever wants to learn from his theory must accept that the central concept is that of ‘absolute warfare’. Therefore, when planning a war, he has to measure all his hopes and fears by this ‘absolute’ form of warfare, and face it when he can, or must.

However, there is a completely different meaning to the term ‘absolute and extreme warfare’ in the first chapter of Book One, which is the only revised and completed part of the whole work. Clausewitz uses the term there to distinguish between the concept of war and real war; real war, he posited, is often far removed from the pure concept. He emphasised that even if war was calculable, the human mind would unlikely accept such a logical fantasy. “It would often result in strength being wasted, which is contrary to other principles of statecraft. An effort of will, out of all proportion to the object in view, would be needed, but would not in fact be realized, since subtleties of logic do not motivate the human will”. [12]

Clausewitz’s concept of ‘absolute’ and ‘extreme war’ contains three different dimensions, which he developed from his observations of Jena, Moscow and Waterloo.

a) Defeat of the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstedt and the example of Napoleon’s warfare. In connection with this experience, Clausewitz uses the term ‘extreme war’ as the general point of reference to which real war should have to approximate.
b) Napoleon’s unsuccessful campaign in Russia. As a consequence of Napoleon’s defeat, Clausewitz regards the concept of ‘extreme war’ as an extreme in theory; that is, it is limited by the frictions and limits of reality. Only this kind of concept could be regarded as an ‘ideal type’ in the sense of Max Weber.

c) Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo. With this dimension of extreme war, Clausewitz tries to generalize tendencies of real war. But the main fact now is that reality produces both limited and unlimited war.

Obviously, without noticing, Keegan formulates the same limitations as Clausewitz, in his concepts of ‘extremes in theory’. Keegan believes that war is always limited, not because man chooses to make it so, but because nature determines it to be so. “King Lear, railing at his enemies, may have threatened to ‘do such things - what they are yet I know not - but they shall be the terrors of the earth’; as other potentates in straitened circumstances have found, however, the terrors of the earth are hard to conjure up. Wealth lacks, the weather worsens, the seasons turn, the will of friends and allies fail, human nature itself may revolt against the hardship that strife demands”. [13]
This statement may appear quite cynical when facing the actual ‘terrors of the earth’ that warlords in straitened circumstances are able to conjure up. Keegan’s conclusion that war and violence are always limited by natural determination should be understood in the following way: the possibility of extreme violence in theory is limited by external conditions in reality. Clausewitz takes the same position by emphasizing the difference between the extreme required by theory and the extreme in real war. [14]

Clausewitz is more precise in that he does not state nature’s restricting conditions as the only limitations of ‘extreme warfare’, but also identifies political factors. He introduces three points that distinguish possible extreme war and actual real war. The first is the duration of the war and the two others are political. War would lead to an extreme, Clausewitz tells us, if it were a wholly isolated act occurring suddenly, unaffected by previous events in the political world. Additionally ‘extreme war’ would be possible if the decision achieved was complete and perfect in and by itself, uninfluenced by any previous estimate of the political situation it would bring about. [15] He completed his argument about limitations in war with the statement that “tendency toward extremes” is once again reduced by the interaction between the opponents. Again Clausewitz refers to an interaction between the fighting opponents. But this interaction now reduces the tendency towards extremes. [16]

Clausewitz' concept of war poses a problem, even in Chapter One of Book One, not in the way Keegan understands it when he criticizes the concept of extreme warfare, but because Clausewitz connected two different facts with contradictory terms, trying to reconcile his seemingly conflicting war experiences. First, there was the contradiction of war theory and the ‘frictions’ of real war seen from the perspective of an active soldier. Second, was the combination of two antithetical pairs: theory and reality joined with limited war and unlimited war. The Clausewitzian concepts of war in Book Eight and at the beginning of Book One are attempts to summarize the contrary conclusions of his war experiences. But there is a great difference between Book Eight and the first chapter of Book One. In Book Eight Clausewitz uses the term ‘absolute warfare’ as a general point of reference. In Chapter One he develops this term only in order to stress the difference between the concept and reality of war. Nevertheless, he does not succeed in finding a consistent formula for his concept. In no way can Clausewitz’s concept of war in the first chapter of Book One be regarded as an ideal to be attained, as seems apparent in Book Eight.

Is There a Primacy of Policy in General?

Clausewitz’s idea of ‘two kinds of war’ does not allow a connection between the concept of absolute war and his famous formula of war being a continuation of politics by other means. In chapter one he defines both cases of war as being politically determined. On the one hand the closer war approaches its abstract concept the more military, and less political, war will appear to be. On the other hand, the less intense the motives are the less the military element will be able to fulfil the political directives. “As a result, war will be driven further from its natural course, the political object will be more and more at variance with the aim of ideal war, and the conflict will seem increasingly political in character”. But in this first chapter of Book One, Clausewitz mentions that unlimited war, as well as limited war, is determined by politics in every case. [17] If this is Clausewitz’s position, there can be no question that his famous formula does not lead directly to the idea of “war, all against all”.

We can conclude that Clausewitz’s formula has certain limitations; nevertheless, it retains its validity within these limits. Being used as an analysis, the formula is valid only when taking into account the relationship between war and politics, where at least one side is an organized state. In other words, it is valid anytime when there is a separation between the military and civilian society. This separation is Clausewitz’s tacit assumption. In this sense, the formula of war as being the continuation of politics by other means symbolizes the primacy of civilian society over the military.

As an evaluating thesis, the formula always refers to the relationship between political and military leadership, where Clausewitz ascribes to the political leadership a primary role. The analysis of these assumptions in Clausewitz’s theory does not necessarily lead to complete rejection. The latter Clausewitz neither handles the extreme and absolute form of war as a general point of view, nor does he make a direct connection between the formula and the description of absolute war.

At this point of our discussion we must question the status of the formula. At the beginning of the first chapter of Book One, Clausewitz defines war as an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will. [18] If we relate the formula to Clausewitz’s ‘definition’ of war, we find the political intention is the object and war is the means of achieving this political intention. In this way, the ‘definition’ corresponds to the formula.

However, the paragraph at the end of this chapter, where Clausewitz refers to the “consequences of theory”, has a totally different outcome. Even though he describes war as an “instrument of politics” that is subject to reason, politics is only one of three tendencies that affect war. The other two are “primordial violence” and a combination of “chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam”. Clausewitz argues that these three tendencies are like three different codes of law. “A theory that ignores any one of them or fixes an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless”. [19]

Keegan and many others perceive the Clausewitzian formula of war as a total phenomenon. Keegan declares that war is not the continuation of politics by other means. [20] This is correct if we take the entire war into account; Clausewitz also takes the exact same position without paradox. He declares that war is an instrument of politics, but this is only one of three tendencies in war. Clausewitz clearly pointed out that war as a total phenomenon is composed of three tendencies. Therefore, the task must be, Clausewitz said, to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies “like an object suspended between three magnets”. [21]

‘Primitive Warfare’ and the Contradictions of Modern War

Keegan’s, as well as Clausewitz’s position is strongly influenced by the French Revolution, which initiated the evolution of warfare towards the tendency of absolute war. Keegan highlights this one factor in the historical evolution of warfare in the 19th and 20th centuries. Other factors are, in my view, the “industrial revolution of warfare”, as Michael Geyer has called it, and the historical evolution and costs of imposing discipline on soldiers. [22]

Until now, a simple way out and a reliable possibility for a change away from these tendencies to absolute war have not been in sight. Herfried Munkler emphasizes that as long as there is no possibility of establishing public order without force, we have to keep armed forces in existence. Following the argument of Kant, some authors believe in an internationally ordered peace and in the link between democracy and co-operation and interdependence in the international community. Unfortunately, the strategy of limitation is not always easily obtainable. Wars that seem limitable are more likely to be waged than those that cannot be calculated. The occurrence of a totally destructive nuclear war has thus far been prevented, but only for as long as the opponents act rationally.

Keegan’s description has nothing in common with these concepts. He argues that, over the course of 4000 years, war making has become a habit of mankind. “In the primitive world this habit was circumscribed by ritual and ceremony. In the post-primitive world human ingenuity has ripped away ritual and ceremony and the restraints they imposed on war-making, empowering men of violence to press the limits of tolerability to, and eventually beyond, the extreme”. [23]

As an example, Keegan quotes Clausewitz’s opinion extracted from the first case of ‘interaction to the extreme’, where war is described as an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds. Here, Keegan does not consider that Clausewitz’s three cases of ‘interaction to the extreme’ only describe true forms of unlimited violence; they do not legitimate them. Clausewitz must be interpreted in the following way: “War is an act of force and there is no logical limit to the application of that force”, because violence is exceeding the limits itself, little by little. [24]

Keegan strangely concludes, “To turn away from the message Clausewitz preached”, we need not ponder “the means of altering our genetic inheritance” or “break free of our material circumstances”. All we need to accept is that war-making has become a habit. If we hope to survive, the habits of primitive civilizations containing “restraint, diplomacy and negotiation deserve relearning”. Keegan presents Clausewitz as he is - the snake that tempts Adam to eat the apple of knowledge, who, as a result, is driven out of the paradise of ‘primitive warfare’. [25]

Let us take another look at Clausewitz’s theory. In the first of the three cases of “interaction and extreme”, he formulates the main contrast that is contained in ‘modern’ warfare. On the one hand, he argues that wars between savages are more cruel and destructive than those between civilized nations. Clausewitz experienced the cruelty of primitive warfare in Russia, when the Cossacks slaughtered the French army at the Beresina River. On the other hand, he mentions that intelligence provides civilized nations with more effective ways of using force than the crude expression of instinct. [26] We can conclude from Clausewitz that the cruelty of warfare is more closely associated with primitive cultures and life-and-death battles as in a natural state (pace Hegel and Hobbes).

But in recent history there has also been an increase in more effective ways to use force due to developments in science, technology, politics and society. This is the main antithesis of Clausewitz’s assessment, formed by the same development of rational and civil affairs and ways of thinking. The limitation on the use of force is contrasted with the exceeding of its bounds by the same modern evolution.

In spite of the contradictory evolution of modern warfare, Keegan only makes a clear distinction between 'primitive' and ‘modern’ warfare. This type of distinction enables him to cover over the contradiction in his own theory. On the one hand, he argues that war has become a scourge and we need a new culture that leaves no room for war. Such a cultural transformation would demand a break from the past for which there are no precedents. “Charting the course of human culture through its undoubtedly warlike past towards its potentially peaceful future is the theme of this book”. [27]

On the other hand, he states that a world “without armies - disciplined, obedient and law-abiding armies - would be uninhabitable. Armies of that quality are an instrument but also a mark of civilisation, and without their existence mankind would have to reconcile itself either to life at a primitive level below ‘the military horizon’ or to a lawless chaos of masses warring, Hobbesian fashion, ‘all against all’.” [28] Again, we must question Keegan’s polemics against Clausewitz. Keegan looks at armies as instruments of civilization; Clausewitz considers war an instrument of politics.

We fully agree with Keegan that preserving the existence of mankind by avoidance of war, or at least by limiting it, is one of the most important tasks of the 21st Century. We can also agree with Keegan that a basic cultural transformation has become necessary to accomplish this task. Nevertheless we must challenge Keegan when he turns away from Clausewitz and advocates a recurrence towards “the habits of the primitives and their warfare” to reach this goal.

Clausewitz has a different goal. Even though he admired Napoleon, whose strategy was based on unlimited warfare and the decisive battle, Clausewitz sought to restrain this kind of warfare. In the first chapter of his main publication, Clausewitz states his final position as being a limitation within the relational framework of purposes, aims and means of war. He was not a pacifist, and his aim was not the avoidance of war. His interest was warfare and the theory of war. But he repeatedly emphasized the balance of purposes, aims and means of war, and pointed out that if this equilibrium were tilted, it would be necessary to limit or end warfare, or possibly not even start it in the first place. “Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow”. [29] After experiencing war himself and its unlimited effects, Clausewitz concluded, towards the end of his life, that war must be balanced between purposes, aims and means in order to restrict the new style of unlimited warfare.

What is Keegan’s perspective concerning a return to primitive warfare? He describes this form of warfare at the end of his book with concepts such as: “restraint, diplomacy and negotiation”, but these are only a few features of ‘primitive warfare’. Keegan could have referred to elements of international law, which are also respected today in modern warfare, to develop his ideas. But Keegan separates the limiting aspects of ‘primitive warfare’ from the excessive violence involved. An example of this excessive violence is evident in regards to the Cossacks, who indulged in incendiarism, pillage, rape, murder and numerous other outrages.

Keegan said, regarding the Cossacks’ war that it was not politics, but a culture and a way of life. [30] He describes how much cruelty the Cossacks displayed during the retreat of Napoleon's army, inhumane behavior that was a reminder of the Step People’s invasion. When the Cossacks caught the remnants of the French army (those that had failed to cross the Beresina River before Napoleon burned the bridges), the slaughter became wholesale. Clausewitz told his wife that he had witnessed ghastly scenes. “If my feelings had not been hardened it would have sent me mad.” [31]

Of course, we do not want to suggest that Keegan means these negative aspects of war when he endorses a return to primitive warfare. He himself stresses the ambivalence of this type of conflict. But when he separates the limiting aspects of primitive warfare from its opposite effects of excessive violence, he separates warfare from its cultural context. His pretension of integrating warfare into its related culture does not allow a civilization, with high technical standards, to conduct primitive warfare. In order to associate modern cultures with primitive warfare, it would first be necessary to separate the limitations of primitive warfare from its use of excessive violence.

Keegan implies, in his detailed description of primitive warfare, that those limitations can only take place between equal opponents. Cruelties are unlimited when directed towards civilians and persons not regarded as equal. Keegan could argue that he did not mean this kind of association, but when we follow his arguments closely we find that limits in primitive warfare belong only to their associated culture. One of these limits is the weapons of those cultures, as Keegan recognizes. Today’s sophisticated and destructive weapons do not allow the same limitations of warfare as when bows and arrows were used. If we would transpose ‘primitive warfare’ (for example as the nomads had practised), into the era of highly developed technology and weapons of mass destruction, there would be no end to the suffering.

Primacy of Culture or of Politics?

Contrary to his main argument, Keegan assumes a separation between culture and warfare. Without this separation, an association between primitive warfare and modern culture would not be possible. This conclusion contradicts Keegan’s own argument of associating every form of warfare with its dependent culture.

Keegan tries to solve this contradiction by suggesting the creation of an aristocratic warrior class subculture with its own kind of warfare. He emphasizes this aristocratic aspect in his criticism of the French revolution. The purpose of the French revolution, Keegan tells us, was “to confer on the majority what hitherto had been the privilege of a minority - the title to full legal freedom represented by the aristocrat’s warrior status”. Without denying the ambiguous character of the French revolution, the claim for full legal freedom cannot be perceived as a ‘frenzy to equalize’. [32]

Keegan describes other aspects of this subculture. He learned from his fellow students, who had done military service, how the time in uniform had introduced them to an entirely different world. The afterglow of that experience had cast its own spell on him also. The glittering array of medals and uniforms entranced him and he perceived the British Army to be under a ‘tribal spell’, whose men had values and skills which were quite different from those of the civilian society. This ‘culture of warriors’ could never be the culture of civilization, Keegan tells us. It “reaches into the most secret places of the human heart, places where self dissolves rational purpose, where pride reigns, where emotion is paramount, where instinct is king”. [33] But there is no passage in Keegan’s description of warfare where it is plausible, that such a ‘culture of warriors’ has contributed to a limitation of war.

But our main argument against this is; what does it mean if there really exists a parallel culture of warriors, different from the civilian society? Keegan’s argument is by no means new; it is generally accepted that all armies must have different values from those in civilian society. This is one reason for separating armies from civilian societies. The problem is this how these different cultures can coexist. Because modern society does not belong to one culture alone, it is necessary to combine some, and sometimes many different, ‘cultures’ into one. For this reason, policy is a relatively independent part of society with the function of bringing together the different subcultures. Therefore, warfare is connected with culture (in the meaning Keegan used it) only in uniformed societies, in a strict sense, and only in primitive societies.

Towards the end of his book, Keegan argues that politics must continue and war cannot. This statement does not mean that the role of the warrior is over. More than ever, the world community needs skilful and disciplined warriors who are ready to put themselves at the service of its authority. Such warriors should be properly seen as the protectors of civilization, not its enemies. The style in which they fight for civilization - against ethnic bigots, regional warlords, ideological intransigents, common pillagers and organised international criminals - cannot derive from the Western model of warmaking alone. Keegan proposes that future peacekeepers and peacemakers have much to learn from alternative military cultures, not only that of the Orient but also from the primitive world. [34]

We must question how the concept of ‘primitive warfare’ can service the world community? Keegan describes natural battle behaviour as: “Nature argued for flight, for cowardice, for self-interest; nature made for Cossacking, whereby a man fought if he chose and not otherwise, and might turn to commerce on the battlefield if that suited his ends”. [35] Such a primitive means of warfare stands in stark contrast to armies serving civilization which are characterized, according to Keegan, by obedience, discipline and law-abidance. In another passage, Keegan refers to the Greek Klephts: “They lived to fight another day, but not to win the war, a point they simply could not grasp”. [36] Of course, such an attitude entails some reductions and limitations in warfare; but should the warriors serving the world community practise such warfare? The main problem with Keegan is that he recommends “warriors in service of the world community" to proceed with the forms of primitive warfare. This opinion actually opposes his own argument of associating the forms of warfare with their own culture” According to his claim, only primitive cultures could practise primitive warfare, as long as war was not the continuation of politics.

Keegan's discussion about returning to primitive forms of warfare serves as an attempt to dissociate the actions of armies in democratic societies from the primacy of political leadership. Here is the political truth in Keegan’s dispute with Clausewitz. His polemics concerning Clausewitz are overstated and excessive, since only Keegan's caricature of Clausewitz seems to give justification for his position. Keegan's perspective of the warrior duties serving the world community is divergent. He points out that these soldiers would have to fight for civilization against “ethnic bigots, regional warlords, ideological intransigents, common pillagers and organised international criminals”. [37] But the main question is, should these soldiers act according to the political order of the world community, or should they function independently, in the manner of state police?

In his examples, Keegan simply overlooks the different tasks of police and military actions. He does this in order to preserve his idea that ‘warriors’ must be independent from politics. Police act when rules and regulations are broken or infringed, without receiving direct political orders; but this would not be sensible with armies. As long as corresponding laws and rules do not exist, as they would in a ‘world state’, armies can only function according to their political orders. For example, Keegan states that a battle against ‘regional warlords’ can only be carried out by political orders in contra-distinction to the other tasks. In this case Keegan’s postulated battle of ‘warriors’, in the service of the world community, would be a continuation of community politics by other means.

Apparently, without noticing, Keegan returns (in his perspective of a more peaceful world) to the strongly criticized Clausewitzian formula of war as a “continuation of politics by other means.” The only difference is that he does not mean the continuation of politics of independent states, but the continuation of world community politics. [38]

End Notes

* I am really obliged to thank Herfried Munkler: Berlin and Peter Paret: Princeton for their support. A number of other people have generously tried to improve my poor English, for example Constance Rothe, Dr. Konrad Freydank and Jo Broomer.

[1] Keegan, John, A History of Warfare, London, Hutchinson, 1993, p.384, p.18 and 22.
[2] Liddell Hart; cit. Raymond Aron, Erkemitnis und Verantwortung, Munchen, 1985, p.416.
[3] Keegan, op. cit. pp.384-5.
[4] Clausewitz, Carl von, On War. Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1976.
[5] Clausewitz regarded this chapter of Book One as the only one of the whole work that has been finished; op. cit. p.70.
[6] See Paret, Peter, Clausewitz and the State, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1976.
[7] Clausewitz, op. cit. p.69.
[8] Clausewitz, Carl von, Historical and Political Writings. Edited and Translated by Peter Paret and Daniel Moran, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992; From the Campaign of 1812 in Russia (1823-1825), pp. 110-204; see also Carl von Clausewitz, Schriften, Aufsatze, Studien, Briefe. 2 Volumes, Gottingen 1966 and 1990, Vol.11, pp.717-924.
[9] Clausewitz Schriften II, op. cit. pp. 1085-1086; translation by the author.
[10] Clausewitz regarded the adaptation of the military capabilities primarily as a Prussian Army success; Clausewitz, Schrifien II, op. cit. p.1085; ibid. p. 1070; translation by the author.
[11] Keegan op. cit. p.19; Keegan is even of the opinion that the terrible nature of the First World War entailed the revolution in Russia. And the terrible nature of war was, so Keegan, as much as anything else, related to Clausewitz’s literary insistence.
[12] Clausewitz op. cit. p.581, pp.91 and 78
[13] Keegan, op. cit., p.75
[14] See, for example, Clausewitz On War, Book One, chapter seven, which discusses ‘Friction in War’. Some of these frictions are: weather, bad roads, high mountains, darkness and latersoon. Clausewitz, On War, op. cit. pp. 119-121.
[15] Clausewitz op. cit. “The three cases of interaction to limit war”; pp. 78-80.
[16] ibid. p 80
[17] ibid. p.81
[18] ibid. p.75
[19] We accentuate the contrast between Clausewitz’s ‘remarkable trinity’ and its interpretation by Martin van Creveld. Another article would be necessary to reject van Creveld’s misinterpretation of Clausewitz; van Creveld tries to replace Clausewitz’s remarkable trinity with the three tendencies of violence, battle and the primacy of politics by establishing a new paradigm, the primacy of the battle; Creveld, Martin van, The Transformation of War. New York 1991; Clausewitz, ibid. p. 89.
[20] Keegan op. cit. p.3.
[21] Clausewitz op. cit. p.89.
[22] See for example, Grossman, Dave, On Killing. The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill. New York 1996.
[23] Keegan op. cit. p.385.
[24] The ‘exceeding’ aspect of using violence is specifically described in the writings of Sofsky, Wolfgang, Traktat tiber die Gewalt. Frankfurt 1995; see also Graca Marcel, The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. New York 1997.
[25] Keegan op. cit. p.385.
[26] Clausewitz op. cit. p.76.
[27] Keegan op. cit. pp. 59-60.
[28] ibid. p. 384.
[29] Clausewitz op. cit. p.92, see also ibid. p. 81: “the smaller the penalty you demand from your opponent, the less you can expect him to try and deny to you; the smaller the effort he makes, the less you need make yourself”; “Generally speaking, a military objective that matches the political object in scale will, if the latter is reduced, be reduced in proportion”.
[30] Keegan op. cit. p.7
[31] Keegan ibid p.8, citing Clausewitz.
[32] Keegan op. cit. pp. 364-365.
[33] Keegan op. cit. pp. XIII-XVI; p. 3.
[34] ibid. p. 16.
[35] ibid. p. 10.
[36] ibid. p.392
[37] ibid.
[38] We have to remember that the Formula of war as the continuation of politics by other means is only one of three tendencies of Clausewitz’s theory of war. The main contrasts in his theory are those between the primordial violence, the autonomous laws of battle and the subordination of war as an instrument of politics. Clausewitz emphasizes that war is composed of these contrasts and postulates this ‘remarkable trinity’ as the real beginning of his theory. See, Herberg-Rothe, Andreas, Das Ratsel Clausewitz. Politische Theorie des Kneges im Widerstreit. (The mystery of Clausewitz. Contradictions in the political theory of war), Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Humboldt-University, Berlin,. 2000.