Karl von Clausewitz

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Clausewitz, Karl von

(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 INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life

The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
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. 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 WaterlooWaterloo campaign,
last action of the Napoleonic Wars, ending with the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon I, who escaped from Elba in Feb., 1815, and entered Paris on Mar. 20, soon faced a European coalition.
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, 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 TzuSun Tzu
, fl. c.500–320. B.C., name used by the unknown Chinese authors of the sophisticated treatise on philosophy, logistics, espionage, and strategy and tactics known as The Art of War. It includes many commentaries by later Chinese philosophers.
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, and even more from the work of MachiavelliMachiavelli, Niccolò
, 1469–1527, Italian author and statesman, one of the outstanding figures of the Renaissance, b. Florence. Life

A member of the impoverished branch of a distinguished family, he entered (1498) the political service of the
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, Clausewitz has influenced many 20th-century strategists and historians, especially Bernard BrodieBrodie, Bernard,
1910–78, American military strategist, b. Chicago. Brodie edited The Absolute Weapon (1946), the first book on nuclear strategy, and was a strategic theorist at the Rand Corporation (1951–66).
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. See strategy and tacticsstrategy and tactics,
in warfare, related terms referring, respectively, to large-scale and small-scale planning to achieve military success. Strategy may be defined as the general scheme of the conduct of a war, tactics as the planning of means to achieve strategic objectives.
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See P. Paret, Clausewitz and the State (1976).

Clausewitz, Karl von


Born June 1, 1780, in Burg, near Magdeburg; died Nov. 16, 1831, in Breslau (now Wroclaw), Poland. German military theorist and historian; Prussian general. Son of an excise official.

Clausewitz entered the Prussian Army in 1792. He graduated from the German War School in Berlin in 1803, was an adjutant of Prince August of Prussia until 1808, and served in the war with France of 1806–07. In 1808–09 he was chief of the office of General G. von Scharnhorst’s Military Reorganization Commission and was active in preparing for the reorganization of the army. Clausewitz taught at the German War School from 1810 to 1812, and wrote his Survey of Military Training (Major Principles of War). He was the author of Three Confessions (February 1812), a patriotic document of the group of military reformers (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Boyen), in which was set forth the idea of a popular war in alliance with Russia against Napoleon’s domination. In the spring of 1812 he left Prussia and entered the service of the Russian Army. During the Patriotic War of 1812, Clausewitz served as quartermaster in the cavalry corps of P. P. Palen (subsequently commanded by F. P. Uvarov) and after October 1812 on the staff of P. Kh. Witgenshtein’s corps (later army). In 1813 he was liaison officer for G. Blücher’s Prussian army and after August 1813, chief of staff of L. Wallmoden’s corps. In April 1814, Clausewitz reentered the Prussian service and was chief of staff of a corps. He was director of the German War School from 1818 to 1830. In the latter year he was appointed inspector of artillery and in 1831, chief of staff of a Prussian army on the Polish border. He died of cholera.

Clausewitz’ world view was formed under the influence of the ideas of the French Revolution and the national liberation movement of the peoples of Europe in the early 19th century. He held moderate bourgeois views, combining progressive ideas and a sharp critique of the feudal military system with reactionary and antidemocratic ideas and Prussian nationalism. His views were based on the idealist philosophy of G. Hegel, I. Kant, and J. G. Fichte. Clausewitz was the first thinker to apply the dialectical method to military theory in his consideration of the interrelation and development of the various phenomena of the art of warfare. He made a thorough study of more than 130 campaigns and wars between 1566 and 1815 and wrote a number of works on military history. His main work is the three-volume study On War (Russian translation, 1932–36), which presents his views on the nature of war and on the forms and methods of warfare.

Clausewitz’ contribution to military theory made up an entire stage in the development of 19th-century military thought. Many of his propositions are still valid. The classics of Marxism-Leninism had a high regard for his contributions. F. Engels believed that in Clausewitz, German literature had presented to the world a star of the first magnitude. V. I. Lenin called him “one of the greatest authorities on military matters” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 292), “whose main ideas have now definitely become the possession of every thinking person” (ibid., vol. 32, p. 79). A central place in Clausewitz’ scholarly achievements is occupied by his proposition about the relation of war and politics: “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” and politics contains in a hidden form the main outlines of a future war. “Marxists have always rightly regarded this thesis as the theoretical basis of views on the significance of any war” (ibid., vol. 26, p. 316).

However, being an idealist, Clausewitz viewed the politics of a state as representing the interests of the whole nation and failed to understand the moving force of the development of politics itself, namely, the class struggle. Clausewitz correctly asserted that “every epoch has its own wars” and that changes in the art of warfare are caused by “new social conditions and relations.” He could not understand, however, the ultimate causes of the development of the art of warfare, and his explanation of them was rather contradictory.

Clausewitz made a great contribution to the theory of warfare and its component parts—strategy and tactics. He established a number of strategic principles necessary to attain victory (complete exertion of all forces, maximum concentration of forces on the axis of the main strike, speed and suddenness of action, and vigorous exploitation of success). By skillfully applying the dialectical method, Clausewitz correctly solved such problems as the relation between the offensive and the defense and the importance of army morale. He attached great importance to matériel, geographical, and morale factors and the role of the military leader.


Hinterlassene Werke über Krieg und Kriegsführung, vols. 1–10. Berlin, 1832–37.
Ital’ianskii pokhod Napoleona Bonaparta 1796 g. Moscow, 1939.
1799 g., parts 1–2. Moscow, 1938–39.
1806 g., 2nd ed. Moscow, 1938.
1812 g., 2nd ed. Moscow, 1937.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 360.
Lenin, V. I. Poln sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See reference volume, part 2, p. 443.)
Svechin, A. A. Klauzevits. Moscow, 1935.
Fabian, F. Pero i mech. Moscow, 1956.
Tsvetkov, V. “Vydaiushchiisia voennyi myslitel’ XIX v.” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, 1964, no. 1.


References in periodicals archive ?
Karl von Clausewitz, On War (London: Penguin Books, 1968).
Karl von Clausewitz, born in 1780, was the son of a Prussian military officer.
Helena Napoleon said he was fully justified; less renowned than those of fellow theorist Karl von Clausewitz, his theories formerly exercised comparable influence on European and American military thought; his ideas emphasized the reduction of the conduct of war to a few immutable guiding principles; he held that French success during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was due to their dedication to massing their forces and striking at the enemy's decisive point, thereby swiftly achieving victory; Jomini's military histories were notable for clarity, accuracy, and a continual effort to explore the actions of each belligerent.
Much of the discussion focused on military theorists like Karl von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu and Alfred Thayer Mahan, but more-contemporary topics were also addressed, with some unguarded comments along the way.
An internationally recognized expert on, and interpreter of, the thought of the German philosopher of war Karl von Clausewitz, Handel also wrote on subjects ranging from Israeli politics to the role and behavior of weak powers in the international system.
Parodiando a Karl von Clausewitz, la vida es una prolongacion de la guerra por otros medios.
Keegan makes his case for the cultural basis of war by creating an intellectual straw man out of the nineteenth-century writings of Karl von Clausewitz, the author of the often-misunderstood dictum, "war is the continuation of policy by other means.
Karl von Clausewitz was the 19th century Prussian general and military theorist who asserted that "war is a continuation of policy by other means.
One of the greatest philosophers of war, the 19th-century Prussian, Karl von Clausewitz, said: "Boldness, that noble virtue through which the human soul rises above the most menacing dangers, must be deemed to be a decisive agent in conflict.
He quoted the military strategist Karl von Clausewitz that "war is the realm of uncertainty," suggesting that this precept applies, sometimes, even to outcomes.