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  • Enlightened War: German Theories and Cultures of Warfare from Frederick the Great to Clausewitz
  • Viktoria Harms (bio)
Enlightened War: German Theories and Cultures of Warfare from Frederick the Great to Clausewitz, ed. Elisabeth Krimmer and Patricia Anne Simpson Rochester: Camden House, 2011. xii+348pp. US$85. ISBN 978-1-57113-495-0.

The important role that the culture of war played in Enlightenment discourse has long been neglected in the scholarship on eighteenth-century thinking, according to the two editors of this volume. Both have, however, previously published on the topic: Patricia Anne Simpson, The Erotics of War in German Romanticism (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2006), and more recently Elisabeth Krimmer, The Representation of War in German Literature: From 1800 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), to mention just the monographs. Now they seek to further "explore the intricate interrelations between the literature and culture of the period and contemporary theories and practices of war" (2). To this purpose, they have brought together twelve articles that represent a variety of disciplines—history, military theory, literature, art, philosophy, gender studies—but all "proceed from the assumption that warfare and Enlightenment culture are interdependent to an extent hitherto underestimated in scholarship" (9).

The articles, which cover a wide range of approaches and topics, are divided into four sections, although the mix of a chronological and a thematic approach makes these groupings seem somewhat arbitrary. Some authors deal with less well-known texts, including Johannes Birgfeld in his spirited defence of the epic Borussia (1794), written by Daniel Jenisch, which Birgfeld describes as both a critique of contemporary politics and an early document of anti-war sentiment. Others write about more familiar authors: Galili Shahar, for example, rather ambitiously "attempts to demonstrate the existence of an inverted correspondence between Kleist's theory of violence, his views on the human body and the mechanism of desire, and Immanuel Kant's critique of reason" (103). His article is followed by Elisabeth Krimmer's clear and well-argued essay on Faust II. Her close reading of the text shows Goethe's ambivalent view of war as a force that is linked to both "self-indulgence, greed, and hunger for power" (133) and "man's highest aspirations, in particular the desire for love, the capacity for freedom, and the appreciation of beauty and art" (135).

The pervasive ambivalence towards war at the time, which allowed a debate on eternal peace to run parallel to the thought that war could also be beneficial and educational, and to the idea that war was inevitable, is also a topic in the essays by Sara Eigen Figal and Felix Saure. In his article [End Page 463] on Wilhelm von Humboldt, Saure seeks to show not only that Humboldt knew more about actual war than he has been given credit for, but also that for him the individual was always more important than the nation. Hence, he was critical of contemporary warfare, insofar as it impeded the growth of the individual, yet suffering and death had a definite place in his concept of Bildung, and risking one's life in battle could also be seen as living life to the fullest. Eigen Figal goes back to the period of Frederick ii, focusing on a strand in Enlightenment thought that believed in the necessity of perpetual war in order to define one's own identity and to encourage virtues such as selflessness and activity for the common good. Rather than trying to overcome war, these thinkers would concentrate on a way to channel, control, and limit the hostility that they believed was natural. That also meant that the enemy was not depicted as a monster or animal. Carefully analyzing the language in texts by Frederick ii, Johann Valentin Embser, and a contemporary encyclopedia, Eigen Figal detects a close relationship between the enemy, the neighbour, and even the brother in the terminology at the time. This surprising insight leads her to ask if "the tolerance of belligerence within overarching ideals of shared human identity" might not be the most important legacy of the Enlightenment because it leads to "a culture that, while prepared to engage in war, is able to...


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pp. 463-465
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