Enlightened War: German Theories and Cultures of Warfare from Frederick the Great to Clausewitz eds. by Elisabeth Krimmer and Patricia Anne Simpson (review)
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Reviewed by
Elisabeth Krimmer and Patricia Anne Simpson, eds., Enlightened War: German Theories and Cultures of Warfare from Frederick the Great to Clausewitz. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011. 348 pp.

As suggested by the bibliography in this volume, previous scholars have made meaningful connections between the European Enlightenment and the culture [End Page 276] of warfare in the eighteenth century—but the editors of Enlightened War assert that this scholarship has largely overlooked the remarkable degree to which the theory and practice of war and Enlightenment discourse mutually reinforced and shaped one another. This book is an effort to redress this neglect with an impressive collection of interdisciplinary essays that explore the complex interrelations between war and culture in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in German-speaking Europe. War has cast a long shadow over German history; the essays in this book offer the reader fresh perspectives on how the German Verhängnis of war and violence is reflected and embedded in its intellectual history, social practices, gender relationships, and historical influences.

The book is divided into four sections. The first two parts focus on war and the literary movements of Enlightenment, classicism, and Romanticism; the second two parts deal with the theory and philosophy of warfare and the interrelation of gender and war. This is painting with a broad brush, but the editors have managed to bring together essays that mutually reinforce each other in intriguing ways. Contemporary cultural interpretations of the experience of the soldier in wartime, for example, are analyzed in trenchant examples of literature, art, and historical analysis that effectively illustrate popular notions of the soldier’s experience and also problematize the way in which military stereotypes were manipulated by cultural and political authorities for ideological purposes. Key ideas and themes of the relationship between Enlightenment and warfare are revisited in the various essays without being repetitive or dogmatic, and readers will find that the book possesses a cohesion that might seem unlikely, given the diversity of approaches and subjects in the table of contents. This book is not an ad hoc collection of academic essays loosely connected by a broader theme; the selection and arrangement of the essays flow both chronologically in historical time and thematically in the development of ideas and social practices to present a compelling picture of how Enlightenment thought was embedded in the culture of war. The book argues for a nuanced understanding of the dialectical relationship between Enlightenment philosophy and the pervasive violence that characterized the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Germany.

The interdisciplinary nature of the book is reflected in the variety of texts and cultural artifacts analyzed—which range from epic novels and philosophical treatises to painting, military field manuals, fairy tales, and political literature. Though the book uses primarily German cultural and historical sources, it is also accessible to non-German readers, since all citations from the German have been translated into English. The diversity of genres makes the book useful not only for German studies but also for students of philosophy, cultural historians, and social scientists. The editors have provided detailed resources for further study—there are complete bibliographies accompanying each essay, as well as a supplemental bibliography for the volume as a whole.

What makes this book both effective and impressive beyond its usefulness in providing details about the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries’ culture of war is that its historical focus never obscures the relevance of the subject for modern Germany; indeed, several essays make explicit connections between the traditions developed in this period and the debacle and recovery of the twentieth century. The essays compel readers to rethink their simplistic or reassuring notions of what militarization means: the story of the German experience of war is richer, deeper, and more thought-provoking than the old historical clichés would have us believe. The lessons learned by modern Germans from the Second [End Page 277] World War may indeed be incomplete without an understanding of the culture of war from preceding centuries. Dialectical antagonisms inherent in the Enlightenment’s attitude toward war are more than mere historical footnotes—important and problematic Enlightenment notions continue to shape our understanding of democracy...