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Nonlinearity,and the Unpredictabilityo f Wm I A l t h o u g h our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. Clausewitz, On War, Book One, Chapter 1. Despite the frequent invocations of his name in recent years, especially during the Gulf War, there is something deeply perplexing about the work of Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831). In particular, his unfinished magnum opus On War seems to offer a theory of war, at the same time that it perversely denies many of the fundamental preconditions of theory as such-simplification , generalization and prediction, among others.’ The book continues to draw the attention of both soldiers and theorists of war, although soldiers often find the ideas of Clausewitz too philosophical to appear practical, while analysts usually find his thoughts too empirical to seem elegant. Members of both groups sense that there is too much truth in what he writes to ignore him. Yet, as the German historian Hans Rothfels has bluntly put it, Clausewitz is an author “more quoted than actually read.”2Lofty but pragmatic, by Alan Beyerchen teaches German history in the Department of History at Ohio State University, where he is also affiliated with the Division for Comparative Studies and the Mershon Center. This paper is the first part of a larger project on the implications of nonlinear science for the liberal arts. For their comments and encouragement, I am indebted to Kaushik Bagchi, Christopher Bassford, Lisa Barber, Leonard Jossem, Edward Merta, Raymond Muessig, Williamson Murray, Barbara J. Reeves, Oliver Schmidt, David Staley, Raymond Stokes, Ruud van Dijk, Paul Watkins, Barry Watts, Bostwick Wyman, David Young, Keith Zahniser; my students in Humanities 792 during Spring Quarter 1991; participants in colloquia held at the Institute for Contemporary History in Athens, Ohio, in November 1990 and November 1991; and members of the Implications of Nonlinear Studies Working Group at Ohio State University, especially Randolph Roth. 1. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976). I use this edition for all quotations from On War in English unless otherwise indicated. For the German, see Vom Kriege, 18th ed. (complete edition of original text), ed. Werner Hahlweg (Bonn: Diimmlers, 1973). For other works in English, see von Clausewitz, Historical and Political Writings, ed. and trans. Peter Paret and Daniel Moran (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992). 2. Hans Rothfels, ”Clausewitz,” in Edward Mead Earle, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy (New York: Atheneum, 1969), p. 93. Christopher Bassford offers one impression of the reception of Clausewitz’s work in his study of the Anglo-American reception of Clausewitz, 1815-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press). International Security, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Winter 1992/93), pp. 59-90 0 1992by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 59 International Security 17:3 I 60 a theorist who repudiated conventional meanings of theory, On Warendures as a compelling and enigmatic classic. Just what is the difficulty with Clausewitz that makes his work so significant yet so difficult to assimilate? On War’s admirers have sensed that it grapples with war’s complexity more realistically than perhaps any other work. Its difficulty, however, has prompted different explanations even among Clausewitz partisans. Raymond Aron has spoken for those who believe that the incomplete and unpolished nature of On War is the primary source of misunderstanding: as Clausewitzrepeatedly revises his treatise, he comes to a deeper understanding of his own ideas, but before his untimely death he brings his fully developed insights to bear only upon the final revision of Chapter 1of Book One.3 A second approach to the question is exemplified by Peter Paret’s stress on the changing interpretation of any significant author over time. Clausewitz ’s writings have suffered more distortions than most, Paret has suggested , because abstracting this body of work from its times does violence to its insistence on unifying the universal with the historical particular. Thus forParet the literature on Clausewitzhas been ”fragmentedand contradictory in its findings” because of our lack of historical consciousness.4 A third route to explaining the difficulties encountered in coping with On War...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 59-90
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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