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Clauswitz and the French Revolution

Autor:   •  March 6, 2013  •  Research Paper  •  1,271 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,051 Views

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The French revolution can be considered one of the most important events in the modern history of humanity. It marked the beginning of a new era in which human rights, equality, and most importantly the respect for national identity became the trademarks of evolution.

At the same time, the French Revolution was an important study case for the theorists of war, such as Carl von Clausewitz who is viewed to this day one of the most significant analysts of the art of war and his theories are seen as valid even today. One of his most important ideas related to the study of war and of military strategies is related to his “Trinity” theory. This concept considers three elements to be essential in a military battle or conflict. The first element is “primordial violence, hatred, and enmity”, the second “the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam” and the third “war’s element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason” (Bassford, 2012). If these three elements are applied to the case study of the French revolution, all of them can be found to equally valid to explain the complex nature of the event. However, given the fact that the French revolution was in fact a revolution in which the human side, through rebellion, played a key role in continuing the revolution, as the first element of the Trinity provides the “fuel” needed to ignite and maintain the revolutionary condition alive. Therefore, the first element of the Trinity was essential for the actual start and development of the revolution.

Carl von Clausewitz’s writings have often been the subject of debate, interpretation, and misinterpretation (Klinger, 2006). This is largely due to the fact that his writings did not benefit from a clear historical setting but rather were influenced by an ever changing setting, seeing that the 18th century saw not only the tendency for rebellion as was the case with the French revolution but also the wars of Napoleon and the nationalistic views of states such as current Germany. This influenced to a great extent the way in which Clausewitz could understand and grasp the nationalistic notions of those days and transform them into theory. Aware of this potential shortcoming in his theory, Clausewitz “notes that although the three elements (of the Trinity) are present in each war, they “determine by their respective force and relations that war’s particular character” (Klinger, 2006). Therefore it can be said that the elements presented by Clausewitz in his theory are inherent for every armed conflict. Yet the percentage in which these are present in a specific conflict provides the nature of that conflict. In the case of the French revolution, in essence, it was the power of the people that triggered the beginning of change.

The second part of the 18th century represented a time of crisis for the old regimes and for their economic


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