Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz created a new way of thinking about war in the West. Where previous authors had produced prescriptive manuals or homed in on ethics or the laws of war, he embarked on a study of the phenomenon and its complex social nature. Thus, Clausewitz is challenging to engage with and richer and more rewarding in the insights he provides.
Clausewitz can be considered the father of Strategic Studies as a discipline. Occasionally, somebody comes along and pronounces Clausewitz obsolete – to the tremendous relief of students who think this obviates reading the big fat book he left us, On War. The good news for students is that, ironically, On War is easier to read in the modern English translation than in its original obsolescent German, although scholars will argue endlessly over nuance of meaning.
Clausewitz’s approach has brought him loyal and prominent followers such as Bernard Brodie and Colin S Gray in the US, Julian Corbett and Sir Michael Howard in the UK, Alexander Andreyevich Svechin in Russia, and Mao Zedong in China. In this episode, Beatrice Heuser discusses Clausewitz and his intellectual legacy with Paul O’Neill, RUSI’s Director of Military Sciences, homing in on the long-term legacy of this most famous of the ‘dead Prussians’.
Clausewitz, Carl von: On War (1832) trans. Peter Paret and Michael Howard, Princeton, 1976 (or abridged, Oxford University Press, 2009).
Beatrice Heuser: Reading Clausewitz, Pimlico, 2002
Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography, Atlantic, 2007.
Beatrice Heuser, ‘Clausewitz, die Politik and the political purpose of Strategy’, in Thierry Balzacq and Ron Krebs (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Grand Strategy, Oxford, 2021 (pp. 57-72).
Director, Military Sciences
Senior Associate Fellow