Yesterday two words in my quote of Dr. Colin Gray stood out, “read properly”.
“Read improperly”, the writings of Clausewitz are incomprehensible garbage; “Read properly” On War reveals the inexorable truth behind all war and strategy for all of time.
Sorry, I don’t buy it.
“Read (or interpreted) properly” is the same refrain mystics, seers, prophets and oracles have used for millennia when their predictions don’t come true. They are what true believers say to defend the indefensible. Which is why, looking at the slavish attachment of some Clausewitz devotees, I think Clausewitzians are true believers.
“Read properly” isn’t the only red flag. Take this quote by William F. Owen writing in an Infinity Journal issue dedicated solely to the greatest German soldier-turned-philosopher:
“On War stands tall because no other work of military thought gives such correct and useful guidance. Beyond anything else, ‘Clausewitzians’ do not just study Clausewitz’s On War out of academic interest. They use it as the basis of their thinking.”
Yikes, two more giant intellectual red flags. First, ‘Clausewitzians’ have their own moniker that distinguishes them from other military strategists. Sure, other fields have categories. International relations, for instance, has “realists”, “constructivists”, “neo-cons” and “liberals”. International relations, though, doesn’t depend solely on one thinker who’s been dead for a hundred and fifty years. Even more worrying is the last sentence, the cultish sounding, “They use it as the basis for their thinking.”
I don’t use the word “cult” lightly. Clausewitzians don’t just follow Clausewitz,...they adhere to him. They believe he has all the answers...when he doesn’t. They insist he is infallible...except when he isn’t, when they blame it on not “reading him properly”. While cults are normally religious organizations, the same fanaticism can apply to intellectual endeavors.
Take Ayn Rand’s objectivists. The reverent tones which Rand’s followers use to describe her ideas mirror those of the Clausewitzians. The most penetrating analysis comes from Michael Shermer writing in Skeptic magazine about Ayn Rand. He has written about multiple cultish movements--like holocaust denial, scientology, climate change denial and creationism--but this article about Ayn Rand’s followers has a quote that applies equally well to “Clausewitzians”:
“[Objectivism] is a lesson in what happens when the truth becomes more important than the search for truth, when final results of inquiry become more important than the process of inquiry, and especially when reason leads to an absolute certainty about one’s beliefs such that those who are not for the group are against it.”
While Clausewitz’ doesn’t have an organization dedicated solely to his beliefs, “Clausewitzians” practice the worship, veneration and belief in the inerrancy of their intellectual leader that cults demand. Reading the Clausewitzian adherents, its hard not to come away with the feeling that Clausewitz has it all figured out. What do you think, William F. Owen?
“Just because stupid people mis-quote Clausewitz and do not understand him, does not make CvC not incredibly useful - and no one has ever done better!”
As Michael Shermer points out in his article about cults, the search for truth is more about the process, not about the answers. Clausewitzians have all the answers. I advocate reading Clausewitz as a starting point on the road to intellectual discovery, not the end point. Clausewitzians don’t. That’s where we disagree.
Tomorrow I’ll revel in some other quotes that should make you question anyone who calls themselves a “Clausewitzian”.