Can Jomini and Clausewitz Coexist

  • -

Can Jomini and Clausewitz Coexist

Category : Articles

Most analyses of military theorists tend to emphasize the differences that separate Jomini from Clausewitz. Are they irreconcilable, or can they coexist

The military-theoretical traditions founded by Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine-Henri Jomini definitely had an impact on our military thinking. Aside from their differing relationships to Napoleon, the fundamental differences between Clausewitz and Jomini are rooted in their differing concepts of the historical process and of the nature and role of military theory. Many thoughtful observers have considered the differences between the two to be rather inconsequential and believe that the two theorists can coexist while building upon each other theories.
Carl von Clausewitz was a professional soldier from the age of 12 to his death from Cholera–a disease he incurred on active duty–at the age of 51. Clausewitz??™s military career included many highs and lows including being captured by Napoleon in 1806 and experiencing first hand Prussia??™s disastrous military humiliation. He served as a practical field soldier, as a staff officer with political/military responsibilities at the very center of the Prussian state, and as a prominent military educator. Soldiers before his time had written treatises on various military subjects, but none had undertaken a great philosophical examination of war on the scale of those written by Clausewitz. He stressed the moral/psychological and political aspects of war and his theories are of interest to military strategists, historians, political scientists, business thinkers, and scientists. He states, ???War must always be subordinate to policy and serve as a means to a political end.??? In his most famous work, On War, Clausewitz describes this belief and explains how this relationship must exist in reality. At several points, Clausewitz seems to give contradictory advice concerning this relationship but if read carefully; On War explains that indeed, warfare must not exist in the absence of policy nor without a political purpose guiding it.
Antoine-Henri Jomini originally headed for a career in banking, young Jomini got carried away by the excitement of the French Revolution and joined the French army in 1798. He later became a general in the French and later in the Russian service, outlook on war took a didactic, prescriptive approach, reflected in a detailed vocabulary of geometric terms such as bases, strategic lines, and key points. His intelligence, facile pen, and actual experience of war made his writings a great deal more credible and useful than so brief a description can imply, and his operational prescription was fundamentally simple: put superior combat power at the decisive point. He took a didactic, prescriptive approach, reflected in a detailed vocabulary of geometric terms such as bases, strategic lines, and key points. Jomini felt that war is not a science, but rather it is an art. Jomini stated in his book, ???Combats may be mentioned as often being quite independent of scientific combinations, and they may become essentially dramatic, personal qualities and inspirations and a thousand other things frequently being the controlling elements. The passions which agitate the masses that are brought into collision, the warlike qualities of these masses, the energy and talent of their commanders, the spirit, more or less martial, of nations and epochs, in a word, everything that can be called the poetry and metaphysics of war, will have a permanent influence on its results.”
As pointed out thus far, there are many differences in the military experiences, personalities, and underlying philosophies of these two leaders. In contrast to Jomini, Clauswitz saw history in relative terms, rejecting absolute categories, standards, and values. While Jomini saw history and war as static and simplistic. Bassford commented that Jomini??™s writing style, unlike Clausewitzs, reflected his constant search for an audience. He dealt at length with a number of practical subjects that Clausewitz had largely ignored. Elements of his discussion are clearly aimed at protecting his political position or expanding his readership. And, one might add, at minimizing Clausewitzs, for he clearly perceived the Prussian writer as his chief competitor. For Jomini, Clausewitzs death thirty-eight years prior to his own came as a piece of rare good fortune.
In spite of these differences and many other, when viewed from a broad perspective one can argue that not only could Clausewitz and Jomini??™s viewpoints coexist in modern militaries but rather that some of their ideals were very similar and that they complement each other. Clausewitz and Jomini had very similar definitions of strategy and tactics and stressed the necessity for simplicity in battle planning. They both, also, referred frequently to war as a drama. Jomini, with his emphasis on principals and application may dominate at the tactical level of war. Clausewitz, with the emphasis on ambiguity, complexity and politics tends to become more important at the more senior leadership levels. Brigade commanders are the military??™s senior tacticians. They are involved in the day to day operations and maintenance of the force and have the responsibility to planning, leading, and executing operations. Brigade commanders live in the tactical environment. At the General officer level, the tendency is for issues to become more complex and for effects to become more separated from causes. Politics, media, and other factors beyond the military??™s control begin to intrude on decision making at the general officer level. In conclusion, it is apparent that even though very different, the two theories coexist and complement each other currently in our modern military.

Mark T. Calhoun, ???Clausewitz and Jomini: Contrasting Intellectual Frameworks in Military Theory??? Army History: PB 20-11-3 (No. 80), Summer 2011.

Christopher Bassford, ???Jomini and Clausewitz: Their Interaction??? Georgia State University: 23rd Meeting of the Consortium on Revolutionary, 23 February 1993.

Carl Von Clausewitz, On War (1874 1st edition of this translation) Chapter XVI.

???Antoine-Henri Jomini???;; Internet: accessed 29 May 2013.

Mertsalov, A.N., ???Jomini versus Clausewitz??? Russia War, Peace and Diplomacy: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004.

[ 1 ]. Mark T. Calhoun, Clausewitz and Jomini: Contrasting Intellectual Frameworks in Military Theroy (Army History: PB 20-11-3 (No. 80), Summer 2011), 23.
[ 2 ]. Christopher Bassford, Jomini and Clausewitz: Their Interaction (Georgia State University: 23rd Meeting of the Consortium on Revolutionary, 23 February 1993), 3.
[ 3 ]. Carl Von Clausewitz, On War (1874 1st edition of this translation) Chapter XVI.
[ 4 ]. ???Antoine-Henri Jomini???;, accessed 29 May 2013
[ 5 ]. Mertsalov, A.N., Jomini versus Clausewitz (Russia War, Peace and Diplomacy: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004) 14.
[ 6 ]. Bassford, Jomini and Clausewitz: Their Interaction, 5.