Welcome back to EDGE Challenges Military History for Leaders video blog! This series is dedicated to Karl von Clausewitz, the West’s most famous (and least read) philosopher of war.
In this video, you’ll hear:
The Enlightenment made scientific thinking and inquiry the dominant intellectual trend. Thinkers explored and examined the world, seeking to explain the universe in practical, intelligible ways. New intellectual disciplines emerged and the sciences flourished. The advancement of war as a science was no exception.
Just as intellectuals were trying to wrap the complex whirlwind of battle into neat formulas that could be applied under all conditions, Napoleon entered the fray and turned the scientific world upside down. His “art” of war, i.e. a personalized style of general principles, contradicted the robotic approach military thinkers were prescribing. He essentially broke rule after rule and as he defeated his opponents. For instance, the cardinal rule during the Wars of Maneuver were to protect your lines of communication (supply lines connecting your army to you base); Napoleon often abandoned his to get around his enemies.
How could Napoleon be so successful by abandoning war’s “science?” Clausewitz answered: war is a duel of moral forces. People are unpredictable creatures especially when put under extreme situations. A detailed plan that anticipates people’s reactions will not work for that very reason. What is needed, as Napoleon successfully demonstrated time and again, is a leader who could apply general principles as he improvised on the ground. This is why, according to Clausewitz, war is mostly an art and not a science.
Next: What are the central factors affecting your organization as they seek to actualize their strategy? The next video we will visit them in The Fog of War and Friction .
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