Jomini and Clausewitz: The Art and Science of War


Both Clausewitz and Jomini offer their own accounts not only of what constitutes war, such as strategy and tactics, but attempt to define the essence of war itself. In regards to this definition of essence, the terms art and science are both crucial. To define war in terms of art would seem to suggest that war is difficult to ever encapsulate, since it is conditioned by the whims of creation – it is contingent and haphazard, and to a certain extent varies according to the creator or wager of war, just as pieces of art obviously differ from one artist to another. To understand war as a science, however, is to suppose that war can be grasped like any other object of science - for example, the studying of the empirical history of war can help lead to definitive conclusions about its nature.


Both Clausewitz and Jomini are hesitant to approach war as either art or science. For example, Clausewitz gives the following definition of war: “war therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” (27) Hence, the crucial condition for the very possibility of war is the will. But what is the will? Can we understand it in purely practical terms, as, for example, the desire to acquire more land for resources? Or can it be understood in an almost metaphysical sense, where the will, for example, to conquer, speaks to the wish of the conductor of war to transcend his historical boundaries and become a legend? With such a definition, Clausewitz arguably leaves the question open as to whether war is an art or science.


Jomini lists various reasons for why war exists, such as “to reclaim certain rights or to defend them” (14) and “to protect and maintain the great interests of the state.” (14) Jomini, however, also includes the reason of “from a mania for conquest” (14), thus recognizing the psychological aspirations of the leader who engages in war, and thus the whim of the one who wills war.


With these remarks, both authors tend to think of war as another element of human existence, a certain manner of human behavior and conduct. The question as to whether war is an art or science speaks to the extent to which human behavior is an art or science: can we ever fully understand what it means to be human, or do all attempts at categorization dissolve into the incalculable spontaneity of subjective creation?

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