War, Clausewitz and the Trinity

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Today, the ideas of Carl von Clausewitz are employed almost ubiquitously in strategic studies, military history, and defence literature, sometimes at length, at others only in passing. Certain of his central insights have suffered distorting representations in recent years. This study is an attempt to analyse Clausewitz’s central theoretical device for understanding war – the ‘remarkable trinity’ of politics, chance, and passion. It aims to present a more accurate conception and one which is truer to Clausewitz’s intentions. It seeks to achieve this through an in-depth analysis and reinterpretation of the text of On War and Clausewitz’s other writings, conducted through the prism of the trinity and in the light of contemporary research on war. It draws on and synthesises many excellent existing studies, but argues that there is room for further clarification. It presents fresh perspectives into certain aspects of Clausewitz’s thought and emphasises elements of his theory that have been neglected. The interpretation is founded on three central approaches which place Clausewitz in historical context, considers critiques of his ideas, and recognises that the trinity cannot be understood in isolation, but rests upon ideas found in Clausewitz’s wider work. The trinity is a uniquely powerful framework for understanding the phenomenon of war. It cannot hope to answer all the strategic problems we face today – that was simply not what Clausewitz intended – but rather constitutes a mental guide for anyone interested in the subject, from commanders to university students. It focuses attention on the central underlying forces of war in their endlessly complex interaction. Once allowances are made for abstruse terminology and irregularities given the unfinished nature of On War, it is hoped that this thesis will underscore the timelessness of the trinity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009

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