'The most beautiful of wars': Carl von Clausewitz and small wars

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Carl von Clausewitz was both an avid analyst of small wars and people’s war and, during the wars of liberation, a practitioner of small war. While Clausewitz scholars have increasingly recognised the centrality of small wars for Clausewitz’s thought, the sources and inspirations of his writings on small wars have remained understudied. This article contextualises Clausewitz’s thought on small wars and people’s war in the tradition of German philosophical and aesthetic discourses around 1800. It shows how Clausewitz developed core concepts such as the integration of passion and reason and the idea of war in its ‘absolute perfection’ as a regulative ideal in the framework of his works on small wars and people’s war. Contextualising Clausewitz inevitably distances him from the twenty-first-century strategic context, but, as this article shows, it can help us to ask pertinent questions about the configuration of society, the armed forces and the government in today’s Western states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-63
JournalEuropean Journal of International Security
Issue number1
Early online date26 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


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