War and Philosophy of Violence: Girard on Clausewitz IV

[Apocalypse and Savage War, France and Germany, Partisan and Guerilla War, Chance and Command; Perpetual Peace and Europe]

Girard’s interest in Clausewitz itself partly stems from the way in which that thought in On War can be taken up in relation to the Christian idea of the apocalypse. The ambiguous point at which limits on Satanic violence collapses preparing the return of Christ. Girard suggests that Clausewitz’ own rather dutiful more than passionate Christianity, focused on providential rather than interventionist deity who works through the details of history rather than miraculous interruptions, can be seen as part of a theology in which participation in immanent violence is part of bringing the Second Coming. This is extreme over extrapolation as a way of thinking about Clausewitz’ own understanding of religion, but is productive as a way of thinking about how Clausewitz’ thoughts on violence and war can be taken up from a theological point of view, which we could also think of in a deconstructive way around Derrida’s readings of Benjamin, Pascal, law and force, justice and divinity, theology and writing, and so on, though in Derrida’s case without a commitment to metaphysical theology and apocalypse as a literal single event.

Clausewitz’ remarks on ‘savage’ war and the violence of the people also suggest how his thought might be taken up with regard to partisan war. The use of the word ‘guerrilla’ in this context comes from Spanish resistance to the Napoleonic French, so partisan warfare was well known in Clausewitz’ time. It is perhaps a reflection of his state orientation that he does not have a sustained account of partisan war, but this has not stopped twentieth century thinkers and actors in the field of partisan warfare, since T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his account of his role in the British sponsored Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule in World War One, paying tribute to Clausewitz as a thinker about war.

Clausewitz’ own particular orientation is towards the struggle with chance and probability that he associates with the commander, who is between the rationality of the state and the violence of the people. The real focus is on the great general who integrates all parts of the trinity as he also integrates tactical and strategic levels of thinking into his awareness of chance and is able to create a force, a will, strong enough to break the will of the enemy. We may well suspect Clausewitz of overemphasising genius in war, but his own account is always more than explanation from innate genius, and clearly who the commander is makes a difference in war, as well as the interaction of forces and powers sketched by Clausewitz as the ‘trinity’.

The opposite pole to Clausewitz’ philosophy of violence might be taken as Kant’s slightly earlier essays calling for perpetual peace and global federation. Given how much Kant qualifies these aspirations, the gap may not be so great. For Clausewitz, peace is the goal of war, and he believe that the defeat of France accompanied by a radical weakening of France could bring at least relative peace to Europe, in which he saw a confederal Germany as central. At the beginning of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Germany was of course a confederation with the historical legacy name, Holy Roman Empire, in which the president was supplied on a hereditary basis by the Habsburg family in Austria which had its own central European Empire partly overlapping with the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The Vienna Congress, itself a kind of temporary federation of European powers, at the end created a German Confederation dominated by a mutually balancing duality of Austria and Prussia, with participation from external powers with German possessions (UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands). It should also be remembered that for Kant a world of law governed republics would be a sign of the Apocalyptic violence that interests Girard.

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