This review originally appeared in The International History Review, vol.XIV, no.4 (November 1992). It is displayed here with the permission of IHR.
Carl von Clausewitz. Historical and Political Writings. Eds./trans. Peter Paret and Daniel Moran. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Pp.397. $29.95 (US).
In this collection of some of Carl von Clausewitz's less well known writings, Peter Paret—the world's foremost authority on the Prussian author—and Daniel Moran, formerly Paret's student, have made another major contribution to the English-language literature on this seminal thinker. It provides a most useful companion to Paret's brilliant Clausewitz and the State (1976) and additional insight into the personality and especially the political thinking that lay behind the military theories in Clausewitz's magnum opus, On War. Moreover, unlike Paret's other books on the preeminent philosopher of war, this one has a useful conceptual index similar to those in Werner Hahlweg's German editions of Clausewitz's work. This is no small consideration to anyone who has ever sought to track down any particular concept in On War.
The book consists of two largely independent sections. Paret has done the translation and commentary on the historical material, which includes "Some Comments on the War of the Spanish Succession after Reading the Letters of Madame de Maintenon to the Princess des Ursins"; "Observations on the Wars of the Austrian Succession"; "Observations on Prussia in her Great Catastrophe" (excerpted); "On the Life and Character of Scharnhorst"; "The Campaign of 1812 in Russia" (excerpted); and "Strategic Critique of the Campaign of 1814 in France" (excerpted). Moran has handled the political work, covering Clausewitz's essays on "The Germans and the French"; the "Political Declaration" of 1812 (excerpted); "Our Military Institutions"; "On the Political Advantages and Disadvantages of the Prussian Landwehr"; "Agitation"; "Europe since the Polish Partitions"; "On the Basic Question of Germany's Existence"; and various excerpts from Clausewitz's notes on history and politics, written between 1803 and 1809.
Of these two sections, Moran's is the more interesting. Not only do his selections enable us to sample Clausewitz's evolving views over the whole of his adult life, but they provide real insights into his thinking on such fundamental matters as the origins and workings of the balance of power mechanism, the sources and nature of the French revolution, and the conservative reaction in Prussia after 1815. In demonstrating the sources, the subtleties, and the complexities of Clausewitz's political views, Moran's subtle analysis avoids the ahistoricism of attempting to place him on the modern political spectrum of left to right: despite Clausewitz's enthusiasm for the British parliamentary approach, his "insistence on what would one day be called `the primacy of foreign policy' set him at odds with those who believed constitutional government was a political goal surpassing all others. It also made his point of view anathema to those who considered the preservation of the social hierarchy an objective rivaling the safety of the state" (231).
Paret's section, on the other hand, is a trifle disappointing. Much of this material is not, in fact, historical in nature, being reflections on events and people with whom Clausewitz had a great deal of personal familiarity. Further, in making his selections he has ignored some of the more interesting pieces while choosing to retranslate some elements of Clausewitz's work that are already available in English. In presenting substantial excerpts from "The Campaign of 1812 in Russia," for instance, he has given us some interesting examples of the manner in which Clausewitz's wording was modified by his German editors. Beyond that, however, he has given us little that cannot be had in much fuller form from the 1843 English translation, which has rather an interesting history of its own. A somewhat similar case exists with regard to "Observations on Prussia in Her Great Catastrophe," although Paret appears to be unaware of the English translation made of that important work in the 1920s. Fortunately, while there is some overlap, the two translations are in fact complementary: Paret has unaccountably left out the chapter that covers the actual military events of 1806-7, while the 1922 translator dispensed with much of the background that Paret included.
On the other hand, Clausewitz's essay on Scharnhorst is of great interest, and his strategic critique of the 1814 campaign even more so. It would have been better, perhaps, to have dispensed with a reiteration of the Campaign of 1812 in favor of a more complete treatment of the piece on 1814.
Paret's choices seem to have been driven by his fascination with Clausewitz's broad intellectual interests in the arts, the sciences, psychology, and education. Unfortunately, this emphasis on Clausewitz as a scholar is unaccompanied by any notable interest in Clausewitz the soldier. Since most of the Prussian writer's modern readers tend to be interested in him as a military and as a military-intellectual figure, this imbalanced treatment is inherently unsatisfying. Also, all of these selections save the memorial on Scharnhorst date from rather late in Clausewitz's life. Thus we miss the sort of perspective on his personal evolution that Moran's treatment provides. It is certainly true that understanding Clausewitz as a sophisticated product of his intellectual milieu is important—indeed, it is vital to any good understanding of his military theories, which have become so influential in the United States since the Vietnam War. Paret has already provided us with great insights in that area, but his choices and commentaries in this book fail to tell us much that is new.
Such caveats aside, this collection is a most welcome addition to the growing corpus of literature by and about Clausewitz available in English. In particular, Moran's insights into Clausewitz's often idiosyncratic political ideas do a lot to enhance our understanding of the political implications of On War. As both Moran's and Paret's treatments demonstrate, however, Clausewitz was also very much a product of his time. Thus this book should be of interest not only to Clausewitz scholars but to anyone interested in Napoleonic and Restoration Germany.