The Clausewitzian Concept of Cohesion
as a Theory of Political Development

Copyright 2009 Joseph M. Guerra
Joseph Guerra blogs and posts on the internet under the moniker seydlitz89 and can be contacted at seydlitz89 at web.de. He lives with his family in northern Portugal and works in education.  This paper was developed from one of his posts on the Chicagoboyz Clausewitz Roundtable.

Over the last 90 years, that is after the re-evaluation of Clausewitz which occurred starting in Germany after the First World War, there has been an ongoing controversy over what is the unifying concept in On War.[1]   Some have indicated the subordination to policy, while others have pointed to the concept of "absolute war", while more recently the "defense as being the more powerful form" has come to prominence.  All these have run up against the shoals of the warning at the end of Book I, Chapter 1 which states, "A theory that ignores any one of them [the three tendencies] or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless."

I leave it up to the reader as to whether the Clausewitzian concept of cohesion is the unifying concept.

My purpose here is to re-introduce a new Clausewitzian concept which was first published on the DNI website in May 2008 as my Clausewitz on Cohesion. This paper was the second part of a two-part critique of current trends in strategic theory and what I see as negative influences since 1991.

For reasons of clarity I should mention three assumptions I make in connection with this paper.  First, the formation of the three ideal types in Book VIII, Chapter 3B is clearly implied by Clausewitz's whole approach of emphasising extremes and constantly comparing opposing elements of the same overall concept.  At the same time the use of the word "cohesion" comes up repeatedly in the English translation whereas other, but similar meanings, come up in the original German.  My second assumption is that I assume a basic affinity between the thinking of Carl von Clausewitz and Max Weber.  Many of the terms I use such as "ideal type", "power" and "legitimacy" are Weberian concepts and use Weberian definitions, but fit very well at the same time with Clausewitzian thought.  I see Weber's social action theory as providing a theoretical framework for what Clausewitz deals with at times in an "impressionistic manner".[2]   My third assumption is that Clausewitz was a prime—perhaps the prime—influence on the thought of Mao Tse-tung.

The concept of cohesion comes up in various forms in On War and to lesser extent in Clausewitz's other writings.   These forms of the overall concept include:

• Cohesion as the moral (think tribalism, nationalism) and material (think constitution, institutions, shared views of how to define "civilization") elements that make up the communal/social organizations of political communities, as exemplified in the three ideal types discussed below.  Moral cohesion can be seen as the traditional communal values of a political community, what values and motivations guide people in their actions with family, friends and neighbours, whereas material cohesion are the modern cosmopolitan values associated with society or those social actions associated with institutions of various types.   The two types exist is a certain state of constant stress and tension with modern values actually being destructive to the retention of traditional values (following Weber).  Cohesion here is Clausewitz's theory of politics which also includes the abstract concept of money. (Book VIII, Chapter 3B & the essay titled "Agitation")

• Cohesion provides the process behind which the center of gravities of both participants in a conventional war are formed.   Lack of a center of gravity would indicate the inability to win decisively, which would include the target of  conventional militaries committed to unconventional/guerrilla warfare. (Book VI, Chapter 27, Book VIII, Chapter 4)

• Cohesion is the target of strategy in that tactical success is extended by strategic pursuit in order to expand the sphere of victory and bring about the disintegration of the enemy.  Cohesion links the whole sequence of decisions (contingency) that allows the political purpose to be achieved through the means of the attained military goal, that is cohesion provides the chain of decisions/outcomes that unite political purpose with strategy and strategy with tactics, or vice versa.  (Books II, IV, & Book VI Chapter 8)

• Cohesion acts within the balance of power among various states—especially in terms of interests—with an aggressor having to contend with all the other states having an interest in maintaining the status quo.  This would include the tendency for Clausewitz of a potential hegemon to fail in its attempt to dominate other peer states.  (Book VI Chapter 6)

• Cohesion can also be seen has having an influence in the varying states of balance, tension and movement through which all conflicts proceed.   The cohesion (moral and material forces, willingness to take risks, soundness of the military aim in connection with the political purpose, etc) of each side being relatively equal while in balance, but increasing on one side during tension until a release of the tension (attack) and decreasing again during movement until balance is once again achieved or the conflict ends.  (Book III, Chapter 18)

• At the most abstract level the concept of cohesion could be seen as providing the unifying concept which maintains the various elements (the remarkable trinity and the operating principles) of Clausewitz's general theory as part of a whole, the fields of attraction and tension that provide the general theory with its dynamic quality.  (Book I Chapter 1)

Thus cohesion can be seen as a very broad concept, but for my purpose I am using only the first point listed above. 

Clausewitz deals with different types of theory in On War. The specific branch of theory I refer to here is "strategic theory", defined as aide to the formulation of strategy which from this perspective is a kind of social theory concerned with the exercise of power—including potentially the use of organized force—to achieve the goals of one political community in conflict with others. 

Let me limit Clausewitzian strategic theory to three specific types, although I'm sure some of my fellow Clausewitzians could point out others. First we have his theory of the art of war for the epoch in which Clausewitz lived, that being an art of Napoleonic Warfare, the type of warfare that Clausewitz himself experienced. This type of theory is prevalent in certain books of On War, including Books IV, V, and VII, as well as his entire treatment of logistics.

A second type of strategic theory I will mention here is Clausewitz's general theory of war.  The general theory is meant to cover all wars in human history, that is in theoretical terms answering the opening chapter's title question, "What is War?" It must be flexible enough to contain the entire range of dynamic social relationships that come under the heading of "war" and abstract enough to link all wars in human history by focusing on exclusively the moral elements.  War defined as the legitimate organized use of violence as a means.  Thus, the general theory is meant to provide a unity of concepts which taken together create a whole, a whole which is greater than the sum of its many parts, that is a theoretical and conceptual "system" of war as a dynamic interaction taking place in time, yet as a concept remaining "timeless". This timeless element is what links the general theory to all the various arts of war covering political epochs, of which ours, that of the 21st Century would only be one. A high level of abstraction, laced with irresolvable tensions between elements, and complexity are thus unavoidable, as is taking the required time and effort to understand the general theory. It should also be mentioned that the purpose of this type of theory is descriptive and analytical, it is not meant to provide positive direction in each specific case. Thus, it is not deterministic or positivistic theory. For Clausewitz's view on the type(s) of theory with which we can approach war and their limitations see Book II, Chapter 2 especially the section "Theory Should Be Study, Not Doctrine" and what follows. Due to the complexity of the social interaction known as war, not to mention the secrecy exercised by the various antagonists/participants embroiled in conflict it is difficult to identify "causalities" even after the war in question has ended, let alone before or during hostilities.  Since the general theory is about what all wars have in common, Clausewitzian strategic theory is an aide to formulating national policy/strategy or even coordinating military/political/economic operations.

In my view it is in Book I, Chapter 1 where the general theory is most clearly explained, although elements of it are scattered throughout the work, especially in Books VI and VIII. So what is the general theory and how does it differ from the other two types of Clausewitzian strategic theory I've mentioned?

Clausewitz sees each epoch having its own art of war (Book VIII Chapter 3B), while connected and operating within the flexible and dynamic "system" of concepts of the general theory. It is thus the general theory (along with the political theory as I will argue later) which accounts for the continuing relevance of Clausewitz. His Napoleonic art of war theory in On War would have only limited applicability (particularly pertaining to tactics) given the changes since the early 19th Century. The general theory on the other hand is about the unchanging nature of war itself.

The third type of theory I wish to mention is what I refer to as Clausewitz's theory of politics, or maybe more accurately, a theory of political development, which I see as inseparable from his concept of cohesion as I described in point one above in discussing the various forms of cohesion. 

For our purposes here we are interested in Clausewitz's concept of cohesion as it pertains to this first point, the physical and moral cohesive elements of political communities, how cohesion acts in effect as a sliding scale of ever increasing (or deceasing) concentration, integration and organization of a political community.  We will be referring to two specific works primarily, these being Book VIII, Chapter 3B of On War and the essay "Agitation", both seemingly written in the late 1820s, that is by the mature theoretician. 

Clausewitz begins his introduction (Book VIII Chapter 3B) with describing how the "strength of will, characters, and abilities" of the states involved in a war can be quite varied.  He gets to the actual concept by stating:

A more general and theoretical treatment of the subject may become feasible if we consider the nature of states and societies as they are documented by their times and prevailing conditions.  Let us take a brief look at history.

The semi barbarous Tartars, the republics of antiquity, the feudal lords and trading cities of the Middle Ages, 18th Century kings and rulers and peoples of the 19th Century—all conducted war in their own particular way, using different methods and pursuing different aims.[3]

The first paragraph sets the theoretical setting.  The second introduces three distinct ideal types of political communities:  the Tartars; various kings/ruling classes in a historical sequence; and finally "the rulers and peoples of the 19th Century".  Why the distinctions?   The very next words, the next paragraph reads:

The Tartar hordes searched for new land.  Setting forth as a nation, with women and children, they outnumbered any other army.  Their aim was to subdue their enemies or expel them.  If a high degree of civilization could have been combined with such methods, they would have carried all before them.

The Tartars represent for Clausewitz what I would refer to as the ideal type of an armed (stateless) nation. A people organized for war, but lacking a specific geographical homeland, meaning that they would also lack the territorial-based apparatus of the state.  The Tartars are the ideal type of a political community possessing only moral cohesion, that is cohesion of the family, clan, tribe, that is the binding social elements of the commune, but lacking the material cohesion supplied by both "civilization (rationalization and the attributes of a society as apposed to community) and the cohesive elements tied to the territory controlled by a state.  However if they had the "civilization factor" meaning socio-economic-technological development linked with a "nation"—that is material cohesion, but not necessarily the territory of a state—they would be unbeatable in war with other political communities. This potential defines Clausewitz's (and Weber's) approach, that being the moral (as in subjective "meaning") as opposed to the exclusively material.

What makes the Tartars distinct here is not their history, the point in time that they ruled, but their social-political organization, and the fact that they were not bound to a specific territory, that is were a political community, but not a state, since they set forth "as a nation" in search of areas to conquer.   This would also preclude them from drawing on the material advantages of occupying a certain territory, that is having a "state".

Clausewitz follows with his second ideal type which consists of political communities starting with a relatively high level of moral cohesion and a weak but ever increasing level of material cohesion.  To illustrate this second type which includes "the republics of antiquity, the feudal lords and trading cities of the Middle Ages, 18th Century kings", Clausewitz describes a historical process of ever increasing material cohesion which covers centuries of European history.  All these groups have a common trait that being they are made up (using Weberian terms) of a ruler/ruling class assisted by a state apparatus of varying and ever increasing complexity or material cohesion located within a specific territory.   This ruling elite slowly through the development of its material cohesion associated with its level of civilization and the advantages of controlling a specific territory forms the instrument of a "personified intelligence" which acts in terms of instrumental rationality in terms of state interests.  Rome is mentioned in this regard as well, but is different than the other republics of antiquity, since she spread not only by conquest, but also by assimilation. 

At the beginning of this development, the feudal levies lacked the cohesion of unified states, and were in realty "true confederation[s]".  Clausewitz goes on to describe this situation as "indeed, cohesion in the state was never weaker or the individual so independent.  It was the combination of these factors that gave medieval wars their special character. Slowly, over centuries the "feudal system hardened into clearly delimited  territorial sovereignty . . .  The slow evolution toward this goal naturally brought with it numerous overlappings of these three military institutions.  Under Henry IV of France feudal levies,condottieri and a standing army were used side by side."

A state of that type could not be said to be genuinely united; it was rather an agglomeration of loosely associated forces. Therefore we should not think of such a state as a personified intelligence acting according to simple and logical rules.[4]

A couple of points are warranted here.  First, the development of material cohesion is not a one way process, that enjoyed by Rome was not equalled by the "feudal levies", that is material cohesion could be lost by the political community in question.  Also in relation to that, Clausewitz finds the reliance on mercenaries (condottieri) as an indication of low or declining material cohesion.

Returning to Clausewitz's description, at the time of the Hundred Years War, France was still not a "genuine monarchy", but "an agglomeration of duchies and counties; while England, though displaying greater unity, still fought with feudal levies amid much domestic strife".  This process continued through the next couple of centuries till by the end of the 17th Century, Louis XIV controlled a mature standing army, whose organization was based on the power, money and material cohesion of the state. "The states of Europe had achieved complete internal unity" or a high degree of material cohesion.

The executive had become completely unified and represented the state in its foreign relations. Political and military institutions had developed into an effective instrument, with which an independent will at the center could now wage war in a form that matched its theoretical concept.

This quote is interesting at different levels.  First, it describes Clausewitz approach to the interaction between praxis and theory well.  Changes in the political conditions lead to new political possibilities which allow strategic theory to develop, theory being retrospective by nature, at least initially.  This development of theory then allows for the more extensive development of praxis supported by theory (a form that matched its theoretical concept).

Second, the quote indicates how the effect of this concentrated power, of this level of state material cohesion, was that the monarchs looked on the state as their own private property, war became "a true game", but with very limited stakes since the armies were very expensive investments which could not be risked.  Also the military only fought other militaries avoiding civilian areas.  On the political side, interests of states interacted in a balance-of-power-relationship and even the power that Louis XIV commanded could make little headway in these circumstances.  Most importantly for Clausewitz, the people were considered to have no interest in the affairs of state, that is in politics.   Significantly, and to indicate the basic distinction between the two ideal types he has introduced, Clausewitz brings up the example of the Tartars once again, "The Tartar people and army had been one; in the republics of antiquity and during the Middle Ages the people had still played a prominent part; but in the circumstances of the 18th Century the people's part had been extinguished".

By comparing these two ideal types the two distinct modes of cohesion are clear.  The "Tatar nation" demonstrates high moral cohesion, but very low, or no material cohesion, whereas the political community developing in terms of a state has an increasing level of material cohesion (civilization).  What is significant for Clausewitz is that as the state's material cohesion became more pronounced, the tendency was for moral cohesion to deteriorate, which is not seen as detrimental by the ruling elite.  Rather it can be in their interests that the people have no say in politics and that war becomes essentially a symmetric game among princes.  War takes on the aspects of a duel between equal nobles, each hoping to gain "satisfaction".

The very next lines are important in indicating how this development reached a certain culmination:

War thus became solely the concern of the government to the extent that government parted company with their peoples and behaved as if they were themselves the state.  Their means of waging war came to consist of the money in their coffers and of such idle vagabonds as they could lay their hands on either at home of abroad.  In consequence the means they had available were fairly well defined, and each could gauge the other side's potential in terms both of numbers and of time.  War was thus deprived of its most dangerous feature—its tendency toward the extreme, and of the whole chain of unknown possibilities which would follow.

War became very limited in its scope and objectives "due to the narrow base on which it rested" and at the same time very predictable since the amount of resources (financial and otherwise) were essentially known quantities.  An attacking army would attempt to "seize an enemy province or two" and the defender would attempt to prevent this until the onset of Autumn at which time both armies would retire to their winter quarters. Added to this is the fact that as Clausewitz has mentioned, Europe was in a state of balance which explains why Friedrich the Great stands out at this time due to the risky nature of his endeavours, the boldness of his operations, and the popular support among the Prussian people for his policies. 

Notice also the connection between moral cohesion and the "tendency towards the extreme" which are defined in the first sections of Book 1 Chapter 1.  This would also include wars for the overthrow of the enemy state or community since these would require resources beyond those offered by material cohesion alone.  This second ideal type is very much gauged for symmetric and limited wars between essentially similar states. 

At this point in our analysis we have two of the three types of social-political entities described, the "Tartar nation" which is the combination of people, army and rulers moving about as a nation (that is a traditional pre-modern political community), but not tied to any particular territory; and the ever increasingly materially cohesive state ruled by authoritative and non-representative governments.

Clausewitz finds this first ideal type potentially the strongest grouping ("they would have carried all before them"), that is possessing a high level of moral cohesion, but limited due to the minimal level of "civilization" /material cohesion that they enjoy. While they wage war effectively—this is simply as an expression of their culture and their desire to live a nomad lifestyle, not to mention gaining what they need by way of pillage (the objective meaning of Politik)- they lack political purpose (personified intelligence) and the ability to form rational policy (the subjective meaning of Politik).  In Book VI, Chapter 6, Clausewitz describes 18th Century Poland as a "Tartar State" with "their chaotic public life and boundless irresponsibility"and "long before the country was partitioned, the Russians were doing what they liked there. So what reduced 18th Century Poland to a "Tartar state" was the chaos and irresponsibility of their political leaders/system and their inability to control what was going on within their own territory, that is they had lost that basic element of being a state long before they disappeared from the map of Europe.  Thus "Tartar state" is for Clausewitz a contradiction in terms.

Material cohesion/civilization would also influence the quality of military leadership. Clausewitz doubted the ability of the military commanders of "Tartar nations" to achieve any high level of expertise, "we will never find a savage who is a truly great commander, and very rarely one who would be considered a military genius, since this requires a degree of intellectual powers beyond anything that a primitive people can develop". (Book I Chapter 3).  Remember however that should a "Tartar nation" achieve a certain level of material cohesion (civilization) they could become theoretically "unbeatable".

Clausewitz's second ideal type of political community, the state, starts with the states of ancient times and slowly, but consistently develops into the "mature states" of the 18th Century.  This process was a long one and not without the potentiality of reversal, but acted as an ever increasing concentration of power in the hands of the rulers of the various states.  The states went through a process of material consolidation or increasing material cohesion which allowed for ever increasing control and mobilization of the resources of the state.  The indirect result was that the rulers came to view the state as their own personal property, which is contrary to the "nature" of the state which must also include the interests and participation of the people, according to Clausewitz, this being what we can term the moral cohesion of the political community to the state which is the state's controlling apparatus.  That is, following Weber now, the state requires legitimacy in the long-term to ensure its survival as a social entity, since eventually a community rejects being excluded from politics by its leadership, or the political leadership is faced with a third type of political community and is forced to adapt of perish.

The third ideal type that Clausewitz mentions is the modern mass state, that is the ruling elite using the apparatus of state control for a political community which feels its interests more or less represented by that leadership.  This type of state, "the rulers and peoples of the 19th Century" dates from the French Revolution:

When the enormous majority challenged the minority in France, the nobility had to give way.  It was no longer strong enough to resist this force.  The Old Regime collapsed—and collapsed forever, because once an organic whole has been broken it may be glued together again, but its original unity can never be restored.  The masses, furthermore, broke the sceptre that had ruled them so despotically, and set up a mixed government.  This shattering of all social relationships, which were already under great strain, was much easier than the creation of a new regime, and it could be foreseen that after the violent upheaval there would be much groping around and that some decades would be needed to explore new ideas before a new form of government could put down firm roots.[5]

I would argue that the history of France from 1789-1871 very much proves Clausewitz' view to have merit.  It would thus be unreasonable according to Clausewitz to expect a political community to develop a new state quickly to replace an old system of "social relationships" (or Weberian social action orientations) which had been swept away.  This would be even more difficult under a foreign occupation with the resulting government seen as imposed by and acting in the interests of the occupying power, that is enjoying little if any legitimacy/potential "core" of moral cohesion let alone any material cohesion.  This element would be separate from the material ability of the new state to provide basic services and security (material cohesion) that the people had come to best expect from the previous state in question.  For this material cohesion to exist the people must consider the values and/or institutions of the state to be in line with their own views, or in Weberian terms "legitimacy".

What most interests us here, and also interested Clausewitz at the time was the ability of this revolutionary government to mobilize and wage war at a level of power that "beggared all imagination", that is the amalgamation of moral with material cohesion by the leadership of a state for achieving policy goals through the use of organized violence.

Suddenly war again became the business of the people—a people of 30 millions, all of whom considered themselves to be citizens . . . The people became a participant in war, instead of government and armies as heretofore, the full weight of the nation was thrown into the balance.

Notice the "again" in the first sentence, alluding to the Tartar ideal type.  The result was an unbeatable combination of moral and material state cohesion under the control of a military genius who was able to combine the two positions as head of state and commander in chief—Napoleon.  Here we have a link between the first and third ideal types and the ability to wage war of radical political purposes, as in the Tartar nation destroying/subjugating their enemies and the modern state overthrowing other states, whereas the tendency for the second ideal type of developing state was towards limited wars. 

The shocking effect of this material and moral level of cohesive Napoleonic political power in turn caused a corresponding reaction, as Clausewitz writes, "Just in time, the [asymmetric] reaction set in. The Spanish war spontaneously became the concern of the people."  Clausewitz goes on to describe how the European states attempted to harness this source of power by rallying their people to defend their states against the might of France.  It should be important to note that Clausewitz puts special emphasis on the case of Spain since it was the "nation" that reacted to the French invasion, not the Spanish state, that is the people rose up against the French occupation and carried out a popular uprising.   Clausewitz sees popular uprisings as a 19th Century phenomenon and "an outgrowth of the way in which the conventional barriers have been swept away in our lifetime by the elemental violence of war.  It is in fact, and broadening and intensification of the fermentation process known as war".[6]

It is here with Clausewitz's idea of popular uprisings being a reaction to the aggressive political instrument of moral/material cohesion of the modern nation state that we have an interesting inversion which occurs in Clausewitz's theory, and links an additional aspect of the concept of cohesion.  The French Army under Napoleon exhibited both material and moral cohesion, whereas the Spanish guerrillas who were the reaction to it could not equal the material cohesion of the French and in fact it was against their purposes to do so, since that would have provided a suitable target to the best military of its time.   Rather, the Spanish would have to operate more along the line of "Tartars", that is harnessing the "blind natural force" of a political community united in common effort, since it was not in their interests to become involved in a tactical defense along the lines of a professional military.  As Clausewitz writes in his chapter on popular uprisings:

By its very nature, such scattered resistance will not lend itself to major action, closely compressed in time and space.  Its effect is like that of the process of evaporation: it depends on how much surface is exposed.  The greater the surface and the area of contact between it and the enemy forces, the thinner the latter have to be spread, the greater the effect on a general uprising.  Like smoldering embers, it consumes the basic foundations of the enemy forces.  Since it needs time to be effective, a state of tension will develop while the tow elements interact.  This tension will either gradually relax, if the insurgency is suppressed in some places and slowly burns itself out in others, or else it will build up to a crisis: a general conflagration closes in on the enemy, driving him out the country before he is faced with total destruction. . .  .

A general uprising, as we see it, should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners. When that happens, the people will lose heart and, believing that the issue has been decided and further efforts would be useless, drop their weapons.  On the other hand there must be some concentration at certain points: the fog must thicken and form a dark and menacing cloud out of which a bolt of lightening may strike at any time.[7]

In terms of Clausewitz's general theory of war we have asymmetrical counter-action in which the defender attempts to resist the attacker imposing his will.[8]

The guerrillas are on the strategic defensive, but operating offensively at the tactical level, avoiding being placed on the tactical defensive since that is not in their interest since it plays to the strength of their conventional opponent.  Also they have a negative political purpose in denying the attacker his positive purpose, which is all the purpose necessary in a popular uprising.  This negative purpose of the defense is in fact superior to the offense with a positive purpose.[9]   It is interesting to note that Clausewitz warns that "a national uprising cannot maintain itself where the atmosphere is too full of danger" that is too exposed, as defined in terms of material cohesion.   It is also "a natural law of the moral world that a nation that finds itself on the brink of an abyss will try to save itself by any means", this moral world obviously referring to moral cohesion as a possession of a nation or political community.   For Clausewitz it is the duty of the state to call forth the people to resistance, to initiate a popular uprising against a foreign invader, since for a state to allow "its people [to] go back to sleep in peace as soon as possible" after the "overwhelming feelings of failure and disappointment" of a major defeat is "involved in a major inconsistency".  That is the state as such is a failure in Clausewitz's eyes since it fails to represent the interests of the nation/political community it represents and thus deserves its fate.  It would then be up to the people, as in Spain in 1809, to rise in revolt as a nation.  In other words, the rise of modern guerrilla warfare can be seen as a reaction to the material/moral cohesion of the modern state launching aggressive wars. 

For this reason I think that the third ideal type has in fact two faces, the action of the combined moral and material cohesion of the modern state and the reaction of the moral cohesion of the (weaker) nation confronted with the hostile intentions of the modern state and its political purpose.   Confronted with such hostile intentions, the nation must fight for its very political identity, making the war one of political survival for the nation under threat from this combined nemesis of moral and material cohesion.  The symmetric reaction to this third ideal type is another modern state further developing its levels of moral and material cohesion, whereas the asymmetric reaction is the nation's emphasis on moral cohesion and, perhaps, a new type of material cohesion, possibly very close to Mao's theory of guerrilla war.    What is important to remember is that the moral cohesion of the "Tartar nation" (values that hold a traditional community together) is a possible reaction to a war involving the third ideal type, as in the case of Spain in 1809 and Russia in 1812.  However a nation under threat can promote a new type of moral cohesion, the local equivalent of the modern state's version in the third ideal type, that is the Prussian reaction in 1813.  

The reason for this is that states are not exclusively one ideal type or another, but mixtures of more than one type.  Clausewitz confirms this in Book V, Chapter 4, where he writes, Russia and Austria, for example, are included in this direction [maintaining large numbers of (irregular?) cavalry] because they still maintain fragments of Tartar institutions in their political structures.  "Tartar institutions" seen as pre-modern anomolies existing in modern states, but not included as part of the political mobilization of the people which is seen as essentially a 19th Century phenomenon.  Thus moral cohesion in the "19th Century State" is fundamentally different than the moral cohesion of the "Tartar nation" although they have obvious similarities.   This would also include the advantages a political community can enjoy from being located on a particular territory, since the Tartar nation ideal type is moral cohesion operating without a material base. This would not preclude the Tartar nation ideal type's moral cohesion developing into the (political/ideological) moral cohesion of the 19th Century modern state given the right conditions ("civilization").

This new type of material cohesion would be an extension of the Clausewitzian view described thus far, perhaps very close to Mao in that it is the moral cohesion of a political ideology as opposed to the moral cohesion of a traditional community.  It should be remembered that Mao saw the potential of the Chinese communist movement as being a reaction to the existential political threat posed by the Japanese Empire's policy in China.[10]

Before continuing with our discussion however, it would be interesting to consider what Clausewitz sees as the reason behind the radical social transformation which was the French Revolution, that being the inability of the French aristocracy to adapt to their  new social reality/responsibilities:

If we now consider how the concept of the state has only evolved in recent centuries, how power has grown stronger at the top as fragmented lands combined into a unified whole, it becomes clear how—precisely because the estates grew closer to each other and were bound together in the unity of the state—the differences in their rights and duties became more evident and led to tension[11] . . .

All these privileges and rights were a natural right of his earlier condition, when he alone had been a citizen, and indeed the citizen of a free state in whose government he had shared.  Then the mass of the people counted for nothing and the middle class for very little; now the masses had entered the ranks of those who counted, and the middle class joined forces with it.  Le nouveau people had become four or five hundred times larger than l'ancien people, and in the eyes of philosophy, as of ordinary common sense, the enormity of its majority was the essential basis for its claims. [12]

The tension being the nobility and the other classes was due to them maintaining the privileges of their earlier status which no longer corresponded to their role in the increasing material cohesion of the state, and increasingly with the political community they claimed to represent.  Contrary to the Middle Ages when the nobility had protected the community/state, in the 18th Century they were hardly represented at all in the areas of middle class activity—commercial and industrial development—both of great importance to the material cohesion of the emerging state.  Their privileged positions in the military and state bureaucracy were often characterized by inflexibility, incompetence and corruption.   In fact Clausewitz lists the two main reasons for the French Revolution being "the strained relationship between the classes" due to the outmoded attitude of aristocratic privilege along with oppression of the peasants, and "the disorganized, biased and wasteful administration"[13] of the French state.   This inability of ruling elites to adjust to their new social conditions of increasing material cohesion and the resulting political turmoil (loss of whatever moral cohesion exists) is an idea that was later developed further by both Karl Marx and Max Weber. 

This brings up the last element I will mention in connection with Clausewitz's concept of cohesion.  This is the effect of wealth or money on the powers of the state.  Not surprisingly Clausewitz addresses the subject of wealth with the example of 16th Century Spain, "What this colossus lacked in cohesion and domestic stability was made up for by its wealth."

In addition there is also this:

In the Middle Ages the power of the princes, whether great or small, was extremely limited.  With the advance of culture, national wealth and working capital increased, and so did the power of the princes.  Money can be thought of as acting like oil, which reduces natural friction and permit all forces to operate with much greater independence and flexibility.  It was money that made it possible for the supreme authority in the state to pull together the forces it needed to strengthen itself, like the core of crystallizing mass

As money gradually spread and established itself though out society, providing the princes with the means to purchase personal services and to obtain them where they were cheapest, many sources of friction fell away.  A mass of inertia that otherwise opposed the power of the state no longer needed to be overcome.  Now the first great step toward sovereignty was taken.  It consisted in this : that the princes acted alone, even if they might not yet decide alone.  The estates had lost their function, but not yet their rights.  Instead of the service they had contributed in the past, they now contributed money. . . .

Thus supreme power in the state progressed toward absolute monarchy as we knew it in the 18thCentury.[14]

Money is what lubricates the machines of government/domination, be it 16th Century Spain or 21stCentury China.  Money can compensate for much, but has its limits in terms of cohesion.  Lubrication is separate from apparatus, so whatever the influence on the actual machine's development it would be indirect, seen perhaps in moral terms as a reflection mirrored in social action orientations.   Clausewitz would of course assume actual wealth, that is at least instruments corresponding to real money, not mass swindles, of which he would have been well aware.[15]

It also worthy of note here that for Clausewitz there exists a close relationship between the market and the state.  The state provides the stability and dependability which the market requires to function, in fact it is the growing material cohesion of the state which makes the modern market system possible.  By use of money available through a stable market the state was able to more easily consolidate against individuals who may have otherwise resisted as Clausewitz's points out, the material interest in money making assuring compliance.

To conclude we have three ideal types of political communities:

• The Tartar Nation with a high level of traditional communal moral cohesion and a very low or non-existent level of material cohesion or "civilization".  War is political in the objective sense, that is war provides for the continued existence of the nation and thus the maintenance of the political status quo.

• The developing State with increasing levels of material cohesion but at the same time with decreasing levels of traditional communal moral cohesion as the people become more and more disassociated from politics.  The rulers, operating with an ever more "rational" apparatus of administration and control see war as a private enterprise divorced from the people.  War is the instrument of the "personified intelligence" or simply subjective policy of the developing state with the tendency towards limited wars.  At the same time each war will reflect the level of political development present in both sides, so the variety of wars for this ideal type will be quite extensive.

• The 19th Century Modern State with high levels of both political/ideological moral and material cohesion, but whose moral cohesion is different in important ways from the moral cohesion of the Tartar Nation.   This final ideal type includes both symmetric and asymmetric reactions to it, that is the examples of the Spanish and Prussian responses to Napoleon's aggression.  War is an instrument, but also tied closely to the passion of the motivated masses and thus loses the limited nature and predictability of the second ideal type.

With these three ideal types we can describe a wide variety of political communities in both history and currently in the world today.  They encompass a wide variety of states, "failing states", would be states and other types of political communities existing today.  As Weber, development is not along a single track or in a single direction, both "progression" and "regression" are possible.  Recall that the first and third ideal types contain the potential for radical political transformation and asymmetric reactions, whereas the tendency of the second is towards limited wars or even simply demonstrations between symmetric powers.   Clausewitz's theory of political development and his larger concept of cohesion thus form in my view the cutting edge of strategic theory today.


[1] I am thinking here specifically of Herbert Rosinski, but there are other examples.
[2] See Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book III, Chaper 3, translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Knopf, New York, 1993..
[3] All the  quotes from On War listed in this discussion of Clausewitz's concept of cohesion come from Chapter 3B of Book VIII unless otherwise indicated.
[4] Here we see Clausewitz very much in line with Hobbes, "The only way to erect such a Common  Power . . . is to conferred all their power and strength upon one Man, or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their Wills by plurality of voices, unto one Will, which is a much as to say, to appoint one Man, or Assemby of men, to beare their Person; and every one to owne, and acknowledge himselfe to be Author of whatsoever he that so beareth their Person, Shall Act, or cause to be Acted, in thsse things which concerne the Common Peace and Safetie, and therein to submit their Wills every one to his Will, and their Judgement to his Judgement".  Leviathan, Chapter 17, Section 87.
[5] "Agitation" , from Carl von Clausewitz, Historical and Political Writings, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1992, p. 344.
[6] On War, Book 6, Chapter 26.
[7] Ibid.
[8] This treatment of symmetrical and asymmetrical counter-action is described well in Andreas Herberg-Rothe, Clausewitz's Puzzle, Oxford, 2007, p 105.
[9] "let us just say this: that from the negative purpose derive all the advantages, all the more effective forms, of fighting, and in that it is expressed the dynamic relationship between the magnitude and the likelihood of success."  On War, Book 1, Chapter 2.
[10] "The Japanese bandits have invaded out country not merely to conquer territory but to carry out the violent, rapacious, and murderous policy of their government, which is the extinction of the Chinese race.  For this compelling reason, we must unite the nation without regard to parties or classes adn follow our policy of resistance to the end.  China today is not the China of old.  It is not like Abyssnia.  China today is at the point of her greatest historical progress."  Mao Tse-tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, translated by Samuel B. Griffith, Univfrsity of Illnois Press, Chicago, 2000, pp 68-69.
[11] My emphasis.
[12] "Agitation" p 341.
[13] Ibid, p 345.
[14] Ibid p. 344.
[15] One would consider here John Law and his Company of the West.