The Clausewitz Roundtable at Chicagoboyz

Joseph M. Guerra

Joseph Guerra blogs and posts on the internet under the moniker seydlitz89 and can be contacted at seydlitz89 at He lives with his family in northern Portugal and works in education.  His latest paper is, “The Clausewitzian Concept of Cohesion as a Theory of Political Development,” which was developed from one of his posts on the Chicagoboyz Clausewitz Roundtable.

My interest in Clausewitz goes back to my childhood when, being very interested in simulated wargames, I bought of copy of On War as a member of the military book club—that is at 12.  This was the the old, 19th-Century translation. I found it hard going and gave up about a third of the way through. 

It was only about 20 years later, after my service on active duty in the Marine Corps and serving as a US Army intelligence officer in Berlin, that I finally actually read On War,  that being the Howard/Paret translation, and realized that there was very much more to the work than I had ever suspected.  Being involved in strategic HUMINT collection was the spark that indicated for me the need of strategic theory, and specifically a theory that could be flexible enough to cover all sorts of conflicts, from industrial war to tense relations between otherwise friendly states or other political entities.

Only later, after having left government service and having started a new career as a teacher, did I finally start reading the secondary literature. That decision was eased by the availability the internet provided for the first time in the mid-1990s.

Via the internet, I also initiated and maintained contact with Clausewitzian scholars such as Professor Christopher Bassford and Dr. Andreas Herberg-Rothe.  In addition to this I was also fortunate enough to attend the "Clausewitz in the 21st Century " conference at Oxford in 2005.  While interested in Clausewitzian strategic theory as it applies to war, I am also interested in applying it (along with Max Weber’s social action theory) to English language education.

I found out about the Chicagoboyz Clausewitz Roundtable quite by accident.  I was doing my usual Google search of “Clausewitz” under “news” when a post at Zen Pundit’s blog popped up.  As my comments and the responses show, I was more than eager to contribute.

What resulted was a very interesting mix of views on Clausewitz, some from people who had been familiar with Clausewitz through their military backgrounds or other reasons, as well as intelligent people who simply had picked up the book and started to read.  While this roundtable discussion would not be a good introduction to Clausewitz, since a beginning student might be led far astray by some of the comments, the roundtable did produce a wide variety of interesting perspectives and applications that the serious student of Clausewitz should find stimulating.  In short, the Chicagoboyz Clausewitz Roundtable reflects both the advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet as a forum for dialogue, as an attempt at establishing a dialectic.  The weaknesses would include the nature of blog posting in general, which requires a serious proofreading effort after the fact in spite of the best intentions of the poster.

Michael J. Lotus, who blogs as Lexington Green on Chicagoboyz, put it well when he wrote,

The Clausewitz Roundtable is a remarkable example of how commonly-available technology can be used for discussion and intellectual exchange. It may be the first of its kind. I have seen nothing else quite like it.  Since I began posting on ChicagoBoyz in 2002. I have met via the Internet (rarely in person) many people who share similar interests with me, particularly regarding military history and current military affairs. This loose community conducts a free-flowing conversation by means of blogs, comments on each other's blogs, and e-mail. There are theoretically various other ways a group of people could conduct such an ongoing  conversation. But this loose, open and undefined group has emerged spontaneously over the last several years without anyone planning it, with each person simply writing about what interested him (only very occasionally her) and responding as he saw fit or had time to respond.

The roundtable was a success on several levels. It encouraged the participants to read or re-read On War. The posts were of good quality generally, and some were excellent. There was a feeling of shared learning and investigation, and people did respond to each others posts, either in their own posts or in comments. The informal quality of a blog was preserved, which did not diminish the seriousness of the writing and thinking but did allow a free play of ideas without too much self-censorship. The blog is a good intermediate-level forum. By making public posts, the writers were submitting themselves to scrutiny and critique, admittedly below the level of a peer-reviewed journal article, but well beyond a mere e-mail exchange or verbal discussion.

I took it upon myself to encourage people and to offer comments and suggestions. My observation is that a roundtable of this sort needs to have someone act as the discussion leader, to read all the posts, to make comments and suggestions, to maintain a cordial and collegial tone, to nudge the slackers, and to keep things moving along, while yet retaining a light hand and letting the participants exercise their creativity.

The Clausewitz Roundtable is, I believe, a model for similar virtual seminars, made possible by the Internet.


Return to top