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Clausewitz as educator:

He reacted against a mode of theorizing that aspired to imitate geometric and mechanical sciences. “Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems,” he warned, “nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side. But it can give the mind insight into the great mass of phenomena and their relationships, then leave it free to rise into the higher realms of action.”

Alarmed by war, Clausewitz made two fundamental contributions to its study. First, he insisted on the importance of thinking over doctrine; and second, he believed that such thinking could be taught.

I wholeheartedly endorse the importance of thinking over doctrine or the unquestioning embrace of templates, but will beg to differ—slightly—on the last point.  I believe that just as with musical or mathematical talent, some have a better strategic than others, and while it can be taught, learning strategic thinking requires learning by doing.  By that, I don’t mean being part of the military, not least as that implies that military experience is a pre-requisite for strategy-making.  Which is not the case—’professional officers [are] unattuned to strategy because the complexity of military operations made them pre-occupied with tactics and technology’ (Betts, 1997, p11).  But being intellectually curious, receiving good mentoring, and working, writing or learning in an environment with good strategic thinkers is invaluable—and hard to achieve.


Betts, Richard (1997), ‘Should Strategic Studies Survive?’, World Politics, 50 (1), 7-33.

January 2020
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