Thursday, July 28, 2016

Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of 'On War' (2016)

Vanya Eftimova Bellinger, Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). Using primary source material, this book fills in gaps and contextualizes the story of Marie Sophie von Brühl and Carl von Clausewitz, giving readers a glimpse of European life before, during and after the Napoleonic period, most specifically from the point of view of Prussia and other German-speaking lands. The spirit of Napoleon and the French Revolution permeates everything, even fledgling German nationalism.

Back up a minute. Two of the great (and possibly most important of them to date) books on and about war and human society are:

孙子, 孙子兵法 / Sun Tzu, The Art of War (first Chinese edition circa 500 B.C.)

Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege / On War (first German edition 1832 A.D.).

We can't say much for sure about the creation of The Art of War, but Bellinger's well-researched study clearly shows that Countess Marie Sophie von Brühl (1779-1836) was a key player in the development of Carl von Clausewitz's (1780-1831) adult life and work. Though she started higher up in the social scale, Marie faced constraints in the public sphere because of the conservative status quo regarding gender roles. She pushed against them to the point of shocking many of her peers. 

The two married in 1810 and, when parted from each other's company due to wars and other duties, carried forth a lively correspondence. In person, they enjoyed free-wheelintête-à-tête discussions and active participation in literary salons. Throughout, she influenced him and he influenced her. They both wrote, organized and edited.

After Carl died at age 51 from cholera, Marie steered On War and Carl's other works into publication, and just in the nick of time. For Marie died just five years after Carl, at the age of 56. Marie, incidentally, like George Washington, was killed indirectly by her doctors, the most likely cause of her fatal infection. 

One of my favorite parts of On War is the discussion of "Friction" in war (which stands in for other aspects of life, as well). "Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult . . . Countless minor incidents -- the kind you can never really foresee -- combine . . . so that one always falls far short of the intended goal . . . Iron will-power can overcome this friction: it pulverizes every obstacle, but of course it wears down the machine as well . . ."  ~~ Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984 edition; originally published in 1976), page 119. 

Without Marie von Clausewitz, there wouldn't have been such a gestation and early launch for Vom Kriege; without Vanya Eftimova Bellinger, we wouldn't have truly grasped even that. This is important historical work -- making more visible a previously obscured mover and shaker, inspiring us to muse anew about On War and its impact. 

Today's Rune: Journey. 


the walking man said...

This generation in America has mused on war enough--we have never known a day without one and them in Europe perhaps not enough, since they grew tired of war after WWII--but now they too are having to reinvestigate the probabilities. All of the tactical treatises on war--and not a one of them ever secured a peace.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have the book and have read parts of it but never the whole thing.

thejspotjodi said...

Erik, they died so young-maybe it was the salt?