Monday, December 12, 2011

Clausewitz: first proponent of the weak-states-as-security-threat school?

Ok, I'm just kidding, but try this one on for size: writing in 1831, the by now somewhat less politically progressive Prussian sage argued that "indeed, the partitions [of Poland, which were visited on the unhappy commonwealth in 1772, 1793, and 1795] were made necessary by the disorderly, almost Tartar-like administration of the vast areas the Poles possessed."

I've added emphasis to the awesomely dickish comparison of 18th c. Polish governance to Tatar anarchy; this is especially rich when you consider how it must've been received by Poles, who were (and are) justly proud of the fact that a Polish king had basically saved Western civilization from the Ottoman hordes just a century and a half before, at the conclusion of a series of wars that were largely sparked (or at least fanned) by... the cross-border raids of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatars.

Clausewitz penned this line anonymously as pushback against Jan Zygmunt Skrzynecki's protests that the Prussian government had violated neutrality and favored Russia in its effort to crush the Polish rebellion. "Poles must know little of their own history," he wrote, "or be deeply ashamed of certain pages in it" to posture about neutrality while looking past the productive use of ostensibly neutral Polish territory by Russian armies during the Seven Years War.

The worst thing that Clausewitz's contemporaries had to say about him is that he had liberalizing, reformist tendencies. His modern critics often misleadingly point to Clausewitz's Russian service as an act of disloyalty to the crown and a betrayal of his own country. But Peter Paret argues that this letter substantiates what ought to have been evident all along: Clausewitz was less concerned with supporting freedom abroad than with protecting the existence and prominence of Prussia. An independent Poland would embolden and aid the main enemy -- France -- and pose a strategic dilemma to Prussia that Clausewitz and his contemporaries found unacceptable. Raison d'etat triumphed over political preference, just as it did two decades before, when Clausewitz joined with monarchist Russia to block French hegemony.

10 comments:

  1. Slow day at work?

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  2. Are you really trolling my blog? Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

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  3. Dude, your site hates me (or did you block me? Just kidding....)

    Haven't been able to post for months???

    - Madhu

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  4. Madhu -- Not sure what the issue could be. Haven't heard of anyone else having trouble.

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  5. How do you explain Costa Rica, no standing Army.

    There is a rich environmentalist/permaculture population teaching environmentalism/off-grid living to eco-tourists. And they are thriving!!!

    http://www.biolitestove.com

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  6. Ah Jan III Sobieski, so pivotal a commander yet so forgotten. Without him von Moltke the Elder would have helped crown Wilhelm I Caliph instead of Kaiser.

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  7. Gulliver-

    I think there's more here than is apparent at first glance. Clausewitz uses the term "tartar" on numerous occasions to describe a political community with a high level of moral, but a low level of material cohesion (see Book VIII, Ch 3B). In this chapter it serves as something of an "ideal type" to which he compares pre-modern states, those of the 18th Century and 19th Century "rulers and peoples". So, by saying "tartar" we wasn't saying so much barbarian, as rather low level of material cohesion (sustainable governmental institutions), which arguably was the case with Poland in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries. In On War he claims that both Austria and Russia have "tartar elements" within their governmental systems btw . . .

    Then there's this . . .

    "Clausewitz was less concerned with supporting freedom abroad than with protecting the existence and prominence of Prussia. An independent Poland would embolden and aid the main enemy -- France -- and pose a strategic dilemma to Prussia that Clausewitz and his contemporaries found unacceptable."

    I agree, I don't think he was concerned with "supporting freedom abroad" since Prussia as the weakest of the major European powers would have had to do this against both Russia and Austria. Bad move in the 1830s.

    Why not see France as a potential threat as well, that is 15 years after having finally defeated a militant France that had waged war across Europe for almost 20 years and at horrendous cost?

    I would be very interested in reading the whole Paret article should you have a copy . . .

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  8. seydlitz -- Enjoyed your comment. Some thoughts:

    So, by saying "tartar" we wasn't saying so much barbarian, as rather low level of material cohesion (sustainable governmental institutions), which arguably was the case with Poland in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries.

    I think we're saying the same things here, basically: inefficient governance and a lack of centralized control meant that Polish administration was indeed somewhat "disorderly" through the late 17th and 18th centuries. I didn't impute anything about barbarism, and wouldn't have expected that CvC would, either. He was instead saying "hey, look, if you can't or won't control your territory and prevent others from threatening us from it, then you're asking for it when your country gets busted up." I get that. I just think there's some irony in the fact that the Tatars, as Clausewitz's ideal of a disorganized, decentralized and yet still militarily effective polity (if they could even be called that), were invoked as justification for the dismemberment of the polity that was largely responsible for effectively resisting their advance.

    As to your second point, I didn't mean to suggest that "supporting freedom abroad" would necessarily manifest as material support. The issue of Clausewitz's thoughts on France (as pertains to political refom/liberalization) is a really interesting one, I think; he seems to have admired the way that the revolutionary spirit and levee en masse contributed to French military effectiveness while obviously being wary of the aggressive foreign policy those things helped to midwife.

    Seems the Paret article is only available through JSTOR. Send me an email and I can get you the pdf.

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  9. OK, so we're talking pretty much from the same perspective. I think what did Poland in was being surrounded by three powerful neighbors along with the lack of material cohesion, but then for a long time Germany was France's military playground for much the same reason . . .

    Would greatly appreciate the article since I don't have access to JSTOR.

    Really liked your latest post btw. After reading the OV stuff I felt compelled to post something, but then read yours and knew right away I didn't have to . . .

    seydlitz89@web.de

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  10. Clausewitz's views on Poland are facinating to read in terms of counter-insurgency and the chances of weaker parties. I also think they're are some of his ugliest and prejuiced. His letters to Marie in 1831 speak of their foolishness and he could barely wait for the Russian armies under Diebitsch and Paskevich to crush them. His feelings of contempt towards the insolent Poles and Belgian rebels, as well as their supporters at home and abroad, comes through as strong as his reasons of state.

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