Bassford’s Dynamic Trinitarianism Part I.

“Clausewitz wants us to accept the practical reality that these dynamic forces are ever-present and constantly interacting in the everyday world….”

I just finished reading a working paper by Professor Christopher Bassford he has posted at that I am strongly recommending to the readership (with a hat tip to Peter at SWJ Blog).

Tiptoe Through the Trinity, or, The Strange Persistence of Trinitarian Warfare

At 31 pages of analytic prose, diagrams and footnotes regarding the nature of  Carl von Clausewitz’s “fascinating” trinity; how Bassford thinks Michael Howard and Peter Paret got some important points in their translation of On War wrong ; the real meaning of Politik and on the perfidy of non-trinitarians – Bassford’s paper is not a quick read but a worthwhile one. I learned some important things about On War from reading this paper and had some uncertain speculations strengthened by Bassford’s expertise on Clausewitz and Clausewitzians.  I am not going to attempt a summary of so long and abstruse an argument, but I would instead like to highlight some of Bassford’s more valuable insights. There were also a couple of points where, in stretching to make analogies with other fields, I think Bassford may be going astray, as well as some commentary I might make regarding “non-state war”.

This paper will be more digestible if we blog the topics one at a time, in succession.

The most important part in the paper and I think most helpful to people who have not read On War many times was Bassford’s emphasis on the extremely dynamic nature of Clausewitz’s “fascinating” (his translation) trinity:

….in fact, the Trinity is the central concept in On War. I don’t mean “central” in the sense that, say, Jon Sumida applied in his conference paper*7 to Clausewitz’s concept of the inherent superiority of the defensive form of war. That is, I do not argue that the Trinity is Clausewitz’s “most important” concept, that the desire to convey it was his primary motivation in writing, or that all of his other insights flowed from this one. Rather, I mean simply that the Trinity is the concept that ties all of Clausewitz’s many ideas together and binds them into a meaningful whole.

….In any case, the role of the Trinity within the narrow confines of Book One, Chapter One ofOn War, which reflects Clausewitz’s most mature thinking, is crucial. That chapter must be read in terms of Clausewitz’s dialectical examination of the nature of war. That discussion is very carefully structured but (purposefully, I suspect) largely unmarked by clear dialectical road markers labeling thesis, antithesis, and synthesis,*8 or even by sections clearly devoted to one stage of the dialectic or another. The Trinity itself represents the synthesis of this dialectical process.

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