Bassford’s Dynamic Trinitarianism, Part II.

In Part I.  we looked at a working paper by Professor Christopher Bassford that he he has posted at entitled  Tiptoe Through the Trinity, or, The Strange Persistence of Trinitarian Warfare.  As I said previously:

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. 

Having previously tackled Bassford’s interpretation of the “fascinating” trinity and his argument for it’s dynamic nature, the time has come to observe how he explains a concept almost as important for understanding On War, what Clausewitz meant by “Politik“. We have all heard the often quoted maxim that Clausewitz said that “War was the continuation of politics by other means”, but what that sentence actually meant has been subject to both misunderstanding and debate. Here is Bassford:

….That leaves us with the problem of Politik. This is a huge subject, for it encompasses the entire issue of the relationship between it and war; perhaps 90% of debates about Clausewitz turn on it. Let us pause for a (long) moment and consider the meaning of those problematic words, Politik, politics, and policy.

Clausewitz seldom overtly defines Politik in any detail, and when he does so the definition is shaped to fit the immediate context. In translating Politik and related words, English-speakers feel compelled to choose between “politics” and “policy.” Some even prefer the much more specialized term “diplomacy,” which limits the discussion to relations among organized states—that is how Jomini’s Politique was usually rendered into English. Our choices can seriously distort Clausewitz’s argument. Clausewitz himself would probably have been very comfortable with the word “statecraft,” the broad zone of concerns and activities within which “statesmen” operate. But that term avails us no greater clarity and might even lock him exclusively into the state, where so many modern writers want to (uselessly) maroon him. We are interested in what Clausewitz meant by Politik, of course, but our focus here is even more on the question of what we mean by policy and politics. The latter two terms are related but far from equivalent. Each captures a part of the meaning of Politik, but even used together they do not cover quite the same ground.

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