Strategy plays an essential role on the battlefield and is frequently the only factor that sets victories and defeats aside. Nevertheless, military tactics might take many forms, and various generals have had unique perspectives on the art of war throughout history. Antoine-Henri Jomini and Claus von Clausewitz demonstrated remarkable military talent during Napoleonic Wars and are considered some of the greatest warfare strategists and theorists of all time. Their approach to war differed significantly, but their undeniable skills were recognized by most political leaders of the period. Ultimately, the current essay outlines the primary similarities and differences in the strategies of Jomini and Clausewitz, providing a detailed analysis of their art of war.
Antoine-Henri Jomini is undoubtedly one of the most prominent military theorists whose works have been thoroughly analyzed for more than two hundred years. He was born in 1779 in Switzerland, started his career in 1798 in the French army, and retired as an officer of the Russian troops (Bassford 1993, para. 9). Jomini participated in most conflicts of the period from 1803 to 1815, either on the French or Russian side, and devoted the rest of his life until 1869 to writing (Bassford 1993, para. 10). Nevertheless, Jomini had relatively little direct combat experience, spending most of his career in the cabinet observing the war from a distance (Calhoun 2011, 25). As a result, since the earlier years of his military career, Jomini emphasized a more rational and calculated approach to warfare, which he demonstrated wholly in his multiple literary works.
Military Approach of Jomini
Antoine-Henri Jomini was an empirical realist who concentrated his works on calculated descriptions of logistics, geometrical schematics, and other pragmatic and absolute solutions to the problems. Jomini was also a highly audience-oriented writer and frequently adjusted his principles to fit the expectations of the assumed readers (Calhoun 2011, 25). He developed a set of ultimate maxims that define the strategical approach in absolute terms with little attention to psychological and political aspects of warfare (Calhoun 2011, 27). As a result, Jomini’s fundamental principles are easy to understand and follow, making them highly effective guidelines to military theory (Calhoun 2011, 28). However, some experts consider Jomini’s concepts appropriate to the 19th century but relatively ineffective in modern times due to the rapid technological progress (Calhoun 2011, 25). Ultimately, Jomini emphasized the practical approach to warfare with the primary objective to win the consequent battle.
Comparison and Contrast to Clausewitz
The current subchapter briefly illustrates the primary points of the strategical approaches to warfare by Jomini and Clausewitz, which will be analyzed in more detail in the subsequent chapters. Concerning comparisons, most of them stem from the fact that both theorists actively participated in Napoleonic Wars and studied the same history. Jomini and Clausewitz read the same literature and were highly knowledgeable in prominent schools of philosophy, such as the Enlightenment, relativism, and pragmatism (Calhoun 2011, 27). In a sense, the military approaches of the two theorists evolved from the schools of philosophy, albeit from different ones, implying the fundamentally distinct perspectives on warfare (Calhoun 2011, 28). Thus, even though Jomini and Clausewitz agreed on some matters and interchangeably used the warfare terms created by each other, the differences between them are more notable.
Consequently, the primary contrast between Jomini and Clausewitz is the approach to strategical variables. As mentioned briefly before, Jomini perceived warfare as a formula, and if all independent variables are correct, then the battle should be won. It is a simplistic approach, but the one that demonstrated utmost efficiency in multiple conflicts, implying Jomini’s military talent. On the other hand, Clausewitz perceived warfare as a highly complex concept with no independent variables (Calhoun 2011, 28). Psychology, morale, and external factors, such as politics and moral integrity, play a vital part in military theory (Souchon 2021, 129). Thus, according to Clausewitz, everything on the battlefield is connected, and isolating certain variables, similarly to Jomini’s approach, might result in tragic consequences.
Antoine-Henri Jomini is undoubtedly one of the most notable military theorists of all time. According to his literary works, he favored a simplistic approach to warfare and perceived the battlefield as a combination of independent variables. His strategies concerned intelligent maneuvers, fundamental principles of conduct of war, and practical application of technologies. However, his approach also implied the relatively scarce attention to external factors, such as psychology and politics.
Carl von Clausewitz
Compared to Jomini, Carl von Clausewitz had a drastically different life. He was born in 1780 in Prussia and experienced his first direct combat when he was only thirteen years old (Coker 2017, 2). Throughout his life, Clausewitz spent thousands of hours both in his cabinet and on the battlefield, which explains the entirely different mindset from a more theory-oriented approach of Jomini (Coker 2017, 4). He was held as a prisoner of war for several years and experienced the terrors of war firsthand (Bassford 1993, para. 6). He participated in the Napoleonic Wars in the Prussian and Russian armies and contributed to Napoleon’s ultimate defeat (Bassford 1993, para. 6). Ultimately, the strategist’s biography explains the more complex approach to warfare, emphasizing politics and psychological factors.
Military Approach of Clausewitz
Clausewitz was an advocate of a complex and natural approach to warfare. According to his theories, all variables on the battlefield are closely connected, and it is impossible to entirely predict the multiple complexities of war (Calhoun 2011, 28). In a sense, Clausewitz’s approach vastly resembled the emerging philosophy schools in Prussia in the 19th century that opposed the Enlightenment (Coker 2017, 12). Clausewitz is also frequently called a “counter-Enlightenment thinker”; however, it is more accurate to say that Clausewitz derived his philosophy from the Enlightenment due to the vast inspiration from Kant’s works (Coker 2017, 13). In other words, Clausewitz believed in the endless complexities of human nature, which translated entirely into his military approach.
Comparison and Contrast to Jomini
Having discussed the peculiarities of Clausewitz’s life and military approach, it is possible to compare and contrast the two theorists in more detail. Elaborating on similarities, Jomini and Clausewitz were relatively in agreement concerning the ‘art’ of war. Both authors perceived warfare as a craft that significantly relies on the general’s competencies and is more chaotic than ‘science’ (Calhoun 2011, 35). Despite the consensus, experts generally consider Jomini’s strategies more calculated and occasionally refer to them as ‘scientific’ (Bassford 1993, para. 24). Nevertheless, the similarities between the two theorists are undeniable, particularly in their early works (Bassford 1993, para. 24). For instance, Clausewitz extensively borrowed Jomini’s military terminology and agreed with him concerning practical usage of terrain as a defensive line (Bassford 1993, para. 22). Nevertheless, most experts agree that there are more contrasts than comparisons between the two theorists.
One of the significant differences that explain the distinct approaches is the perspective on the war itself. As mentioned before, Clausewitz had extensive experience on the battlefield as a soldier and a tactician. He had faced the terrors of the war firsthand, and it shaped his military approach. As a result, Clausewitz perceived war as a natural continuation of politics but also as a chaotic occurrence with multiple factors affecting it (Bassford 1993, para. 18). He understood the challenges of the war and the difficulties that soldiers encountered daily. On the contrary, Jomini perceived war as a stage for heroes and strategists to demonstrate their talent (Bassford 1993, para. 18). Ultimately, Clausewitz understood war as organized violence with an endless number of complexities and challenges, while Jomini saw warfare as a game of chess that mainly depended on the generals and strategists.
Carl von Clausewitz was an extraordinary strategist who emphasized the impact of politics and external factors on warfare. His ideas concerning military tactics derive from his substantial philosophical foundations of the Prussian schools of thought, which opposed the Enlightenment. Ultimately, Clausewitz had an exemplary understanding of practical applications of strategies but focused his works on the political and psychological aspects of warfare, implying the impossibility of calculating the outcomes of the conflict.
Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz lived at the same period, studied the same intellectual traditions, and participated in the Napoleonic Wars. However, their military approaches are fundamentally different and concentrate on distinct aspects of warfare. Jomini was an empirical realist and attempted to explain conflict through the lens of absolute terms, schematic representations, and intelligent maneuvers. Contrary, Clausewitz practiced a more philosophical approach to the art of war, implying the significance of external factors to warfare. He believed that war was a more complex phenomenon that could not possibly be calculated via absolute terms. As a result, despite the similarities of the two generals derived from their participation in the Napoleonic Wars, their military approaches could not be more distinguishable.
The current essay has revealed two primary differences that explain the distinct approaches of the two strategists. First, Jomini had little direct combat experience, generally observing the battlefield from afar and acting purely as a strategist. On the other hand, Clausewitz participated in combat since early childhood and witnessed deaths, panic, and torture firsthand. This difference resulted in their distinct perspectives on the nature of warfare. Consequently, both strategists have a substantial philosophical background; however, Jomini is an exemplary practitioner of the Enlightenment school of thought. Contrary, while Clausewitz drew inspiration from notable philosophers of the Enlightenment, his principles defied the scientific and absolute approach to chaotic affairs. Ultimately, Jomini and Clausewitz lived at the same period but had completely different lives, which explains the distinct approaches to military strategies.
The current paper has examined the primary similarities and differences between the military approaches of Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz and explained them through the lens of their personal lives and philosophical affiliations. As seen from the analysis, both strategists participated in the Napoleonic Wars and played a vital part in the development of military theory in the 19th century. However, they had different lives and backgrounds, implying a distinguishable understanding of war and associated factors. Ultimately, despite the diverse approaches, their works have inspired numerous generals to perfect their strategies and are vital to the history of tactical warfare.
Bassford, Christopher. 1993. “Jomini and Clausewitz: Their Interaction.” Web.
Calhoun, Mark. 2011. “Clausewitz and Jomini: Contrasting Intellectual Framework in Military Theory.” Army History, no. 80: 22-37.
Coker, Christopher. 2017. Rebooting Clausewitz: ‘On War’ in the Twenty-First Century. Oxford University Press.
Souchon, Lennart. 2020. Strategy in the 21st Century: The Continuing Relevance of Carl von Clausewitz. Springer International Publishing.