Clausewitz on the Trinity of the People, Military, and Government
General Carl Philipp Gottfried Von Clausewitz is best known for his 1832 book On War. The piece of literature is a classic treatise on wars that are based on Clausewitz’s observations and battle experience during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. In the book, General Carl Von Clausewitz describes war as a trinity constituted of primitive violence, hatred, and enmity, which is driven by the forces of emotion, chance, and rationality. Besides, he links war with a social trinity of actors: the people, the army, and lastly the government. According to Howard and Paret, Clausewitz believed that war is never an end in itself but rather a means to an end (238). The trinity of the people, military, and government rely on astute political unity for smooth and efficient operations.
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The trinity of the people, military, and the government is bound and sewed together by politics. Progressive, high-level, politics which is usually demonstrated by statecraft is essential in creating a strong political bond that unites the three institutions of the people, military, and government. Therefore, politics is ubiquitous in matters of the state. Statecraft is defined as the conduct of the affairs of a state. Statecraft also ingrains a political aspect though it involves high-level politics which is concerned with the fulfillment of both national and international aims and interests (Foster). Statecraft is different from the widespread politics that inundates the day-to-day functioning and operation of the state which may be termed as low-level politics. Low-level politics is characterized by self-interest, partisanship, parochial ideological posturing, and aimed at gaining power and holding public office for the achievement of the numerous gains and privileges that comes with holding public office (Foster). Low-level politics is what is defines who gets what, when, and how.
America’s greatest virtues concerning the trinity of war; the people, the military, and the government is that of unity in one political society. A unified political society has been achieved through the social pact, which obligates everyone in society to submit to majority decisions and be bound by them despite their contrary views and opinions (Frazer and Hutchings 58). The social pact leads to the creation of homogeneity in the relationship of the various institutions in a society, such as the people, the military, and the government. Additionally, under the social pact, the people surrender some of their rights and liberties to the government, which creates laws, and a military branch that enacts the laws and safeguards the peoples’ vital rights and interests (Young 12). Without unity in the political structures that hold the institutions of society (the people), the state, and the military together Clausewitz’s trinity of the people, the government, and the military collapse.
Low-level politics that is concerned with self-interest and parochial ideologies is detrimental not only to the relationship of the people, the military, and the government but also to national security. Low-level politics compared to the high-level politics espoused by statecraft is motivated by egoism and pure self-interest rather than the collective interest of the people. This weakens the relationship between the people and the government. According to Forbes, when the people no longer believe in the government they resort to civil disobedience and in extremes revolutions, coups, and civil strife (12). Revolutions, civil disobedience, and coups pit the people against the government and the military thus obliterating national security.
I recommend the incorporation of the concept of noetic trinity as a solution to improving the functioning of the bonds among the people, military, and government. Anoetic trinity incorporates the use of ethical strategy in statecraft as a means of dealing with low-level politics. The noetic trinity through its inclination to ethics in politics will put an end to politics characterized by self-interest and narrow parochial ideologies.
Forbes, Joseph. “Vietnam, Political Objectives, and Clausewitz.” Vol. 46, no. 3, 1993, pp. 127–129. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44637475. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.
Foster, Gregory D. “Statecraft, Strategy, and Ethics: A Noetic Trinity.” Small Wars Journal, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/statecraft-strategy-and-ethics-a-noetic-trinity
Frazer, Elizabeth, and Kimberly Hutchings. “Virtuous Violence and the Politics of Statecraft in Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Weber.” Political Studies, vol. 59, no. 1, May 2011, pp. 56–73., DOI:10.1111/j.1467-9248.2010.00841.x
Howard, Michael, and Peter Paret, eds. Carl von Clausewitz on war. Princeton University Press, 1984.
Young, Richard J. “Clausewitz and His Influence on US and Canadian Military Doctrine.” The Changing Face of War, 1998, pp. 9-21.