Chris Bassford's latest attempt at an accurate translation of Clausewitz's "trinity" discussion.

Shown in bold are sections where this translation differs substantially from that in Howard/Paret.

This working translation is based on comparisons among the first edition of Vom Kriege, the 1873 translation by J.J. Graham (London: N. Trübner, 1873); the O.J. Matthijs Jolles translation (New York: Random House, 1943); and the Howard/Paret 1984 edition; and on long-running consultations with Tony Echevarria, Alan D. Beyerchen, Jon Sumida, Gebhard Schweigler, and Andreas Herberg-Rothe. Obviously, I bear sole responsibility for the result.

Chris Bassford

28. THE CONSEQUENCES FOR THEORY  (Bassford translation)

War is thus more than a mere chameleon, because it changes its nature to some extent in each concrete case.  It is also, however, when it is regarded as a whole and in relation to the tendencies that dominate within it, a fascinating trinity—composed of:

    *1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force;
      2) the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and
      3) its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason.

The first of these three aspects concerns more the people; the second, more the commander and his army; the third, more the government. The passions that are to blaze up in war must already be inherent in the people; the scope that the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends on the particular character of the commander and the army; but the political aims are the business of government alone.

These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another. A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship among them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.

The task, therefore, is to keep our theory [of war] floating among these three tendencies, as among three points of attraction.

What lines might best be followed to achieve this difficult task will be explored in the book on the theory of war [i.e., Book Two]. In any case, the conception of war defined here will be the first ray of light into the fundamental structure of theory, which first sorts out the major components and allows us to distinguish them from one another.”

to articles on the Trinity by C. Bassford

"Teaching the Clausewitzian Trinity"

"Reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity"

"Tip-Toe Through the Trinity"

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