Rebooting Clausewitz

‘On War’ in the 21st Century

April 2017 9781849047142 192pp
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Rebooting Clausewitz offers an entirely new take on the work of history’s greatest theorist of war. Written for an undergraduate readership that often struggles with Clausewitz’s master work On War — a book that is often considered too philosophical and impenetrably dense — it seeks to unpack some of Clausewitz’s key insights on theory and strategy. In three fictional interludes Clausewitz attends a seminar at West Point; debates the War on Terror at a Washington thinktank; and takes part in a heated discussion on the value of reading history at a meeting of the Military History Circle in London. Three separate essays situate Clausewitz in the context of his times, discuss his understanding of the culture of war, and the extent to which two other giants — Thucydides and Sun Tzu — complement his work.

Some years ago the philosopher W. B. Gallie argued that Clausewitz needed to be ‘saved from the Clausewitzians’. Clausewitz doesn’t need saving and his commentators have contributed a great deal to our understanding of On War’s seminal status as a text. But too often they hold a discussion between themselves. This book is an attempt to let a wider audience into the conversation.


‘Christopher Coker answers the question of Clausewitz’s relevance to the twenty-first Century by imagining the great master justifying his theories to modern audiences. His approach is engaging, illuminating and a bit mischievous.’ — Sir Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies, King’s College London, author of Strategy: A History

‘Is Clausewitz still relevant for the twenty first century? In this bravura and scintillatingly written study, Christopher Coker argues for a powerful yes. Mixing acute analysis and thought provoking imagined dialogues and fictional recreations of Clausewitz’s discussion with his friends, Coker has produced a gem of a book, illuminating brilliantly for the twenty first century the originality and genius of both Clausewitz and On War.’ — Nicholas Rengger, Professor of Political Theory and International Relations, University of St Andrews

‘An evocative and entertaining excursion that reveals not only what Coker thinks about Clausewitz, but also what he thinks about several of the leading institutions that help shape strategic thinking in the US and UK today.’ — Antulio J. Echevarria II, Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies, US Army War College

‘Arguing about Clausewitz remains a vital exercise in thinking about conflict. Coker’s study will help students grasp his main concepts, and to argue afresh over the Prussian’s ideas, life and legacy, and the conflicting ways to interpret his work. Clausewitz’s mind was restless and argumentative, and Coker imagines him intervening in the debates of our time. Coker, like Bassford, Herberg-Rothe, Paret and Strachan helps bring Clausewitz back from stale doctrinal arguments, as a source of wisdom in times of war.’ — Patrick Porter, Professor of Strategic Studies, University of Exeter, and author of The Global Village Myth: Distance, War and the Limits of Power


Christopher Coker was Director of LSE IDEAS, the London School of Economics foreign policy think-tank. His recent books include Rebooting Clausewitz; Men at War; and The Improbable War: China, the United States and the Logic of Great Power Conflict, all published by Hurst.

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