The Scientific Way of Warfare

Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity

Part of the Critical Strategic Studies series
March 2022 9781787387263 296pp


Bousquet’s book considers the impact of key technologies and scientific ideas on the practice of warfare and the handling of the perennial tension between order and chaos on the battlefield. It spans the entire modern era, from the Scientific Revolution to the present, eschewing traditional accounts of technological change in war and instead exploring modern warfare as the constitution of increasingly complex social assemblages of bodies and machines whose integration has been made possible through the deployment of scientific methodology. Scientific conceptual frameworks have been increasingly applied to the theoretical understanding of war, particularly when they have been associated with influential technologies such as the clock, the engine, or the computer. Conversely, many scientific developments have been stimulated or conditioned by the experience of war, especially since the Second World War and the unprecedented technological and industrial effort that characterised it. The constitution and perpetuation of this scientific way of warfare, marked by an increasingly tight symbiosis between technology, science, and war, are best understood in the context of the state’s attempts to make war into a rational instrument of policy. Bousquet also explores the relative benefits (such as providing a unique chain of command over the decision to use nuclear weapons) and disadvantages of centralising and decentralising approaches to military affairs, as exemplified in network-centric theory and in the activities of non-state actors such as insurgents.


The Scientific Way of Warfare is a remarkable work of synthesis, drawing on the contemporary writing of Manuel Castells, Paul Edwards, John Arquilla, and (especially) Martin Van Creveld. The book’s broad historical sweep doesn’t get caught up in the finer details, though, which might frustrate readers looking for a more detailed military history. Instead, it boils its subject down to “four distinct regimes of the scientific way of warfare, each of which is characterized by a specific theoretical and methodological constellation: mechanistic, thermodynamic, cybernetic, and chaoplexic warfare.” At the heart of each, he writes, “we find an associated paradigmatic technology, respectively the clock, the engine, the computer and the network.”’ — Wired

‘This is a remarkable work. Bousquet does for the history of science as military metaphor what Marc Buchanan in Nexus: The Groundbreaking Science of Networks does for complexity science and networks in a social context: he translates a series of profound scientific developments and thought into an accessible and engaging narrative of technology as artefact and metaphor. Bousquet writes with greater eloquence and texture, while simultaneously treating complex theoretical issues with the light touch that will ensure this book a larger audience.’ — Michael Innes, Syracuse University


Antoine Bousquet is Associate Professor at the Swedish Defence University.

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