Carl von Clausewitz and the Invention of the Conservative Nation-State: Retrieving Instrumental Reflexivity in the Strategic Tradition


  • Philippe Dufort School of Conflict Studies of Saint-Paul University, Ottawa


The necessity to innovate and profoundly reform the State was a shared concern for statesmen and strategists during the tumultuous period associated with Napoleonic warfare. The article revisits the 1807 ‘revolution from above’ orchestrated by a few Prussian officers who sought to prepare their antiquated State to face Napoleon’s Grande Armée. A contextualist historical approach uncovers how the instrumental use of reflexivity is a core component of Clausewitz’s strategic legacy. This study suggests that a revisionist reading of Clausewitz’s legacy is characterised by a highly disruptive and dangerously subversive cognitive practice: instrumental reflexivity. This approach calls for constantly reworking one’s own ontological lens and diffusing adapted ontologies as essential dimensions of war making. These practices are critical for widening the 'art of the possible' in military affairs and for radical innovations in state reforms. The article concludes by outlining the difficult relation between military institutions and reflexive military thinkers as their subversive intellectual legacies tend to be systematically suppressed.

Author Biography

Philippe Dufort, School of Conflict Studies of Saint-Paul University, Ottawa

Philippe Dufort holds a PhD from the department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) of the University of Cambridge, UK. He is currently a faculty member at the School of Conflict Studies of Saint-Paul University, Ottawa. His general research interests include: Strategic Studies; State Capitalism and Geopolitics; Critical IR Theories; International Historical Sociology; Identity and conflictual politics. Apart from his experience in academic research, he has previously worked as a journalist in Latin America and as a contractual analyst for the Canadian Mission towards the European Union.






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