ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 11, Number 2 (May, 2014)


Forget Clausewitz

Dr. Dan Öberg
(Department of Military Science, Swedish Defense College, Stockholm)

What we have forgotten in modernity, by dint of constantly accumulating, adding, going for more, is that force comes from subtraction, power from absence (Baudrillard, 2008: 4).

I. Introduction

In Forget Foucault (originally published as Oublier Foucault, 1976) Jean Baudrillard launched a scathing critique of Michel Foucault’s philosophy of power. Baudrillard claimed, pace Foucault, that not only power but in fact reality itself had disappeared. From this he outlined a transition from a ‘classical age’ in which Foucault was painted as ‘the last great dinosaur’ (Baudrillard, 1987: 11) to a dystopic present. Given Foucault’s canonical status at the time (as well as the harshness of the critique) it was probably self-evident that the challenge would be ill-received. But what can we make of this critique today? One way of ‘engagement’ has been to pick up on the title of the book as a sound bite, only to discard it.1 This arguably reduces Baudrillard’s challenge into an empty pose which is simultaneously raised (‘should we forget Foucault’) and rejected (‘of course not’).

Very few scholars have tried to employ or pick up on Baudrillard’s critique of Foucault in relation to contemporary political problems. One exception is when Roland Bleiker urged thinkers of international politics to ‘forget IR theory’.2  Bleiker argued that ‘to forget’ involves a reorienting of memories so as to enable remembrance in ways that escape dominant modes of thought (Bleiker, 1997: 59). Although Bleiker outlines how forgetting is a necessary aspect of thinking he does not engage with Baudrillard’s ideas in any depth. This text therefore revisits Forget Foucault and interrogates what role it may play for mounting a critique of one contemporary field of study, namely war, in a way which questions the dominant modes of thought surrounding it.

Coincidentally, the philosophy of war (as outlined to a great extent by German thinker Carl von Clausewitz) is by no means unrelated to Foucault’s thought or canonical status at the time. First Foucault wrote explicitly on war, especially towards the end of his life. Second, in the academic study of war no thinker is revered in the same way as Clausewitz (resembling Foucault’s status today in critical studies).3 More specifically, the two thinkers are also related in the value they ascribe to the insight that war and politics are part of a continuum. The most famous example is the often quoted dictum that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’ something which was picked up on by Foucault in his 1975-1976 lectures at the Collège de France (Foucault, 2003). Therein Foucault starts his lectures by inverting the dictum (making ‘politics the continuation of war by other means’) in order to contextualize Clausewitz’ thought as one part of a historical shift in discourses on power.

That both Clausewitz and Foucault are important thinkers in their own right in regards to war is undisputable. However, one might ask whether viewing the relationship between war and politics in terms of a continuum, as they both do is in itself problematic? Especially considering the endless amount of times it has been invoked in texts dealing with war. Martin Van Creveld argued already in 1991 that ’(n)o other dictum of Clausewitz’ has acquired nearly as much fame, and none is quoted more frequently…So descriptive of much modern armed conflict is the idea that war is the servant of policy, that many people today cannot even imagine an alternative to it (Creveld, 1991: 124).’ Henceforth, it is pertinent to look into the theoretical discourse surrounding the two thinkers if we are to question the dominant modes of thought on war.

As Sylvère Lotringer (2007: 10) notices Forget Foucault is not so much an attack on Foucault as it is an introduction to Baudrillard’s thought. Arguably, to Baudrillard, forgetting is one aspect of a philosophy which engages the world through subtraction. Baudrillard once summed up his thought as an attempt: ‘…to go as far as possible towards disappearance, just to see what would happen’ (Baudrillard, 2006a: 14). In order to better understand what this implies in relation to Clausewitz’ dictum it might be fruitful to think of Baudrillard’s writing on forgetting in relation to critically oriented ‘methods’. Claudia Aradau and Jeff Huysmans argue that methods constitute ‘devices that interfere in the worlds in which they are deployed’ and they are not only ‘performative, fragmented and incomplete, but also disruptive’ (Aradau and Huysmans, 2013: 8). This invocation should not be taken to mean that Baudrillard thinks of forgetting as a method. Rather, it implies that we can think of it in terms of a disruption, or more precisely, as an art of disappearance – ‘though not in any way an art in the cultural or aesthetic sense, but closer to a martial art’ (Baudrillard, 2009: 21-22).

As one example of this, consider how, in Forget Foucault, Baudrillard laments that ‘(n)oone has ever seriously considered (the) nonpolitical side of power’ (1987: 57). This is a type of disruption that posits a question which calls upon our ability to subtract and forget the relationship between politics and power. Drawing upon this disruption one might ask – how can we locate the nonpolitical sides of war, or the non-war of politics? To illustrate the implications of these questions, this text draws explicitly upon Baudrillard’s critique of Foucault’s notion of power, to further interrogate what role Clausewitz’ dictum poses in thinking war and politics. The text does not aim to exhaustively discuss the relationship between politics and war, but rather to interrogate how the assumption of a continuum between them affects our understanding of them as categories.

Why is this of particular importance? Underlining a possible subtraction of the dictum - there is a suspicion that the countless invocations of it might have problematic consequences for how we think war. Unpacking this suspicion, the text argues that with respect to ‘Forget Clausewitz’ would not necessarily be to stop reading Clausewitz – but to critically inquire into what the dictum obscures with regard to the relationship between war and politics. What is at stake here is therefore not war and politics as such – its definition, empirical value, or signified. What is at stake is how thought on a number of phenomena is posed through the dictum. Henceforth, the purpose of this text is not to create better or more efficient concepts to explain or understand war. Rather it is to disrupt thought on war and politics through forcing a disappearance upon the Clausewitzian dictum.

The first part of this article outlines Clausewitz’ argument that war is a ‘continuation of politics by other means’. It argues that the study of war, in an attempt to understand the connection between war and politics, ends up idealizing the relationship through the idea of a continuum. The second part examines Foucault’s discussion of Clausewitz’ dictum. It claims, in line with much secondary literature on the topic, that Foucault uses Clausewitz to illustrate a historical shift in strategies of power but that the way it has been used further idealizes the idea of a continuum. Part three discusses, by drawing upon Baudrillard’s challenge to Foucault’s theory of power, how the dictum works as an axiom which reifies war and politics in real, objective terms.4 It claims that to ‘forget Clausewitz’ basically means to subtract the dictum from our understanding of war and politics.

The paper ends by arguing that if we think war through Baudrillard we realize that such a ‘disappearance’ is already taking place. First, as the idealization of the continuum establishes an excess of possible connections in which the thought on war is related to ‘anything and everything’. Second, through how Baudrillard introduces negation making ‘war the continuation of non-politics by other means’. The text concludes that the challenge by Baudrillard to Foucault might mean many things, but regarding the thought on war it teaches us precisely that we need to subtract all that which is added to war – until underneath all the unpacking of its politicized being there is nothing waiting for us. And perhaps, paradoxically, that it is through apprehending this nothingness we might be able to subtract the dictum, force it to disappear, and finally forget it.

II. Clausewitz dictum as a way of securing the reality of war and politics
What does the notion ‘war as a continuation of politics by other means’ in On War imply?5 Taken at face value, Clausewitz’ dictum is an argument for war as being a subordinate set of means to political ends: ‘the political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it…’(Clausewitz, 1976: 87). Henceforth, war is not represented as autonomous but as a means of achieving a political objective (Clausewitz, 1976: 88-89). Clausewitz thereby establishes a connection between war and politics which functions as the cornerstone of his whole philosophy of war. This means that while one may discuss the characteristics of this relationship, there is to Clausewitz no denying of the inherent connection between the two. To apprehend politics is to apprehend war and vice versa – and success in thinking either endeavor is wholly dependent on grasping ‘the smooth harmony of the whole activity’ (Clausewitz, 1976: 178).  As war to Clausewitz is a branch of politics, it does not suspend political intercourse but instead continues it – an insight necessary to his thought as otherwise we are left with war as ‘something pointless and devoid of sense’ (Clausewitz, 1976: 604-605). To Clausewitz, war is therefore linked to politics through a relationship which precludes its being and the elevation of the dictum is the ultima ratio of this link.

While some authors have taken Clausewitz famous dictum at face value (e.g. Brodie, 1974: 2); it has also been subject to both praise and critique. Antulio Echevarria (2007: 87, 89) and Jon Tetsuro Sumida (2008: 49, 56) argue that it has been misunderstood and set out to outline its ‘true’ meaning by rereading Clausewitz. Others, like Zygmunt Bauman (2001: 11) extend the argument into contemporary spheres of globalization to better understand how Clausewitz can be applied to the 21st century, or like Hugh Smith (2005: 98-99), discuss the relationship between policy and politics in Clausewitz so to get a precise idea of what it implies.

Yet others, like Alexander Moseley, Martin van Creveld, and John Keegan try to go beyond Clausewitz. Moseley argues that war does not need to have a political goal but that one might wage it for glory, for God, for ritual – or for yet other ends (Moseley, 2002: 15). Van Creveld similarly claims that war can be the continuation of other things than politics (such as justice or religion), while Keegan juxtaposes politics and culture, and claims that Clausewitz’ definition is wrong as war is clearly related to cultural rituals such as horse breeding or a warrior ethos (Van Creveld, 1991: 126-141, Keegan 1994: 46). All these engagements rest on a view in which thought is supposed to explain the relationship (or lack of relationship) between war and politics, forgetting that theory might serve thought better by challenging and simulating reality (Baudrillard, 1987: 133).6 While the list of engagements with Clausewitz’ dictum could indeed be extended into the length of an article in itself (indicative of his canonic status in the study of war), the point here is not so much to ponder over whether Clausewitz was right or not. Rather, it is to ask - to what extent the repetition of the dictum and its many meanings and connections (as illustrated by the previous discussion), in itself does things? If so, regardless of whether the idea of ‘war as being a continuation of politics by other means’ is right or wrong, it makes things happen by sheer excess.

As we shall see below, the dictum idealizes a relationship between war and politics and in so doing it makes them meaningful as categories. Perhaps this is why Clausewitz iterates this relationship forcefully through the argument that ‘war cannot be divorced from political life’ (Clausewitz, 1976: 605) and the relationship as an ‘indissoluble connection’ (Clausewitz, 1976: 610). As Clausewitz makes the argument for a ‘purely military opinion unacceptable’ (Clausewitz, 1976: 607), he also establishes a connection between war and politics which is considered more or less taken for granted today. Although it might be important to understand the dictum contextually – in relation to what Clausewitz meant when he wrote it, or how it has been received and interpreted – this text does not look for what it signifies but for how it might be subtracted from thought. Regardless of what intention Clausewitz had with linking war to politics, the dictum, and the way it is implicitly used to think, has since then spiraled in a number of directions. It is therefore more fruitful to consider how the dictum has become a slogan that resembles an ‘empty posture’ – an advertisement for how to think almost any type of act and event. 

On War is a clever book in retrospect as it firmly secures the political identity of the military by virtue of an a priori connection between politics and war (whether Clausewitz was aware of it or not is of little importance here). It is therefore possible to argue that On War camouflages war as part of politics in a way which makes the military identity an inseparable aspect of the fabric of society. It partakes in producing a world through which a continuum is created. It is through this continuum that the principles of war and politics are invested with meaning and from that time onward it is almost impossible to fathom what war could be beyond its relation to politics. To view the military as a means for a political goal is therefore not so much a statement of fact as it is an enactment of a particular reality. This means that it is not the ontological question of ‘what is’ which is at stake when we approach the dictum. Rather what is at stake is whether it is possible to subtract this ‘empty posture’ from thought and from the way we think acts and events.  And perhaps we might say that the answer to whether this is possible depends upon the extent to which we are able to forget Clausewitz. The next part will discuss this argument further through engaging with Foucault’s inversion of Clausewitz’ dictum.

III. Foucault and war as a continuation of strategies of power
Michel Foucault’s hypothesis inverting Clausewitz dictum of ‘war as a continuation of politics’ is well known. To Foucault politics before Clausewitz was the continuation of war by other means and On War indicates a historical shift in which war is reinscribed as part of strategies of power. Foucault thereby reads Clausewitz as an illustration of a particular subjectivity in which war reinvents itself as a continuation of politics by other means (Foucault, 2003: 15-16, 48). Henceforth, as Andrew Neal has argued, it would be a mistake to read Foucault as simply inverting Clausewitz dictum. Rather, to Neal, Foucault’s argument should be understood as precisely the opposite:

Foucault does not invert Clausewitz. Rather, Foucault claims to identify a pre-Clausewitzian discourse of “politics as war” that Clausewitz later inverted in his claim that “war is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means.”…/…Foucault suggests that war never really went away. It continues…in the fabric of modern politics and its discourses and institutions (Andrew Neal, 2004: 378-379, 375, my italics). 

Neal, as well as Julian Reid (2003), read Foucault’s inversion of the dictum in a way that illustrates how Clausewitz’ thought can be seen as part of a transition which enables new ways of governing. Reid argues that Foucault placed Clausewitz’ thought as part of a shift in the emergence of a new form of political power (Reid, 2003: 2-3). He writes: ‘just as the strategy of power produced psychiatrists to identify a relation between madness and sanity, so it produced a military strategist to argue that war was only an extension of politics’ (Reid, 2003: 10). Reid goes on to argue that if one is to read Clausewitz today it is to better understand how his thought can be part of inquiring into the relation between modern military strategy and strategies of power so as to further define how war relates to modern power (Reid, 2003: 12, 16).

This is in itself an important insight. However, what concerns me here is not so much the correct interpretation of Foucault, but rather that a Foucauldian reading of Clausewitz also establishes a continuum between war and politics. For example in how Foucault argues that "(w)ar is the motor behind institutions and order. In the smallest of its cogs, peace is waging a secret war" (Foucault, 2003: 50). Although Foucault’s argument does not rest on the dictum per se, but rather illustrates a historical subjectivity through it, one might nevertheless wonder to what extent the dictum also acts as an injunction for attempts to think the type of connectivity that Foucault points out. The rest of this part, engaging with Foucault’s inversion of Clausewitz, will look into how the idea of a continuum is present in (mainly feminist and biopolitical) thinkers who draw upon Foucault’s hypothesis with regards to war. The following parts will then get back to the implications of this by engaging with Baudrillard’s challenge to Foucault.

In feminist studies of war, Foucault’s inverted hypothesis is often invoked in order to build on the idea of a continuum between war and something else. Zillah Eisenstein draws explicitly on Foucault to argue that ‘globalization is…war by other means’ (Eisenstein, 2007: 10) and argues for us to perceive of ‘rape as politics in yet another form’ (ibid, 29). Stefan Dudink and Karen Hagemann argue that ‘war is the continuation of masculinity by other means’ (Dudink and Hagemann, 2004: 30). While the latter criticizes the notion that war shapes politics or that war and politics are manifestations of a continuous struggle for power, they still argue that ‘the insight that war and politics have been relatively inseparable is as important as ever for understanding modern history’ (ibid: 7) and that war and politics are a unity (ibid: 2004: 22). 

Others think of ‘war as an extreme political means [that] discloses the possibility which underlies every political idea…’ (Schmitt, 1976: 35), as the ‘ultima ratio of politics’ (Arendt, 1969: 6), or as a ‘politics of injury’ (Sylvester, 2013:3). Regardless if we see war as a means for politics or politics as based on violence and force, there is a structuring in which one category is constantly viewed in terms of the other. This means, that war is being signified and structured as subordinated to the political by Clausewitz. But it also means that when politics is being signified as ‘antagonistic’ or based upon ‘force’ (as is done by Foucault) this understanding of politics is structured through a war which is already thought of as political. It is therefore self-evident that the literature which draws upon Foucault tends to view the relationship between war and politics in terms of a continuum.  Vivianne Jabri argues that ‘war…permeates the normality of the political process’ (Jabri, 2006: 49) and ‘discourses on politics, so that these come to be subject to the restraints and imperatives of war...’ (ibid: 54). Moreover she insists that war is:

a continuity in social and political life…not simply an isolated occurrence taking place as some form of interruption to an existing peaceful order. Rather, this peaceful order is imbricated with the elements of war, present as continuities in social and political life, elements that are deeply rooted and enabling of the actuality of war in its traditional battlefield sense. This implies a continuity of sorts between the disciplinary, the carceral and the violent manifestations of government (Jabri, 2006: 55).

The theory of war is therefore precluded by the idea of a connection between war and politics which lets one flow into the other in terms of what Julian Reid calls a ‘war-politics schemata’.  To Reid:

Clausewitz’s formula is not a stable statement upon the ontological status of war or a reliable guide to the waging of war. It is, rather, first a statement as to the contingency of the epistemic construction of strategy at the beginning of the modern era, but also a profound recognition of the connectivity of war to politics (Reid, 2003: 17, my italics).

The idea of war as spilling over into politics through a continuum is therefore prevalent in how Foucault’s argument has been employed by various writers on gender and biopolitics. Therefore, whatever the relationship between Clausewitz’ dictum and Foucault’s critique thereof, they both rely on the assumed importance of a ‘connectivity’ or ‘continuation’ between war and politics. Whatever war is it is through a continuum between war and politics which pre-exists the questions of “what war is”, or “what politics is.”

Why is it necessarily problematic that the two terms spill over into each other? Both Clausewitz and Foucault participate in how war is being thought of in relation to something called ‘politics’ and ‘politics’ in relation to ‘war’. And this also makes one wonder how it is possible to think beyond a type of war dependent on an a priori structuring of politics. Can we say that the idea that war is deconstructing or reconstructing social worlds (often prevalent in critical approaches to war) is simply (re)inscribing political metaphors into a process which might have little or nothing to do with politics?7 Regardless if one thinks the continuum as a flow from politics to war or from war to politics; this thought is refracted through the dictum itself. Foucault illustrates how war from Clausewitz onward becomes a schema hiding ‘behind’ more respectable political spheres. But while Foucault’s critique exposes ‘the forgotten past of real struggles…which may have been disguised but which remain profoundly inscribed…the blood that has dried in the codes’ (Foucault, 2003: 56) this endeavor nevertheless helps to reify the idea of a continuum.8

IV. The dictum as that which upholds a particular reality
What happens to our understanding of war through how the dictum is repeated in excess? In short, what does the dictum do? To get a better idea of this let us engage with Baudrillard’s challenge in Forget Foucault. Therein, he criticizes Foucault’s genealogy of power for mirroring the powers it purportedly describes (Baudrillard, 1987: 10). While this might seem like a facile gesture, as Foucault clearly outlines a genealogy of discourses on power in order to critique them, the point is more complex than it might appear at first glance. Baudrillard does not merely claim that Foucault is falling in his own trap – by mirroring power. Rather he points to how Foucault, while outlining power in all its details implicitly makes thought dependent on ‘real’ axioms:

(W)hat if Foucault spoke so well to us concerning power – and let us not forget it, in real objective terms which cover manifold diffractions but nonetheless do not question the objective point of view one has about them, and concerning power which is pulverized but whose reality principle is nonetheless not questioned – only because power is dead? (Baudrillard, 1987:  11)…/… (S)omething happened at the level of power which Foucault cannot grasp…from deep within his genealogy: for him the political has no end, but only metamorphoses…This may constitute enormous progress over the imaginary order of power which dominates us – but nothing has changed concerning the axiom of power: it doesn’t exceed…the smallest definition of its real function (Ibid.: 12).

Baudrillard’s critique can therefore be understood as a way of underlining that although Foucault traces and retraces the metamorphosis of power through discursive shifts, the axiom of power stays intact.9 Or in other words, Foucault does not engage sufficiently with the reality principle that these discourses indirectly reify (Baudrillard, 1987: 12). Arguably, the big question for Baudrillard is not whether power as a concept exists or whether it has disappeared, but to what extent its axiomatic status makes terms such as ‘sexuality’, ‘history’ or ‘discipline’ appear real.

Relating Baudrillard’s critique to the previous discussion enables us to see that while the schemata of war-politics is possible to trace empirically (for example through a genealogy), the dictum and the way it is overexposed as an ‘advertisement’ for war, also guarantees that thought on war does not exceed its real function. The main problem with articulating the relationship between war and politics in terms of a continuum is that it creates an axiom which upholds reality. One line of critique against a Foucauldian perspective is therefore that it inadvertently participates in creating a truth-index through which theoretical categories appear and endure. War and politics refract each other in a ‘smooth harmony’ and in so doing the dictum hides the fact that while it enables thought, at the same time it simulates war and politics as categories of thought. When we look at particular ‘Western’ wars – such as Iraq and Afghanistan – we are inclined to think of them in terms of war as politics, or politics as war. But beyond the limits of the dictum one might start questioning the idea of thinking war in relation to a continuum between war and politics. Moreover, one may also question the way this continuum affects how war is constantly thought of as part of politics or as part of strategies of power. In his analysis of pornography Baudrillard writes: ‘porn basically says: there is good sex somewhere since I am its caricature. There is some measure, since I am its excess. But this is precisely the question: is there good sex somewhere…? ’ (Baudrillard, 1990: 85). Or ‘(i)t may well be that pornography is there only to…prove…that there is… some real sex somewhere’ (Baudrillard, 1987: 15, footnote). Arguably, drawing upon this illustrates how the dictum (used for anything and everything in a way that borders on caricature) is there to prove that the terms it indicates are real. And, if the continuum in itself were allowed to speak, wouldn’t it tell us precisely that ‘there is some good politics somewhere; there is some good war somewhere’. In this way the connectivity becomes a way of upholding the reality principle as such.

Through questioning the ‘smooth harmony’ between war and politics it is possible to articulate a critique of the Clausewitzian dictum and the Foucauldian contextualization thereof as both hinge on an idealization of the continuum. Any text on war should start out with Clausewitz’ ‘famous dictum’. It is the founding move of the study of war and its history and politics. By starting with this quote a number of things fall into place: that war and politics are real, that this reality is enabled through a continuum between the two, and that while politics is ‘the tree’ war is one of its ‘branches’. A Foucauldian critique of this illustrates that there is more to war and politics than Clausewitz acknowledges. But this critique does not question the reality of war and politics indirectly established by the objective point of view theory bestows on them. To look for a better link between politics and war – to perfect their relationship or to problematize the lack of it – falls short in that it upholds a reality-effect created by the continuum itself. Instead we need to appreciate that if we are to illustrate what the dictum obscures with regard to the relationship between war and politics it is the excess of the continuum and the reality it imposes which needs to be challenged. To “forget Clausewitz” therefore means a reversal of the study of war that seeks to subtract the dictum from thinking war and politics; to subtract how war and politics in refracting each other; enabling each other, become a priori categories for thinking acts, events, and encounters of violence.  And the question which Baudrillard helps us to raise is precisely how the categories act as injunctions to think through a dictum which assumes that there indeed is some real politics, or is real war somewhere.

In this regard, it matters little if a continuum between war and politics were to be verified empirically (as it no doubt can be). It is the excessive use of the dictum which makes the empirical question self-evident by giving ‘war’ and ‘politics’ an axiomatic status. The point is therefore not the dictum, or its particular characteristics per se, but how both Clausewitz and Foucault – by invoking it, implicitly bestow real functions on war and politics as categories of thought. Through this dictum any attempt to engage with the world will in turn enable a certain principle of reality to endure: namely that war and politics are real and that they need to be thought of in relation to each other. In short, the concepts of war and politics become a priori categories for thinking acts, events, or encounters of violence. 

V. War as the continuation of non-politics by other means
We have seen in the previous part how the dictum helps to uphold a certain principle of reality as if it is a self-evident aspect of thinking war and politics. As the introduction briefly addressed, one way to disrupt the dictum in relation to how we think war would be to posit it in terms of subtraction and disappearance. By doing so one might appreciate the less evident insight that the dictum – in its excess and emptiness – also makes the same principles disappear. Let us revisit Baudrillard’s critique of Foucault. To Baudrillard, although Foucault’s notion of power participates in making reality axiomatic, he also manages something else, namely the disappearance of power as an objective point of view. At the limit of power (and Foucault takes power to the limit) power loses its meaning – which to Baudrillard is an even more important achievement (Baudrillard, 1987: 37-38). Arguably, this kind of disappearance is an integral part of not only Baudrillard’s attempt to ‘Forget Foucault’ but also his philosophical challenge in general.

If we consider this challenge in relation to Baudrillard’s response to both the Gulf War and the War on Terror it can be read as attempts to force thought on war to lose its meaning. First in the argument that the Gulf War was a ‘non-war’ which ‘no longer corresponds to Clausewitz’ formula of politics pursued by other means’ but rather ‘the absence of politics pursued by other means’ (Baudrillard, 1995: 30). Second in how Baudrillard concluded that the ‘War on Terror’ (which had started weeks earlier) was ‘mindless’, ‘technological’, ‘the model’s precedence over the event’, and hence would lead to ‘a conflict over phoney stakes....War as continuation of the absence of politics by other means’ (Baudrillard 2002: 34). In both cases Baudrillard locates the nonpolitical sides of war in a manner which calls upon our ability to subtract and forget the relationship between war and politics. We have already seen in the previous part how certain strands within Foucauldian literature argued that war could be read as the continuation of masculinity-, and globalization the continuation of war by other means. One can of course reverse this thought so that masculinity becomes the continuation of war or war the continuation of globalization by whatever means (accounts which no doubt can be empirically illustrated as well). Thereby, the dictum enables a relay between practically anything. The excess of possible connections is permeating the idea of war to the extent that everything and anything can be linked to war and war can be related to everything else. And in the excess of the continuum we reach the end-point of the reality of the categories they signify.

Take for example how thought posits war as the continuation of media by other means (such as in the ideas of ‘virtual war’); of religion by other means (as in various Christian and Islamic discourses on the War on Terror); of computer-games by other means (as in drone-warfare); of pornography by other means (as in the obscene images of Abu Ghraib); of cinema by other means (Virilio, 1989); of nuclear war by other means (Virilio, 2002: 52), or as stock market speculation by other means (as Osama bin Laden played the stock market prior to 9/11). But it can also mean the inverse since science, media, computer-games, advertisement, or cinema often are inscribed as militarized through war.10 Think for example of how military liaisons are stationed in Hollywood in order to assist filmmakers in how to represent the army, air force or navy accurately in the production of films. Or think of how computer games are advertised by how closely they resemble ‘real war’ or how Benetton conducted their advertising campaigns through shocking images of terrorism and violence. While all examples give accounts of war – they also participate in overloading war as a real category – since that which might mean anything by definition means nothing in particular.

One example from the TV show 24 of war as the continuation of television by other means will suffice to illustrate this implosion of ‘real war, real politics.’ Jinee Lokaneeta argues (with regards to torture, and war) that:

In the show 24, Jack Bauer…is a member of the Counter Terrorism Unit…and in each season of the show, Bauer saves the city, nation and by implication the world from some disaster often relying on torture to fulfill his goal…/…The popularity of the show has even led to a conscious effort by the U.S. military to comment on the show’s portrayal of torture. In a meeting between the show’s producers and the military officials, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan told the show’s producers to stop showing the use of torture by Jack Bauer. Finnegan claimed that his cadets at West Point Academy often referred to the show for claiming the success of torture. Finnegan argued that the use of torture also created a negative image of the US’ (Lokaneeta, 2010: 257, 258, my italics).

As Baudrillard would have been well aware of (compare to 1994: 6) the simulation of torture in 24 obscures the absence of reality underlying, or grounding torture. Furthermore, the urging by General Finnegan to ‘stop showing the use of torture’ (Lokaneeta, 2010: 258) masks that ‘West Point Academy’, or the ‘US’ as political subjects, cannot be separated from the way they are constantly simulated. Arguably, this example does not merely illustrate the implosion between reality and fiction. Rather, this discussion is in itself an effect of how the idea that war continues into politics (and vice versa) helps to maintain an underlying principle of ‘real war, real politics.’ In short, war as a continuation (of televised imagery, of politics, advertisement and so forth) precedes and implicitly structures thought. It therefore matters little if (Foucault’s analysis of) Clausewitz dictum is ‘right’ or if we interpret it in the ‘right’ way.11 What matters is that it might be possible to reorder thought – not through a reference to the ‘real war, real politics’ which are reified through the dictum – but through the excess of the dictum itself. This is so since, if taken to its limit, war can be seen as the continuation of anything by other means and anything as the continuation of war by other means. By the excess of the continuum, war spirals madly in all directions as there is a flow from anything and everything into war – and from war into everything else. This challenges the ‘smooth harmony’ of the dictum as its meaning disappears when taken to its ‘logical’ end-point.

What should concern General Finnegan is not whether the US is viewed negatively through being associated with torture, or if the cadets refuse to make a distinction between a war waged as a television show and one television show which mirrors this war. General Finnegan’s claim is also part of how the reality principle of war and politics is upheld and by invoking the war as fiction he also implicitly helps to produce precisely the idea that there is ‘real war, real politics’. What is far more worrying is what happens to all those practices (military, policy, development) of power if one were to subtract the idea of a continuum between war and politics. What happens when war loses its connection to the categories in whose name it is being waged (‘democratic’, ‘new’ ‘just’, ‘necessary’ etc.)? What happens when the formula of war is no longer a derivate of politics but simply a derivate of war’s own techne? Arguably, this is exactly what Baudrillard’s challenge of Foucault strives for as it pushes reality towards disappearance through negation. Therefore, to claim that war is a continuation of non-politics by other means is not merely a definitive statement of a particular war but also a way of introducing negation into the idea of war. This might open up for a way of thinking war not through a continuum on which it feeds, but through the idea that thinking war occurs through forgetting whether it is an end, a means, or a continuation of something else.

VI. Conclusion

This text has illustrated two ways of reading Clausewitz’ dictum. The first endeavor is one of adding and accumulating representations so as to explain war – or at least provide an understanding thereof so as to critique it. It tells us ‘more tools will enable better understanding’. The second, which is not so much a reading as it is the subtraction of a reading, tries to take things away from thought. It tells us that the excessive repetition of the dictum is there to hide the fact that war and politics are not in any sense real. Let us first sum up the reading which adds meaning to war and second the one which subtracts meaning from it.

As the first parts of this text illustrated, Clausewitz’ dictum makes a relation between war and politics integral to thinking acts or events. By drawing on secondary literature on Foucault‘s critique of the dictum it also became evident that it can be read as illustrating a historical shift in strategies of power.  Both notions, different as they might be, arguably rest on an idealization of the idea of a relationship between war and politics. Queries on how this relationship plays out, what its effects are, or how it can be reversed, might be answered in a number of ways. War is typically considered a means to a political end (such as in Clausewitz), creating a discussion on whether war needs to be perfected in order to become a proper tool for politics, or whether it strictly speaking is political at all. Or war is considered to permeate everyday politics as an integral part of governmentality (such as in Foucault) as it structures the relationship to various social and ethical phenomena.

As the reading of Baudrillard’s Forget Foucault indicates the dictum works as an axiom which not only upholds a particular reality – but also forces it to disappear. Consequently, the excessive attempts to engage with the dictum enable the endurance of war and politics. The dictum states a ‘fact’ which might seem self-evident: ‘that there is a relationship between something’. But in doing so it makes both categories an axiomatic part of future acts and events. The dictum is there to tell us that there is ‘real politics, real war’ somewhere. Think for example of the events of September 11, 2001. To what extent does the interpretation that these events are ‘an act of war/politics’ condition the way they are thought? And how does the US response to 9/11 rest upon the idea that war is a means which enables a ‘political’ end? Self-evident as the relationship between war and politics might seem in order to give an account of the post 9/11 world, one might wonder if the political aspect of war and the bellicose aspect of politics did not preordain a way of thinking which make it very difficult to ask the question ‘what happened’ in a way which goes beyond Clausewitz’ dictum. 

Granted, to make something disappear is not the same thing as to forget it. And the dictum is not the only concept or idea which influences this. However, taking the logic of the dictum to its end-point arguably opens up for the possibility to forget the ‘reality’ of war and politics as aspects of thought. First, in how war becomes the continuation of everything and anything in the excess of possible connections.  Second, in how thinking it as ‘the continuation of non-politics by other means’ subtracts not only politics – but all of wars possible connections, in turn negating Clausewitz’ idea that war ‘is a serious means to a serious end’ (Clausewitz, 1976: 86). What then, can we make of such a ‘war’? In short, what appears when war as inscribed by various political discourses is forced to disappear? Arguably what is left is a relief which is not graspable in terms of ends or means or strategies of power:

the secret of the great politicians was to know that power does not exist. To know that it is only a perspectival space of simulation…invented on the basis of signs…This secret of power’s lack of existence that the great politicians shared also belongs to the great bankers, who know that money is nothing, that money does not exist; and it also belonged to the great theologians and inquisitors who knew that God does not exist, that God is dead. This gives them incredible superiority. Power is truly sovereign when it grasps this secret and confronts itself with that very challenge…At one time leaders were killed when they lost that secret (Baudrillard, 1987: 58-59).

To this list we might add the great military tacticians and strategists who knew that war is nothing except that which makes thought unable to exceed the smallest definition of its real functions.

In conclusion, the challenge which Baudrillard posed to Foucault might mean many things. But with regards to war it is precisely the insight that war never really existed. War as idea is truly powerful, truly sovereign, when it is waged as ‘real’ by being connected to something else. Its ‘secret’ belongs to those who can subtract and take away its connections (not only to politics but to ‘anything and everything’) so as to short-cut how it feeds off them and how they in turn feed off war. That all the ‘just wars’, ‘wars as coercive diplomacy’, ‘total’ or ‘democratic’, ’offensive’ or  ‘defensive’, ‘high-‘ or ‘low-intensity’, ‘successful’, ‘disastrous’ or ‘necessary’ wars work as a collective simulation through which we think future acts and events. If we subtract Clausewitz’ dictum from thought we realize that it is not we who think the war which is a continuation of politics by other means. Rather, it is this particular war that thinks us. But its secret looks back on us from beneath all its masks: ‘from a distance it is something; and nearby it is nothing’ (Jean de LaFontaine).

Dan Öberg is a senior lecturer of war studies at the Swedish Defense College, Stockholm. He finished his Ph.D. in Yokohama National University, Japan, with a thesis on the politics of the face (2005) and has published in Japanese, Swedish and English. His current research interests ranges from Japanese military history to the interplay between Jean Baudrillard’s thought and the critical study of war and warfare.

I would like to acknowledge Stefan Borg (Swedish Institute for International Affairs) for his insightful comments and critique of earlier versions of this text. I am also extremely grateful to my colleague at the Swedish Defence College, Caroline Holmqvist, for her encouragement and support. Last but not least a big thanks to the participants at the ‘Baudrillard and War’ colloquium in Stockholm, 11 October, 2013 and to the participants at the higher Military science seminar (particularly the discussant Mikael Nilsson) at the Swedish Defense College, 3 December, 2013.


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1. See for example David Helpering (1998), Geoff Danaher ( (2000), and Jeffrey Weeks (2005).

2. Another scholar who has taken up Baudrillard’s challenge to Foucault is Alan Cholodenko (2004). In an analysis of documentary film, Cholodenko engaged with how Baudrillardian seduction and hyperreality–the blind spots of Foucault’s disciplinary regime of power/knowledge—undo, varyingly, not only that regime but power and knowledge period, indeed all the pertinences of second order ‘reality’.

3. The sources dealing with Clausewitz and war are too numerous to list here. However, it is probably safe to say that no book is more quoted with regards to the theory of war than his magnum opus On War.

4. Baudrillard’s notion of the ‘real’ is impossible to define in a straightforward way. However, one way to think of the real is as a particular type of simulation which works as a register in which thought tends to operate (see Baudrillard, 2001: 20 and 2003: 41, Coulter, 2007 and Merrin 2005: 31 for a summary).

5. The German term ‘politik’ (as used in On War) means both policy and politics. At times the dictum is translated into war as being ‘the continuation of policy by other means’. However, as the term policy is more associated with a ‘government cause of action’ this text uses the term politics which has a broader meaning in English. 

6. Baudrillard expands on this in a number of places (for example in 1993: 125). See also Gerry Coulter’s discussion of how, for Baudrillard, theory became an ‘escape velocity’ from academia as it took the form of fiction or fable (Coulter, 2013: 79).

7. See for example the debate on the ‘ontology of war’ as initiated by among other Tarak Barkawi and Shane Brighton (2011: 126-143).

8. Curiously Julian Reid finishes his article on Foucault’s reading of Clausewitz by a short reference to the importance of Baudrillard. To Reid, Baudrillard attempts to go beyond the ‘war-politics schemata’ which Foucault draws our attention to (Reid, 2003:  24). Unfortunately, to my knowledge, Reid does not expand on this insight.  

9. This is not to reduce Baudrillards critique of Foucault to a critique of power, or to the book Forget Foucault. Baudrillard’s critique deals with sexuality, politics, epistemology, simulation and a number of other issues in Forget Foucault alone, and the critique also expands into other areas in his other works as well as indirectly in his ‘philosophy’ as a whole. And, equally important, at the end of his life, Baudrillard also rediscovered a ‘Foucault…we shall not forget in a hurry’ (Baudrillard, 2006b: 107) indicating that his relationship to Foucault’s thought is complex.

10. This is by no means an exhaustive list as one can indeed consider war to be the continuation (or continuator) of almost any category of thought: advertising, ecology, technology, epidemiology, or geography.

11. This ‘anti-empirical’ reading of Baudrillard can be contrasted to William Merrin (2005: 87-88) who in his (otherwise excellent) book Baudrillard and the Media looks to empirical reality to prove Baudrillard right. My point is rather that it matters little what takes place (in the Gulf or elsewhere) since war is a priori conceived of as political through the way the continuum makes reality appear as real.