War in Human History – John Keegan


John Keegan partially defines his cultural theory of war in A History of Warfare by examining it in a context and comparison analysis with traditional Clausewitzian ideas. Keegan believed the Clausewitzian political prime mover for war as too narrow. Politics may be the fountainhead, but culture is the impetus of the flow – and the flow once released from the fountain spreads across all human action. If strategy is directed by politics, then politics is directed by culture.


“The wars Clausewitz knew, the wars in which he fought, were the wars of the French Revolution, and the ‘political motive’ for which he always looked as the precipitating and controlling factor in warmaking was, at the outset at least, always present… It must also be recognized that Clausewitz as a historian had nothing to guide him toward the importance of cultural factors in human affairs.

“For Clausewitz, as I have said, was even in his time an isolated spokesman for a warrior culture that the ancestors of the modern state were at pains to extirpate within their own borders.

“War, when it came in a ‘true’ form to that corner of Polynesia called Easter Island, proved to be a termination first of politics, then of culture, ultimately almost of life itself.

“Had Clausewitz’s mind been furnished with just one extra intellectual dimension – and it was already a very sophisticated mind indeed – he might have been able to perceive that war embraces much more than politics: that it is always an expression of culture, often a determinant of cultural forms, in some societies the culture itself.

“Man is a political animal,’ said Aristotle. Clausewitz, a child of Aristotle, went no further than to say that a political animal is a warmaking animal. Neither dared confront the thought that man is a thinking animal in whom the intellect directs the urge to hunt and the ability to kill.

*All excerpts have been taken from A History of Warfare, Vintage Books.