I’ve been re-reading some Clausewitz lately in an effort to nail down a theoretical basis for a concept I’m currently working on, and I strolled across his chapter on military genius (pp.100-112 in H&P edition). This got me thinking, in this modern age of instant communications, images from the front line and the capacity for direct political intervention, is military genius as Clausewitz understood it possible?
For those who haven’t been brushing up on their 19th Century military theorists, a quick and overly simple recap. Clausewitz saw military genius to lie in the temperament, intellect, strength of character and determination of an individual. He valued the inquiring mind over the creative, the comprehensive approach in opposition to the specialised and a calm disposition rather than the excitable. Has his definition become obsolete now though? As commanders’ roles have changed and many long since left the field of battle do these traits still have relevance today?
My gut feeling is that the character of genius has changed somewhat, and the more successful leaders are those who can process vast quantities of information filtering out the irrelevant or contradictory pieces and choosing an appropriate course of action, something Clausewitz noted but sat as only one factor amongst a number. But does this mean we’ve seen the backs of the Nelsons, Malboroughs, Adolphuses and Napoleons? Or will we simply see commanders with lesser ranks elevated in status and prestige?