The work and ideas of Prussian officer and military theorist, Georg Heinrich von Berenhorst (1733-1814), occupy a particularly enigmatic and obscure position in anglophone histories of strategic thought. Although often characterised as a notable influence on his considerably more successful successor, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), descriptions of Berenhorst are often fragmentary and frequently relegated only to footnotes. Most authors chose to focus on a single aspect of Berenhorst’s thought, cursorily portraying a sense of his mordant philosophical scepticism regarding the enlightened possibility of a science of war. Citing the more expansive study that Berenhorst has received amongst German-speaking scholars, this paper asserts that the superficial portrayal of Berenhorst as the arch sceptic of Enlightenment theories of war is misconceived, and the tendency to use his scepticism solely as a convenient narrative device in the On War origin story fails to appreciate the broader impact of his ideas in Prussian military reform.
David Fowler is a doctoral student at King’s College London where his research focusses on eighteenth century Prussian strategic thought and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He also teaches military history and strategic thought at Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
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