About a year ago, I traveled to Washington DC from my remote Northwestern Canadian hideout to attend a screening of Hoaxed, the feature-length documentary I co-directed with Scooter Downey for Mike Cernovich.
Being a father to two boys who works from home, finding time to listen to podcasts or even to read a book can be a challenge. So, whenever I have to make the long trip to just about anywhere, I look forward to digging into a book free from the usual interruptions.
Gazing at the ruched texture of the snow-laden mountain range below, I settled into the seat of the flying toothpaste tube I would call my plane for the next hour. I opened up my trusty Kindle (great for traveling) and launched a new title:
On War, by Carl von Clausewitz.
Like many decisions I make in life, I generally choose books based on synchronicity. For example, if a book, topic, concept, person, or whatever keeps appearing “randomly” (I use that term colloquially) in my life, I’ll take the bait and explore it.
On War, a treatise on military strategy written by a Prussian General who spent his formative years fighting against Napoleon – the warrior of legend who himself introduced much innovation to the conduct of war – is not exactly the type of book I’d pick up on a whim.
For starters, it’s not an easy read. The scholarly language and expansive vocabulary takes some getting used to (another reason why I recommend Kindle: dictionary at your fingertips), but it quickly proves a requirement to properly communicate the exigence and complexity of Clausewitz’ thoughts and concepts.
Soon, the loud din of the propellers faded away as I adjusted to the erudition of this intimidating tome. It didn’t take long for me to realize why I had to read this book. My experience and understanding as a filmmaker overlaid itself on the theories of a brilliant military mind 200 years old, provoking fresh insights into both the nature of art and the application of it in our current, disruptive times.
That welcome glow of feeling your mind expand in real time bloomed within me. It doesn’t happen often enough. Oh, what glory.
I wish I wrote this post at that exact moment, with the revelations still fresh, coming thick and fast within the amniotic thought-scape of that tiny steel womb. But today, as I sit down to finally write this, I’m calling on a year-old memory – a rather stale process, punctuated by the cries of my young toddler as my wife is putting him to sleep upstairs. But… duty.
I want to acknowledge that, as with anyone who offers theories on anything, there are detractors of Clausewitz. “He doesn’t divorce war from the State.” “He’s trapped in the Napoleonic era.” “His theories ultimately advocate for total war.” Etc, etc.
Look, the last thing I want to do here is wade into military debate. I would probably be the least qualified participant of such a discussion, and I’m not into the business of LARPing pretentiously.
What I do want to accomplish here is introduce the concept of Art as War, and Clausewitz helps make that mind-muscle connection. As such, feel free to study other, competing theories of War should you wish to explore this connection further.
Sun Tzu and Niccolò Machiavelli each wrote The Art of War (the latter’s overshadowed by his famed The Prince), and are the most prominent in a long list of thinkers who likened the prosecution of War as an artistic discipline, or War as Art.
Conversely, Art as War is not a new concept either, but far less ubiquitous, especially when dug into like I’m about to. Noted author Steven Pressfield wrote The War of Art, a book I highly recommend any artist read. He walks you through the creative barriers and seemingly metaphysical sources of resistance any artist must face – and overcome- if they are to gain any worth as an artist.
But, in short, Pressfield talks of the artist’s war with himself, and the war with Art itself. As I’ve said many times that making a film is like going to battle. I’m sure you writers, musicians and other artists understand.
What I’m suggesting here is War as a metaphor for Art, as well as Art as a vehicle for actual War. Whereas Pressfield’s war is internal (and quite necessary), what I’m talking about is external.
As I wrote in my inaugural blog post, How to Leverage Disruption, we are living in a time when almost any humble artist can exponentially increase his or her impact by exploiting the crazy social upheaval we all find ourselves in.
Furthermore, from a political standpoint, it is exactly the humble, formerly irrelevant artists who are poised to make the largest cultural gains in such a scenario. Hence this post.
Having watched our society dissipate under the acid influence of degeneracy as the Hollywood Priesthood deconstructs ancient truths, Rebel Artists like myself will never again have an opportunity like right now to disrupt the establishment that would never give us a platform. And, once disrupted, it’s just a matter of time before its power is overtaken and its cultural influence destroyed.
These are martial terms. And they are not just metaphorical. They are base descriptors of what we seek to accomplish with our art in this time of disruption. In other words, the war of Art is real war.
Now that the context is set, let’s dig into Clausewitz.
This post is bound to be a monster already, so rather than doing a comprehensive review, I will simply pull a few quotes from the book and supplement with my thoughts.
Condition of the Mind and Spirit
That the moral cannot be omitted [from the meaning of War] is evident of itself, for the condition of the mind has always the most decisive influence on the forces employed in War.Carl von Clausewitz, On War
Is it any surprise that we are in a War of Art, when it’s so evident that we’ve been systematically demoralized by the art we’ve been consuming for the last fifty years? The condition of our collective mind is alarmingly poor. I don’t have to provide you with evidence; simply turn on your television.
Demoralizing your enemy is an effective way to win the battle before it even begins, and is the chief aim of all psychological warfare. It is integral to the art of war. Now you can understand my contention that art is so closely interrelated with war. Art itself is a form of war, and art is a tool of war in its fundamental meaning.
Some of you purists will argue that there is an important distinction between Art and Propaganda, and that our current predicament is the result of the influence of Propaganda. And you would have a point, for there is indeed a difference between the two.
However, if the Artist is raised on a diet of subversion, what he ends up expressing in his work will come from a genuine place. What goes in, must come out – if he is true to himself. Conversely, propaganda consciously works towards a political end, prohibiting the propagator from unleashing all madness, all freedom, to create his Art.
Therefore, I don’t believe all subversive work to equal propaganda.
Having slowly demoralized society through art, the Communist-influenced entertainment industry has effectively neutralized its opposition. Soon, Hollywood held full sway over the message popular art conveyed into the hearts and minds of the population, demoralizing them further and further to present levels. Those who were impervious to its wiles were too few in number to truly provide meaningful resistance – until now.
Now that we are experiencing disruption in all levels of society, us impervious few have a small opening through which to slip the fatal bomb. But for each of us, only a veritable lifetime of preparation will bring us to that decisive, do-or-die moment.
In my last post, I outlined three key qualities I believe are disproportionately rewarded by disruption: mindset, hustle, and creativity.
The morality Clausewitz refers to is a condition of the mind (psychological resilience), but I contend that the condition of the heart is equally important. You have to be in it for the right reasons. The aim to which you direct your work must be in service of truth, virtue and beauty.
Far more than a bolstering self-belief to help you accomplish your personal goals, mindset also readies you for battle. A strong mindset built upon a solid moral foundation is the foundation of anti-fragility, making you exceedingly dangerous.
Let it power your work with the vitality of an amped-up soldier. Do not neglect mindset and your spiritual condition. How can you be effective when drawing from an empty well?
Supremacy of the Artist
Hands down, my favorite passage in Clausewitz’ Magnum Opus is the following:
All that was not attainable by such miserable philosophy, the offspring of partial views, lay outside the precincts of science – and was the field of genius, which raises itself above rules.[…]
Pity the warrior who is contented to crawl about in this beggardom of rules, which are too bad for the genius, over which it can set itself superior, over which it can perchance make merry!Carl von Clausewitz, On War
In attempting to formulate a theory of War, Clausewitz readily admits that all theories will ultimately fall flat, because, “as a rule, they exclude genius”.
Here, Clausewitz acknowledged the supremacy of the Artist.
Edit: I should add that Clausewitz hints at the Genius Warrior’s ability to enjoy his discipline, in this case war. A Warrior like General George Patton comes to mind. I’m a big believer in the well-known adage: You must know the rules before you can break them. Similary, a Genius Artist has reached the level of artistic expression where joy is at its purest, and danger at its most present.
The word ‘genius’ is related to the words ‘genesis’ and ‘generate’. They’re all bound together by the concept of creation. We are at our most God-like when we create, and the genius amongst us does so at the highest levels accessible to human capability (and even beyond).
Fittingly, I’m listening to Tool’s Pneuma at this very moment. “Pneuma” is Greek for “breath”, connoting spirit. Spirit is the source of gut feeling, and the spiritual realm is where faith is effected, eventually manifesting in the visible, natural reality. Spirit is the real you, the invisible you, animating a vessel of flesh giving it license to affect the visible realm.
As far as the mind goes, let me illustrate with Scripture:
For to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.Romans 8:6-8
Your mind decides. Between polar opposites, it can be biased towards the flesh: limited logic, subjectivity, incomplete information, burden, pride, fear, etc. Or it can follow the way of the spirit: intuition, gut feeling, subservient to higher knowledge, freedom, humility, faith, etc.
It’s the difference between reciting a piece of music bound by notes on a sheet, versus feeling the music in an unchoreographed dance of leading and following the art itself. The former is necessary for beginners, the latter the joy and burden of the Artist.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s impossible, as Clausewitz realized with genius, to accurately theorize in crude language on the nature of spirit. It’s an entirely different mode of being that doesn’t avail itself to base levels of communication. It’s felt, it’s believed – sometimes against all evidence – and its primary (maybe only) mode of effect is faith.
Vocabulary fails, and concepts grow vague in this sphere of thought, which is why art thrives here instead.
I should note here that it’s exceedingly difficult for me to write plainly, as I’m attempting to do here. I find it incredibly limiting, and therefore exhausting. Conversely, writing a poem, a song or a screenplay comes much more naturally to me for the reasons stated above. But I write these articles in the hope of planting a few seeds in the minds of a handful of artists.
War as a Continuation of Policy
Probably Clausewitz’ most famous line is:
War is a mere continuation of policy by other means.Carl von Clausewitz, On War
Politics determines War. Clausewitz makes the point that War is an instrument of policy, not the other way around (although I’m sure a case can be made that both can be true).
Nevertheless, let’s append this quote to Andrew Breitbart’s now-famous maxim:
Politics is downstream from culture.Andrew Breitbart
If this is true, then:
CULTURE > POLITICS > WAR
What, then, is the continuation of War by other means? Could it be the double sided coin of Art/Propaganda? Do we come full circle?
Employing Art as an instrument, you can conduct peace as readily as you can conduct war.
Are you beginning to understand the crucial role Artists play?
Defenders have a natural advantage:
The object of defense is preservation; and since it is easier to hold ground than to take it, defense is easier than attack.
Defense is the stronger form of waging war.Carl von Clausewitz
This is where we have utterly failed as a culture. We didn’t know we were at war, and therefore we allowed the enemy to conquer our cultural ground unimpeded. Today you might ask, “what is there left to defend?” We find ourselves increasingly disenfranchised from the public sphere, giving rise to the feeling that we must reconquer what is already lost.
While Clausewitz mentions the importance of psychological strength when doing the work of war, I don’t recall him identifying the mind as a wholly separate theater of war. I could be wrong.
Either way, our enemy – most easily identified as social Marxism, though this term is FAR from comprehensive – disarmed us psychologically while we were largely unaware, not having to engage in a blood- and treasure-draining physical war. A war that we were prepared for, and one they would never win.
Contrary to Clausewitz, Sun Tzu was all about psychological warfare, and using it to maximize efficiency and minimize bloodshed as much as possible.
Another concept Clausewitz fails to mention (IIRC), surely as a function of his place in time, is the strategy of guerrilla warfare. In his day, armies fought with honor. Wars were plainly declared and each side identified itself openly, for the most part. Spies were a thing, but the general conduct was very “official”.
Post-WWII (if I’m not mistaken), guerrilla warfare became a powerful method for weaker forces to project their will against dominant, hegemonic powers (in our analogy, the establishment).
The superpower known as the United States learned this in Vietnam (or at least, should have).
Is it possible the West is over-reliant on Clausewitz? Has his philosophy shaped our thinking to a debilitating degree? Maybe we should separate the wheat from the moth-eaten chaff when studying him. My (admittedly unschooled) impression is that his work comes across as much less axiomatic than, say, Sun Tzu or Machiavelli.
These days, there’s simply no guarantee of victory if you’re the establishment. “Peace through superior firepower” is outmoded thinking. I would even go so far in saying that being the establishment is more of a liability, given the collective state of our morality.
Then again, we are witnessing the rise of indoctrinated self-styled “rebels” spontaneously adopting the morality of the establishment as their own, in an apparently decentralized manner (though not as reliant on decentralization as the true rebels).
As I said in my previous post, How to Leverage Disruption, nothing is clear.
These days, new doctrines of war (both actual and cultural) are being written, or ancient ones reiterated for our age. I hope this post will provoke you to some creative thought in this arena. For more inspiration, check out Jack Posobiec’s “4D Warfare” (not an affiliate link).
Clausewitz does state that proper defense contains elements of strong offense. There may be a timeless clue here…
The following word association might be helpful:
Establishment / Shock and Awe: Studio funded, extravagance, fantasy, escapism, record labels, verified social media accounts, mainstream distribution, flesh
Rebels / Booby Traps: low budget / high impact, character, reality, poetry, memes, viral videos, crowdfunding, self distribution, shadowbanned social media accounts, blockchain, spirit
Start small, then scale. After all, rebels undermine, overthrow and eventually become the Establishment.
Drilling and Marching
In the first half of his book, Clausewitz hammers home the importance of drilling and marching in the preparation of an army for war.
It’s not very profound, but it’s the most essential element of success. Practice your craft as if you were a soldier in army, endlessly doing drills and marching untold miles. Eventually, your Art and your chosen discipline will become indistinguishable when expressed in your work. It
At this level, your genius will matter more than your experience, though the latter is the body the former inhabits.
Defeating the Enemy
“Fighting is the central military act. . . . Engagements mean fighting. The object of fighting is the destruction or defeat of the enemy.”
“What do we mean by the defeat of the enemy? Simply the destruction of his forces, whether by death, injury, or any other means—either completely or enough to make him stop fighting. . . . The complete or partial destruction of the enemy must be regarded as the sole object of all engagements. . . . Direct annihilation of the enemy’s forces must always be the dominant consideration.”Carl von Clausewitz, On War
Again, Clausewitz’ limitations as far as our goals are concerned show themselves here.
We’re not seeking to gain control of physical territory, but the liberation of people’s minds. It is at once a noble but much more difficult task.
It will take at least a generation, most likely two.
We know from experience that minds are not changed by the demonstration of logic. Logic is for the mere robot, the unfeeling quant that analyzes everything in metric fashion.
No, we’re dealing in the sphere of irrationality. Of love, of passion, of hate, of apathy.
We must show our enemy that there is something else worth loving more, and worth hating more. We can only do this by slipping through the gates of emotion in the Trojan Horse of STORY.
After all, that’s how they defeated us up to this point. The only difference is, we seek to align ourselves with God rather than with the Satanic desires of our fallen flesh.
We live in that special time when the term “rebel artist” is a tautology.— Jon du Toit (@jondutoit) October 26, 2019
I long for the time when it will be an oxymoron.
This post took me about two months to write. I flirted with abandoning it, but it kept annoying me in the back of my mind. Much like Clausewitz’ book, it’s an unfinished collection of thoughts. Again, my main purpose for this type of writing is to provoke thought in my readers.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.