The Strategist’s Concession

1 – Strategic Melancholy

As has long been known to philosophy, it is not simply difficult, but quite necessarily impossible to “demonstrate causation” at all.

Elkus falls to Hume’s melancholy.

…and adopts Hume’s and everyone else’s concession…

…in favor of the reality principle, which is also a social principle:

2 – Strategy and Meaning

My reply briefly late last night to Elkus (and to @NuisanceValue, who had just re-tweeted Elkus on “causal relation”) was to point to an alternative comprehension of “strategy” as political in the fullest sense, which is also a “social” sense and simultaneously to be understood in relation to the production or meaning or the possibility of the meaningful, a paradigm from which Elkus is operating in his last concessionary comments.

This fully-political understanding would be inclusive of a vulgar Clausewitizian or narrowly instrumental understanding of the purposes of military strategy, but would also embrace the next higher levels of abstraction under which the just identified “strategy” or “strategic plan” becomes indistinguishable conceptually from a mere series of “tactical” motions, producing a familiar definitional, seemingly elementary confusion that also happens to confirm the difference between the two categories as contingent on meaning production: “strategy” as the set or structure of principles or the conceptual order producing the intended meaning of acts of violence performed “tactically.”

A beginning point would be to understand that the primary if almost always unspoken objective of every strategist is that strategist’s own survival or “maintenance in being.” A cynical (“grousing“) interpretation of this premise might focus on the professional self-interest of the strategist: a theater commander’s interest in promotion, a comfortable retirement, and honorable mention in the military annals; perhaps a political figure’s short-term interest in the next election or even in seemingly unrelated domestic political objectives potentially endangered by defeats in foreign lands. The degree, however, to which such self-interest is an “enlightened” self-interest will be the degree to which the strategic concept, always a politico-military concept rather than a simply instrumental military plan of action, better secures personal interest by better expressing or satisfying a larger (crudely: supra-individual) social-political or finally collective moral interest, sometimes rendered as a “vital,” “existential,” or “historical” interest.

To put the most concrete – the marriage of individual to social identity in everday life – most abstractly: The enlightened strategist’s maintenance in being will involve the maintenance of the strategist’s life-world or realm of identity creation and realization in relation to the good as the strategist comprehends it. This comprehension will tend to imply not just a knowledge but a philosophy of history, on the level of grand strategy a philosophy of world history finally indistinguishable from religious or ultimate self-constitutional precept. A perception of actual or potential contradiction between the two interests, or recognition of them as severable at all rather than as two facets of the same singular if complex interest, is the coming closer of defeat or the realization of impinging risk in the life-world of the strategist: The goal of strategy can therefore also be understood – again, inclusively, or in relation to the principle of overdetermination – as also a preservation of the proper alignment of personal-professional and general-collective interest: general’s good = general good.

The sound strategy, in expressing and re-producing as well as in defending or advancing the order on behalf of which it is conceived, represents the world as though orderly – as though knowably causational and susceptible to agency, one might say for Elkus – with one’s own side properly and thoughtfully led by qualified and ethically sound commander-politicians, their stratagems effectuated by courageous, skilled, and virtuous warriors supported by a willing and sympathetic people, all together on the way to deserved victories, with God in His Heaven and, eventually, all right with the world or anyway as right as the world ever is. The opposite, put as starkly, is “sauve qui peut,” each doing right in his or her own eyes, or the state of nature, and, on the way to that dreaded condition, the commander perceiving and pursuing a treasonously merely private interest at the expense of the general good.

For those most committed to the defeated order, suicide may seem a natural response, but in another sense will be redundant: The life of those denied Hume’s concession, in other words access to a perceived and rationalizably meaningful life-world, is death-in-life of irreciprocable ego. A strategy is already initially successful if in its enunciation it establishes or re-establishes the bases for an in this sense politically meaningful victory or for a victory meaningful at all. In some circumstances, if not the ideal circumstances, a strategy or enunciation of strategy may be considered practically or instrumentally successful if it preserves or reinforces an order of meaning production, a realm for the operation of Hume’s concession, even without achieving or securing stated military objectives (whether as a result of successful enemy action or its own insufficiency or both at once). In no cases can a strategy reasonably be expected to achieve more than a holding action against Hume’s melancholy.

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