The different aspects of the paradoxical trinity

nature of war is noted to be persistent and widely remains the same over time; it is violent and leads to conflicts due to clashing political perspectives, claims casualties most of whom are innocent civilians and also disrupts the societal fabric at the end of the war. Clausewitz formulated a trinity in a bid to explain what war is hinged on and why conflicts often lead to war.

Clausewitz (2006) pointed out at Passion (people), Policy (government), and Probability (Army) as the three pillars upon which war is hinged. He calls these ‘the paradoxical trinity’ and that they are the three magnets on which war is hinged. His emphasis was more on the romance and stressed on how the different aspects of the paradoxical trinity interact with each other.

The trinity is an interactive set of three forces that drive wars in the actual world. According to Clausewitz (2006) the paradoxical trinity is made up of primordial violence, enmity and hatred that he regarded as blind natural forces. The people aspect of the trinity is manifest in the amount of violence, hatred and passion experienced in a war situation. Probability in the trinity is manifest in the character of the army and commander which gives the direction in terms of chance and probability that the war will break out or when it will stop, and lastly the policy pillar in the trinity is manifest in the Political aims of a given group engaged in a conflict and are expressed as rational calculations (Tziarras, 2013).

Critical examination of the paradoxical trinity points at ‘people (passion)’ pillar of the trinity as the most crucial and the highest determinant of the direction a conflict takes, whether it grows to a fully fledged war or it cools off to a peaceful agreement. This is exemplified in the central roles that are played by the people/passion in any conflict, roles that would dictate the progress in a conflict. In all wars, passions are triggered and deeply embedded among the people before progressing to insinuate possibility of war. With the passions triggered, people have in them the urge to go to war and hence play a major role in the commencement of wars. This urge can be from some policies by the government or even actions by the military but must be experienced through the people. The government policies can be outlined, the army commander can have his say but if the people are not engaged and not willing to go to war, the war will inevitably stall. The actions of the people are what determine the occurrence of war or otherwise.

It is also worth noting that the scope of the courage of people and talent they display in a war circumstance, will enjoy predominance in the realm of probability war breaking out and is dependent on chance of the characters of the commander and the army, which in this case are secondary to the passion of the people to go to war. Therefore, if the people have their minds set on going to war, the other factors such as commander play a complimentary role.

The main driving force of going to war still remains the urge that the people have and hence the importance of people in the trinity. The decision of going or not going to war solely lies among the people and thus they are a major determining factor on the course of an impending war.

Secondly people are associated with irrational forces, these are emotions of primordial violence, hatred and enmity and they are what drive people to wars. On the other hand the army or military forces are termed as non-rational forces, this means that they are associated with forces that are not human thought or intention, but chance and probability. The mandate of the army is to deal with the chances and probabilities under the guidance of the commander. The occurrence of wars does not however balance on these non-rational factors, they are in place as a result of the war that has occurred or is to occur, people balance the probability. Since chance and probability (army) are termed as irrational factors, then people are important when it comes to break out of war hence people are termed as being the most important in the trinity.

The non-rational factors (military forces) as indicated above are dependent on the existence of the irrational factors (chance and probability) and without people, the former two factors cannot be manifest hence explaining further the centrality of people in any war.

Wars are driven by policies, most of which are made by politicians within the governance ranks. If the politicians come up with policies that support wars then at the centre of their considerations will be the protection of the people. It is the people who are affected directly by emotions that will drive the country into war due to the policies set. The politicians will not go out to the warfront and take part in the physical war but rather their subjects, the people, will be doing the work. Though wars are instigated by the governments the people will be the ones to execute the wars (Bassford & Villacres, 2010).

In various societies the army officers, political leaders are also members of the people to some extent. In societies that are democratic, people are expected to be part of the decision making process. Politicians are often driven by their personal needs just as much as by the rational calculation of the particular requirements of a given society. The events of the politicians as well as the army have great implications on the people/citizens. If the politicians and the government officials decide to engage the country in war say over some contention with another country, then this decision will directly affect the citizens, hence even the decision by the politicians and the governments to engage in war is widely informed by the consideration of its effect on people involved directly or indirectly (Gillie M., 2009).

Clausewitz made a significant contribution towards explaining the art of war and understanding of why war occurs and the exacerbating factors to war. These three cornerstones referred to as paradoxical trinity are largely seen to work in tandem in the event of any war, without any one of them missing from the equation. The analysis above have however clearly indicated that the people aspect carries more weight in the trinity and largely dictates the direction that the remaining two pillars take. War is a human endeavor and involves primordial violence, hatred and enmity. War being a human factor means that without people and the emotions that are generated through them there will never be war.


Bassford, C. & Villacres, E.(2010). Reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity. Retrieved march 16, 2013 from

Gillie, M.(2009). Interpreting Clausewitz’s Miraculous Trinity. Retrieved March 16,2013 from

Tziarras, Z.(2013). Clausewitz’s Remarkable Trinity Today. Retrieved march 16,2013 from

Carl Von Clausewitz, (2006). On War. (Indexed Edition) Michael Howard & Peter Paret (eds).

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