Jomini: The Art of War

Context: Career military staff officer; failed to achieve command; served as an advisor to the Russian Czar; wrote to impress and be published


- Strategy defined: the art of making war upon the map, comprehends whole theater of operations

- Strategy decides where to act, Logistics brings troops to designated point, Grand Tactics is the employment of forces against the decisive point.

- Strategy hinges upon identifying the decisive points in the theater of war and then concentrating mass against that point and enemy LOCs.

- The decisive point of a battlefield will be determined by (1) ground features; (2) relation of the local features to the ultimate strategic aim; (3) positions of respective forces.

- Maxims: (1) Mass forces against decisive points; (2) Maneuver to engage fractions of the hostile army; (3) Engage at the proper times and with energy.

- Geometrical thinking – Lines of Operations, Communications, Interior, Exterior; Base of Operations perpendicular to the enemy arc.

- Clausewitz is about the essence of war; Jomini is about how to fight war.

- Warfare's principles are immutable.

- It is tough to determine exactly the point of decisive victory.

- Offensive actions are generally most advantageous.

- Political maneuvers should be subordinate to strategy. Maybe they have a place after the decisive events.


Victory depends on massing forces at the decisive point.


  • 4 maxims:
    • Throw the army successively upon decisive points
    • Maneuver to engage fractions with bulks
    • Tactically, mass against decisive points
    • Do this at the proper time and with the proper energy
  • Strategy: making war upon the map
    • Strategy decides where to act, logistics brings soldiers to the field, grand tactics acts against decisive points
    • Geometry: Jomini is about how to fight, Clausewitz is about the essence of war
  • Focused on geography and favored the offensive
  • Jomini looked for similarities and what was the same from one war to another. Clausewitz was seeking what was different.
  • Focused on LOC (threaten FI com line, while protecting your own) and Decisive point (massing your forces towards this). All his writing has these elements present.
  • Jomini never graphed the high degree of improvisation Napoleons’ campaign.
  • His points are so widely adopted, that many do not know their knowledge originally comes from Jomini; therefore he is less remembered today.
  • A more scientific approach to war. (But war is an art, tactic is more mathematic)
  • Believed political aims were irrational at times and should not be involved in strategy after commencement of war

Relationship/Comparison to Other Works

  • Clausewitz theorizes war as a trinity between reason, violence, and chance, which act together in innumerable ways
  • Jomini believed in war by rules
  • Clausewitz was philosophical, Jomini was prescriptive
  • Clausewitz was influenced by the romantic movement, Jomini by Des Cartes

Applications to Strategy

  • Dangers of excessively Cartesian approach to planning; more applicable to tactics than strategy
  • Importance of logistics
  • Importance of intelligence in determining the decisive point
  • American Civil war showed the danger in literal application of Jomini’s geometrically prescriptive approach combined with industrialization

Sugar’s tips on Jomini

Plenty of commentary out there comparing the theories of Clausewitz and Jomini, but here are your “Cliff Claven Little Known Facts”:

Jomini was Swiss, French speaking but still an outsider from middle class background, but was very bright and well educated, studying in Paris, and in 1804 petitioned Napoleon to annex Switzerland, causing Switzerland to demand his expulsion from Ney’s Sixth Corps. Ney had sponsored Jomini’s first book in 1803. Jomini was inspired by “le sentiment des principles” – the “Platonic faith that reality lies beneath superficial chaos of the historical movement in enduring and invariable principles, like those of gravitation and probability (remember the stuff on the French Enlightenment from the first Clausewitz tips?) . In his first book on the Seven Years War, he reinterpreted former works that had proposed principles of war based on studying Fredrick the Great, and added his own ideas and perspectives based on Napoleon’s campaigns. Needless to say, this work was very complimentary of Napoleon – kissin’ up never hurts, huh? Yeah, that’s sarcasm….but it did get him assigned to Napoleon’s staff and appointed to the rank of general, which took him to the battles of Ulm, Jena, Eylau, and on the Spanish and Russian campaigns. Jomini switched to the Russian side in 1813 when Napoleon returned but Ney only offered him one star – “selling your wares” didn’t carry a big stigma in those days. Clausewitz did it too, but not for personal gain – he felt that his king had betrayed Prussia by capitulating, and wanted to fight on. Neither Clausewitz not Jomini were given many responsibilities by the Russians, but they were both in a position to observe key battles.

Jomini was a big critic of Clausewitz for two reasons: 1. Clausewitz excoriated his prescriptive worldview in his writings, and 2. With very few military theorists out there, a competing view was a threat to the sales of his writings. Jomini won that competition easily – his books were published around 20 times, when there were still copies of the first 1500 pressings of On War around decades after his death. Jomini’s criticisms of C abated somewhat when he saw that his sales were safe, and his later writings show that he had actually adopted some of Clausewitz’s ideas, but by this time the “train” of his earlier ideas had already “left the station “, and noncritical thinkers immediately adopted his prescriptive approach to prosecuting war. According to John Shy, it was Jomini’s widespread influence, more than his ideas themselves, that separate him from other similar prescriptive thinkers (MMS chapter on Jomini).

Big ideas:

Jomini’s basic thesis: Great military have always been intuitively able to discern the unchanging patterns of warfare. These unchanging patterns make war a science, even if politics are an art.

The intellectual environment in which Jomini operated had elevated science to the level of religion – his approach was exactly what people wanted to hear: war can be managed, progress is possible in war just as it is in other disciplines, and once we figure out the rules and write a checklist, we’re golden.

Jomini is always looking for what is the same in warfare from war to war. Clausewitz is always looking for what is different.

Jomini wants a system that works to keep war controllable, Clausewitz wants understanding of a phenomena that he believes you can’t really control, but can only hope to contain (kinda like Sweaty)

Jomini feels that politics end when war begins. Clausewitz sees this as a much less linear relationship.



Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.