Jomini, Antoine-Henri de
JOMINI, ANTOINE-HENRI DE
JOMINI, ANTOINE-HENRI DE (1779–1869), French and Russian soldier and strategic theorist.
Antoine-Henri Jomini was the most influential military writer of the nineteenth century and an outstanding proponent of the idea that war could be conducted on the basis of a small number of permanently valid principles. He was born in Switzerland in 1779 and served as a staff officer in the armies of the Revolution and Napoleon. He abandoned the French cause in 1813, however, and went to serve in Russia, where he later rose to the rank of general. He was enormously prolific and wrote dozens of books, of which the best remembered is Précis de l'art de la guerre (Summary of the art of war, 1838). All of Jomini's works were suffused by the spirit of scientific rationality that had become characteristic of military writing in the previous century. He is best understood as the culminating figure of Enlightenment military theory, whose central achievement was to assimilate the destabilizing dynamism of Napoleonic warfare to the risk-averse analytic traditions of the Old Regime.
Those traditions described the art of war in terms that could best be portrayed on a map. Jomini agreed, though he was less willing than his predecessors to assign decisive significance to permanent terrain features or man-made fortifications. Instead he emphasized the relational maneuver of opposing armies, whose dynamic relationship in time and space defined the strategic possibilities of a military campaign. At bottom, the general's task was always the same: to concentrate superior forces at what Jomini called "the decisive point," a point that was defined by the interactive decisions of the opposing commanders themselves. As a matter of principle, Jomini insisted, every army should seek to divide the enemy's forces while concentrating its own, and should always maneuver so as to threaten the enemy's communications while keeping its own base secure. Doing so was by no means a mechanical process. Like his great contemporary, Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), Jomini was aware of the intellectual and emotional demands that war made upon its participants. He accepted that the object of military maneuver was to bring about combat, and not to substitute for it. Yet he was also convinced that a firm grasp of war's scientific basis insured that such fighting as was required would always take place on the most favorable terms. If his work did not quite amount to a recipe for victory, it nevertheless afforded significant assurance that war could be mastered intellectually, if only it were approached in the same spirit of progressive rationality that characterized so much of European public life in the nineteenth century.
It is not always easy to recognize Jomini's work for the conservative synthesis that it was. His writings stress the superiority of the offensive and the importance of seizing the initiative and dominating the enemy—all paradigmatic virtues exemplified by Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15) himself. Yet Jomini missed the fierce improvisational spirit that made Napoleon such a fearsome opponent. Instead, he argued that the same kinds of results could be achieved by methodical planning, massed forces, and secure lines of communications, all of which had the practical effect of making the other things he admired—aggressiveness, cunning, surprise, vigorous pursuit—impossible to achieve. His ideas, as he recognized, were best suited to small, professional armies fighting for limited stakes, precisely the kinds of armed forces that dominated Europe in the wake of Napoleon's defeat. The future, however, belonged to enormous armies employing profoundly destructive new technologies. In that less constrained tactical environment, military decisions were seen to depend not upon the careful application of scientific methods, but on a remorseless willingness to inflict and endure suffering on a mass scale. Jomini's personal reputation thus fell into eclipse. Yet his achievement should not be under-estimated. Jomini rescued the scientific spirit of the Enlightenment from the mechanical rigidity that always threatened to render it ridiculous, and he instilled the study of war with a determined but flexible rationalism that persists to this day. All good armies of the early twenty-first century purport to base their doctrine and operational methods on the flexible application of general principles recognizably similar to those Jomini identified.
Brinton, Crane, Gordon A. Craig, and Felix Gilbert. "Jomini." In Makers of Modern Strategy, edited by Edward Mead Earle, 77–92. Princeton, N.J., 1943.
Howard, Michael. "Jomini and the Classical Tradition." In The Theory and Practice of War, 3–20. Bloomington, Ind., 1965.
Shy, John. "Jomini." In Makers of Modern Strategy, edited by Peter Paret, 143–185. Princeton, N.J., 1986.