Cabinet war

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The cabinet war is a type of war in Europe that determined the epoch of absolutism , from the Peace of Westphalia to the French Revolution . In older representations, the age of the cabinet wars only extended to the middle of the 18th century. The wars had a limited objective and aimed at largely sparing people and property.


The Cabinet War can be characterized by several of the following characteristics:

  • small standing army
  • mostly aristocratic officer corps
  • reluctant warfare
  • limited war aims and frequently changing coalitions between the warring parties
  • Legalization and "guarding" of war
  • Non-public participation.

The term and definition of the cabinet war is also criticized and referred to as a euphemism or wishful thinking. Even in the time of the Cabinet Wars, a war was always an event that affects society as a whole, and which in some cases also seriously affected the civilian population. For example, farmers had to provide food and accommodation for the troops, which cost many a village their existence, and women were raped by troops passing through, but this is hardly mentioned in conventional war history accounts.

Concept history

The term alludes to the Cabinet Government of absolutism (see Cabinet Justice , Cabinet-Ordre ) and connotes particular the "businesslike" and limitation of war, with the religious wars that preceded, and the revolutionary people's war , forms a contrast that was to follow. If cabinet war is used in a broader sense, it is these features, along with public non-participation, that are meant.

The name has its origin in the fact that most of the wars of this time, the age of absolutism and the Enlightenment , were based on seemingly rational and balanced decisions of the rulers and their advisors in the cabinet . While the Thirty Years' War broke out due to religious disputes and was ultimately characterized by wild looting and marauding armies, the wars of the 18th century were usually fought in a more limited and targeted manner.

The historian Michael Salewski criticizes, however, that in the cases in which wars were actually locally limited and “enclosed”, this was less in enlightenment-absolutist ideals (such as those presented by Frederick the Great or Voltaire in theoretical and philosophical treatises) than in The warring parties lacked resources.

Differentiation from religious and modern wars

Cabinet wars were only waged for limited goals, the opponent's basic right to exist was - unlike during the wars of religion - no longer or not yet disputed. Alliances between former war opponents were also quickly possible if this promised advantages for the respective sovereign. Alleged hereditary enmities of the peoples, as they often shaped the so-called people's or national wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, were not relevant in the age of the cabinet wars.

Nevertheless, these wars also caused enormous suffering among the civilian population affected, directly because of the armies' passage, indirectly because of the recruiting and tax collection.

The idea of ​​a "cabinet war" is most likely to apply to the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–1779).

Other wars in Europe between 1650 and 1792 are counted as Cabinet Wars, although they only partially agree with their definition:

  • The Seven Years' War (1756–1763) does not correspond to the idea of ​​a cabinet war because of its global extent (some speak of the first “World War”). In addition, there were severe looting and abuse locally, e.g. B. during the Russian occupation of East Prussia. The warfare of Frederick II of Prussia against a multiple superior force had an existential character and cannot be characterized as cautious and calculating. In the journalistic discourse in Brandenburg-Prussia, strong references were made to the “fatherland” and anti-French reservations were stoked. In total, an estimated one million people were killed, about half each soldier and half civilian.

The revolutionary wars that followed the French Revolution, as well as the Napoleonic coalition wars and the wars of liberation, are in contrast to the cabinet wars. They were no longer conducted solely on the basis of cabinet decisions; the will of the people was added as a decisive feature, even in states such as Prussia and Austria that were still governed by autocracy .

In the 19th century, however, there were again wars that can be described as cabinet wars:

  • French invasion of Spain (1823)
  • Crimean War (1853–56), although the feature of non-participation of the public does not fit here, as it was the first European "media war" and it contained elements of the national war, educated Russians perceived the defeat of their side as a "national disgrace" and also at it The Allied populations felt a strong identification of fighting troops and homeland.
  • Austro-French or Sardinian War (1859)
  • German-Danish War (1864)
  • The Austro-Prussian War (1866), however, was charged with a "war of brothers".

In the same epoch there were wars that are completely in opposition to the cabinet wars, as they - at least on one side - were largely carried out by the people, such as the Polish-Russian War 1830/31 (popular uprising of Poles against Russian rule) and the uprising in Greater Poland against Prussian rule in 1848, the Schleswig-Holstein uprising (1848–51), the Italian Wars of Independence (1859 and 1866) and the American Civil War (1861–65).

The Franco-German War in 1870 was planned by Helmut von Moltke as a "cabinet war", but it degenerated.

See also


  • Siegfried Fiedler: Warfare and Warfare in the Age of Cabinet Wars ; in: Armies of the Modern Age , Volume 2; Koblenz, 1986.
  • Michael Salewski : From Cabinet War to Total War. The shape of the war in the 19th and 20th centuries. In: Mass and Power in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Studies on key concepts of our time. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2003, pp. 51-66.

Web links

Wiktionary: Cabinet War  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Erich Bayer (Hrsg.): Dictionary of history. Terms and technical terms (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 289). 2nd, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1965, DNB 455732671 , p. 251.
  2. cf. Fiedler 1986
  3. The entrepreneurial mercenary groups quickly and thoroughly transformed into disciplined and civilized regiments, only the position of the chief (colonel-owner) reminded of their previous history. See Meier-Welcker in the Handbook on German Military History, Vol. 1 (1979).
  4. Fundamental to absolutism; see. Reinhart Koselleck , Critique and Crisis (1954) .
  5. Salewski: From Cabinet War to Total War. 2003, pp. 55-57.
  6. Salewski: From Cabinet War to Total War. 2003, p. 56.
  7. Salewski: From Cabinet War to Total War. 2003, p. 55.
  8. ^ A b c Wolfgang Burgdorf : Review by Hans-Martin Blitz: Out of love for the fatherland. In: H-Soz-Kult , September 12, 2000.
  9. a b c d e f g h i j Salewski: From cabinet war to total war. 2003, p. 57.
  10. Marian Füssel: The Seven Years War. A world war in the 18th century. CH Beck, Munich 2010.
  11. ^ Sven Externbrink: The Seven Years' War (1756–1763). A European World War in the Age of Enlightenment. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2011.
  12. Marian Füssel: The Seven Years War. A world war in the 18th century. CH Beck, Munich 2010, p. 9.
  13. Frank Becker: The "advanced post" as a "lost post"? William Howard Russell and the British coverage of the Crimean War. In Georg Maag, Wolfram Pyta Martin Windisch (ed.): The Crimean War as the first European media war. Lit Verlag, Berlin 2010, pp. 221-234, on p. 222.