The basic approach of Gerhard von Scharnhorst as a guiding impulse for modern crisis management training

Dirk Freudenberg


The following statements are to describe to what extent the theoretical-methodical approaches of the Prussian army reformers of the early 19th century – with Scharnhorst in the centre – can be effective for modern crisis management training even today, and to what extent his thoughts on this matter offer respective intellectual fundamentals and suggestions. In a synthesis of tradition and progress, Scharnhorst has tried to integrate better methods into training and discipline as well as new concepts into tactics and strategy. The Prussian reforms are much too often reduced to their effects on the military; nevertheless, their full effectualness found complete expression with their comprehensive conception in all socially relevant areas, deeply penetrating the educational system in schools and universities, and were decisively attended by the intellectual elites of administration, university, and society of that time.

The entire reform item of the early 19th century was strongly influenced by ideas and cognitions of Enlightenment and Neohumanism. For this reason, an „alliance of esprit and state” came into being in some places, as the national striving of both government and Army could not only find patrons, but political leaders as well. The strategic objective was establishing new confidence and a reliable attachment of the population to the state. The present understanding of theory and practice is fundamentally shaped by our knowledge about sciences whose theoretical insights can be immediately translated into guidelines. Thus, theory and practice are closely related. Theory must be measurable with practice. Additionally, theoretical knowledge and practical experience complement each other and are mutually dependent. For this, an education is prerequisite which provides refined overview about greater coherences and thus becomes a decisive basis for self-subsistent thought and action. Education and experience equally complement each other for increasing capabilities; both of them form, like a helix, into a form that, with time, leads to a peak. For a modern, comprehensive, and integrated risk and crisis management, working with the proficiency founded and handed down by Scharnhorst, and soundly transforming it into the modern structures and procedures of the national security architecture, will be helpful and profitable. In this sense, it is decisively vital for modern crisis management to control a special situation by extensively apprehending and analysing it, so that it can be respectively mastered flexibly and dynamically. At the same time, it is necessary to proceed rationally and analytically in order to analyse with logical-stringent deductions, and to react resiliently. Basically the focus must be on training persons responsible, who are not only unyielding performance assistants taking care of tasks mechanically and pedantically, but, on the contrary, who can develop precisely, and notwithstanding flexibly, decision options and recommendations, thus forcing the persons politically as well as administratively responsible to make executive decisions. For this reason, the national command and control procedure is no rigid pattern; on the contrary, it has to be understood as a guide for forming a creative act, in the course of which, by means of determined facts during a compelling and logical application, elements are presented in detail and conclusions are drawn, thus- without notional truncations – sensible and targeted and efficient possibilities are deducted from, in order to be able to select the most convenient option for crisis management. Here esprit is more important than form. In order to achieve this, both training and the development of ability to judge, to decide and to enforce are required, based on theoretical cognitions and personal experience. Consequently, Scharnhorst’s method, oriented towards action and experience, and in addition predicated upon scientific-theoretical fundamentals for understanding, classification, and cogitation, is still highly topical today.