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Phillip II Of Spain

The commitment To An Ideal As a Lack Of Military Geniuos

Betts' emphasis on the role of luck within strategy seriously puts into question the very possibility of military genius. For Betts “because strategy is necessary, however, does not mean that it is possible.” In the author’s view, since the perfect strategy would consist in a complete understanding of all the consequences of a given action, and furthermore, that such an omniscient view is altogether rare if not impossible, luck is a crucial factor in the success or failure of a given strategy. When considering the failures of Phillip II and Spain in the early Modern Period in terms of Betts’ framework, the deficiency in his strategy would appear to be more consistent with a lack of genius as opposed to a lack of luck. This is because Phillip II was defined by a certain commitment to Catholicism that bordered on zealotry, thus inhibiting his ability to make rational strategic decisions. Phillip possessed “a vision of a deeply pious Roman Catholic nation” and saw himself as “advancing the interests of the Roman Catholic Church” that negatively affected his decisions.

Recalling the specific nature of some of Phillip’s failures can support this claim. For example, the Netherlands, which was under the Spanish sphere of influence at the time, was experiencing disruption from the Protestant community. Phillip’s “deep committed to Catholicism” led him to decide to suppress the uprisings. This, in turn, prompted England’s assistance of the Protestant parts of Netherlands, which eventually culminated in Phillip’s loss of power over the area. His retaliatory attack against England led to the almost total annihilation of the Spanish armada. Furthermore, Phillip’s emphasis on the uniform nature of the Catholic Church contributed to the diminishing of Spanish influence in the Protestant parts of Northern Europe, whilst his position as a defender of Catholicism was a factor in Spain’s own internal underdevelopment, insofar as the country became “economically weak in relation to emerging commercial powers such as England and the Netherlands.” In essence, Phillip was unable to separate his deep Catholic world-view and the seeming infallibility that a commitment to the Catholic Church gave him from the realist situation of Spanish geopolitics, leading him to commit futile decisions. In Betts’ terms, this is symptomatic of a lack of genius, to the extent that Phillip II failed to understand the cause and effects of his own actions.

When considering this lack of genius in terms of the theories of military genius of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, such an argument is also plausible. For example, Sun Tzu discusses a deep obligation to one’s own people as a pre-condition for any possible military genius. Phillip II, in contrast, manifested a profound commitment to a metaphysical idea, the infallibility of Catholicism, which over-determined his strategic decisions. From the perspective of Clausewitz, the military genius is one who possesses, amongst other qualities, a deeply rational mind: The genius is one who, through the intellect, reflects thoroughly on the proper course of action, analyzing all the factors at stake in conflict (Similar to Betts’ notion of genius). In this regard, Phillip II did not use a radically critical rationality to evaluate his own position, but instead assumed the dogmatic and non-critical position that was his commitment to the Catholic church and a defender of the latter at any cost, however disastrous. The non-rational approach is one that is not self-critical, such that one is unable to properly understand the fallibility of his position. Phillip’s strategy remained determined by his commitment to Catholicism, which is essentially a commitment to a form of dogmatic metaphysical idealism, as opposed to a commitment to the real situation and demands of strategy for Spain. In terms of Clausewitz trinity, the irrational (emotion) dominated within Phillip’s thought, overshadowing reason and mitigating the aid of non-rational chance and thus propagating disastrous decisions. From yet another perspective, using Thucydides’ trinity, Phillip II emphasized honor, defending the honor of the Catholic Church, instead of calculating carefully both fear (that is, that his strategies could be incorrect) and interest (from a perspective that was not bound up to the honor that he sought to defend).

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