The scope of Philip Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles is breathtaking: the interplay, over the last six centuries, among war, jurisprudence, and the reshaping of countries ("states," in Bobbitt's vocabulary). Bobbitt posits that certain wars should be deemed epochal--that is, seen as composed of many "smaller" wars. For example, according to Bobbitt the epochal war of the 20th century began in 1914 and ended with the collapse of communism in 1990. These military affairs--and their subsequent "ultimate" peace agreements--have caused, each in their own way, revolutionary reconstructions of the idea and actuality of statehood and, following, of relationships between these various new entities. Of these reconstructions (including the princely state, the kingly state, and the nation-state), Bobbitt is most interested in the current incarnation, which he calls the market-state: one whose borders are scuffed and hazy at best (certainly compared to earlier territorial markers) and whose strengths, weaknesses, citizens, and enemies roam across cyberspace rather than plains and valleys. The Shield of Achilles is massive, erudite, and demanding--at once highly abstract and extremely detailed. There is about it an air of detached erudition, one noticeably free of the easy "decline and fall" hysteria too often present in contemporary historical analyses. --H. O'Billovich
From Publishers Weekly
The world is at a pivotal point, argues Bobbitt, as the nation-state, developed over six centuries as the optimal institution for waging war and organizing peace, gives way to the market-state. Nation-states derive legitimacy from promising to improve the material welfare of their citizens, specifically by providing security and order. Market-states offer to maximize the opportunity of their people. Nation-states use force and law to bring about desired results. Market-states use various forms of market relationships. Bobbitt, who has an endowed chair at the University of Texas and has written five previous books on constitutional law and on nuclear strategy, argues in sprawling fashion that this paradigm shift is essentially a consequence of the "Long War" of 1914-1990, a struggle among communism, fascism and parliamentarism that, through innovation and mimicry, generated a fundamentally new constitutional and strategic dynamic that in turn generated a fundamentally new "society of states." Central to Bobbitt's thesis is the postulate that international order is a consequence of domestic order. In the work's most stimulating section, Bobbitt discusses three possible ways of reorganizing the latter. The "Meadow," essentially an extrapolation of socio-political patterns currently dominant in the U.S., features high levels of individualism around the world at the expense of collective behavior at any level. The "Park," based on a European alternate, emphasizes regionalism. The "Garden" predicates successful market states disengaging from international affairs and emphasizing renewed internal community. None of these systems will eliminate war, but the nation-state is declining, Bobbitt argues, essentially because nonstate actors confront the nation-state with threats it cannot effectively respond to. This big book is provocative and richly textured, but too often Bobbitt's arguments are obscured by his historically digressive presentation.
See all Editorial Reviews