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The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 14, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 960 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375412921
  • ASIN: B0006BD89S
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,112,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Serge J. Van Steenkiste on May 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
In "The Shield of Achilles," Philip Bobbitt has realized an impressive tour de force in studying in great detail the intimate interaction of law, strategy and history between 1494 and the contemporary era. Bobbitt correctly points out that there is no state without law, strategy and history because they complement and influence one another (p. 6). There can be a state only when the governing institutions of a society have an acknowledged monopoly on the legitimate use of violence at home (law) and abroad (strategy). History relates the account of the stewardship of a society over time that in turns influences law and strategy. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Bobbitt convincingly shows that the history of the Modern State did not begin at Westphalia in 1648, but in the North of Modern Italy in 1494 (p. 805).

Bobbitt clearly demonstrates that the Modern State was put together when it proved necessary to create a constitutional order that could wage war more efficiently than the feudal and mercantile orders it replaced (p. xxv). Bobbitt spends most of his time covering the pattern of epochal wars and state formation, of peace congresses and international constitutions in Europe. The Modern State was indeed born and went through successive mutations in Europe before spreading to the rest of the world. Bobbitt gives his readers a nice pictorial representation of the six constitutional conventions of the international society of states at the end of Book I dedicated to the State of War (pp. 346-347). Book II focuses on the States of Peace.

To his credit, Bobbitt does not reduce war to a pathology that could one day be eradicated totally.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Fehmi Naci Cansun on January 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I understand why so many people have found the book frustrating and too long. It is not a book (like Huntington's Civilizations) where the author simply makes claims on how the future will be. It is a detailed sutdy of the past, of how wars and more pmportantly peace agreements shaped history.

For those who complian about missing the point of the book, I somehow found it very simple. History of the European nation-states, right now the world's most accepted form of governence where the states take the power and legitimacy from its people, has arisen from constant interaction of military and legal innovations. The author goes to great lenght to justify the thesis and in my opinion is very convincing.

The only missing thing in the book is the omition of factors other than those directly related to the topic. Still, one cannot blame the author for keeping those factors out since it would make a book that many already complain is too long, even longer.

Huntington or Fukuyama's approach may seem more direct and understandable to many from the western part of the world, but professor Bobbit goes into great effort to show that history is not over yet, and that we should not expect a clash of civilizations, rather a clash of market states trying to maximize the opporutnites of its clients, sorry citizens.

I definitely reccomend it.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bo K. on December 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Some of the reviewers complain about the size of the book, and it is big. But Bobbitt does an admirable job of stating his thesis, that differing constitutional regimes create epochs of differing state organization, and that the conflicts between these constitutional ideas and their representative states is one of the major causes of power conflict, dating back to Westphalia (1688) and even before that, to the time of the development of the city-state in renaissance florence/venice/milan etc.

Bobbitt runs through the historical development of all the subsequent european organizations of the state, up to the 20th century industrial nation state, and what he calls, implicitly paraphrasing Arrighi and Hobsbawm's "long centuries," the "long war" that was to decide which constitutional regime would survive: that of democratic federalism, communist federalism, or fascist federalism.

Now that that war is over, Bobbitt posits that the nation state is weakening and that the market state will enter the world stage. According to bobbitt, contrary to some current theorizing, the state is not "dying;" it is changing-- to the market state. The last part of the book is spent trying to imagine how this might play out over the next century. This is probably the weakest part of the book, but Bobbitt acknowledges that he is embarking on conjectures which obviously are nothing more than that. But since his book was written BEFORE 9/11, some of what he has written does sounds prescient; other parts read almost naive in light of the "war on terror" and bush unilateralism, the weakened dollar, the potential within a rising EU, etc.

THis is a big book, 822 pages of actual text, with a lot of notes and a complete bibliography.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Prauge Traveler on April 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
Phillip Bobbitt has created something very rare in the realm of International Relations: an entirely unique new idea. For those students of history and current events who have grown accustomed to the accepted world views: Realism, Idealism - internationalism vs. isolationism; this new entry will provide a welcome and refreshing perspective.

Rather than defining international politics in the typical framework of the "balance of power", or that of a "bipolar" or "mulitpolar" world, Bobbitt has completely redefined the course of history with his thesis. He states the modern state has evolved through the course of history and taken many different forms, based on the demands and interplay (or history) of Strategy and Constitutional development.

These various forms of the state have had differing expectations demanded from their populaces, and differing relationships amongst themselves at the international level. Based on a field relationship between Strategy and Constitutionalism, different forms of the state have proven dominant at different periods of time. Developments in one arena will create new trends in another- and the interplay is constant. Currently Bobbitt makes the case that the current incarnation of the modern state, the Nation-State, is giving way to a new form which he has named the Market-State.

Bobbitt backs up his arguments well with an historical analysis of the modern state ranging from the Machiavellian Princely-State to the wars of the Nation-States and beyond. The entire book is very well documented with Primary and Secondary sources, which are indexed and included in a comprehensive bibliography.
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