BOOK Review by Emmett R Smith:
The Shield of Achilles, by Philip Bobbitt (Knopf, 2002)
(An earlier version of this review, ‘Philip Bobbitt & the Emerging Market-state’, was broadcast by Emmett R Smith on KMSU 89.7 FM, Mankato, MN, in April of 2004.)
HOW Do matters seem from the standpoint of a more-than-competent post-modern history-maker? That is exactly who Mr Philip Bobbitt is, and his 2002 book, published by Knopf and entitled The Shield Of Achilles, is an immense and exhaustive, well-written, study of what we now confront at the end of the era of the nation-state.
Phillip Bobbitt is altogether a deeper scholar than S P Huntington et al, and his writing is a must for those who would see more deeply into some of the ideas appropriated by these soi-disant ‘new conservatives’. Not only does Mr Bobbitt discuss such dynamic processes as globalisation; he perceives, too, something of what is implicit.
Those of you who are regular readers of Bodwyn Wook will recall my many references to the work of emeritus historian John Lukacs, who has done much to verify the thesis of the end of the modern age. In addition, there is a muslim perspective—NOT fundamentalist in character—which stakes the claim that today we are also at the end of the christian aeon. And, now, Philip Bobbitt argues as well that we are at the end of the era of nation-states.
The nation-state, as it existed in its competing forms from 1865-71 ca to the end of what Bobbitt calls the Long War of 1914-90, was about universal welfare. Well-being of the statistical citizen was the raison d’etre of the nation-state in all its forms. The national pursuit of that well-being of citizens was in fact nationalistic, and it led to the Long War, a series of protracted and overlapping struggles between the three rival forms of democracy in the twentieth century, the socialisms both communist and fascist, and parliamentarism.
AT The end of the Long War, western parliamentarism was the only contender still in the ring. Now, Bobbitt says, we are embarked on a whole new era in state-craft, the age of the ‘market-state’. If the nation-state was about universal access by citizens to benefits, we find now that the market-state will legitimate itself by ‘maximising opportunity’. This future which Mr Bobbitt addresses does not reach much beyond the next hundred years or so, nor may he presume to prophesy further in terms of contemporary historianship, and how history is ‘done’. But even without the advantage of a transcendent, or so-called ‘religious’, critical vocabulary, Mr Bobbitt sets forth compelling arguments in the more-limited language of the present consensus. This the gentleman is well able to do, for, to judge from his resume, Philip Bobbitt is both scholar and one of the glossier Washington, DC, think-tank fish!
He is both scholar and advisor to governments. At present, Mr Bobbitt teaches constitutional law in Texas, where one expects a certain amount of this study is rather needed! Philip Bobbitt taught formerly modern history at Oxford, and he has been a war-studies fellow at King’s college, London.
As well, the gentleman has been an associate counsel to presidents, for intelligence and international security affairs, and an international-law counselor at the state department, and a director and senior director at the National Security Council.
In his salad-days, Bobbitt served as legal counselor to the United States Senate, during the halcyon old days of the Iran-contra embroglio, which paved the way for Ollie North, USMC, to embark upon his subsequent journalism-career, with ‘Fox’ TeeVee news….
IN The Shield Of Achilles, Philip Bobbitt not only gives an extended account of the evolution of the state throughout the modern age. He also shows how the decisive treaties of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, updated at Utrecht in 1713, and again at Vienna in 1815, all were water-sheds in the step-by-step development of the state; and, above all, of the society of states. This idea of the modern state emerges in the princely- and kingly-states of the Renascence and the Baroque era. Feudal authority was destroyed by gun-powder and restoration of that authority required the solution of the princely- and kingly-states. These evolved into dynastic
states, and into the state-nations of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. America—the United States—began as a state-nation. Even so, just as gunnery had ushered in the princely and dynastic state-nations, so these were displaced by steam-power and the railway-age, which one way or another ‘mobilised’ the masses which brought into being the nation-states. Whereas, today, nation-states in turn are being negated by the computer-revolution. The unfolding diplomatic- and legal-history is of critical importance in all of this because of the thorny problem of how power is legitimated, especially in periods of epochal change; how reconstituted state-power (of any political shape) becomes formal.
It is this formal struggle that generates competing models, Bobbitt says, and he anticipates that the task of the market-state, as idea, will be much the same as that of the nation-state, namely to legitimise itself through the conflict of competing models. Broadly, and arguing from a host of longstanding economic- and technical-developments, Bobbitt identifies three emerging competitive forms of the market-state. These are:
THE Entrepreneurial market-state, in which there is little job-security but much job-creation, little protection of domestic industry, and robust patterns of immigration—and, emigration. Under the dynamic pressures of the economy, citizens tend not to identify themselves zealously with the state; rather, because autonomy and consumption are so highly-valued, citizens affiliate with those sub-groups with whom they share consumption-patterns. The essential ethic is libertarian.
THE Mercantile market-state, on the contrary, relies upon a strong central government, above all to protect key industries and subsidise critical research and development. There is extensive social-welfare, to buffer income-disparities, and elaborate subsidy, not least of education for those who really want to work. This system can provide stability and predictability to a high degree, Singapore and Hong Kong being two notable examples. Interest-rates trend higher, reducing ‘brand’ choices in shops and enforcing some degree of savings by workers. One problem is not being open to foreign markets, which reduces market efficiencies. And, venture-capital for bona fide small businesses—as well as possible major innovators!—is forbiddingly costly.
THE Managerial market-state, finally, proceeds under a government that provides a strong social safety-net, and in which labour-management relations are notably participatory, even on the board-level. Social equality, more than stability and predictability of a production-system, is a primary goal of the managerial market-state. Training, and re-training, programmes claim up to two per cent of GDP, as opposed to but one-fourth of one per cent in entrepreneurial market-states.
IN The event, Bobbitt insists that these modular rivals will come into conflict, and that there will ensue characteristic war-forms, based on post-modern economic and technical realities. The fundamental point is that, as ‘territories’are subsumed by markets, borders become porous, indeed practically non-existent. Hence, populations (markets, ie!) are ever-more-vulnerable to biological and cyber and terroristic, rather than military and nuclear, attack.
For Bobbitt, a final point is that, as always, a certain amount of conflict necessarily will be tolerated, not least to avoid the building-up of cataclysm.
AND Now, in conclusion, one must ask, what does one make of it all, this rousing and lengthy, but well-written, fanfarade on behalf of the ‘market-state’?
There is no doubt whatsoever that Mr Bobbitt’s ‘market-state’ theory accommodates facts better than any other one has yet to read thus far, and he accounts in a coherent manner for such disparate phenomena as globalisation, multi-national capitalism, the concerted drive away from state-welfare in the decades since M Thatcher and R Reagen. In light of market-state theory, such present-day phenomena as the privatisation of the military makes a kind of lurid sense, too. There is in all of this, as well, an amount of bathos, and Mr Bobbitt well knows it. Human facts are as often hideous as they are noble, transcendent; this is the dark-knowledge not only of the crucifixion-pornographer Mel Gibson, but of all of us who study history in service to the future. The Roman soldier who put the spear in Jesus’ side in the fable was entirely human, as James Hillman says, and he knew what he was doing.
Likewise, the fifty-something Viet Nam veteran who never ever seemed to get on with it, and who has signed up lately for work in ‘Iraq as ‘an independent security-contractor’, armed oil-truck driver or some other sort of mercenary; he, too, is utterly human and knows as much—or as little!—as any of us, about what is ‘really’ going on. Be that as it may, he is also the early avatar of a no-doubt-soon-to-be characteristic denizen of the post-modern multinational market-state age now all of a sudden upon us.
The Shield Of Achilles is perceptive as well as remarkably well-written, it is many-sided and full of nuance. The following poem, by Wislawa Szymborska, called ‘The Terrorist, He’s Watching’, introduces the section on ‘Challenges to the New international Order’:
The bomb in the bar will explode at thirteen twenty.
Now it’s just thirteen sixteen.
There’s still time for some to go in,
And some to come out.
The terrorist has already crossed the street.
The distance keeps him out of danger,
And what a view–just like the movies.
A woman in a yellow jacket, she’s going in.
A man in dark glasses, he’s coming out.
Teen-agers in jeans, they’re talking.
Thirteen seventeen and four seconds.
The short one, he’s lucky, he’s getting on a scooter,
But the tall one, he’s going in.
Thirteen seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, she’s walking along with a green ribbon in her hair.
But then a bus suddenly pulls in front of her.
The girl’s gone.
Was she that dumb, did she go in or not,
We’ll see when they carry them out.
Somehow no one’s going in.
Another guy, fat, bald, is leaving, though.
Wait a second, looks like he’s looking
For something in his pockets and
At thirteen twenty minus ten seconds
He goes back for his crummy gloves.
Thirteen twenty exactly.
This waiting, it’s taking forever:
Any second now.
No, not yet.
The bomb, it explodes.
(ibid, p 666)
PHILIP Bobbitt knows a good deal about it all, and he has more to say. Other books by Mr Bobbitt include Constitutional Interpretation, and Constitutional Fate; Theory of the Constitution, and (with Guido Calebresi) Tragic Choices.
(Copies of these books may be obtained on-line from a variety of vendors, at ‘Alibris’ and ‘Amazon’.)
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 25 April 2004]