A Papier-Maché Fortress

Philip Bobbit's grand historical vision remains impressive, until one examines its history.

Issue: Winter 2002-2003

Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), 921 pp., $40.

Philip Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles is a bad book. It is error strewn, it suffers from grand delusions of theoretical adequacy, and it is unscholarly. This judgment, however, being evidently a minority one, imposes an obligation not only to render the work's aim, thesis and argument fairly before criticizing it, but also to account for the book's evident appeal to the public, as well as to several distinguished historians who have endorsed it.

The former task is not easy, given the book's great length and convoluted development, but is aided by repeated statements of the author's aims and theses. The book, Bobbitt writes in his prologue, concerns the evolution of the modern state, in particular "the relationship between strategy and the legal order as this relationship has shaped and transformed the modern state and the society composed of these states." Wars and the attendant revolutions in military affairs, he argues, have been the engine of change in the constitutional order of states since the Renaissance: "each of the important revolutions in military affairs enabled a political revolution in the fundamental constitutional order of the State."

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