Shield of Achilles

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* Book: The Shield of Achilles. Philip Bobbitt. Allen Lane, 2002.


Phillip Bobbitt's book posits the advent of a Market State


Michel Bauwens, book notes, 2004:

The author says that nation-states have been replaced by 3 types of market-state

   - The 'mercantile', which retains a strong alliance between state and national entreprises, with a strong cultural identity, such as Japan
   - The 'managerial', which look towards regional blocs and strong social insurance, such as Germany and Europe
   - The 'market-mitigating', the Anglo-Saxon model, which only looks at increasing opportunity

By contrast, Robert Cooper distinguishes

   - pre-modern states in failed areas
   - modern states, which remain nationalistic
   - post-modern states, which prefer cooperation

Bobbitt identifies four forms of state that preceded modern nation-states

   - The princely state of the Italian Rennaissance, described by Macchiavelli
   - The kingly state, first advocated by Hobbes, and first practiced by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus
   - The territorial state, exemplified by Frederick the Great
   - The state-nation of the Bonaparte
   - Only with Bismarck do we have the emergence of the modern nation-state

Each phase transition was marked by war (and how they had to be fought); and the subsequent Peace Treaties such as

   - Augsburg, 1555
   - Westphalia, 1648
   - Utrecht, 1713
   - Vienna, 1815
   - Versailles, 1919

In the princely state, the prince had to learn to behave 'impersonally', but in the kingly state, this reverses to create a strong identification between the people and the king; this is again counter-balanced in the territorial state, where the state supercedes the king; then again came the very personal system of Napoleon, to be replaced again by the impersonal nation-state. This model is now replaced by even more governance, but coupled with very strong media personalisation.

Clay Spinuzzi:

"Bobbitt lays out the following types of state, their approximate (overlapping) spans, and their bases for legitimacy:

   * Princely state (1494-1572): “The State confers legitimacy on the dynasty.”
   * Kingly state (1567-1651): “The dynasty confers legitimacy on the State.”
   * Territorial state (1649-1789): “The State will manage the country efficiently.”
   * State-nation (1776-1870): “The State will forge the identity of the nation.”
   * Nation-state (1861-1991): “The State will better the welfare of the nation."
   * Market-state (1989-present): “The State will maximize the opportunity of its citizens.” (p.347)



Excerpt from Clay Spinuzzi at

"What is the role of the State? Phillip Bobbitt, in this award-winning book, doesn’t seek to prescribe it but to chronicle it. In his 827-page book (not including the index), he lays out the case that the State has undergone many transformations, many different constitutional orders and bases of legitimacy, each one corresponding roughly to an epochal war.

Although Bobbitt has sometimes been read as advocating a market state (see the Amazon reviews), he doesn’t appear to be advocating at all, and in fact he is quite forthright about the many drawbacks of the emerging market-state. This isn’t a progressive understanding of history or a view of states as evolving to greater legitimacy or complexity. Indeed, he calls out Fukuyama’s notion of the “end of history,” arguing instead that what Fukuyama saw was only the end of an epochal war. More about this in a moment.

Rather than a progressive evolutionary view of the State, Bobbitt sees states as periodically undergoing constitutional crises in conjunction (or feedback) with other states, periodically redefining legitimacy as they do. (“Every era asks, ‘What is the State supposed to be doing?’” (p.177)). And as their constitutional bases change, so do the underlying assumptions regarding state actions. In one striking example, he argues that the 1995 debate over whether the US should have dropped the A-bombs on Japan in 1945 was “almost unintelligible in light of the struggle of the nation-state and its role in the Long War, but fits nicely within the assumptions and strategies of the market-state” (p.217, footnote).

Let’s get to the notion of the epochal war. Bobbitt argues that when a new constitutional order emerges, it corresponds roughly with epochal wars in which variations of the state battle for supremacy. For instance, he interprets the major wars of 1914-1990 as being parts of a single war – he calls it the Long War, and includes the Cold War among others – and claims that the Long War was about “which of three constitutional forms would replace [the preexisting imperial] system: parliamentary democracy, communism, or fascism” (p.24). That struggle, he says, ended with the end of the Cold War: parliamentary democracy outlasted and outcompeted fascism and communism, best enhancing the welfare of the nations that adopted it (p.62). This triumph yielded Fukuyama’s illusory end of history – and “the end of a way of living” (p.62).

Yet, Bobbitt adds, the nation-state can no longer deliver on its promises. It can’t guarantee the safety of its citizens: states that have no nuclear weapons cannot guarantee security, but those with nuclear weapons make their citizens a target (p.218). It can’t guarantee welfare: the proceeds of the nation-state’s borrowing have been returned as consumption rather than infrastructure or investment." (