By DONNA URSCHEL
Philip Bobbitt, in discussing his new book, "The Shield of Achilles," spoke about the changing nation state, the emerging market state, the concept of epochal wars, and the relationship between constitutional order and military strategy.
"We are at a very rare moment when the nature of the state itself is changing. When I say state I don't mean Texas and New Jersey. I'm talking about states like France, China and Germany," he told an audience at the Library on March 19.
"The reason behind this change in the nature of the state is that the relationship between constitutional order (the law in a state) and strategic innovation in warfare is experiencing change," said Bobbitt, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Texas, where he holds the A.W. Walker Centennial Chair. He has served as senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council.
He explores the changing modern state in his book "The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History."
Sponsored by the Library's Office of Scholarly Programs, the event also featured Sir Michael Howard, a prominent military historian, who is a scholar at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center. Howard wrote the foreword to Bobbitt's book, which was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2002.
To illustrate the relationship between constitutional order and strategic innovations in warfare, Bobbitt discussed a time, about 500 years ago, when modern states were born. The King of France, Charles VIII, brought new military equipment—six mobile cannons, which were light enough to be carted around by oxen and horses—to Italy in 1494 and started battering the walled cities. In a single stroke, moats, walls, towers were rendered obsolete. The threatened Italian cities suddenly had to add a bureaucratic apparatus to raise taxes more efficiently, build roads for their own military equipment, create more rules and build more defenses to meet the new military challenge.
In this case, strategic innovations in warfare affected the constitutional order, according to Bobbitt. Sometimes this relationship is reversed: a change in constitutional order can affect warfare strategy, as happened during the French Revolution.
Bobbitt said throughout history there have been many constitution-transforming epochal wars, which are wars that start for the same reason any other war starts—greed, fear, religious ideology and political conflict. But at some point, Bobbitt said, the war engages the constitutional life of the state. Once it does so, it cannot be extinguished until the constitutional question is answered.
The most recent epochal war, said Bobbitt, was "The Long War" of the 20th century. He said historians will consider World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War as being about one single constitutional question: what form of the nation state—communism, fascism or parliamentary democracy—would predominate.
Nation states today are facing many threats. The 20th-century innovations, so decisive in ending the "Long War," have led to developments that will ultimately weaken nation states, said Bobbitt. These developments include transnational threats such as AIDS and global warming; a global system of finance that makes it impossible to control currency; an international system of laws; a system of global communication; and the development, spread and diffusion of weapons of mass destruction.
Bobbitt said the premise of a nation state is "Give us power and we will improve the material well-being of the people." What happens if the nation state falls short? "If a state can no longer fulfill the premise of steadily improving material well-being, including the security of its … people, the state will change the nature of that premise. It won't simply go out of business; it will create a new constitutional order."
The new order slowly emerging today is the market state. "The market state doesn't exist yet and it will be some time before it does," said Bobbitt. The objective of the market state is "Give us power and we will improve not your material well being, per se, but your opportunity," said Bobbitt. Elements of this change can be seen already in the decreasing rise of law and regulation, so characteristic of nation states, and the increasing rise in market activities. For example, Bobbitt said, "When we moved from welfare reform, from providing generous subsidies to providing education for employment, we went from techniques of the nation state to the market state."
With the emergence of the market state, changes in strategic innovations in warfare will occur. "For the five centuries I write about in 'Shield of Achilles,' it has taken a state to destroy another state," said Bobbitt. "Only states could muster armies, organize them, equip them to threaten the existence of another state. That's no longer true. As we move into the 21st century, it will become more and more possible for small groups, operating with weapons of mass destruction, using the benefit of international communications and computers, to deal horrific blows against states. The attacks of 9/11 were harbingers of that future."
In remarks following Bobbitt's presentation, Sir Michael said, "Philip's book is wonderful. I read it over and over again and I am constantly seeing new insights, new understanding of the past."
Sir Michael offered additional thoughts on the nature of the nation state. He pointed out that the nation state is not simply a provider of protection and services. The nation state offers something far deeper and more profound. A sense of emotional loyalty holds it together, a loyalty that is necessary to persuade people to die for it, said Sir Michael. He questioned whether the market state could generate such loyalty.
Donna Urschel is a freelance writer.