THE SHIELD OF ACHILLES by Philip Bobbitt
Kirkus Star

THE SHIELD OF ACHILLES

War, Peace, and the Course of History

KIRKUS REVIEW

A brilliant, disquieting essay on geopolitics, warfare, and the future of the state.

War brings peace for only a short time, argues Bobbitt (Constitutional Law/Univ. of Texas). More commonly, war brings sweeping changes in the legal order of states and societies; without it, apparently, there can be no progress, which is one reason warfare is a constant in human history. A case in point for the author is the so-called Long War that raged around the world from 1914 to 1990. This epochal conflict produced the emergent “market-state,” just as the so-called Long Nineteenth Century produced the modern nation-state. Of this market-state Bobbitt writes rather vaguely—necessarily, given that no such government now exists and that the world’s fortunes can turn in many possible directions (many of them terribly bad) over the next few years. Clearly, he argues, the nation-state is outmoded on several fronts. The contemporary world, for instance, is more and more inclined to insist that states respect the human rights of their citizens no matter what their internal laws, thus legitimizing interventions in places such as Afghanistan or Bosnia and weakening the old idea of the sovereign polity that can do just about whatever it wishes within its territorial borders. Advances in finance and communications have also left the nation-state behind: “There is a grotesque disparity,” Bobbitt writes, “between the rapid movement of international capital and the ponderous and territorially circumscribed responses of the nation-state, as clumsy as a bear chained to a stake, trying to chase a shifting beam of light.” How a government primarily concerned with providing services and dominating the market will be more responsive to extra-mercantile issues remains to be seen, but throughout this hugely ambitious (and huge) treatise, Bobbitt poses scenarios that for ardent democrats will range from the scarcely comforting to the bleak, with rays of hope in very short supply.

Few historical studies are as daring and engaging as this. Highly recommended for students of foreign policy, history, and global trends.

Pub Date: May 20th, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-41292-1
Page count: 976pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2002




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