Evolution of the state

Week 6


In week 6 we will focus on the main lines of Bobbitt’s argument about the evolution of the state, then in week 7 we will explore the alternative visions of the market state, which he describes.


Philipp Bobbitt’s account of the evolution of the state is valuable for strategic thinkers in general, and military leaders in particular for two reasons.


First, Bobbitt provides a cogent explanation of the interaction of political, military-technological, and social-legal phenomena.  The role of changing technology in war-fighting and the formation of the state draws our attention to the role of force within and between states. In this sense, Bobbitt is a Weberian: the state monopolizes the legitimate use of force, but also provides protection for its citizens. He cites Tilly more than Weber, and Tilly’s brilliant conception of state-making as organized crime is in evidence: the state makes war to extract resources, extracts resources to build state power, and protect its population from the depredations of war-making by other states.

(Tilly, 1985, 183)

Secondly, Bobbitt is a practitioner as well as a scholar.  He served in the Clinton administration while the “sole remaining superpower” grappled with the after-effects of the Cold War.  When he writes in Chapter 11, “the end of the Long War has brought to an end the usefulness of the strategic paradigm that structured so much of American policy…” he is speaking with the experience of a senior policy advisor who has had to recommend action (or inaction) during the collapse of Somalia, the Balkan civil war of the 1990s, the Rwandan genocide, and the upheavals of Europe’s adjustments to German reunification and Russian intervention in the near abroad in the name of peacekeeping and stabilization.  His chapter on the Kitty Genovese incident is as much introspective as exculpatory, I think.


Against this background, his four-part series in two books can be seen as an attempt to situate a major power in the historical stream of evolving states and markets: he moves from states of war in the era of state-making, to states of peace in the aftermath of the “long war” of the twentieth century, but finds that the post-war period is not as peaceful as market liberalism might suggest it should be. As a lawyer, he remains a staunch advocate of a rules-based order, but seems at a loss to explain the failings of markets that account for the great divergence described equally by Polanyi in the middle of the century, and Clark at its end.  As he moves towards

Learning Objectives

  1. Descrine at the historical evolution of the contemporary nation-state as Bobbitt explains it.
  2. Explain the relationship between the peace-treaties following epochal wars, and the international orders that they create.
  3. Apply Bobbitt’s concepts of “market state” alternatives to the contemporary world created by the end of the “long war” of the twentieth century.

Required Reading

We will spread out the reading of Bobbitt (a big book) over the next three weeks, but the faster you grasp the content and themes of the book as a whole, the more sense this will make.  The optional conversation with Bobbitt, linked below, is a good place to start, and you don’t miss much if you listen to the audio without any visual.


Read Bobbitt, Introductions: Law, Strategy, and History (about 20 pp)


Examine plates I to V – this is the heart of Bobbitt’s analysis of patterns of history. Note the sequence and subject of the plates. Note the cusp years, and key events in each category.


Skim Bobbitt, Chapters 1-8.


Read Bobbitt, Chapters 9 and 10. Bobbitt focuses on states, strategy, law, and war, but he cannot avoid addressing market regulation, and the concept of market management runs through the first part of the book as a sub-text, and dominates the second half of the book, even when the word “markets” isn’t as prominent as it is in chapters 10, 11, 24, and 25.


Read the introduction to Bobbitt, part II, and Chapter 17.


Skim Chapters 11-13, paying attention to the sequence of major treaties and the relationship to the epochs described in plates I to V. Skim chapters 18-23.

Optional Reading / viewing

conversation with Philipp Bobbitt about his two books, Shield of Achilles, and Terror and Consent. This is a one-hour conversation, and provides the best overview of Bobbitt’s ideas about the role of epochal wars in shaping the nature of the state, and the relationship between his two books, originally conceived as two volumes of one work, but reshaped for publishers.


Tilly, C., Evans, P. B., Rueschemeyer, D., & Skocpol, T. (1985). War making and state making as organized crime (pp. 169-191). Cambridge University Press.


Post your answers to the self-assessment questions on the week 6 discussion forum before Thursday 2300 EST.

Self-Assessment Questions

  1. In Bobbitt’s view, what are forces driving evolution and change in the nature of the state?  What is a state?  How does it interact with markets?
  2. How are constitutional orders established?  What is the relationship between constitutional orders and the maintenance of international markets?
  3. Compare Bobbitt’s constitutional orders to the types of states that appear to exist in the world today.  Are there examples of Princely or territorial states? How would you classify warlords and failed states? How do different types of market states interact with the global economy?


Rather than continue to try to fight intermittently effective communications, we will shift to asynchronous mode.  You should be allocating about 9 hours per week to the course, for reading and posting on Moodle.  The examples posted in week  5 give you a model for how to respond to the self-assessment questions, or use the discussion forum to post questions. I have  provided examples of posts online in week 5.


I remain available both on and off schedule for individual or group consultations, and expect to check in at least weekly virtually or physically with each student.

David Last, updated September 2014, lastdav@gmail.com