The New Leviathan

Reputation in any field is an elusive phenomenon: part notoriety, part honor, part fame, part critical assessment. Even in legal scholarship it has an uneven, unpredictable quality. It is hard to imagine a book by a law professor that has had more immediate impact on world leaders than Philip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles. Much of the national-security strategy devised by the U.S. administration after the September 11 attacks expresses ideas Bobbitt conceived long before; and from a different point on the political spectrum is the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose televised nationwide address in January explicitly took the book as its text. The British Foreign Secretary, the E.U. Commissioner for External Relations, and the international security advisor to the Secretary General of the E.U. have all made speeches that draw on Bobbitt’s ideas. In January of 2003, the Guardian newspaper stated that “among [the] powerful, one book has become required reading.” This established British liberal voice echoed the suggestion by the American conservative National Review that “[t]his book – with its masterly reappraisal of modern history and subtle el.ucidation of today’s geopolitics – should be on every desk in the State Department,” and its conservative companion the Weekly Standard recommended that it “should become required reading not only in the academy but for the military and civilian decision-makers of the industrialized world.” For all this, Bobbitt’s book is likelier to have more influence than renown; as with his earlier works, which have reshaped a number of fields, he remains, in the U.S. at least, the most influential person of whom you have never heard.