Philip Bobbitt

Philip Bobbitt
Philip Bobbitt

Born July 22, 1948 (1948-07-22) (age 63)
Temple, Texas
Nationality United States
Fields Law, history
Institutions Columbia Law School
Alma mater Princeton University
Yale Law School
Oxford University

Philip Chase Bobbitt (born July 22, 1948) is an American author, academic, and public servant who has lectured in the United Kingdom. He is best known for work on military strategy and constitutional law and theory, and as the author of Constitutional Fate: Theory of the Constitution (1982), The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002) and Terror and Consent: the Wars for the Twenty-first Century (2008).



Family and origins

Philip Bobbitt was born in Temple, Texas. He is the only child of Oscar Price Bobbitt (died 1995) (son of Oscar Price Bobbitt and Maude Wisner) and Rebekah Luruth Johnson Bobbitt (1910–1978) (daughter of Sam Johnson and Rebekah Baines). O.P. Bobbitt was a direct descendant of Henry Wisner, the only delegate from New York to vote for the Declaration of Independence and William Bobbitt, a Virginia planter (d. 1673). Rebekah Bobbitt's father and grandfather were members of the Texas Legislature; her great grandfather was president of Baylor University. Bobbitt is the nephew of Lyndon Baines Johnson, president of the United States from 1963 to 1969; Rebekah Bobbitt was the eldest sister of the 36th president. Between high school and college, Bobbitt resided for the summer in the White House.


Bobbitt graduated with an A.B. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1971 where his thesis advisor was Richard Rorty (thesis: On Wittgenstein and a Philosophical Topology). At Princeton he was president of the Ivy Club and Chairman of the Nassau Lit. In 1975 he received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was Article Editor of the Yale Law Journal and taught at Yale College. It was at Yale that he met Charles L. Black (1915–2001); Black became a mentor to Bobbitt. He received his M.A and Ph.D. (Modern History) from Oxford in 1983.

Scholar of law and history

After his graduation from Yale, Philip Bobbitt clerked for Judge Henry Jacob Friendly (1903–1986) of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit after which he returned to Austin. His first book Tragic Choices (1978), written with Yale Law Professor (later Dean and Judge of the Second Circuit) Guido Calabresi was a study of how societies make certain decisions---who gets expensive medical care, who is to be drafted into the army, who may have children, and similar choices by which societies are defined. It has won a number of awards and is studied in other disciplines as well as law.

Bobbitt was also at Nuffield College, Oxford, where he was Anderson Senior Research Fellow and a member of the Modern History faculty from 1983 to 1990; later he was the Marsh Christian Senior Research Fellow in the Department of War Studies at King's College London 1994-1997. From 1981 to 1982, and again in 2004 he was visiting research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Until 2007, Bobbitt held the A.W. Walker Centennial Chair at the University of Texas, where he taught constitutional law. In 2005 he was the James Barr Ames Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; in 2007, Bobbitt was the Samuel Rubin Visiting Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, where he accepted a permanent chair later that year; he is now the Herbert Wechsler Professor of Jurisprudence at Columbia and Director of the Center for National Security there. He remains Distinguished Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas Law School and Senior Fellow in the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas.

He is a Fellow of the Club of Madrid, a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Pacific Council on International Affairs, the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law, a Life Member of the American Law Institute, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He serves as a member of the Commission on the Continuity of Government and serves on the Task Force on Law and National Security of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. In May 2010 he was appointed to serve as a member of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on International Law.

Views on Constitutional Law

Like many contemporary scholars, Bobbitt believes that the constitution's durability rests, in part, in the flexible manner in which it can be and has been interpreted since its creation. He emphasizes the "modalities of constitutional argument": 1) structural; 2) textual; 3) ethical; 4) prudential; 5) historical; and 6) doctrinal. He has argued in his books for the recognition of the ethical modality, which has to do with the traditional vision we have of the nation and the role government ought to play (some scholars call this form "argument from tradition"). He first introduced these forms of argument---or modalities---as a way of understanding constitutional review generally in "Constitutional Fate: Theory of the Constitution" (1982), a study of judicial review and then broadened their application to constitutional review generally in Constitutional Interpretation (1993) which deals with non-judicial examples of constitutional argument and decision making. Bobbitt asserts that all branches of government have a duty to assess the constitutionality of their actions. Constitutional Fate is a commonly used text in courses on constitutional law throughout the U.S.[citation needed]

Government service

Bobbitt has also served extensively in government, for both Democratic and Republican administrations. In the 1970s, he was Associate Counsel to President Carter for which he received the Certificate of Meritorious Service and worked with Lloyd Cutler on the charter of the Central Intelligence Agency (Austin Chronicle, June 21, 2002). He later was Legal Counsel to the Iran-Contra Committee in the U. S. Senate, the Counselor for International Law at the State Department during the George H. W. Bush administration, and served at the National Security Council, where he was director for Intelligence Programs, senior director for Critical Infrastructure, and senior director for Strategic Planning during Bill Clinton's presidency.

The Shield of Achilles

In 2002 Philip Bobbitt published The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (Knopf), an ambitious 900-page work that explicates a theory, verging on philosophy, of historical change in the modern era, and a history of the development of modern constitutional and international law. Bobbitt traces interacting patterns in the (mainly modern European) history of strategic innovations, major wars, peace conferences, international diplomacy and constitutional standards for states. Bobbitt also suggests possible future scenarios and policies appropriate to them.

Arguing that "law and strategy are not merely made in history . . . they are made of history" (p. 5), Bobbitt presents a dynamic view of historical change that has a dark, tragic dimension, for he holds that the painful and, indeed, atrocious process of resolving issues that create conflict and war tends to cause changes that render obsolete the solution to that conflict (generally a new form of the state possessing a new principle of legitimacy), even as it is established. This tragic dimension is evoked in the title of Bobbitt's book, inspired by the extraordinary last lines of Book 18 of Homer's Iliad, describing a shield fabricated for Achilles by the Hephaestus, across the "vast expanse" of which "with all his craft and cunning/the god creates a world of gorgeous immortal work" (trans. Robert Fagles).

The Shield of Achilles generated much interest in the diplomatic and political community. Public officials who follow Bobbitt's works include the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who built his Dimbleby Lecture around Bobbitt's thesis; and the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, who referred to Bobbit's book in a 2004 address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Lecture.[1]

The book and its thesis has also been discussed by the Vice-President of India, Prince Hassan of Jordan, and other political figures. It is currently being translated into Mandarin by a team at the University of Beijing.

Terror and Consent

In 2008 Knopf published Bobbitt's Terror and Consent: the Wars for the Twenty-first Century, which applied many of the ideas of The Shield of Achilles to the problems of wars on terror. Terror and Consent was on both the New York Times and the London Evening Standard’s best-seller lists and was widely reviewed. Among others, Senator John McCain praised the book as “the best book I’ve ever read on terrorism,” and Henry Kissinger called Bobbitt, “perhaps the most important political philosopher today.” Tony Blair wrote of Terror and Consent, “It may be written by an academic but it is actually required reading for political leaders.” David Cameron, the leader of the Tory party in the UK put it on a list of summer reading for his parliamentary colleagues in 2008. In Terror & Consent, Bobbitt argued that the only justification for warfare in the 21st century was to protect human rights.

Other activities

Since 1990, Bobbitt has endowed the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, awarded biennially by the Library of Congress. It is the only prize given by the nation for poetry. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a former trustee of Princeton University. In 2004 Prospect Magazine named him One of Britain's Top 100 Public Intellectuals. He occasionally writes essays, typically on foreign policy, published in The New York Times, and The Guardian (of London).




  • "War Powers: An Essay on John Hart Ely's War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath." Michigan Law Quarterly 92, no. 6 (May 1994): 1364-1400. (Argues for the unconstitutionality of the War Powers Resolution.)
  • "The Warrantless Debate Over Wiretapping." The New York Times, August 22, 2007. (Argues for the necessity of legislation amending the legal framework for the interception of communications from foreign sources.)

See also


External links

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