The Paradoxical State

As I've read further in The Shield of Achilles, I'm realizing that it speaks loudly to an audience of foreign policy analysts in the State Department, trade policy analysts in the Commerce Department and military strategy analysts in the Defense Department. This target audience also includes like-minded analysts worldwide, the legislatures of sovereign nations and the heads of state. The lenses of constitutional law, strategy and history serve these audiences very well. The argument serves as a wake-up call to complacent bureaucrats maintaining the status quo in their specialties within the broad and complex field of International Relations. Many of the changes foreseen in this book have been realized in our post 9/11 world.

I now have a better grasp of Philip Bobbitt's meaning when he uses the term "market-state" and claims it's replacing the "Nation-States" of the twentieth century. I continue to dislike the term from the perspective my own lenses, but I now see it as well-chosen for what I suspect is the book's targeted audience. I'm now seeing The Shield of Achilles as valuable for different reasons than the book claims to offer the reader. My view is necessarily "off-radar" of outlooks that prioritize national sovereignty, legal entities and relations formalized through the time-honored use of constitutions, laws, treaties, contracts and policies.

In find his embrace of a panorama of complexity and connectedness to be the greatest contribution of The Shield of Achilles. Bobbitt presents the historical formation of nation states with far more nuances than the simplistic claim that they resulted from the Peace of Westphalia. He sees the long string of wars through the last century as connected to a continuous question of legitimacy. He foresees the emergent increases in interdependencies between the public and private sectors. He recognizes the symbiosis between NGO's and government agencies. He welcomes governmental roles in the commercial success of multi-national corporations as well as the restraint of corporate excesses in response to activists of every stripe. He combines the need for centralized decisions made in secrecy and distributed authority that operates with commensurate transparency.

When explored logically, each of these insights amount to paradoxes. The book points us toward lots of answers to the question: "When is a State not a State?". Here are some of those answers I've realized:
  • When the State serves an array of interests of corporations, NGO's, protesters, constituencies, trading partners and other States not acting like States
  • When the State relies on non-State entities to perform the functions and to provide the value formerly associated with the role of the State
  • When the State acts as if it is both a sovereign nation and an assemblage of international relations
  • When the State protects the common goods, provides the public goods and litigates the violations of private goods
  • When the State cannot win unless its opponent also wins due to the opponent being an ally or member of a larger alliance
All these answers to "When is a State not a State?" suggest to me that the Nation-State defined by Bobbitt is becoming a Paradoxical State. It's defying logical arguments. It's providing the "best of both" solutions to quandaries. It's offering support services that superficially appear as "having your cake and eating it too" because the consumers are baking cakes too. In a world rife with ongoing conflicts, the Paradoxical State seems utopian and too good to be true. Yet in the world of increasing combinations, connections and collaborations, this seems to be a likely next phase of national and international development.

(This concludes my exploration of The Shield of Achilles).

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