Philip Bobbitt

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Philip Bobbitt
Born (1948-07-22) July 22, 1948 (age 72)
EducationPrinceton University (AB)
Yale University (JD)
Oxford University (MA, PhD)
RelativesLyndon B. Johnson (uncle)
Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. (grandfather)

Philip Chase Bobbitt (born July 22, 1948)[1] is an American author, academic, and lawyer. He is best known for work on military strategy and constitutional law and theory, and as the author of several books: 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). He is currently the Herbert Wechsler Professor of Jurisprudence at Columbia University School of Law and a Distinguished Senior Lecturer at The University of Texas School of Law.[2]

Early life[edit]

Philip Bobbitt was born in Temple, Texas. He is the only child of Oscar Price Bobbitt and Rebekah Luruth Johnson Bobbitt., the daughter of Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. O.P. Bobbitt was a direct descendant of Henry Wisner of Swiss descent, the only delegate from New York to vote for the Declaration of Independence, and was also descended from William Bobbitt, a Virginia planter (died 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 B. Johnson, president of the United States from 1963 to 1969; his mother, Rebekah Bobbitt, was the eldest sister of the 36th president. Between high school and college, Bobbitt lived in the White House and worked in the West Wing.[3]


At the age of 15, Bobbitt graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School, where he was elected president of the student council. He graduated with an A.B. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1971 where his thesis advisor was philosopher Richard Rorty. His thesis, "On Wittgenstein and a Philosophical Topology," was one of the earliest attempts to argue for an underlying continuity between the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations. While at Princeton, Bobbitt was president of the Ivy Club and Chairman of the Nassau Literary Magazine. He left Princeton after three semesters to enter VISTA. He worked in a poverty program in an all-black area of Los Angeles for two years before returning to college. 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, Jr. (1915–2001), who became a friend and mentor to Bobbitt.[4] After graduating from Yale Law School, Bobbitt clerked for Judge Henry Jacob Friendly (1903–1986) of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He received his M.A (HON) and Ph.D. in modern history from the University of Oxford in 1983.[5]


Bobbitt's first book, Tragic Choices (1978), was written with Yale Law Professor (later Dean and Judge of the Second Circuit) Guido Calabresi. The book was a study of how societies make difficult decisions concerning resources and rights—e.g., who gets expensive medical care, who is to be drafted into the army, who may have children, and other society-defining choices. Tragic Choices has won a number of awards and is studied by multiple disciplines, including law. It has been especially influential in the field of bioethics and was discussed in several countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.[6] [7]

His second book, Constitutional Fate: Theory of the Constitution, first proposed the model of the six fundamental forms of constitutional argument. One critic subsequently called it, "the outstanding recent work treating constitutional law in terms of the legitimating effects of constitutional argument. It ranks among the most original and impressive works of American jurisprudence to appear during the decade." In 1994, Akhil Amar described Constitutional Fate as "one of a handful of truly towering works of constitutional theory in the last half-century."[8] Henry Monaghan, Harlan Fiske Stone Professor of Constitutional Law, Columbia School has said of Constitutional Fate, "I did not realize it at the time Constitutional Fate was published, but I do now. This is the most important and influential book on judicial review written in my lifetime.".[9]

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.

Bobbitt has delivered the Mellon Lectures at Oxford University, the Murphy Lecture on Constitutional Law at Princeton, the All Souls College Lectures at Oxford University, among several honorary lectures. In 2016 he was awarded the Jean Mayer Global Citizen Award by Tufts University.

He has been elected a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Pacific Council on International Affairs, the American Society of International Law, a Life Member of the American Law Institute, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Royal Historical Society. In 1994, he was a Fellow at the Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington. He serves as a member of the Commission on the Continuity of Government and served on the Task Force on Law and National Security of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. For some years he has been a juror for the Civil Courage Prize. In May 2010, he was appointed to serve as a member of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on International Law. In 2011, he was elected to membership in the Common Room at All Souls College, Oxford. In 2012, Bobbitt was appointed to the External Advisory Board for the Central Intelligence Agency, on which he served until January 2017.

Views on constitutional law[edit]

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] Bobbitt's "modalities" of constitutional law are now generally considered to be the standard model for constitutional arguments.[10]

Government service[edit]

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. He was a principal draftsman of PDD63, the first presidential document to establish a strategy for critical infrastructure and cyber protection.[11] Subsequently he was strategist in residence to the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, and has lectured at West Point, Annapolis, and the National Defense University where for some years he delivered the annual opening keynote lecture.

The Shield of Achilles[edit]

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, actually a 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 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.

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 Peking University.

The Shield of Achilles was the 2003 Grand Prize Winner of the Hamilton Awards and the Arthur Ross Book Award Bronze Medalist of the Council on Foreign Relations for Best Book in Foreign Policy of that year. The noted British historian, Sir Michael Howard, prophesied that, The Shield of Achilles "will be one of the most important works on international relations published during the last fifty years" and Paul Kennedy, writing in The New York Review of Books argued that it may "become a classic for future generations." One reviewer called it, "an authentic work of genius", concluding, "If you ever wonder what works from our era will be read as The Prince or Leviathan are read, think of The Shield of Achilles.

Terror and Consent[edit]

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. The front page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review called it, "quite simply the most profound book to have been written on the subject of American foreign policy since the attacks of 9/11 — indeed, since the end of the cold war." 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.

In 2017, he had a spirited exchange arguing that litigation is not the exclusive legal method for determining constitutionality in national security affairs and that law applied even when the constitutional issue in question was not justiciable. General Sir Rupert Smith wrote that Terror and Consent, "shows more convincingly than any other book I know, why the defeat of terrorism must be brought about within the context of law."

The Garments of Court and Palace[edit]

In 2013, Bobbitt published a study of Niccolo Machiavelli entitled The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made. In this book he argues that only by understanding The Prince as one half of a constitutional treatise on the State (the other being Machiavelli's Discourses) can we reconcile the many otherwise contradictory elements of his work. Bobbitt also situates this constitutional treatise in the politics of Machiavelli's day. Quentin Skinner observed in the New York Review of Books of the rash of publications on the 500th anniversary of The Prince that:[12]

Bobbitt’s central thesis about The Prince seems to me to embody a valuable corrective. He is right to stress that, not only in the famous letter to Vettori but in several subsequent references, Machiavelli speaks of his book not as The Prince but as a work on principalities. It is also true that the first half of The Prince is largely given over to a taxonomy of different kinds of state and how they can be acquired, whether by inheritance, donation, election, or conquest. Most important, Bobbitt is right to emphasize what he describes as Machiavelli’s reification of the state as an entity with its own reality that is not to be identified with the personal power of the prince. This development seems especially worth emphasizing in view of the fact that the term state is so often used nowadays as little more than a synonym for government. Bobbitt has already stressed in The Shield of Achilles how much is lost if we refuse to conceptualize the state as a distinct apparatus of power, and he now points to Machiavelli as the originator of this line of thought.

— Quentin Skinner, What Should You Learn from Machiavelli?, New York Review of Books

Other reviews noted: "Bobbitt … presents a pithy, eloquent argument for The Prince as a ‘constitutional tract’ and Machiavelli as the ‘spiritual forefather’ of the US Constitution … [The Garments is] well worth reading."[13] "Despite its rigor, the book is anything but a bore, and Bobbitt employs apposite historical asides from Italy and elsewhere to make his points. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of statecraft"[14] "Riddles for centuries, the beginning and ending of Machiavelli’s The Prince have finally found a plausible explanation. Bobbitt finds that explanation in Machiavelli's abiding desire, expressed in his Discourses on Livy, to see feudal regimes replaced by modern, constitutionally ordered states. … [P]rovocative." —Booklist 270.[15]

Other activities[edit]

Since 1990, Bobbitt has endowed the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, awarded biennially by the Library of Congress.[16] 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. He has served on the boards of the Institute for Religious Studies; the Barbara Jordan Freedom Foundation; the Rothko Interfaith Chapel, and the Editorial Board of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. He is a member of the Executive Committee of The Pilgrims.



  • Constitutional Fate: Theory of the Constitution. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-19-503422-8
  • Democracy and Deterrence: The History and Future of Nuclear Strategy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987. ISBN 0-312-00523-7
  • United States Nuclear Strategy: A Reader. (Co-editor, with Gregory F. Treverton and Lawrence Freedman.) New York: New York University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8147-1107-3
  • Tragic Choices. (Co-author: Guido Calabresi.) New York: W.W. Norton, 1990. ISBN 0-393-09085-X
  • Constitutional Interpretation. Blackwell, 1991. ISBN 0-631-16485-5
  • The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History. Foreword by Michael Howard. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. ISBN 0-375-41292-1 (Paperback [2003] ISBN 0-385-72138-2), 2003 Grand Prize Winner, Robert W. Hamilton Awards and Bronze Medalist, Arthur Ross Book Award
  • Terror and Consent: the Wars for the Twenty-first Century. Knopf/Penguin, 2008.
  • Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made. New York. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013 . ISBN 978-0-8021-2074-8
  • The Ages of American Law, second edition.. (Lead Author: Grant Gilmore.) New Haven: Yale University Press, 2d Edition [2014] ISBN 978-0300189919
  • Impeachment: A Handbook. (Lead Author: Charles L. Black, Jr.) New Haven: Yale University Press [2018] ISBN 978-0-300-23826-6


Personal life[edit]

In 2011, Bobbitt married Maya Ondalikoglu, a Turkish Columbia Law student. They were married by Associate Justice Elena Kagan in her chambers. The couple had their first child, a son named Philip Baines Nizami "Pasha" Bobbitt, on June 30, 2012. On May 29, 2014, a second child, a daughter named Rebekah Josefa Sevier Bobbitt was born. On May 5, 2019, twin daughters were born, Eliza Bunton Desha Bobbitt and Louisa Maud Philippa Bobbitt. All the Bobbitt children were baptized at St. James' Church, Piccadilly, by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Philip Bobbitt: The presidents' brain". The Independent. 2008-07-20. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  2. ^ "Philip C Bobbitt | Texas Law Faculty | Texas Law". Retrieved 2019-12-14.
  3. ^ Lat, David. "A Law School Love Story: Prominent Professor Marries Columbia 3L". Above the Law. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  4. ^ "For My Friend".
  5. ^ "Philip C. Bobbitt". Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  6. ^ Collins, Philip. "Johnson's tragedy is that he has no safe option". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  7. ^ Conti, Roberto. "Tragic choices, 42 anni dopo. Philip Bobbitt riflette sulla pandemia" (in Italian). Retrieved 2020-05-17.
  8. ^ Amar, Akhil (June 1994). "In Praise of Bobbitt". Texas Law Review. 72 (7): 1703.
  9. ^ Constitutional Fate, 2d edition, forthcoming 2021
  10. ^ Bobbitt, Philip (1980-01-01). "Constitutional Fate". Texas L. Rev. 58: 695.
  11. ^ "Philip Bobbitt". The Montgomery Fellows. 2016-12-29. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  12. ^ Skinner, Quentin (2014), "What Should You Learn from Machiavelli?", New York Review of Books, 61 (10)
  13. ^ Kavenna, Joanna, "... The Garments of Court and Palace, by Philip Bobbitt", The Spectator (UK), 27 July 2013.
  14. ^ Mancusi, Nicholas, "This Week’s Hot Reads", The Daily Beast, July 1, 2013.
  15. ^ "The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made" Bobbitt, Philip, summary page. Retrieved 2017-01-08.
  16. ^ Holmes, Anne (2018-06-06). "Nominations Open for 2018 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry | From the Catbird Seat: Poetry & Literature at the Library of Congress". Retrieved 2020-10-20.

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