BOBBITT: Exactly. They became anaerobic — less and less capable. The only one left standing was the parliamentary nation-state. And paradoxically, at this moment of its greatest achievement, the legitimacy of the nation-state itself began to erode, because the parliamentary regimes were also becoming anaerobic. The fundamental legitimating compact of the nation-state — the welfare of the people — is increasingly impossible to fulfill. That doesn’t mean the state itself will go out of business; it has simply transmuted into a different form, the market-state.
The Rise of the Market-State
S+B: How is the market-state different?
BOBBITT: It has different goals. The most dynamic economic and political institutions right now are those that have abandoned the goal of redistributing wealth, in favor of increasing wealth for the total society.
S+B: For example?
BOBBITT: I’ll give you three examples. One is the shift from a conscripted army to an all-volunteer force. A draft is based on the notion of equality; everyone serves. To be sure, there are draft dodgers and deferments; but there is also a fundamental assumption that the responsibility for war should be distributed across a very broad base of people. A volunteer army concentrates the “goods” — or in this case, the “bads” — of risk, in a much more narrow sector.
Another is the deregulation trend. When you remove regulations to make industry more dynamic, you’re sacrificing the egalitarian consequences of political rules. When you deregulate women’s reproduction, you decentralize decisions about population. You take those decisions away from the legislatures that had criminalized abortion and, in some cases, contraception.
And a third example is the devolution of the welfare state. When you shift from unemployment compensation to job retraining, it allows individuals to leave one narrow labor market and look for different opportunities.
In all these cases, you have gone from the characteristic moves of an egalitarian distributor of wealth to a state that creates wealth, without an overriding concern with the way wealth is distributed. The total pie gets bigger, but you invariably have people and groups that are left behind. That, of course, is one of the great challenges in the market-state. How do you countervail this dynamic? Different market-states will choose to do this differently.
S+B: Let me ask a naive question. Do we know for a fact that when a state tries to distribute wealth, it will inevitably hobble entrepreneurship and opportunity?
BOBBITT: I certainly don’t know that is a fact. But I do know these facts: For demographic reasons, and for reasons of capital formation and innovation, it will be very hard for welfare states like Germany to continue a redistribution agenda in the 21st century. Whether or not the allegedly innovative, opportunity-creating, deregulated enterprises will fare better — as their champions say they will — I don’t know. It’s probably too soon to say. But I think that’s the direction we’re going to turn to, as the old system fails. Let me add, though, that I’m not an advocate of the market-state. It’s not necessarily to my taste. But this is just the way I think society is moving.
Leading Two Lives
S+B: How did you get started on this inquiry in the first place?
BOBBITT: For a long time, I led two parallel academic lives. In the United States, after I returned from clerking in New York City, I taught in Austin at the law school of the University of Texas. I lived on the same street where I grew up. Then, after spending some time in Washington, I went to Britain and began teaching the history of strategy. My particular specialty was nuclear war strategy and national security policy. I didn’t teach any law in Britain, and I didn’t teach policy or history in Austin. For another 10 or 15 years, I was very happy keeping them separate — just as they had been kept separate in the government of the state. The state tended to treat constitutional law as an internal political matter, and its strategic objectives, particularly in the U.S., as professional, external, not to be politicized.