Philip Bobbitt is a former senior official of the US government and holds a chair in constitutional law at the University of Texas. His latest book is The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History.
1. The Iliad by Homer
It implicitly asserts that no particular people, era or group is intrinsically evil, and that no particular class or country is predestined as the one and only bearer of civilisation. The Iliad puts the concept of force at the centre of human relations. I especially like the recent translation by Robert Fagles.
2. The Pelopponesian War by Thucydides
Thucydides was the first historian to discard the role of gods in favour of human agency and thus integrated war and politics; Bolingbroke attributed to Thucydides the notion that history is philosophy by example.
3. The Discourses by Machiavelli
Less well-known than The Prince, these essays deal with the problem of legitimacy in a republic, and dispute the idea that economic relations are the principal determinants of success in war.
4. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
The key discourse on how to make a limited sovereign safe in the world and yet protective of its people’s rights, thus uniting the subjects of strategy and law.
5. Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein
This book is as important for our time as Kant’s Perpetual Peace was for Wittgenstein’s (it argued that international harmony can be the unintended result of discord). Wittgenstein too is concerned with the limits on what we can and cannot say and know, with lethal implications for natural law, much social science, and reductionism generally.
6. The Anarchical Society by Hedley Bull and The Expansion of International Society by Adam Watson and Hedley Bull
Important works that, like Hobbes, relate the nature of the state to the international system, written in a clear, empirical style.
7. Collected Essays: War, ed. Lawrence Freedman or Makers of Modern Strategy, ed. Peter Paret
The former contains many more essays on contemporary issues, the latter features fewer essays of greater length including important discussions of Machiavelli and Clausewitz.
8. New and Collected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz
Many of these poems deal with the interrelation between history, warfare and legitimacy.
9. The Causes of War by Michael Howard
This collection contains the classic essay The Forgotten Dimension of Strategy which alone is worth the price of admission. Some readers will note that Howard’s most recent book, The Invention of Peace, is also destined for permanence.
10. Global Scenarios, ed. BS Flowers
The Royal Dutch Shell Corporation scenarios for the future, virtually a classified document in the business world but available every three years in a much-abridged pamphlet edition for the public.