Longtime Texas Law Professor Knighted

Professor Philip Bobbitt, Distinguished Senior Lecturer at The University of Texas School of Law, has received an honor shared by very few Americans—an appointment as an honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Portrait of Professor Philip Bobbitt
Photo credit: Rick Patrick

The honorary award, recognizing Bobbitt’s services to United Kingdom/United States relations and public life, was conferred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

As an honorary knight, Bobbitt joins the rarified ranks of previous recipients including Presidents of the United States Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Dwight D. Eisenhower; philanthropists Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and Mark Getty; former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Martin Dempsey; and the filmmaker Steven Spielberg.  It is a rare honor for any American, and rarer still for an American law professor; Bobbitt is the first in 73 years.

“Philip Bobbitt has brought immense distinction to The University of Texas for decades, and he continues to do so as a Distinguished Senior Lecturer at the Law School,” remarked law school Dean Ward Farnsworth. “He is one of the greatest legal minds of his generation. We are all deeply proud to see his contributions rightfully recognized in this extraordinary way.”

Prof. Bobbitt is also a Senior Research Fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He serves as the Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence at Columbia University and Director of the Center on National Security at the Columbia Law School. Widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading constitutional theorists and an expert in national security, Bobbitt has published ten books including The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (Knopf, 2002), Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (Knopf, 2008), The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made (Atlantic, 2013), The Ages of American Law (with Gilmore, 2d edition) (Yale, 2015), and Impeachment: A Handbook (with Black, new edition) (Yale, 2018).

In addition to his academic career, Prof. Bobbitt has been an energetic public servant and has served the United States government during seven administrations, Democratic and Republican. His scholarship calls for a new Atlanticism; for coordination with the United Kingdom in the making of American policy toward Europe; and for closer economic and trade planning between the United States and United Kingdom in the G20.

Prominent voices in both the UK and US political spheres have expressed their pleasure upon hearing the news.

“I am delighted that Philip has been recognised in this way,” said Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. “He has been a staunch, steadfast, and often passionate advocate for the USA/UK relationship, someone who combines the highest standards of intellectual thought and scholarship with a strong set of values and principles.”

“Philip Bobbitt warrants the uncommon granting of a UK knighthood for his important writings in law, philosophy and national security, his highly regarded teaching, his service in government, and his tireless commitment to preserving and enhancing the relationship between the US and UK,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67th United States Secretary of State. “This is a well-deserved and timely honor.”

Henry Kissinger, 56th United States Secretary of State, remarked, “Philip Bobbitt is one of the most distinguished philosophers of our time. I have benefited enormously from his wisdom and so have the readers of his extraordinary work. I’m happy that he has received this important recognition.”

Upon accepting the title, Prof. Bobbitt said, “I’m greatly moved by this honour which I take as a recognition and reaffirmation of certain bonds that link the United States and the United Kingdom—commitment to the rule of law, collective security, and the preservation of the values of liberal democracy—to which my work has been devoted. Our many friends in America and Britain I imagine will be deeply pleased. They all know, however, that I am only a placeholder for the countless persons who have long nurtured a tradition of mutual affection, esteem, and reliance between our two countries.”

We are pleased to share Prof. Bobbitt’s personal statement in full below.

I am delighted to accept this distinguished honour.  I think it is more a tribute to the UK/US “special relationship” than it is to any one person, however, so let me say a few words about this familiar phrase of Winston Churchill’s.

The special relationship is unique not because it is built out of affinity or simply the calculation of self-interest, but because it is built out of history – and out of our shared reliance on law. Law is most effective when it is consonant with our cultural predispositions as well as when it efficiently serves our interests. But there is far more to the rule of law – the ‘thrilling Anglo American tradition’ as Henry Hart called it – than effectiveness. It is the stuff out of which our commitments are made and carried out.

Throughout my work I have argued for the primacy of the human conscience as the indispensable element in that legal and political tradition. On that basis, and only on that basis, can a legitimate democracy be maintained. Moreover, the geopolitical security of the democracies also depends upon a common commitment to the values of liberal constitutionalism and human rights. The institutions of the common law, the legal fortifications of rights against the State, an alliance system for collective defense, and the search for common economic interests with other nations are among the legacies Britain has bequeathed to the United States.

That inheritance doesn’t mean that these institutions can be put on auto-pilot; there will be lapses and mistakes and disappointments.  I might describe the special relationship as Auden described most romantic relationships in a poem called Law Like Love:

Like love we don’t know where or why,

Like love we can’t compel or fly,

Like love we often weep,

Like love we seldom keep.

If the most successful individual is one who sees himself as others see him, the most successful relationships often consist of those who see each other as each sees himself. I hope my work has contributed to some degree, however modest, to this special – and on the whole, successful – relationship.  And on the occasion of this handsome honour, I hope that both countries will take guidance from that worthy man, Chaucer’s Knyght who loved, “Trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisie.”

Philip Bobbitt

 

Read the official press release from the British Consulate-General New York.