Jean Bethke Elshtain: Politics, Ethics, and Society

Univ. of Notre Dame. (Catholic Ideas for a Secular World). Apr. 2018. 390p. ed. by Debra Erickson & . notes. index. ISBN 9780268103057. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780268103088. PHIL
Jean Bethke Elshtain (1941–2013) was a distinguished political philosopher who opposed many dominant trends in her field. As the contributors to this volume point out, she closely related personal life and politics. Family life must not be subordinated to politics, and William A. Galston notes the importance for her of the tragic figure of Antigone in illustrating this issue. In contrast to supporters of "public reason," who separate religion and the state, Elshtain thought them inextricably intertwined. Here St. Augustine is a crucial figure influencing her, as several scholars, including Nigel Biggar and Eric Gregory, emphasize. She learned from Augustine the importance of limits to politics. Human nature was fallen, and totalitarian movements brought about enormous harm by ignoring this. In assessing the state's claim to sovereignty, Elshtain once again drew on theology, showing parallels between notions of sovereignty and views about God's omnipotence. Though denouncing the omnipotent state, Elshtain believed the state had a proper role in resisting evil; and in foreign policy, she was often an interventionist. The "Christian realism" of Reinhold Niebuhr was a key influence.
VERDICT A valuable work for anyone interested in political theory and a useful companion to Elshtain's own books, such as Sovereignty: God, State, and Self and Just War Against Terror.
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