One of the most perceptive and ambidextrous social commentators of our day, Augustinian scholar Jean Bethke Elshtain furnishes in ever fresh ways through her writings a bridge between the ancient and the modern, between politics and ethics, between timeless moral wisdom and cultural sensitivity. To read Elshtain seriously is to take the study of culture as well as the "permanent things" seriously. But Elshtain is no mere moralist. Neither is she content solely to dwell in the domain of the theoretical. (...) For it is Elshtain the citizen - the creatively engaged and contributing citizen - whom the reader encounters on virtually every page of her writings. But reader beware: Elshtain does not shy away from controversy. At the same time, she is anything but a controversialist. In the essay that follows, several prominent themes that emerge from Elstain's writings - civic responsibility, justice, gender, and war - are considered afresh. Whether one agrees with her positions or not, one is forced to confess in the end that she cares deeply about the common good. And this alone makes her required reading for any engaged citizen of the republic. (shrink)
Recent critics have called attention to the alienation of contemporary academics from broad currents of intellectual activity in public culture. The general complaint is that intellectuals are finding a professional home in institutions of higher learning, insulated from the concerns and interests of a wider reading audience. The demands of professional expertise do not encourage academics to work as public intellectuals or to take up social, literary, or political matters in imaginative and perspicuous ways. More problematic is the relative absence (...) of religion in the writings of those who aspire to work as public intellectuals. This essay reviews recent attempts by William Dean, Cornel West, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Stephen Carter, and Robin Lovin to remedy the problem of academic alienation and to address the place of religion in American life. (shrink)
Have we any obligations beyond our own borders? What form do these take? These questions are addressed through a concept of comparative justice indebted to the just war tradition and the equal moral regard of persons.
In Cultivating Citizens Dwight Allman and Michael Beaty bring together some of America's leading social and political thinkers to address the question of civic vitality in contemporary American society. The resulting volume is a serious reflection on the history of civil society and a rich and rewarding conversation about the future American civic order.
In an era in which certain arenas of scientific research have become increasingly controversial, this article critically evaluates what it means to “believe in science.” Many scientists today seem to claim a sovereign right to no political interference under the rubric of freedom. This article questions such a notion, and explores the dominance of science and the silencing of moral voices by undertaking two brief investigations—the first into National Socialist Germany, which insisted that it was defined by “applied biology,” and (...) the second into the world of contemporary American biomedicine. When all ethical barriers are eradicated, it seems that a will to power takes over—manifested in Nazi Germany’s vaunted scientific autonomy. In light of these sobering historical examples, this article reminds the reader that members of the public, including physicians, rightly deliberate about how to conscientiously order their lives together, and that part of that instrinsically political deliberation is to set limits to the ways medical science is applied and what scientists may do in pursuit of their goals. (shrink)
Has moral relativism run its course? The threat of 9/11, terrorism, reproductive technology, and globalization has forced us to ask anew whether there are universal moral truths upon which to base ethical and political judgments. In this timely edited collection, distinguished scholars present and test the best answers to this question. These insightful responses temper the strong antithesis between universalism and relativism and retain sensitivity to how language and history shape the context of our moral decisions. This important and relevant (...) work of contemporary political and social thought is ideal for use in the classroom across many disciplines, including political science, philosophy, ethics, law, and theology. (shrink)
Available Again! Long before the "shock and awe" campaign against Iraq in March 2003, debates swarmed around the justifications of the U.S.-led war to depose Saddam Hussein. While George W. Bush's administration declared a just war of necessity, opponents charged that it was a war of choice, and even opportunism. Behind the rhetoric lie vital questions: when is war just, and what means are acceptable even in the course of a just war? Originally published in 1991, in the wake of (...) the first war against Iraq, Just War Theory explores this essential dilemma. With a new preface by the editor, the essays in this indispensable collection move beyond the theoretical origins of just war theory to examine issues faced by military strategists, politicians, social theorists, and anyone concerned with the provocations and costs of military action. Popular wisdom once claimed that notions of just war would become obsolete with the onset of "total warfare," characterized by attacks on civilians and undiscriminating weapons of mass destruction. While the last decade has been ripe with brutality, just war theory is more critical than ever to the future of international relations and public discourse. This readable collection is an invaluable introduction to the debate. (shrink)
Though Bonhoeffer is usually thought to have been one of the architects of modern theology, he was also one of modernity’s most penetrating critics. The author lays out Bonhoeffer’s challenges to certain cherished modern assumptions by examining his linkage of totalitarianism to the political utopianism that arose out of the French Revolution, his fear of the nihilistic implications of the rationalists’ notion of the sovereign self and of the modern tendency to view life as an end in itself, and his (...) suspicion of all forms of moral absolutism, including the Kantian absolutizing of the duty to tell the truth. What emerges is a picture of Bonhoeffer as a theologian who coupled a keen sense of our creatureliness and limitation with a resolute belief in the activity of God in history, and of Bonhoeffer as an ethicist who generated a Christian relational ethics that offers an alternative to both the ethics of abstract principle and the ethics of intuitive situational response. (shrink)
Though Bonhoeffer is usually thought to have been one of the architects of modern theology, he was also one of modernity's most penetrating critics. The author lays out Bonhoeffer's challenges to certain cherished modern assumptions by examining (1) his linkage of totalitarianism to the political utopianism that arose out of the French Revolution, (2) his fear of the nihilistic implications of the rationalists' notion of the sovereign self and of the modern tendency to view life as an end in itself, (...) and (3) his suspicion of all forms of moral absolutism, including the Kantian absolutizing of the duty to tell the truth. What emerges is a picture of Bonhoeffer as a theologian who coupled a keen sense of our creatureliness and limitation with a resolute belief in the activity of God in history, and of Bonhoeffer as an ethicist who generated a Christian relational ethics that offers an alternative to both the ethics of abstract principle and the ethics of intuitive situational response. (shrink)
One of America's foremost public intellectuals, Jean Bethke Elshtain has been on the frontlines in the most hotly contested and deeply divisive issues of our time. Now in Real Politics , Elshtain gives further proof of her willingness to speak her mind, courting disagreement and even censure from those who prefer their ideologies neat. At the center of Elshtain's work is a passionate concern with the relationship between political rhetoric and political action. For Elshtain, politics is a sphere of concrete (...) responsibility. Political speech should, therefore, approach the richness of actual lives and commitments rather than present impossible utopias. In her essays, Elshtain finds in the writings of Václav Havel, Hannah Arendt, and Albert Camus a language appropriate to the complexity of everyday life and politics, and she critiques philosophers and writers who distance us from a concrete, embodied world. She argues against those repressive strains within contemporary feminism which insist that families and even sexual differentiation are inherently oppressive. Along the way, she challenges an ideology of victimization that too often loses sight of individual victims in its pursuit of abstract goals. Elshtain reaffirms the quirky and by no means simple pleasures of small-town life as a microcosm of the human condition and considers the current crisis in American education and its consequences for democracy. Beyond exploring the details of political life over the past two decades, Real Politics advocates a via media politics that avoids unacceptable extremes and serves as a model for responsible political discourse. Throughout her diverse and insightful writings, Elshtain champions a civic philosophy that tends to the dignity of everyday life as a democratic imperative of the first order. "Jean Bethke Elshtain is a person of rare intellect. The moral wisdom that pervades these essays reminds us that when all is said and done politics is about the life and death of real people who are anything but abstractions. Her erudition is remarkable, but equally stunning is her eye for the significant. What she is so good at is helping us see the moral and political significance of the everyday."--Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University " Real Politics serves as a forceful reminder that Jean Elshtain has been dealing with the real world in twenty-five years of powerful essaying. Transcending ideological categories, she writes out of hope that human beings can enjoy those capacities of reason and faith which make them human. It is a pleasure to be reintroduced to her sustained intelligence."--Alan Wolfe, Boston University. (shrink)
I will be arguing against a school of thought and an epistemology. The school of thought is ‘scientific neorealism’, as it is called in the study of international relations. This perspective is shaped by the insistence that ethics and international politics have nothing to do with one another, save insofar as morality is brought in as window dressing in order to disguise what is really going on: the clash of narrowly self-interested powers. The world of international relations is construed as (...) a zone of self-help in a Hobbesian clash of a war of all against all. For more than twenty-five years now, I have argued that, to the contrary, ethics does not stop at the water's edge and morality is not silent during war. (shrink)
The following essay examines the temptations of ultimacy in 20th-century politics, namely, the urge to infuse temporal arrangements with transcendentalmeaning and purpose. This sets up an idolatry of the state or of political processes and brings to a halt the complex dialectic between immanence and transcendence, between what Bonhoeffer calls the “penultimate” and the “ultimate.” This dialogic encounter between claims, loyalties, purposes, and meaningsdefines the West at her best. When the window to transcendence is slammed shut and politics is subsequently (...) sacralized, the result is a politics that crusheshuman freedom in the name of a divinized ideological purpose. In addition to Bonhoeffer, the essay brings the work of Albert Camus to bear in analyzing thismatter and offering up a politics that is neither “too low” nor that aims too high and thereby, paradoxically, descends into those hellson earth that were 20th-century totalitarian societies. (shrink)
Jolm Paul II has consistently addressed a set of core themes in his writing and preaching: a dialectic oflaw and grace; the irreducible dignity of the humanperson; and, the interweaving of freedom and responsibility. The Pope's thought is often misunderstood and misrepresented by those who are determined to force his ideas into standard political or ideological categories. His ethics are neither capitalist nor Marxist: they are Catholic and social.
Simone Weil is a vexation. An intellectual in the French Cartesian tradition who bore witness to her experience of Christ's presence (in November 1938); a radical who called “the destruction of the past… perhaps the greatest of all crimes”; a left-winger who penned trenchant critiques of Marxist thought and state socialist practice; a social theorist who condemned human collectives as a Great Beast yet yearned for a working class movement from “below;” Weil defies the usual categories. Embracing the role of (...) outsider, she charted an almost perversely lonely course. Certain facts of her life, her mysticism, her apparent devotion to Catholicism (to which she never converted), a harsh asceticism that figured in her early death, prove stumbling blocks to many. (shrink)