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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jean Bethke Elshtain (R.I.P.) and the Limits of Politics

Jean Bethke Elshtain, "one of the nation’s most prominent and provocative thinkers on religion, political philosophy, and ethics, died Sunday following a major cardiac incident earlier this summer. She was 72."  (HT:  UChicagoNews).  Emma Green suggests, at The Atlantic, that "her greatest legacy of barrier breaking was her serious intellectual commitment to including God in discussions of politics."

"Her joint appointment in political science and the divinity school at [the University of] Chicago was truly unusual," said Erik Owens, a professor at Boston College who worked with Elshtain when she was his dissertation adviser. "Religion was not taken seriously enough as a proper subject of study by political scientists through most of her career, and political science was equally suspect in most divinity schools. She helped to bring these two disciplinary guilds into conversation with one another. This may be one of her greatest legacies as a professional academic."

I was fortunate to have the chance to work with Dr. Elshtain in connection with the "New Science of Virtues" project at the University of Chicago, and had a welcome opportunity to read a lot of her writing preparing a paper for the "Engaged Mind" conference series, at the University's Divinity School, which honored and explored her work.  She was generous and gracious, as well as challenging and provocative.  I was, and remain, a big fan.

Author and journalist Michael Sean Winters, who blogs at The National Catholic Reporter, included some nice quotes from Elshtain's "Augustine and the Limits of Politics" in this post.  For me, for some reason, this one stood out:

False pride, pride that turns on the presumption that we are
the sole and only ground of our own being; denying our birth from the body of a
woman; denying our utter dependence on her and others to nurture and tend to
us; denying our continuing dependence on friends and family to sustain us;
denying our dependence on our Maker to guide and to shape our destinies, here
and in that life in the City of God for which Augustine so ardently yearned,
is, then, the name Augustine gives to a particular form of corruption and human
deformation. Pridefulness denies our multiple and manifold dependencies and
would have us believe that human beings can be masters of their fates, or
Masters of the Universe as currently popular super-heroes are named….Every
‘proud man heeds himself, and he who pleases himself seems great to himself.
But he who pleases himself pleases a fool, for he himself is a fool when he is
pleasing to himself,’ Augustine writes. . .


Posted by Rick Garnett on August 14, 2013 at 11:24 AM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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She was on my dissertation committee at Vanderbilt. Brilliant and kind. A lovely combination. (And a little fearsome ... as she should have been.)

Posted by: Lane Crothers | Aug 14, 2013 3:36:30 PM

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