"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jean Bethke Elshtain on the Problem of Sovereignty

A year ago at this time I was finishing up a paper on the problem of "sovereignty" in ecclesiology, which I would deliver in September to OTSA in New York. As I was doing the research for that paper, one book I found useful and informative was that of Jean Bethke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (Basic, 2008, 352pp.). Elshtain died on Sunday. She was a prolific and formidable scholar part of whose "charism," it seems to me, was to make connections between philosophy, politics, and theology.

About this book, which began as her Gifford Lectures in Scotland, we are told:
Throughout the history of human intellectual endeavor, sovereignty has cut across the diverse realms of theology, political thought, and psychology. From earliest Christian worship to the revolutionary ideas of Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx, the debates about sovereignty—complete independence and self-government—have dominated our history. In this seminal work of political history and political theory, leading scholar and public intellectual Jean Bethke Elshtain examines the origins and meanings of “sovereignty” as it relates to all the ways we attempt to explain our world: God, state, and self. Examining the early modern ideas of God which formed the basis for the modern sovereign state, Elshtain carries her research from theology and philosophy into psychology, showing that political theories of state sovereignty fuel contemporary understandings of sovereignty of the self. As the basis of sovereign power shifts from God, to the state, to the self, Elshtain uncovers startling realities often hidden from view. Her thesis consists in nothing less than a thorough-going rethinking of our intellectual history through its keystone concept. The culmination of over thirty years of critically applauded work in feminism, international relations, political thought, and religion, Sovereignty opens new ground for our understanding of our own culture, its past, present, and future.

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