Beliefnet
Jean Bethke Elshtain, political philosopher in the Divinity School at theUniversity of Chicago, read Augustine in a survey course for the firsttime when she was 18 years old--and barely even noticed. Though she wasthoroughly versed in political and ethical theory, somehow the greattheological writers never played a central role in her courses on the justsociety and the right life: "They were either conspicuous by their absenceor conspicuously assigned to lesser roles in the great scheme of things."

But over time, Elshtain rediscovered Augustine--as well as DietrichBonhoeffer and John Paul II. "Who Are We? Reflections on Culture at theMillenium" is her meditation, drawing on the writings of Bohoeffer and the pope, on the problems of modern capitalist society. Elshtain's primaryconcern is the fragility of culture in a society in which "nothing isholy, sacred or off-limits," because "everything is for sale." Her vividdescription is often more memorable than her solutions for the socialproblems she outlines, but "Who Are We?" offers more than enough tocontemplate as it is--and clearly demonstrates that social criticism canbe founded in faith as easily as in reason. Maybe Augustine should get hisown class next time.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus