2016-06-30
Jean Bethke Elshtain, political philosopher in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, read Augustine in a survey course for the first time when she was 18 years old--and barely even noticed. Though she was thoroughly versed in political and ethical theory, somehow the great theological writers never played a central role in her courses on the just society and the right life: "They were either conspicuous by their absence or conspicuously assigned to lesser roles in the great scheme of things."

But over time, Elshtain rediscovered Augustine--as well as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Paul II. "Who Are We? Reflections on Culture at the Millenium" is her meditation, drawing on the writings of Bohoeffer and the pope, on the problems of modern capitalist society. Elshtain's primary concern is the fragility of culture in a society in which "nothing is holy, sacred or off-limits," because "everything is for sale." Her vivid description is often more memorable than her solutions for the social problems she outlines, but "Who Are We?" offers more than enough to contemplate as it is--and clearly demonstrates that social criticism can be founded in faith as easily as in reason. Maybe Augustine should get his own class next time.



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