Archives For Jean Bethke Elshtain

Rembrandt_1633 Christ in the storm on the sea of GalileeAlthough I’ve browsed through ‘City of God’ and ‘On Christian Doctrine’, my main interaction with Augustine’s work centres on his ‘Confessions’.  (A phenomenal read if you ever get the chance to dig into it.)

I like many of the things Augustine says and wrestle with some of his more introspective reflections.

One of those is his statement:

‘The appearance of what we do is often different from the intention with which we do it, and the circumstances at the time may not be clear’[i]

Augustine seems to be saying that what we intend is not always what we do. Circumstances pending, what we do is sometimes only for the sake of what we want others to see and therefore say about us.

Avarice overrides responsible action as pride corrupts intention. Thus leading us onto a path where we turn ‘the loss of confessing self in order to be for others, into an all consuming self, an expressivist exhibition’[ii]

The divide between appearances and intentions, then, forms the basis of his point. This existential division creates an ethical-theological tension perpetuated by the sometimes fog of circumstances.

This is identified by Jean Bethke Elshtain in ‘Augustine and the limits of politics’:

 ‘Augustine lays the miseries of human life at the doorstep of sin, our division (within selves and between self and others), our enthrallment to cupiditas[iii] and our all-too-frequent abandonment of caritas[iv]. We are, in other words, ignorant but it is ignorance of a particular kind, not innocent naiveté but prideful cognitive amputation.[v]

What Elshtain means by ‘prideful cognitive amputation’ is ‘philosophical solipsism’ (extreme subjective idealism)[vi]; thoughtlessness (not to be confused with mindlessness), but understood as ‘the banality of evil.(Hannah Arendt’s controversial assessment of Adolf Eichmann) [vii]

Elshtain, a feminist, presents her analysis of Augustine as an attempt at rescue. Saving Augustine from the ritualistic frown passed on to our forebears by the hubris and suspicion of post 60’s modernity.

For her, Augustine is relevant and worthy of a second look:

‘He confesses what he knows and what he does not know. He does know that the world isn’t boundlessly subjectivist; it does not revolve around the “me, myself and I”[viii]

Augustine himself thunders the point home:

‘I flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner’[ix]

Elshtain brilliantly adds, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’[x]

Reading this in the emerging light of advent we might be called back to Karl Barth’s assertion

‘To thank means to accept with confession,… to acknowledge the gift, the goodness and the kindness of the Giver’[xi]

God makes himself known in Jesus Christ, ‘the sign of all signs[xii]

In Augustine’s sigh we hear that the heart has ears. Before the beauty of Christmas this can only mean an awakening to an awareness of our own need for grace; an acknowledgement that we are carried, firmly, lovingly held above the abyss.

Confronted by such a grace we learn that God is God and we are not. Yet, by Divine decision; a fierce and free decree. In Jesus Christ, we are spoken to, spoken for and therefore not given up on.

In His example we see in part, the point of Christmas. That the ‘principle of charity requires nothing less than to make one’s best effort.’[xiii]

Jesus is Victor!


[i] Augustine, St. Confessions Penguin Classics III/XIX 1961:67

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.6

[iii] Latin for desire, eagerness, enthusiasm; passion; lust; avarice; greed; ambition; partisanship (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[iv] Latin for charity, grace, dearness, high price; esteem, affection (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[v] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.37

[vi] Ibid, p.59

[vii] Ibid,

[viii] Ibid, p.5

[ix] Augustine, St. 1961 Confessions Penguin Classics V/X p.103

[x] Elshtain, ibid pp.11, 66 &62

[xi] Barth, K. 1940 The Limits of  the Knowledge of God C.D II/I Hendrickson Publishers p.198

[xii] Ibid, p.199

[xiii] Elshtain, ibid p.55

*I’ve borrowed the second part of the title to this blog post from Elshtain, who uses it on page xiii in her introduction.

Image: Rembrandt, 1633 ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee’

Originally published 14th December 2014

Positive advances in communications technology drive the functionality of information. Its delivery is like a viaduct.

Information is carried along at a fast pace. Which means that we find ourselves living in an era of information deluge. Words, thoughts and opinions rain down on us from everywhere.

In this downpour, writers can be too easily tempted to reach for the fastest way to keep people reading their work.However, putting something together that’s worth a reader’s time, takes time.

In this environment, writing can be hard. Gimmicks and stunts; shock and awe, are all potential roads writers can go down.Simply because time poor people need fast facts, fast entertainment and fast news.

Selling drama buys sympathy, or in this day and age, at least a like, share or a twenty-four hour hashtag trend, triggered by a bubbly questionable logic that says, “like, wow! hashtag riots really do make a difference.”

It’s safe to say that we now live in a tabloid age. Words are thrown like darts at constructed targets of opportunity. For instance, people comment in ways they never would if the conversation they were part of was held face to face in a physical public forum. We would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have that one “friend” on social media, who always seems to take their own level of intelligence more seriously than others.

Think of the beauty and vibrancy of the democratic process presently underway in Australia. The same-sex marriage debate is misrepresented as a circus; a waste of money and time. Partly because, no doubt, some of it is.

As a result of this debate, however, we are shown the vibrancy of the Australian democratic process. It mustn’t be overlooked. Even if the beauty of it is pushed to the sidelines. For sure, the system is in need of some reform. But guess what? Review and reforms are part of adult life. They’re also a chief reason for why democracies still exist.

For the most part, the gratitude that should stem from an awareness of what we still have, is subsumed by a deep anxiety about what we’re told the other side wants to take from us.

As a consequence, thankfulness for having such responsible freedoms and a responsibility to uphold those responsible freedoms, becomes pretty much non-existent. Apathy and abdication from the democratic process soon follows.

The danger of this is self-evident: If the people aren’t interested in Governments, Governments will govern outside the interests of the people.

Like writing, good democracy takes time and effort. Participation in a physical public forum requires planning. It involves preparing beforehand what you are going to ask, say or discuss. Unlike the ersatz community of the virtual realm, decorum and respect, in the presence of others trumps the temptation to make off the cuff comments. These comments online are designed to impress and deceive. They perform a duty, not to the community involved in that forum, but to the ego of the person commenting.

Commenting online is easy. But, words in this environment tend to have no real benefit, outside serving the owner’s ego and those who applaud him. Such as his followers or friends who rejoice upon seeing a target hit by a cheap shot.

As a result, words are reduced to noise. This noise is amplified by the commerce of Social Media and the superficial, transactional relationships upheld by it.  Vanity metrics rules the debate, not a fair and democratic exchange. Which is why the mechanic [for the sake of the bottom line] is programmed to sell an idea of community as if it’s the real thing.

‘Sad it is, when men [& women] stupefy their understandings with strong doses of their private [self] Interest, as to become insensible of the Public’s.’ [i]

This is something foreseen in the lamentations of Jean Bethke Elshtain[ii], who, not without her critics, acknowledged in 1995 and later, in 2012, that the trajectory of technology, empowers mobs via technology, to hinder participation in the democratic process.

For Elshtain, the inevitable outcome is the decline of democratic debate. The hindering of authentic participation is the hindering of democracy. Of which there now exists numerous examples, such as the defamation of “no” voters.

As Elshtain noted,

‘we often hear more about the folly of the right, than we do of the left.’[iii]

Cynicism abounds. Responsible commentary is paralysed by the attraction of sensationalism.

Under the dark smile of Machiavellian logic, certain elements, through a facade of compassion seek dominance, if not total rule. Fear of offending others is utilised by the few to control the many.

We can begin to fix this by seeing that our reliance on technology cannot replace the need for careful comment and face to face interaction.

Being physically present and visible in the democratic forum upholds the democratic forum.  It is the rock of genuine relationship. All of which requires communication – the respect for representation, convention, conversation, and planning; elements that not only contribute to the idea of democracy, but are part of the very fabric of real democracy.

Democracy takes time. It means wading through the hard stuff. Asking the difficult questions and then allowing room for those questions to be answered.  If the way forward for democracy is to be taken seriously, it cannot begin with the mob, its unrestrained fury, facade of compassion, its hysteria or unruly anxiety. It begins with deep gratitude and a respect for the democratic process, which includes room for debate, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

As an American friend said to me a few weeks ago:

 “Well, at least we still get to vote on something.”


[i] Penn, W. 1644 – 1718, The Political Writings of William Penn, Liberty Fund, Inc.

[ii] Elshtain, J.B, 1995 Democracy on trial, (Amazon)

[iii] State of Democracy: Maxwell School of Syracuse University Lecture 2012 (Source)

See also, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s, 1978, Harvard Speech {Transcript available here: American Rhetoric}

In a recent blog post Eitan Chitayat presented some high powered dialogue, choosing as his conversation partners those who (unwittingly?) position themselves as reactionary activists. Most of whom are from social media.

Despite the unfortunate, but forgivable title given to the article, the overall point rightly made by Chitayat is clear.

His words make up a necessary “no” to a protest filled with thoughtlessness and blind rage. (Both characteristics of any chaos fuelled lynch mob.)

He writes that:

‘If anyone doesn’t understand any of the above; if anyone doesn’t get it;
if any of my friends are going to post anti-Israel messages in a time where over 500 Palestinians have tragically died in this current conflict yet you remained silent while almost 200,000 Arabs were murdered by Arabs these past few years;
if you’re not writing about Assad using chemical weapons against his people; if you’re not writing about ISIS who crucified 8 christians the other day and who are telling Iraqi Christians ‘convert, pay tax, or die’;
if you only have criticism for the State of Israel that is doing EVERYTHING in its power to avoid civilian losses to Palestinians during a war;
if you’re going to do nothing but sit wherever you’re sitting and just dish out your anti-Israel dirt while rockets are being aimed at my house, family and friends as our boys are fighting to protect us – and you’re going to dish it out simply because we’re living in this land and you haven’t got a clue as to our connection to it;
if you’re going to join the anti-semitic and anti-Israel demonstrations flaring up in the world like we’re seeing in France, Turkey, Berlin, most Arab states and even in the US that have nothing to do with this conflict but are really just expressions of hatred directed at Jews and Israelis (and these expressions will be directed at the host countries soon);
if you’re going to stay quiet and just accept, then go ahead and unfriend me from Facebook now because you’re probably no friend of mine.’[i]

As I suggested in my own blogpost, written the same day Chitayat posted his article:

‘With small amounts of fact and/or information these glass houses become the launching pad for mobile projectiles of shame and exclusion. (We might need to also add ridicule.)
This is an ‘activism’ that measures efficiency by likes, shares and/or followers. Reflecting the fact that ‘thoughtless approval’ can be translated into hard currency by selling the side of story that is the easiest to sell (i.e.: the most believable or assumed to be most likely – potentially anything that continues to feed into the pipeline of hype)’[ii]

With the global community still trying to balance technological freedoms with responsibilities, it might be worth noting the words of Jean Bethke Elstain who, citing Hannah Arendt, highlighted the ‘strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil’.

According to Elshtain, identifying the ‘banality of evil disarms the seductive nature and hype surrounding evil’. What might also be applicable here is the imperative found in the New Testament letter of  1 John 4: ‘do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,…by this we know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error’ (ESV –  additionally, we might want to consider how fitting the practice of ‘Due Diligence’ is in this context).

Here we find ourselves reminded to keep a keen eye on context, details, and careful comment. This way we can defuse antagonism and walk through the confusion, towards healthy contributions that not only seek to speak truth but also listen. Resulting in informed conclusions actually worth sharing and/or liking.

If we aim for this, we aim to move responsibly, in a loving way, towards the place where we can play a part in denying ‘evil any form of representation that it might be seeking.’[iii]

The conclusion then is this: the Christian must not fail to hear and act, on what Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Edith Stein and those like them understood clearly:

(Judeo-) Christian hope does not permit a politically sterile withdrawal.’[iv]


[i] Shalom, motherf****r. | Eitan Chitayat | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

[ii]Truth & Balance Vs. The Side of The Story That Sells Best

[iii] Bethke, E.B. 1995 Augustine and the limits of Politics University of Notre Dame Press, pp.74, 75, 81

[iv] Markus,R.A. 1981 Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine in Augustine and the limits of Politics, Bethke, E.B. 1995 University of Notre Dame Press

Image:”In Mosul homes are marked with the letter “Nun” (ن), the Arabic equivalent of our “N” and the abbreviation for Nasara, or “Nazarenes”: what they call Christians in a gesture of contempt to make them seem like outsiders in their own land….”(Source:…/muslims-marking-christian…/)

[Originally published 7th July 2014]

elliot-stallion_polling-booth-unsplashPride has different faces. At times it can be blatantly obvious and at other times, sweet and subtle.

Then what can look like pride is sometimes simply just over-compensation because of deeper insecurities, or apathy towards good communication. This doesn’t dismiss the condescending or ungracious tone, but it does help to ask whether or not this might be a factor.

I see a lot of this in some online and informal academic forums. The most notorious is Facebook. More often than responding to encouragement, I’m fielding a response to someone who’s critical, which generally comes from people who only ever comment when a post is controversial. In stating this, I’m not looking for sympathy or venting some disillusionment. It’s just an observation.

Sometimes it can appear as though critics look for a ”we’ve got him” moment. Something akin to the reaction of ABC host, Kerry O’Brien, who with a mixture of exuberance and insensitivity, shouted on camera, ‘’we’ve got him’’, when the John Howard led, Liberal party, lost the 2007 Australian election to his hyped up opponent, Kevin Rudd; (“Kevin07” to his more devout supporters).

As frustrating as these reactions can be to my own contributions, I don’t see them as a personal attack against me. It’s an attack against which side of politics I’ve been squeezed into by the reader. If you’ve encountered the same situation from either side of politics and their fanatical groupies, it’s good mental health practice to keep this distinction in mind.

Such challenges aren’t always a bad thing. For starters I’m challenged to be more accurate, better informed and well sourced. The downsides, of course are that having to do this can tempt us to respond to pride with pride. It also turns something like blogging or micro-blogging into a bit of an administrative grind. (… and outside a government job, or university, who’s really got that kind of time?)

Appearance paralyses substance. For example: If you appear to agree with the Left, you’re reliable, if you appear to be of the right, you’re pushed in that direction and treated with a large amount of suspicion. The appearance of ideological alignment is given priority over content.

Keeping your bearings in these situations begins by recognising the cause. The contemporary democratic exchange has become more about competing against others, than it has about inspiring civil conversation in a giving and receiving of ideas; an exchange where both parties, whether opposed or united, still walk away having learnt something because of the benefits of humility.

As lifted up by Jean Bethke Elshtain in her brief discussion about Martin Luther King Jnr,

‘King’s dream of a new democratic community, a new social covenant, drew upon old democratic ideas forged on the anvil of his rock-bottom Christian faith. In the pragmatic yet idealistic world of practical politics that King endorsed, blacks and whites, men and women, the poor and the privileged, come together around a set of concrete concerns.
Temporary alliances are formed, though the assumption is never that things will automatically divide by racial or any other identity […] In public we learnt to work with people whom we disagree sharply and with whom we would not care to live in a situation of intimacy. But we can be citizens together; we can come to know a good in common that we cannot know alone.’ [i]

Instead of shared ground there is a competition, driven by a pride that finds its home in the quest to place seeming to know, or be doing, above actually knowing and doing.It’s more important to be seen by others to be more intelligent, more cultured, more loving; or for the Christian, more “Christian”, or tragically, more liberally Christian. I will say, though, that the current trends, if observed closely, really do tell us who is who, & what they’re really all about.

The aim of this competition is to post in order to shore up a position of popularity. Therefore, employing as many  ”likes” as possible to feed activity; “the stats”. All of which boosts one’s all important ”level of social media influence”, sense of self-importance, and/or dollars that flow through the masses, who have been attracted by deliberately chosen articles that appeal to “feel-good” trends. This is currently what we’re seeing in the 2016 Presidential elections in the United States between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Truth doesn’t matter, if it hinders any increase in approval ratings.

I’m in agreement with Christina Grau, who recently wrote on pride and homeschoolers:

“We need to avoid the sin of pride. Pride prevents us from establishing good relationships and sharing Christ with others. We think our way is best and think less of those who aren’t doing the same. Apart from moral issues, we need to understand that our way of doing things is simply that; our way. It is not our job to convince people to our way of thinking, nor is our way the only way the job gets done.” [ii]

Approval ratings might sore, but the cost is compromise. Truth and love suffers; creativity is hindered. All sucked into subservience of beating the algorithm and placating human and feelings; it’s master: pride.

‘Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser”
– Proverbs 9:8-9


[i] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 Democracy on Trial, BasicBooks, Perseus Books Group (pp.60-61)

[ii] Grau, C. Playing the Comparison Game (The Art of Pride), 25th October 2016

Image credit: Elliot Stallion,

Yours Sincerely

February 22, 2016 — Leave a comment



‘When politics is
            given over to the Devil,
with the diminishing authority
                              of any entity
that can be called “Church”
        in relation to the state,
                one ought not be surprised
that the Devil overtakes politics.’ [i]


Dear User 5


‘Finally be strong in the Lord
and in the strength of His might.
              Put on the whole armor of God,
that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
               For we do not wrestle
                                     against flesh and blood,
                                     against the rulers,
                                     against the authorities,
                                     against the cosmic powers
                                                     over this present darkness,
                                     against the spiritual forces
of evil in heavenly places.’ [ii]



[i] Elshtain, J.B 2008 Sovereignty: God, State & Self, Basic Books, (p.79)

[ii] Paul, Ephesians 6:10-12

[recommended reads]

IMG_5137231944, C.S Lewis wrote:

‘The demand for equality has two sources; The noble: the desire for fair play. The mean-spirited: the hatred of superiority […] the kind of ‘democratic’ education which is already looming ahead is bad because it endeavours to propitiate evil passions, to appease envy. There are two reasons for not attempting this.
One: you will not succeed. Envy is insatiable. The more you concede to it the more it will demand. No attitude of humility which you can possibly adopt will propitiate a man [or woman] with an inferiority complex. Two: you are trying to introduce equality where equality is fatal.
Equality [outside mathematics] is a purely social conception. It applies to man [and woman] as a political and economic animal. It has no place in the world of the mind. Beauty is not democratic. Virtue is not democratic. Truth is not democratic […]
Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into these higher spheres. Ethical, intellectual or aesthetic democracy is death.’[i]

Lewis’ position on extreme egalitarianism is not unique. The late American political philosopher, Jean Bethke Elshtain, also brilliantly hummed her own critical tune in relation to this issue.

Writing under the heading, ‘Multiculturalism and Democratic Education’ Elshtain stated:

‘Teacherly malfeasance occurs in instances of unreflective, dogmatic politicisation. Each evades the dilemmas of democratic equality rather than offering us points of critical reflection on that dilemma. This sort of education fails in its particular and important task of preparing us for a world of ambiguity and variety. It equips us only for resentment or malicious naïveté [ii]

Lewis and Bethke come at this argument from different angles. Both add to the argument for the rebalancing of the “education revolutions” of the past decade. The area where this applies most is the coercion to meet a particular type of egalitarian compliance (e.g.: new multiculturalism; new tolerance). Slyly disguised as part of an educational standard this ‘purely social conception’ (Lewis) poses as an academic essential. Acceptance and legitimacy is only validated by an alignment with its ideology. In turn, a form of financial blackmail follows. Funding and accreditation comes by complying, or rather conforming with a particular political position.

As a political aim it succeeds in coercing conformity. However, it paralyses the academy because the academic focus is reduced to how best the education fits within a particular type of extreme egalitarian social construct. This narrowing forces everyone into the same box.  From here academic indifference and complacency replaces the energy of academic rigour. Genuine progress is held back by total compliance to an out of control quest for the implementation of “progressive” ideas of tolerance. Democratic debate and its ability to preserve the beauty of unity in diversity, dies.

Differences are unreasonably considered irreconcilable. People are then isolated. Strangers are turned into enemies and friends into strangers.  Both institutionally and clinically, in the name of new multiculturalism, each are set to stick to their own kind, where never the two should meet: Anglos with Anglos; men with men; women with women; African-Americans with African-Americans; indigenous Australians with indigenous Australians; in politics the left with the left, right with the right.  This is, in a roundabout way, the rejection of differences.

For Elshtain it flags a new segregation:

‘As a form of ideological teaching, multicultural absolutism isolates us in our own skins and equates culture with racial or ethnic identity. [In America], the new multiculturalism promotes commensurability: If I am white and you are black, we cannot, in principle, speak to or understand each other. You just won’t “get it […]. Some critics wonder how long it will take to move from separate approaches for African-American children in the name of Afro-centricity, for example, to a quest for separate schools.[iii]

Extreme egalitarianism masquerades as authentic equality. The point and purpose of equality is driven into a quagmire of sameness. Fairness is abandoned and the quest for equality ends up creating new forms of inequality. For example: anyone with a differing position or different ability is condemned, labelled and if history is allowed to repeat itself, shipped off to who knows where, under the guise of “re-education” or “resettlement.”

Nowhere is Lewis’ observation of a hatred of superiority more evident than in Australian society. Socially, our children are taught very early on to enforce extreme egalitarianism. This usually takes the form of an acceptable kind of bullying whereby the victim is labelled a “try hard.” The competency and talent of the person is reduced to meaninglessness by the majority who refuse to deal with their own sense of inferiority. Rather than celebrate the competency and talent of the person, the majority maliciously turn a complement into a put down. The benefit of difference is squashed into the box of sameness.

Most non-Australian cultures would be confused by this. For them the term “try hard” is about positive reinforcement. Those without the talent and competency cheer on those who try hard to hone their skills. The communal benefit is seen, valued and acknowledged.

Not so in Australian society. Outside athletic ability, the rule remains the same: “don’t try to, or even attempt to rise above the rest.”

Although changes are taking place, this tall poppy syndrome still rates as being a huge problem. It presents itself as the biggest obstacle to writers, artists, musicians, intellectuals, right down to budding home-buyers and homeschoolers.

The quagmire of sameness keeps people down. It mutes creativity and stifles industry.

Those who want to retain authentic democratic equality will not find resisting extreme egalitarianism easy. They face a similar hostile reaction to that of Albert Camus, who ‘was virtually excommunicated from the French Left by Sartre and his comrades because he expressed a strong disapproval of the passion for unity that saw any opposition as treason.’[iv]

For both Lewis and Elshtain, extreme egalitarianism is a ‘phony equality.[v]’  It perpetuates that which it says it opposes. This phony equality levels what it subjectively sees as uneven ground, while at the same time it sows inequality, with the tools of oppression: institutional racism, economic discrimination, legalised misogyny and misandry.

Democratic education is reduced to a list of new tolerance compliance orders. Academic standards are lowered whilst teachers are forced to obsess over appeasing the feelings and fickle sentiments of society. In not being willing to fairly recognise and responsibly discuss differences, for fear of offense or ridicule, democracy wanes. Political democracy, as C.S Lewis pointed out, is ‘doomed if it tries to expand its demand for equality into beauty, virtue and truth.’

In not being able to celebrate unity in diversity or find and maintain common ground, democracy fails. The cohesive elements of a vibrant Western society are then consigned to breakdown into the terror of fascism, the shared poverty of communism or the destructive anarchist vacuum of tribalisation.


[i] Lewis, C. 1944, Democratic Education In Walmsley, L. (Ed.) 2000 C.S Lewis Essay Collection Harper Collins p.190

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 Democracy on Trial Basic Books, Perseus Books Group p.83

[iii] Ibid, p.79

[iv] Ibid, p.120

[v] Ibid, p.74

The Rise of the TechnocratIn ‘Augustine and the Limits of Politics,’ political scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain lamented:

‘Albert Camus’ work, ‘The Rebel’ is understudied and underestimated.’ (p.115)

Elshtain’s work is peppered with references to Camus. Her affinity with the French agonistic and “existentialist” philosopher is easy to observe. Elshtain sees a good amount of Camus’ questions and conclusions as relevant to contemporary discourse.

That is of course, where dialogue and dissent are allowed, which to the keen observer like Elshtain and Camus, are things fast being forced into private. This is because the pathos in post-modern monologues (such as: facebook rants, easy likes, mob put downs and whip statements) are taking over. (It was from this that Elshtain later asks if ‘democracy can survive social media and the rise of the technocratic class. See: ‘‘State Of Democracy’)

Earlier in her book, Elshtain provides some commentary on  a post war lecture Camus gave in 1946 at Columbia University:

‘To what was no doubt a hushed auditorium, Camus went on to enumerate the clear symptoms of what he called a ‘crisis of world-dimensions; a crisis in human consciousness.’ He described these as a rise in terror, following upon such a perversion of values that man, woman or historical force is judged today not in terms of human dignity but in terms of success (consider here: doing and saying whatever makes you popular – or gets the most likes). The crisis is based, as well, on the growing “impossibility of persuasion.” Human beings live and can only live by “retaining the idea that they have something in common,” a starting point to which they can return […] Camus noted two other symptoms of the crisis. One he called the substitution of the “political” for the “living” person.’ (p.70)

Citing Camus, Elshtain then points to the unhealthy ‘growth of bureaucracy.’ – ‘For what counts now is whether or not one has helped a doctrine to triumph, not whether or not one respects a mother and spares her suffering” (ibid). All these, Elshtain asserts, ‘can be summed up in a single tendency – the cult of efficiency and abstraction.’ (ibid)

Camus’ conclusion is then highlighted:

 “That is why the man in Europe today experiences only solitude and silence; for he cannot communicate with his fellows in terms of values common to them all, and since he is no longer protected by a respect for man based on the values of man, the only alternative henceforth open to him is to be a victim or an executioner.” (Ibid)

What stands out the most, though, is Elshtain’s own conclusion about what Camus was on about:

‘Camus lays the crisis squarely on the doorstep of an unchecked will-to-power. And from that flows the terrible notion that one can cleanse the world, purge the old, the tired, the imperfect, though terror.’ (p.71)

Directly connected  to this is a post-war assessment made by Albert Camus in 1948:

‘Between the forces of terror (coercion) and the forces of dialogue (persuasion), a great unequal battle has begun. I have nothing but reasonable illusions to the outcome of that battle. But I believe it must be fought, and I know that certain men and women have resolved to do so. I merely fear that they will occasionally feel somewhat alone, that they are in fact alone, and that after an interval of two thousand years we may see the sacrifice of Socrates repeated several times.’
(Camus, A. ‘Resistance, Rebellion & Death: Essays’ pp.73-74)

I agree with Elshtain, Camus has the potential to wake The West up from its slumber; to bring technicolour back into focus and persuasively correct the current politically correct technoblur. He names that which should be named and wasn’t afraid to address what needed to be addressed. It’s also helpful to note that after he published,’The Rebel’, French communists (among them was J.P. Sartre) labelled Camus, who was one of their own, a reactionary Simply because he questioned the ideology and where that ideology landed. He disagreed with them and spoke out against it. As a result he was threatened, ridiculed into submission, excommunicated and disowned by his friends. Which, for the Christian who participates in these realms and seeks responsible dialogue translates into:

‘You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.’
(Jesus, Mark 13:13)


Camus, A. 1960 Essays: Resistance, Rebellion and Death, Vintage Books, Random House

Camus, A. 1946-1947 The Human Crisis, pp.20-24

Elshtain, J.B 1998 Augustine and the Limits of Politics, University of Notre Dame Press (pp.70-71 & p.115)

The image used here is my own.