Real Politics: At the Center of Everyday Life

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9780801856006: Real Politics: At the Center of Everyday Life

One of America's foremost public intellectuals, Jean Bethke Elshtain has been on the frontlines in the most hotly contested and deeply divisive issues of our time. Now in Real Politics, Elshtain gives further proof of her willingness to speak her mind, courting disagreement and even censure from those who prefer their ideologies neat.

At the center of Elshtain's work is a passionate concern with the relationship between political rhetoric and political action. For Elshtain, politics is a sphere of concrete responsibility. Political speech should, therefore, approach the richness of actual lives and commitments rather than present impossible utopias. In her essays, Elshtain finds in the writings of Václav Havel, Hannah Arendt, and Albert Camus a language appropriate to the complexity of everyday life and politics, and she critiques philosophers and writers who distance us from a concrete, embodied world. She argues against those repressive strains within contemporary feminism which insist that families and even sexual differentiation are inherently oppressive. Along the way, she challenges an ideology of victimization that too often loses sight of individual victims in its pursuit of abstract goals. Elshtain reaffirms the quirky and by no means simple pleasures of small-town life as a microcosm of the human condition and considers the current crisis in American education and its consequences for democracy.

Beyond exploring the details of political life over the past two decades, Real Politics advocates a via media politics that avoids unacceptable extremes and serves as a model for responsible political discourse. Throughout her diverse and insightful writings, Elshtain champions a civic philosophy that tends to the dignity of everyday life as a democratic imperative of the first order.

"Jean Bethke Elshtain is a person of rare intellect. The moral wisdom that pervades these essays reminds us that when all is said and done politics is about the life and death of real people who are anything but abstractions. Her erudition is remarkable, but equally stunning is her eye for the significant. What she is so good at is helping us see the moral and political significance of the everyday."―Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University

" Real Politics serves as a forceful reminder that Jean Elshtain has been dealing with the real world in twenty-five years of powerful essaying. Transcending ideological categories, she writes out of hope that human beings can enjoy those capacities of reason and faith which make them human. It is a pleasure to be reintroduced to her sustained intelligence."―Alan Wolfe, Boston University

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About the Author:

Jean Bethke Elshtain is Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The most recent of her many books are Democracy on Trial, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1995, and Augustine and the Limits of Politics.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Collections of articles often lack a unifying theme and consequently make unsatisfying books, but this thought-provoking volume is an exception. Reading a series of loosely connected essays is actually a good way to encounter Elshtain's (Social and Political Ethics/Univ. of Chicago; Democracy on Trial, 1995, etc.) fundamentally idiosyncratic scholarly and personal convictions. The selections are presented in five parts, ostensibly addressing five topics: embracing reality as a whole in political discussions; relating language and political content; reining in feminist extremes on the family and the realities of female existence; rejecting victimization as a basis for feminist politics; and searching for a politics that embraces the middle ground of actual human life. In fact, the groupings are so amorphous and the articles so pointed, however, that the volume is best understood as a selection of individual essays that together convey a sense of Elshtain's soul. At her core she opposes scholarship that substitutes sophistication for content and political activism that places stridency over common sense. She is a politically aware intellectual, sensitive to the dangers of alienating ideas and discourse from the substantive if occasionally banal realities of daily life. This leads her to suggest that families must be preserved despite identifying with a feminist community more concerned with throwing off traditional social institutions than looking to them for groundedness; Elshtain has even labeled those critical of the bonds linking mother and child as ``repressive feminists.'' In another example of her independence, she rejects the typical literary depictions of small towns as emotionally and creatively stifling environments. For Elshtain the personal connections definitive of human existence are to be found in the real world of families and towns, not in political and intellectual abstractions, and she is not shy about stating her position. A fascinating study that pulls no punches in support of an original yet moderate political vision. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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