*Starred Review* Dismissed by most political theorists as a mere encumbrance, theology serves Elshtain well in this historical analysis of the two incarnations of sovereignty that have forged the modern world: the nation-state and the individual self. Originally delivered as the Gifford Lectures of 2005–06, Elshtain’s insightful investigation explains how political thinkers such as Machiavelli and Hobbes first endowed the nation-state with absolute sovereignty over society by politicizing the innovative theology of nominalist philosophers such as William of Ockham, who elevated God’s sovereign will above His discernible reason. Readers thus confront the perilous political dynamics in a nation-state as powerful and as capricious as Ockham’s God. Elshtain traces the lethal consequences of this modern theopolitics in the bloody atrocities of the French Revolutionaries, the Nazis, and the Soviet Communists. Inevitably, the deified modern state fractured into millions of divinized modern selves, each intent on establishing and defending its own godlike sovereignty. Champions of modern selfhood celebrate the unprecedented autonomy of the liberated individual; Elshtain, however, warns that a self that claims its godhood by severing restraints imposed by ancestors, religious orthodoxy, and community will ultimately destroy the cultural ecology necessary to a meaningful life. An illuminating though sobering new perspective on the conjunction between religion and politics. --Bryce Christensen
About the Author
Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Just War Against Terror and Democracy on Trial, among other books. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee and Chicago, Illinois.