Customer Review

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Broad Subject, Narrow Book, March 23, 2009
This review is from: Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (Gifford Lectures) (Hardcover)
Applause to Jean Belthke Elshtain for taking on such a wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary topic and in the midst of it rewriting the story of political thought. One can see all the threads from her previous works coming together in this book, from war to feminism, theology to the private/public dichotomy. This was a book that needed to be written.

Her arguments are largely cogent, and offhand I cannot think of a one with which I can terribly disagree. For a work of nonfiction, the imagery is well-constructed- not surprisingly so, for her love of literature shows frequently in these pages. Consider these lines on the French Revolution: "One might say that the sovereigntism of Rousseau, with its sacralization of politics, demands human sacrifice. If ancient peoples sacrificed goats, the French Revoution sacrificed humans to propitiate the revolutionary gods" (137). Her appeal to the Augustinian tradition of personalism is, in my estimate, the best course for countering the autonomous individualism rampant in even the best of modern thinkers.

What the book lacks, unfortunately, is sufficient length. Another reviewer commented that Elshtain does not sufficiently explain the connection between late medieval nominalism and the supremacy of will within the Godhead. For the record, the connections comes about because as nominalism rejected metaphysical realism and essentialism as the twin bases for grounding the common reality of imminent realities, ideas of absolute (inherent) justice tended to collapse. At the same time, the Trinity- a single essence or being or substance existing as three persons- shifted away from that traditional definition, wherein the persons of the Trinity were less hypostatic identities manifesting a single substance (the nominalist: what substance?) than three manifestations of one entity. The inherent nature of justice vanished from the late medieval mind precisely when the plurality and personhood of the Godhead lost its former vigor- thus the monistic, willing sovereign God of Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and eventually Luther and Calvin.

Alas, this connection is assumed on the part of the reader. Indeed, the whole debate surrounding the problem of universals that lies at the root of the realist-nominalist split goes without naray a mention; and conceptionalism, a third solution to the problem pioneered by Peter Abelard and back in force (in a way) with Immanuel Kant (hardly an insignificant aspect of his transcendent self Elshtain derides) isn't referenced at all. This is but one example. Personally, I found the whole section on divine sovereignty poorly explained and all-too-brief. And while I have no complaints on the factuality or clarity of the chapters on political sovereignty, I found these too brief as well and severely lacking in the non-intellectual history surrounding the rise of political sovereignty. The Peace of Westphalia is mentioned on but two pages.

As a typographical note, the author should fire her editor. The book is riddled with typos- hardly a page went buy without finding one. Moreover, sentences are poorly constructed with alarming frequency- dangling modifier here, split infinitives there, run-on sentences on the one hand and sentence-fragments on the other. I had to read several passages three times over, so much so that it took me a full week to read it cover to cover- something that should not have taken so long in a book concerning which I have complained of insufferable briefness.

That said, these negatives are warnings for the reader, not discouragements. The absence of medieval political thought in the modern teaching of the field is a great loss, and Jean Elshtain has done us all a great service with its publication. Thread of sovereignty as a holistic concept running from William of Ockham to Thomas Hobbes to Immanuel Kant- a thread, more amazingly, that runs the same course from theology through politics through anthropology- can no longer be ignored with the publication of this important book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 

Comments

Tracked by 1 customer

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 11, 2009 7:51:50 AM PDT
Wow. Saying that a 480 page book is not long enough!

Posted on Feb 6, 2013 6:33:05 AM PST
Lost & Found says:
"The book is riddled with typos- hardly a page went buy without finding one. "

Was your own typo in this comment a sly comment on the distraction of typographical errors?
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details

Item

3.4 out of 5 stars (5 customer reviews)
5 star:    (0)
4 star:
 (3)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
Used & New from: $0.12
Add to wishlist
Reviewer


Location: MD USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 3,813,583