chapter  12
Elshtain 2
Violence and the two sovereigns 1
Pages 12

Jean Bethke Elshtain was, in almost every respect, an exemplary intellectual figure. A scholar who wore her (very real) learning lightly, a passionately committed teacher and mentor, a wonderful colleague and an inspiring friend. She was also an intellectual of uncommon reach and range. We are all the losers from her untimely passing. But she has left us wonderful memories, for those of us that knew her, and, of course, a rich and important body of work that will stand the test of time. In this paper I want to reflect on one aspect of that body of work that manifested itself in many ways over the course of her career, but perhaps most significantly in the work she did in the last decade or so of her life, and in particular in her Gifford Lectures on the topic of sovereignty: her commitment to a certain form of Christian realism. It raises, I think, profound questions as to the possibility of combining a commitment to, as she might herself have put it, ‘the sovereignty of God’ with the ‘sovereignty of states’ and thus invites us to reflect on the character of each and what each implies. And such reflection inevitably has serious implications for how we might think about international politics in particular, and perhaps all politics in general. To do this I want to break down what I have to say into three parts. The first offers a reading of her account of the relationship between a sovereign God and the sovereign state. The second offers a reading of Christian realism and her relation to it. And the third explores what I take to be an ambiguity the previous two readings expose and assesses how damaging that ambiguity is for her account.