As readers likely know by now, the eminent University of Chicago professor and political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain will deliver our annual Erasmus Lecture on Monday, October 8. Her topic is the “Nature and Meaning of Loyalty.”
I’ve been preparing for the event by browsing our archives, as she has been a prolific contributor to First Things over the past two decades. She won me over quickly with her October 1994 article on judging. Do read the full piece, but here’s a taste to whet your appetite:
Judging has been in bad odor for quite some time in American culture. It is equated with being punitive, or with insensitivity, or with various “phobias” and “isms.” It is the mark of antiquated ways of thinking, feeling, and willing. Better, no doubt, to be something called “open-minded,” a trait thought to be characteristic of sensitive and supportive persons. A young woman well known to me reports that she and her fellow teachers at one of the elite New York public high schools were enjoined not to make students “feel bad” by being too decisive in their assessments of student work and effort. I breathed a sigh of recognition when she told me this; it is the sort of thing one hears in the higher reaches of the academy, too. In fact, this attitude is everywhere, even on bumper stickers. At least some of the readers of this essay will have sighted a bumper sticker that reads: “A Mind is Like a Parachute. It Works Best When It Is Open.” Yes, indeed, one wants to counter, the more open—meaning the more porous and thin—the better. A rather more convenient way of being in the world than being called upon to discriminate in the old—best—sense of the word.
We’ll continue to highlight her articles in this space over the next several days prior to her lecture.