Russel Arben Fox provides a first-class and link-rich overview of Elshtain’s career over at Front Porch Republic. He reminds me of much that I learned from her. Like Fox, I think a highlight of her career was a number of essays and reviews she wrote for The New Republic in the 1990s. Unlike Fox, I think her book Democracy on Trial, which among other things provided sensible (yet ultimately ignored) warnings against 1990s multi-culturalism, was on the mediocre side. But that was one bunt in a career of hits, home-runs, and stolen bases, too.
Not that Elshtain was on an easily-discernible team, besides that of the truth: Fox shows she was something of a difference feminist, something of an Augustinian, something of a Jane Addams-ite battler for social justice, something of a communitarian, and something of a foreign-policy neo-conservative.
So perhaps the quickest way I can signal my deep disappointment with the post-2003-or-so The New Republic is to note that it’s hard to imagine them publishing the likes of Elshtain today. That is what is so twisted about the liberal elites of our day and the Democratic Party they’ve largely ruined: they don’t have the time of day for the likes of Elshtain.
Oh, maybe TNR or similar journals feel the duty to publish a moderate or conservative now and then, but they no longer have the taste for her kind of thinking, that sort of 60s soulfulness in an adult mode, open to revision, to radical theory-prompted questions, and even to communitarian and religious ideas.
But whatever you make of that, or of my voicing what I guess are some of my own feelings of betrayal that way, don’t miss Fox’s loving retrospective, and read on to the beautifully Porch-appropriate and eulogy-fitting Elshtain paragraph on her last goodbye to her grandmother.
She was a major public intellectual, and exuded the civic decency necessary for genuinely public intellectual life to exist. May our nation prove worthy of her service.