A Response From Jean Bethke Elshtain
March 1989By Jean Bethke Elshtain
Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Centennial Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of four books, most recently Women and War.
Neither simple agreement nor disagreement seems the best course in responding to Haninks eloquent articulation of A Personalist Vision. Instead, I shall pick up on several themes that seem to be particularly compelling from the standpoint of political and civic philosophy in and for our time.
(1) Hanink helps us read the signs of the times in caring and discerning ways. The personalist vision constitutes a provocative critique of much of modernity. This vision does not fit tidily into our by now facile labels of left/right, progressive/ regressive. Instead, personalism makes such labels problematic and jogs our thinking in other directions by insisting that we focus on what Hanink refers to as our established disorder, whether evident in disregard for vulnerable human existence at the beginning or the end of the life cycle, or in relentless fashioning of weapons of mass destruction.
(2) The personalist construction of human rights offers a powerful alternative to a starkly individualistic or possessive construal of rights, without abandoning the language of rights altogether. That is, we are seen to have rights as members of communities. We are parts of a greater whole with a duty to consider the good of others and not to wallow exclusively in self-interest. However, the social good or purpose does not override the unique value of each individual. Individuals have a unique and independent finality (in the words of John Paul II) that must not be overridden by society.
Rights here become one constitutive feature of a notion of public or social freedom.
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