Civic Housekeeping: Jean Elshtain on Mothering and Other Duties

By Zoba, Wendy Murray | The Christian Century, May 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

Civic Housekeeping: Jean Elshtain on Mothering and Other Duties


Zoba, Wendy Murray, The Christian Century


JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN began her career by challenging traditional gender roles--the assumption that the public realm is primary and belongs to men, and that the private realm is secondary and belongs to women. Characteristically, she applied her analysis in unpredictable ways, as indicated by the title of one of her early books, Women and War. The place of women in the conduct of war was not a typical feminist concern. Further complicating her feminist vision was Elshtain's fierce defense of women's work in the domestic sphere. The moral imperative women have felt to shape the home, she argues, has empowered women and advanced culture.

Elshtain has made a career of rankling both the left and the right. Her latest book, Just War Against Terror (Basic Books), asserts that the U.S., being the world's sole superpower, is obligated to rescue the victimized and defend the peace, and that this responsibility may entail going to war. In 2001, this same concern for defending victims led her to appear before a House subcommittee to argue for the prohibition of human cloning. We are a nation that "will not permit the emergence of unused 'products,' failed clones, poor misbegotten 'children' of our distorted imaginations."

Elshtain is Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School and the author of 19 books, including Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (Basic Books). She was the first woman to hold an endowed professorship at Vanderbilt University, and she recently received the Goodnow Award from the American Political Science Association for lifetime accomplishment.

She is a teacher, philosopher and public intellectual. She is also a wife, mother and grandmother, and now a mother (again). A strong advocate of women's roles in public life, she is unstintingly committed to family and mothering. Despite Pope John Paul's narrow view of women's roles in the church, she hails him as a heroic moral figure. She bristles at the way some feminist thinkers depict women as victims and has little sympathy for leftover ideologies from the late 1960s that reject institutions and authority. Yet she dedicated Women and War "to the memory of John Lennon," because the Beatles' music was so "life-affirming," she says, and because "the solemnity of the academy gets to me."

In these times, when the fear of unregulated violence hovers in people's consciousness, Elshtain is trying to think through risks and options in the light of moral conscience. She understands the power of evil--that evil conspires against law and moral order, and that it cannot be quenched by men and guns alone, or even women and guns. Still, she thinks attempts must be made to contain evil and disorder, and that such attempts must sometimes involve force. On the local level, such vigilance is a kind of "civic housekeeping"--a term inspired by the social reformer Jane Addams. On the international level, she argues that "concrete neighbor love" sometimes must be acted out in the face of "harsh necessity."

Born in 1941, Elshtain started learning about housekeeping and harsh necessity as the oldest of five children growing up in Timnath, Colorado, population about 185 then (and now). Her father was a superintendent of the town school. Her mother arose from earthier stock--Volga-German immigrants from Russia who worked in the sugar beet fields in northern Colorado. Helen Lind Bethke never saw schooling beyond the eighth grade because the family needed her help in the fields. "There was a kind of severity about her from time to time," says Elshtain of her mother. "But I understood it on some level." Helen "was fiercely dedicated to her family and worked very hard to leave a powerful family legacy."

Young Jean read voraciously, which met with approval from both parents until she became enamored with Ernie Pyle's war dispatches. At the age of nine she used her 4-H Club money to purchase a subscription to Time magazine.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Civic Housekeeping: Jean Elshtain on Mothering and Other Duties
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.