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Sovereign God, Sovereign State, Sovereign Self

University of Edinburgh

In Lecture 1, ‘Sovereign God: From Logos to Will’, Dr. Elshtain traces the movement from God as Logos, in which humans could come to God through intellect and reason, to God as will ‘on the level of thought and … political configuration, as “universalism” gave way to “particularisms.”’ The dominant Thomism of medieval Europe led to an understanding of God’s sovereignty that meant human law should be like the laws of God, eternal and immutable. Where human law denied or transgressed the higher law, human law had to give way before the higher law. Yet when God’s sovereignty became associated with God’s acts of willing, the question arose: Is God’s will in any way bound?

In the second lecture, ‘Sovereign God: From Public to Private’, Professor Elshtain argues that events occurred to cement the particularisms we call states. This lecture examines the concepts of ‘constitutionalism’, ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘tolerance’ to see their impact on God’s sovereignty, God as sovereign will and theological debate about whether God’s powers are bound or unbound.

Lecture 3, ‘The Sovereign State: Will and Power Unchained’, examines how the state, identified as Hobbes’s Leviathian, may or may not be bound. The lecture further explores how and who might bind the state and how theological arguments about God’s will permeate political theory.

In Lecture 4, ‘The Sovereign State: Taming Willful Power’, Dr. Elshtain reviews the process of binding the state. Additionally, she reflects on the effects of political will on God’s will.

The fifth lecture, ‘The Sovereign Self: Reason and Will, Binding and Unbinding’, begins with an understanding that Augustine would see the emergence of the sovereign self as triumphant self-pride. The emergence of the self is seen in relation to God’s sovereignty, the sovereignty of states and some idea of moral or natural law. The question is raised: ‘Does faith act as a goad to, or a brake on, self-sovereignty?’

Lecture 6, ‘From Sovereignty to Responsibility: The Contemporary Self in the Light of Reason, History, and Faith’, evaluates the impact of faith, philosophy and politics on self-sovereignty. The lecture examines the possibility of finding a middle way that ‘neither capitulates to pridefulness, on the one hand, nor inappropriate self-loss, on the other.’

Larry Pullen


Sovereignty: God, State, and Self