Foreign Policy Magazine

A Modest Proposal

Judith Shklar showed that Western politics can only move forward by taking a step back.

WHEN THE HARVARD UNIVERSITY POLITICAL THEORIST JUDITH SHKLAR died in 1992 at age 63, she was better known than she had ever been but still did not occupy center stage of U.S. intellectual life. Unlike the more widely celebrated older generation of postwar political theorists—Isaiah Berlin, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and F.A. Hayek—who were similarly shaped by exile from European totalitarianism, she neither inspired a large school of followers nor did she comment regularly on current events. Shklar’s thought was also out of step with the mood of the years that followed her death. Her intellectual style—a skepticism that occasionally bordered on pessimism—did not find much traction in the post-Cold War years of booming prosperity, deepening international trade, and a rising confidence that a liberal, humanitarian West would improve the world, by force if necessary.

Although Shklar has since earned a quiet renown as an influential teacher of teachers, a growing community is beginning to recognize that she is overdue for renewed consideration as a thinker. Giunia Gatta’s admirable new book, Rethinking Liberalism for the 21st Century: The Skeptical Radicalism of Judith Shklar (Routledge, 154 pp., $145), is a welcome introduction to Shklar for anyone not yet acquainted with her. The

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