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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Realism, Ethics and U.S. Foreign Policy

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Andrew J. Bacevich, Boston University
Fr Bryan Hehir, Harvard University
Jean Bethke Elshtain, University of Chicago
Date: Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Time: 4:00-5:30 PM
Location: McGuinn 121

Realism is a school of thought in international relations that asserts the need to carefully assess and project national power to achieve maximum stability and security among states. Some political realists (such as Henry Kissinger) deny any role to ethics or morality in this process, while others (such as Walter Lippmann and Reinhold Niebuhr) argue that moral issues must be a part of any serious realist analysis. This panel brings together three of the nation’s most prominent scholars on religion, ethics and international politics to discuss the role of realism and ethics in U.S. foreign policy, with a focus on the new directions expected from President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.

headshot of Andrew Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.  A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he received his Ph.D. in American diplomatic history from Princeton.  Before joining the faculty of Boston University in 1998, he taught at West Point and at Johns Hopkins. Bacevich is the author of several books, to include The New American Militarism:  How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005) and American Empire:  The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy (2002).  He is the editor of The Long War:  A New History of U. S. National Security Policy since World War II (2007) and Imperial Tense:  Problems and Prospects of American Empire (2003).  His essays and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of scholarly and general interest publications to include The Atlantic Monthly, The Wilson Quarterly, The London Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Nation, and The New Republic.  His op-eds have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times among other newspapers. Bacevich is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Andrew J. Bacevich's other events at the Boisi Center

headshot of Jean Bethke Elshtain

Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago, where she holds appointments in the Divinity School, the Department of Political Science and the Committee on International Relations. In the Fall semesters she holds the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Chair in the Foundations of American Freedom at Georgetown University. Professor Elshtain is a political philosopher whose task has been to show the connections between our political and ethical convictions. In addition to her essays in numerous journals of civic opinion, she is the editor of seven books and author of more than a dozen more, including Public Man, Private Woman; Democracy on Trial; Augustine and the Limits of Politics; and Just War against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World. Her most recent book, published in 2008, is Sovereignty: God, State and Self, an early version of which was delivered as the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 2006. Professor Elshtain is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2006 was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her Ph.D. In political science is from Brandeis University.

headshot of Fr. Hehir

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir is the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is also the Secretary for Social Services in the Archdiocese of Boston. Prior to assuming these positions, Father Hehir served as President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA from 2001-2003. Before that he served on the staff of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in Washington, D.C. and served on the faculty at Georgetown University. He also served as faculty and later Dean of Harvard Divinity School. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1984. His research and writing focus on issues of ethics and foreign policy, Catholic social ethics and the role of religion in world politics and in American society. Hehir’s publications include: “The Moral Measurement of War: A Tradition of Continuity and Change”; “Military Intervention and National Sovereignty”; “Catholicism and Democracy”; “Social Values and Public Policy: A Contribution from a Religious Tradition”; and “The Moral Dimension in the Use of Force."

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir's other events at the Boisi Center


In the News

Escalating U.S. attacks on ISIL requires careful thought about the ethics and the realist geopolitical consequences of intervention. Realism and ethics in U.S. foreign policy were the central themes of this 2009 Boisi Center panel with distinguished scholars Andrew Bacevich, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Rev. J. Bryan Hehir.