Judith Nisse Shklar

Biography of Judith Nisse Shklar

Judith Nisse Shklar (September 24, 1928 – September 17, 1992) was a political theorist, and the John Cowles Professor of Government at Harvard University.

Judith Shklar was born in Riga, Latvia to Jewish parents who fled the Soviet Union when she was thirteen. She graduated from McGill University and received B.A and M.A. degrees in 1949 and 1950. She received her Ph.D degree from Harvard University in 1955.

After graduation, Shklar became a faculty member at Harvard University and spent her entire academic career there. She was the first tenured woman in Harvard's Government Department. She was also president of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy and president of the American Political Science Association.
She was a renowned teacher and advisor, and many of her former students contributed to a volume of essays on her thought, Liberalism Without Illusions, edited by Bernard Yack.

Shklar's thought centered on two main ideas: that cruelty is the greatest evil, which she touches on in her essay "The Liberalism of Fear" and elaborates more fully in Putting Cruelty First, an essay in Ordinary Vices, and her idea of "liberalism of fear." The "liberalism of fear" is based on her view that cruelty is the greatest evil and that governments are prone to abuse the "inevitable inequalities in power" that result from political organization. Based on these views she advocates constitutional democracy[citation needed], which is flawed, but still the best form of government possible, because it protects people from the abuses of the more powerful by restricting government and by dispersing power among a "multiplicity of politically active groups" (The Liberalism of Fear).

She stated that "Every adult should be able to make as many effective decisions without fear or favor about as many aspects of his or her life as is compatible with the like freedom of every adult." and that this "is the original and only defensible meaning of liberalism." (Judith Shklar, The Liberalism of Fear).

She described rights less as absolute moral liberties and more as licenses which citizens must have in order to protect themselves against abuse.

Shklar was deeply interested in injustice and political evils. She claimed that "philosophy fails to give injustice its due," that is, most past philosophers have ignored injustice and talked only about justice, likewise they have ignored vice and only talked about virtue. In Ordinary Vices and The Faces of Injustice Shklar attempts to fill this gap in philosophical thought, drawing heavily on literature as well as philosophy to argue that injustice and the "sense of injustice" are historically and culturally universal, and are very important for modern political and philosophical theory.

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