“She was a great believer in democracy and the values of liberty and individual responsibility that under-pin it,” said National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman. “She was a beloved member of the NED Board of Directors and a most worthy recipient of NED’s Democracy Service Medal. She will be sorely missed, but remembering her will continue to inspire our work.”
Elshtain was also an important contributor to the intellectual life of NED, and in 2008 was selected to deliver the annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World. Her topic, Democracy and Religion: Allies or Antagonists, explored a frequent intersection of her scholarship and life’s work, the role of religion in public life. An article based on the lecture was published by NED’s Journal of Democracy in April 2009.
“She loved to provoke and, through provocations, to stimulate conversation, argument and opportunities to learn,” said Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School. “No doubt many commentators on her work will spend their energies discussing her from what are called ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ stances. But to reduce her to categories of partisanship or ideology, would be to miss the scholar.”
Elshtain believed deeply in the mission of the National Endowment for Democracy, and in the broader struggle of all who risk so much to advance basic rights and freedoms. She spoke eloquently at a memorial for Czech dissident and President Vaclav Havel organized by NED in January 2012, reminding those present of his call to live in truth; to live “as if” there was freedom; to imagine the alternatives to life in a totalitarian system and to act on that imagination, fully aware of the price that might be paid as a result.
“There are plenty of smart people, and God knows Jean was one of them, but with Jean you also got something much rarer and more precious, which is wisdom. Jean was deeply wise. She was also generous, and until the end, indefatigable, and curious about everything.”