Judith N. Shklar

American political theorist

Judith Nisse Shklar (September 24, 1928 – September 17, 1992) was a philosopher and political theorist who studied the history of political thought, notably that of the Enlightenment period. She was appointed the John Cowles Professor of Government at Harvard University in 1980.


  • It is, however, not only undignified to idealize political victims; it is also very dangerous. One of our political actualities is that the victims of political torture and injustice are often no better than their tormentors. They are only waiting to change places with the latter. Of course, if one puts cruelty first this makes no difference. It does not matter whether the victim of torture is a decent man or a villain. No one deserves to be subjected to the appalling instruments of cruelty.
    • Ordinary Vices (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1984)

Quotes about Shklar

  • Shklar’s was a liberalism motivated not by a summum bonum, an ultimate good, but by a summum malum, an ultimate evil, something to be avoided: namely, cruelty and the fear it inspires. Liberalism’s emphasis on restraint, she argued, should be motivated by the distinctive political evil of living in fear of state violence and cruelty. This was how liberalism could ensure it remained anti-statist in the right way: focused on the most dangerous branches and uses of state power, without giving up on state authority to restrain private cruelty as well.
    • Jacob T. Levy. "Who’s Afraid of Judith Shklar? Meet the American philosopher who showed that Western politics could only move forward by first taking a step backward."[REVIEW] Foreign policy (2018)