As a result, our leaders overestimate their personal virtue, the merits of the American project, and the ability of our institutions such as the military to carry out their objectives, and this leads them to pride and shortsightedness. Niebuhr is also appealing to public figures because he put his ideas to the test in public life, although doing so prompted accusations of inconsistency, and the suspicion—familiar to James Comey—that he was lending his support to the wrong side. In the documentary, the ethicist Ronald H.
During John F. And yet when Niebuhr, after Brown v. Board of Education, was asked to sign a petition appealing to President Eisenhower to intervene on behalf of black students against a white Southern society still clinging to segregation, he declined to do so out of a conviction that social change could not be imposed abruptly from without. As Doblmeier ruefully notes, Niebuhr was still on the F.
In the final months of the Presidential campaign, Comey faced two moral dilemmas of profound import. In the first, as Newsweek has reported , by last July the agency held evidence that Russia sought to interfere in the election—and presumably to swing the result in favor of Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton. Comey, seeing clear wrongdoing, was eager to take action. During a meeting in the White House Situation Room with top Administration officials, Comey proposed to set out the intelligence in an opinion piece for, say, the Times. He held up a piece of paper.
Even so, one can imagine how it might have come about. Reinhold had suffered a series of debilitating strokes beginning in He continued to work, though at a much slower pace.
As his strength declined over the last 19 years of his life, he was increasingly dependent on his wife. Like many stroke patients, he suffered from depression, and she tried to keep his spirits up—that was one reason, she acknowledged, for the conversations she recorded. They were trips down memory lane or around the headlines of the day.
As writing became more difficult for him, her editorial role increased to the point where we can say that she was not only editor but also coauthor. Perhaps it was hard for him to admit even to himself the full extent of her contribution to his late writings. Perhaps she, for the sake of his pride or morale, did not insist that her name be included. One can see how it might have come about that her name was not included in jointly authored pieces in these last decades of his life.
Whatever reason for the pretense then, there is no reason for it now. It is time for scholars to examine more fully Ursula Niebuhr's influence on her husband's work not just in the last years but throughout their marriage. This acknowledgment does not diminish Reinhold Niebuhr, arguably the most influential U. I told Elisabeth Sifton about my theory that her mother had a significant role in her father's later writings. She didn't talk about 'my influence on your father. I know it in my bones. Scholars have written of the intellectual energy that enlivened the Niebuhrs' marriage.
Their daughter described them both as "wildly intelligent" people who were interested in the life of the mind, adding that they "hugely enjoyed each other's intellectual prowess. We cannot know for sure what views the Niebuhrs might have held about these matters coming to light.
It is difficult to predict the opinions of the living, much less the dead. We do know, however, that Ursula Niebuhr, a careful scholar and meticulous archivist, left the evidence, well organized and filed away in her papers at the Library of Congress. This woman was nobody's fool; she knew what she was doing.
And what of Reinhold Niebuhr? How might he have regarded these revelations? He himself acknowledged her significant assistance and influence in many places, most notably in that curious reference to "joint authorship" quoted above. Besides, whatever his frailties in those difficult final years, Niebuhr at his best worked to strip away the pretense of the powerful—including himself—and to unmask the human tendency to hide injustice behind the veil of claims to mutuality and love. This was a leading theme to which he returned throughout his life. Niebuhr had a reputation for being idealistic about the family, giving too much attention to agape love in the family and too little to the realities of injustice there.
According to Sifton, this was in fact a point of contention between her parents.
Hollinger et al. Louis church grew from eighteen to six hundred families under his leadership. After his death, Niebuhrian became a synonym for American political realism—the school of thought that places national self-interest above idealistic schemes for social reform. The vision of eternal peace and brotherhood in human society will never be realized in history, because human society is constantly in a state of war. Under this philosophy, humans are inherently unable to do good things on a mass scale and had to recognize their reliance on God. Redemption will not take place within time and history, but rather beyond them. Strange point, and new!
Her mother would complain of the "sentimental attachment to the family" found in the Niebuhr family, including Reinhold. I remember her saying, 'You know, my dear, your father has the idea that it's all about love in a family, and justice must be found in the public sphere. But I'm the fifth of five children, and I know. Justice is an issue in family life. It's not all about love. Perhaps this is one point on which Ursula Niebuhr changed her husband's views. He came to recognize the need for justice not only in public life but in the family. Indeed, his first reference to the unjust tyranny of males within the family appeared in Moral Man and Immoral Society, a book written during their engagement and the first year of their marriage.
This theme recurred in his writings. In he wrote, "Without the balance of power even the most loving relations may degenerate into unjust relations and love may become the screen which hides injustice. There are Christian idealists today. In light of Reinhold Niebuhr's insistence on the need to seek justice in the family and to strip away pretense, it is right to acknowledge Ursula Niebuhr's role in her husband's work; it is flat-out Niebuhrian.
Born in , one of four children of a minister in the Deutsche Evangelische Synode von Nord-Amerika, Niebuhr trained for the ministry from age 15, and at 20 took over the pulpit of his boyhood church, in Lincoln, Illinois, after his father died suddenly. He became an editorialist for The Christian Century , which led to a job offer from Union Theological Seminary in New York; by then, his advocacy on behalf of ill-paid autoworkers in Detroit had thrust him into public life—an agitator in a gray flannel suit, bald and bright-eyed, voluble and inexhaustible.
His preoccupation with the workings of society more than with God or the individual put him closer to Max Weber than to Jonathan Edwards. Yet he was suspicious of the abstractions of sociology and politics alike. Against these he set a Christian realism rooted in his sense of human sinfulness. When it was published, Moral Man and Immoral Society seemed to describe the conflict between liberalism and radicalism at home; but in the years to follow, it seemed to describe the conflict between civilization and totalitarianism abroad, because Niebuhr, better and earlier than anybody else, had foreseen both the mass hysteria of Nazism and the liberal appeasement of Chamberlain and Roosevelt.
The allusions are to Augustine, Kant, and the prophets of Israel. Written in the white heat of the Depression, labor strife, Stalinist fervor, and the Weimar meltdown, it has the granite objectivity of the great chronicles of the vanity of human wishes.
The biblical sense of history can make Niebuhr seem something other than a liberal. It was no great surprise, either, that in , the theocons enlisted him to support the war on terror, using his work to vault over Vietnam to an earlier age when the United States had fought a noble war abroad in the defense of freedom at home. McClay is a theocon yeoman with a chair at the University of Tennessee.
Indeed, they have an obligation to do so. But the speed date between liberal pundits and massive military force came with unintended consequences. By then he had the American people as his congregation. He had advised the State Department on the cultural reconstruction of Europe and had even been touted for president. Yet This Nation Under God , as he called it, would be his last major book; retitled The Irony of American History , it went to press in early , shortly before the stroke from which he never fully recovered. The irony of American history, as Niebuhr explained it, is that our virtues and our vices are inextricably joined.
What should America do about the Soviet threat?
The Cold Warrior answered coolly but surely, with Sunday-morning lyricism: In foreign affairs, we should proceed vigorously but cautiously. Those are words that Peter Beinart now knows well. During the long run-up to the war in Iraq, the liberal hawks ransacked modern history, seeking analogies in every U. Under his direction, the magazine editorialized early and often in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This self-righteousness dissipated quickly.
As it became clear that no weapons of mass destruction would be found and no exemplary democracy would flower, liberal hawks from Paul Berman to Jacob Weisberg to Christopher Hitchens stepped back from the brink of certainty and into the world of paradox and ambiguity. The New Republic caught the changing mood.
To do this, he explained, the party would have to purge itself of the forces on its far left, represented by the filmmaker and author Michael Moore and the Web activist organization MoveOn. Dionne Jr.