On The Theopolitics of Reinhold Niebuhr by Political Observer



I’ve just finished a Reinhold Niebuhr biography by Richard Fox published in 1985. That I find Mr. Niebuhr repugnant as person and Christian Moralist is a statement of my prejudice, without apology. I felt that I wanted to understand who the man was and where he came from. Those questions are answered in some detail in Mr. Fox’s biography, although Mr. Fox seems to be satisfied with hagiography rather that critical engagement with Mr. Niebuhr as theopolitician. Niebuhr appears to be a religious and political conformist swept along from Socialism to Cold War Liberalism: always a little too anxious to prove his patriotism, his Americaness. Niebuhr has become the object of a cult headed by President Obama, perhaps because of the tough minded moralizing represented by Christian Realism: which could be more accurately named Christian Imperialism. It has something in common with the Protestant Christian Politics of Woodrow Wilson, with an emphasis on the necessary use of violence, to reach political ends deemed important enough to warrant it. In the name of the greater political good, even as necessary to emancipate, if only temporarily, man from his natural sinful and irredeemable self-hood. This cliché of the Christian Tradition reeks of the self-hating Augustine, and his successors, who institutionalized the persistent, morally destructive Christian anti-humanism. Imperial Politics with a thin veneer of carefully cultivated piety is an American tradition. I would call Niebuhr hopelessly Middlebrow: more about the care and maintenance of bourgeois political respectability and the self-exculpatory, as key to ex post facto rationalizations identified as ‘Philosophy’ . I was impressed, and moved by one person’s character in Mr. Fox’s biography of Reinhold, and that was the love, devotion and steadfastness of his brother Richard. Engaging with the ‘Philosophy’ of Mr. Niebuhr using the valuable historical frame provided by Mr. Fox will enrich my further reading.

Political Observer

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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