Andrew Sullivan,Reinhold Niebuhr,’Christian Realism’ and President Obama by Political Observer

I find the public career of Mr. Andrew Sullivan puzzling, disappointing even infuriating. I started reading him when he was writing for The New York Observer and subsequently as he and Christopher Hitchens kept the debate of 9/11 within the bounds that they thought as reasonable, intellectually and politically acceptable, two stern enforcers of their continually evolving master ideas.

The two rhetorical policeman dismissing the charlatans who dared to express an opinion outside the the ken of these two intellectual capos. Vicious, dismissive and utterly ruthless to those they identified as unfit to comment on the most recent American Wound. Part of the collection of jingos and war mongers in the American intelligentsia that announced themselves in the subsequent day and weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Both became enthusiasts, celebrants of the Iraq War and just as quickly became disenchanted of their momentary celebration of the martial spirit, in the name of the honored dead and the need for retribution, even though their was no connection between the 9/11 perpetrators and Iraq, none.

That sorry, dismal, murderous folly is almost behind us or so Mr. Sullivan instructs us in his latest essay titled An End in Sight. He congratulates President Obama and, of course, himself in the process. But let me point to one telling paragraph:

My view entirely. I’m struck too by his Niebuhrian grasp of the inherent tragedy of wielding power in an age of terror – a perspective his more jejune and purist critics simply fail to understand. This seems like a heart-felt expression of Christian realism to me:”

It is totally appropriate that Mr. Sullivan should frame his argument using the name of Niebuhr and his intellectual child ‘Christian Realism’ to add a certain theological/political gloss to his argument, that bit of cosmic melodrama that so appeals to his inflated sense of himself as a modern seer, prophet.

In that regard Mr. Niebuhr and Mr. Sullivan are kindred spirits in the celebration of God and the political realism, the Christian Realism that recognizes the importance of the state, as the indispensable political actor that can bring their respective religiously inflected politics into the realm of the actionable, the real. In a way, Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Niebuhr, in their respective personal and historical contexts, are acolytes of the dyad of state power/masculine power.

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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