Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics: His Political Philosophy and Its Application to Our Age as Expressed in His Writings

Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics: His Political Philosophy and Its Application to Our Age as Expressed in His Writings

Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics: His Political Philosophy and Its Application to Our Age as Expressed in His Writings

Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics: His Political Philosophy and Its Application to Our Age as Expressed in His Writings

Excerpt

When he proposed that Reinhold Niebuhr be invited to deliver Edinburgh's renowned Gifford Lectures, John Baillie said, "Intellectually, Niebuhr is head and shoulders, he is legs and ankles above any other American."

The honors accorded the prophet in a far country have been lavished upon him at home too. It may surely be said that the towering teacher of Christian ethics from Union Theological Seminary is one of the mighty spirits of our times. For forty years we have been reading his incisive thought in our leading journals. Through eighteen of his volumes we have been jostled by his polemic, instructed by his commentary, and enlightened by the brilliance of his analysis.

Niebuhr's eminence as a prophet and theologian is now being matched by his rapidly growing reputation as a political theorist. Increasingly he is cited, reprinted and critically analyzed by students of international relations and political philosophy.

For Niebuhr, theology and politics are not really separate fields, but two perspectives on a single reality, each helping to illumine the data of the other. His central concerns clearly bridge the two disciplines: the nature and destiny of man, the perplexities of social ethics, the conditions of human community. Out of such concerns Niebuhr naturally emerges, not as a political scientist narrowly defined, but as a political and moral philosopher in the grand manner. His calipers are not calibrated in micromillimeters but in yards and rods, for they are designed to span the height and depth of the human soul rather than to record those minutiae of human behavior susceptible of precise measurement.

Yet Niebuhr, it must be stressed, has disparaged neither reason nor science. His position is that these instruments ought to be understood and used, not worshipped. In his awareness of the ability of the sinful self to appropriate reason to its own ends, Niebuhr is more rational than the rationalists. In his insistence on examining the presuppositions of the . . .

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