Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr
Reinhold Niebuhr
Born Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr
June 21, 1892(1892-06-21)
Wright City, Missouri
Died June 1, 1971(1971-06-01) (aged 78)
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Education Elmhurst College, Eden Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School
Occupation Theologian,
professor at Union Theological Seminary (1930-1960),
magazine editor (1941-1966)
Years active 1915-1966
Known for Christian Realism
Religion Protestant
Spouse Ursula Keppel-Compton Niebuhr

Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (pronounced /ˈraɪnhoʊld ˈniːbʊər/; June 21, 1892 – June 1, 1971) was an American theologian and commentator on public affairs. Starting as a leftist minister in the 1920s indebted to theological liberalism, he shifted to the new Neo-Orthodox theology in the 1930s, explaining how the sin of pride created evil in the world. He attacked utopianism as ineffectual for dealing with reality, writing in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944):

"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."

His realism deepened after 1945 and led him to support United States' efforts to confront Soviet communism around the world. A powerful speaker, he was one of the most influential religious leaders of the 1940s and 1950s in American public affairs.[citation needed] Niebuhr battled with the religious liberals over what he called their naïve views of sin and the optimism of the Social Gospel, and battled with the religious conservatives over what he viewed as their naïve view of Scripture and their narrow definition of "true religion."

His long-term impact involves relating the Christian faith to "realism" in foreign affairs, rather than idealism, and his contribution to modern "just war" thinking. Niebuhr's perspective influenced many liberals, who came to support a "realist" foreign policy.[1] Such recent leaders of American foreign policy as Jimmy Carter, Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama have acknowledged Niebuhr's importance to them.[2]


Early life and education

Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, the son of German immigrants Gustav Niebuhr and his wife Lydia. His father was a German Evangelical pastor; his denomination was the American branch of the established Prussian Church Union in Germany. It is now part of the United Church of Christ. The family spoke German at home. His brother H. Richard Niebuhr became a famous historian of religion, and his sister Hulda Niebuhr became a divinity professor in Chicago.

Reinhold Niebuhr attended Elmhurst College in Illinois and graduated in 1910.[3] He studied at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri. Niebuhr attended Yale Divinity School, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1914 and a Master of Arts degree the following year. He always regretted not taking a doctorate. Niebuhr said that Yale gave him intellectual liberation from the localism of his German-American upbringing[4]

Marriage and family

In 1931 Niebuhr married Ursula Keppel-Compton. She was an educated and religious woman who later became chairman of the Religion Department at Barnard College (the women's college of Columbia University). They had two children.


In 1915, Niebuhr was ordained a pastor. The German Evangelical mission board sent him to serve at Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit, Michigan. The congregation numbered sixty-five on his arrival and grew to nearly 700 by the time he left in 1928. The increase reflected his ability to reach people outside the German American community and among the growing population attracted to jobs in the booming automobile industry. In the early 1900s Detroit became the fourth-largest city in the country, attracting many Jewish and Catholic immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, as well as black and white migrants from the rural South. They competed for jobs and limited housing, and the city's rapid changes and rise in social tensions contributed to the growth in numbers of the Ku Klux Klan, which reached its peak in 1925.[5]

World War I

As America entered the World War in 1917, Niebuhr was the unknown pastor of a small German-speaking congregation in Detroit (it stopped using German in 1919). All German American culture in the United States and nearby Canada was under attack for suspicion of having dual loyalties. Niebuhr repeatedly stressed the need to be loyal to America, and won an audience in national magazines for his appeals to the German Americans to be patriotic.[6] Theologically, however, he went beyond the issue of national loyalty as he endeavored to fashion a realistic ethical perspective of patriotism and pacifism. He endeavored to work out a realistic approach to the moral danger posed by aggressive powers which many idealists and pacifists failed to recognize. During the war he also served his denomination as Executive Secretary of the War Welfare Commission while maintaining his pastorate in Detroit. A pacifist at heart, he saw compromise as a necessity and was willing to support war in order to find peace — compromising for the sake of righteousness.[7]

Auto industry

After seminary he preached the Social Gospel, then started attacking what he considered the brutalization and insecurity of Ford workers.[8] Niebuhr had moved to the left and was troubled by the demoralizing effects of industrialism on workers. He became an outspoken critic of Henry Ford and allowed union organizers to use his pulpit to expound their message of workers' rights. Niebuhr attacked poor conditions created by the assembly lines and erratic employment practices.[9]

Because of his opinion about factory work, Niebuhr rejected liberal optimism. He wrote in his diary:

We went through one of the big automobile factories to-day. . . . The foundry interested me particularly. The heat was terrific. The men seemed weary. Here manual labour is a drudgery and toil is slavery. The men cannot possibly find any satisfaction in their work. They simply work to make a living. Their sweat and their dull pain are part of the price paid for the fine cars we all run. And most of us run the cars without knowing what price is being paid for them. . . . We are all responsible. We all want the things which the factory produces and none of us is sensitive enough to care how much in human values the efficiency of the modern factory costs.".[10]

The historian Ronald H. Stone thinks that Niebuhr never talked to the assembly line workers (many of his parishioners were skilled craftsmen) but projected feelings onto them after discussions with Rev. Samuel Marquis.[11] As some studies of assembly line workers have shown, the work may have been dull, but workers had complex motivations and could find ways to make meaning of their experiences; many boasted about their jobs and tried hard to place their sons on the assembly line. Ford tried and failed to control work habits. After extensive sociological studies in which workers were interviewed, management concluded that the workers were more interested in controlling their home lives than their work lives. The Ford solution was welfare capitalism, paying relatively high wages with added benefits, such as vacations and retirement, that reduced turnover and appealed primarily to family men.[12][Need quotation to verify][page needed]

Niebuhr's criticism of Ford and capitalism resonated with progressives and helped make him nationally prominent.[9] His serious commitment to Marxism developed not in Detroit but after he moved to New York in 1928.[13]

In 1923, Niebuhr visited Europe to meet with intellectuals and theologians. The conditions he saw in Germany under the French occupation of part of Germany dismayed him. They reinforced the pacifist views he had adopted after World War I.

1930s: Growing influence

Niebuhr captured his personal experiences in Detroit in his book Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. He continued to write and publish throughout his career, and also served as editor of the magazine Christianity and Crisis from 1941 through 1966.

In 1928, Niebuhr left Detroit to become Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He spent the rest of his career there, until retirement in 1960. While teaching theology at Union Theological Seminary, Niebuhr influenced many generations of students, including German minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church.

Niebuhr was among the group of 51 prominent Americans who formed the International Relief Association (IRA) that is today known as the International Rescue Committee (IRC).[14] The committee mission was to assist Germans suffering from the policies of the Hitler regime.[15]

Niebuhr and Dewey

In the 1930s Niebuhr was often seen as an intellectual opponent of John Dewey. Both men were professional polemicists and their ideas often clashed despite the fact that both men held sway over the same realms of liberal intellectual schools of thought. Niebuhr was a strong proponent of the "Jerusalem" religious tradition as a corrective to the secular "Athens" tradition insisted upon by Dewey.[16] In the book Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) a still intellectually young Niebuhr heavily criticized Dewey's philosophy. Two years later, in a review of Dewey's book A Common Faith (1934), Niebuhr was surprisingly calm and respectful towards Dewey's "religious footnote" on his then large body of educational and pragmatic philosophy.[17]

Neo-orthodox theology

In 1939 Niebuhr explained his theological odyssey:[18]

....About midway in my ministry which extends roughly from the peace of Versailles [1919] to the peace of Munich [1938], measured in terms of Western history, I underwent a fairly complete conversion of thought which involved rejection of almost all the liberal theological ideals and ideas with which I ventured forth in 1915. I wrote a book [Does Civilization need Religion?], my first, in 1927 which...contains almost all the theological windmills against which today I tilt my sword. These windmills must have tumbled shortly thereafter for every succeeding volume expresses a more and more explicit revolt against what is usually known as liberal culture.

In the 1930s Niebuhr worked out many of his ideas about sin and grace, love and justice, faith and reason, realism and idealism, and the irony and tragedy of history, which established his leadership of the neo-orthodox movement in theology. Influenced strongly by Karl Barth and other dialectical theologians of Europe, he began to emphasize the Bible as a human record of divine self-revelation; it offered for Niebuhr a critical but redemptive reorientation of the understanding of man's nature and destiny.[19]

Niebuhr couched his ideas in Christ-centered principles such as the Great Commandment and the doctrine of original sin. His major contribution was his view of sin as a social event — as pride — with selfish self-centeredness as the root of evil. The sin of pride was apparent not just in criminals, but more dangerously in people who felt good about their deeds — rather like Henry Ford (whom he did not mention by name). The human tendency to corrupt the good was the great insight he saw manifested in governments, business, democracies, utopian societies, and churches. This position is laid out profoundly in one of his most influential books, Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932). He was a debunker of hypocrisy and pretense and made the avoidance of self-righteous illusions the center of his thoughts. Niebuhr argued that to approach religion as the individualistic attempt to fulfill biblical commandments in a moralistic sense is not only an impossibility but also a demonstration of man's original sin, which Niebuhr interpreted as self-love. Through self-love man becomes focused on his own goodness and leaps to the false conclusion — one which he calls the "Promethean illusion" — that he can achieve goodness on his own. Thus man mistakes his partial ability to transcend himself for the ability to prove his absolute authority over his own life and world. Constantly frustrated by natural limitations, man develops a lust for power which destroys him and his whole world. History is the record of these crises and judgments which man brings on himself; it is also proof that God does not allow man to overstep his possibilities. In radical contrast to the Promethean illusion, God reveals himself in history, especially personified in Jesus Christ, as sacrificial love which overcomes the human temptation to self-deification and makes possible constructive human history.[20][21]


The whole art of politics consists in directing rationally the irrationalities of men.

—Reinhold Niebuhr[22]


During the 1930s, Niebuhr was a prominent leader of the militant faction of the Socialist Party of America, although he dismayed die-hard Marxists by calling their beliefs a religion and a thin one at that.[23] In 1941, he cofounded the Union for Democratic Action, a group with a strongly militarily interventionist, internationalist foreign policy and a pro-union, liberal domestic policy, and was the group's sole president until its transformation into the Americans for Democratic Action in 1947.[24]


Within the framework of Christian Realism, Niebuhr became a supporter of American action in World War II, anti-communism, and the development of nuclear weapons. However, he opposed the Vietnam War.[25][26]

At the outbreak of World War II, the pacifist component of his liberalism was challenged. Niebuhr began to distance himself from the pacifism of his more liberal colleagues and became a staunch advocate for the war. Niebuhr soon left the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a peace-oriented group of theologians and ministers, and became one of their harshest critics. This departure from his peers evolved into a movement known as Christian Realism. Niebuhr is widely considered to have been its primary advocate.[27]

Niebuhr supported the Allies during World War II and argued for the engagement of the United States in the war. As a writer popular in both the secular and the religious arena and a professor at the Union Theological Seminary, he was very influential both in the United States and abroad. While many clergy proclaimed themselves pacifists because of their World War I experiences, Niebuhr declared a victory by Germany and Japan would threaten Christianity. He renounced his socialist connections and beliefs and resigned from the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation. He based his arguments on the Protestant beliefs that sin is part of the world, that justice must take precedence over love, and that pacifism is a symbolic portrayal of absolute love but cannot prevent sin. Although his opponents did not portray him favorably, Niebuhr's exchanges with them on the issue helped him mature intellectually.[28]

Niebuhr debated Charles Clayton Morrison, editor of The Christian Century magazine about America's entry into World War II. Morrison and his pacifistic followers maintained that America's role should be strictly neutral and part of a negotiated peace only, while Niebuhr claimed himself to be a realist, who opposed the use of political power to attain moral ends. Morrison and his followers strongly supported the movement to outlaw war that began after World War I and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The pact was severely challenged by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and in 1932, with his publication of Moral Man and Immoral Society, Niebuhr broke ranks with The Christian Century and supported interventionism and power politics, culminating in his support of the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 and the publication of his own magazine, Christianity and Crisis.[29] In 1945, however, Niebuhr charged that use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was "morally indefensible."

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.,[30] explained his impact:

Traditionally, the idea of the frailty of man led to the demand for obedience to ordained authority. But Niebuhr rejected that ancient conservative argument. Ordained authority, he showed, is all the more subject to the temptations of self-interest, self-deception and self-righteousness. Power must be balanced by power. He persuaded me and many of my contemporaries that original sin provides a far stronger foundation for freedom and self-government than illusions about human perfectibility. Niebuhr's analysis was grounded in the Christianity of Augustine and Calvin, but he had, nonetheless, a special affinity with secular circles. His warnings against utopianism, messianism and perfectionism strike a chord today....We cannot play the role of God to history, and we must strive as best we can to attain decency, clarity and proximate justice in an ambiguous world.[31]

Niebuhr's defense of Roosevelt made him popular among liberals, as historian Morton White noted with a touch of irony:

The contemporary liberal's fascination with Niebuhr, I suggest, comes less from Niebuhr's dark theory of human nature and more from his actual political pronouncements, from the fact that he is a shrewd, courageous, and right-minded man on many political questions. Those who applaud his politics are too liable to turn then to his theory of human nature and praise it as the philosophical instrument of Niebuhr's political agreement with themselves. But very few of those whom I have called "atheists for Niebuhr" follow this inverted logic to its conclusion: they don't move from praise of Niebuhr's theory of human nature to praise of its theological ground. We may admire them for drawing the line somewhere, but certainly not for their consistency.[32]

After Joseph Stalin signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Adolf Hitler in August 1939, Niebuhr severed his past ties with any fellow-traveler organization having any known Communist leanings. In 1947, Niebuhr helped found the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). His ideas influenced George Kennan, Hans Morgenthau, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and other realists during the Cold War on the need to contain Communist expansion.

In his last cover story for Time magazine (March 1948), Whittaker Chambers said of Niebuhr:

Most U.S. liberals think of Niebuhr as a solid socialist who has some obscure connection with Union Theological Seminary that does not interfere with his political work. Unlike most clergymen in politics, Dr. Niebuhr is a pragmatist. Says James Loeb, secretary of Americans for Democratic Action: "Most so-called liberals are idealists. They let their hearts run away with their heads. Niebuhr never does. For example, he has always been the leading liberal opponent of pacifism. In that period before we got into the war when pacifism was popular, he held out against it steadfastly." He is also an opponent of Marxism.[33]

In the 1950s his position became so anticommunist that he believed Senator Joseph McCarthy was a force of evil not so much for disrespecting civil liberties as for being ineffective in rooting out Communists and their sympathizers.[34] In 1953 he thought the Rosenbergs should be executed, stating "Traitors are never ordinary criminals and the Rosenbergs are quite obviously fiercely loyal Communists.... Stealing atomic secrets is an unprecedented crime".[34]

Views on race and other religions

His views developed during his pastoral tenure in Detroit, which had become a place of immigration, migration, competition and development as a major industrial city. During the 1920s, Niebuhr spoke out against the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Detroit, which had recruited many members threatened by the rapid social changes. The Klan proposed positions that were anti-black, anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic. Niebuhr's preaching against the Klan, especially in relation to the 1925 mayoral election, gained him national attention.[35]


Anti-Catholicism surged in Detroit in the 1920s in reaction to the rise in the number of Catholic immigrants from eastern and southern Europe since the early 20th century. It was exacerbated by the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, which recruited many members in Detroit. Niebuhr defended pluralism by attacking the Klan. During the Detroit mayoral election of 1925, Niebuhr's sermon, "We fair-minded Protestants cannot deny," was published on the front pages of both the Detroit Times and the Free Press. This sermon urged people to vote against mayoral candidate Charles Bowles, who was being openly endorsed by the Klan. The Catholic incumbent, John W. Smith, won by a narrow 30,000 votes. Niebuhr preached against the Klan and helped to influence its decline in political power in Detroit.[36] Niebuhr preached:

that it was Protestantism that gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan, one of the worst specific social phenomena which the religious pride and prejudice of peoples has ever developed.... I do not deny that all religions are periodically corrupted by bigotry. But I hit Protestant bigotry the hardest at this time because it happens to be our sin and there is no use repenting for other people's sins. Let us repent of our own. .... We are admonished in Scripture to judge men by their fruits, not by their roots; and their fruits are their character, their deeds and accomplishments.[37]


Niebuhr's thought on racial justice developed slowly after he abandoned socialism. Niebuhr attributed the injustices of society to human pride and self love and believed that this innate propensity for evil could not be controlled by humanity. But, he believed that a representative democracy could improve society's ills. Like Edmund Burke, Niebuhr endorsed natural evolution over imposed change and emphasized experience over theory. Niebuhr's Burkean ideology, however, often conflicted with his liberal principles, particularly regarding his perspective on racial justice. Though vehemently opposed to racial inequality, Niebuhr adopted a conservative position on segregation.[38]

While after World War II most liberals endorsed integration, Niebuhr focused on achieving equal opportunity. He warned against imposing changes that could result in violence. The violence that followed peaceful demonstrations in the 1960s forced Niebuhr to reverse his position against imposed equality; witnessing the problems of the Northern ghettos later caused him to doubt that equality was attainable.[38]

Martin Luther King

In the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" Martin Luther King wrote, "Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals." King valued Niebuhr's social and ethical ideals. King attributed his own non-violent posture more to the influence of Niebuhr and Paul Tillich than to the example of Gandhi.[39] On the other hand, Niebuhr was friendly to the white South, was not an active supporter of the civil rights movement and refused to sign petitions when asked by King.[40]


As a young pastor in Detroit, he favored conversion of Jews to Christianity, scolding evangelical Christians who were anti-Semitic or ignoring them. He spoke out against "the unchristlike attitude of Christians" and what he described as his fellow Christians' "Jewish bigotry." [41] His 1933 article in the Christian Century was an attempt to sound the alarm within the Christian community over Hitler's "cultural annihilation of the Jews."[41] Eventually his theology evolved to the point where he was the first prominent Christian theologian to argue it was inappropriate for Christians to seek to convert Jews to their faith.[42]

As a preacher, writer, leader, and adviser to political figures, Niebuhr supported Zionism and the development of Israel. His solution to anti-Semitism was a combination of a Jewish homeland, greater tolerance, and assimilation in other countries. As early as 1942, he advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Palestine and their resettlement in other Arabic countries. His position may have related to his religious conviction that life on earth is imperfect, and his concern about German anti-Semitism.[43]


In 1952, Niebuhr published The Irony of American History, in which he interpreted the meaning of the United States' past. Niebuhr questioned whether a humane, "ironical" interpretation of American history was credible on its own merits, or only in the context of a Christian view of history. Niebuhr's concept of irony referred to situations in which "the consequences of an act are diametrically opposed to the original intention," and "the fundamental cause of the disparity lies in the actor himself, and his original purpose." His reading of American history based on this notion, though from the Christian perspective, is so rooted in historical events that readers who do not share his religious views can be led to the same conclusion. Niebuhr's great foe was idealism. American idealism, he believed, comes in two forms: the idealism of the antiwar non-interventionists, who are embarrassed by power; and the idealism of pro-war imperialists, who disguise power as virtue. He said the non-interventionists, without mentioning Harry Emerson Fosdick by name, seek to preserve the purity of their souls, either by denouncing military actions or by demanding that every action taken be unequivocally virtuous. They exaggerate the sins committed by their own country, excuse the malevolence of its enemies and, as later polemicists have put it, inevitably blame America first. Niebuhr argued this approach was a pious way to refuse to face real problems.[44]

Serenity Prayer

The earliest known version of the prayer, from 1937, has been found in a Christian student newsletter ("The Intercollegian and Far Horizons"), which claimed to reprint the prayer from an earlier edition of the newsletter, and attributes the prayer to Niebuhr in this form:

"Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other."

The most popular version, whose authorship is unknown, reads:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can change, And wisdom to know the difference."

The longest version has these additional lines:

"Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen."[45]

The prayer is frequently used by Alcoholics Anonymous, which uses it in a slightly different form. An Alcoholics Anonymous website reports: "What is undisputed is the claim of authorship by the theologian Dr. Rheinhold [sic] Niebuhr, who recounted to interviewers on several occasions that he had written the prayer as a 'tag line' to a sermon he had delivered on Practical Christianity. Yet even Dr. Niebuhr added at least a touch of doubt to his claim when he told one interviewer, 'Of course, it may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don't think so. I honestly do believe that I wrote it myself.'"[46]

His claim to authorship was supported in detail by his daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, in The Serenity Prayer (2003), where she said that her father first wrote it in 1943. In 2008, Yale Book of Quotations editor Fred R. Shapiro cast doubt on Niebuhr's claim of authorship. He demonstrated that the prayer was in circulation by 1936 but not attributed to Niebuhr until 1942.[47] However, he acknowledged the possibility that Niebuhr introduced the prayer by the mid-1930s in an unpublished or private setting.[47] Sifton, in a response published with Shapiro's article, argues that the prayer must have come from one of the tradition's most gifted practitioners, which she believes could only be her father.[48] In 2009, Duke University librarian Stephen Goranson unearthed the copy of the prayer from 1937 (above). In response to this finding, Shapiro conceded that "The new evidence does not prove that Reinhold Niebuhr wrote [the prayer], but it does significantly improve the likelihood that he was the originator." [49]

Influence and honors

The tragedy of man is that he can conceive self perfection but cannot achieve it.

—Reinhold Niebuhr[22]

Niebuhr exerted a significant influence upon mainline Protestant clergy in the years immediately following World War II, much of it in concord with the neo-orthodox and the related movements. That influence began to wane and then precipitously drop toward the end of his life.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger described the legacy of Niebuhr as being contested between American liberals and conservatives, both of whom wanted to claim him.[50] Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave credit to Niebuhr's influence. Foreign-policy conservatives point to Niebuhr's support of the containment doctrine during the Cold War as an instance of moral realism; progressives cite his later opposition to the Vietnam War.[51]

In more recent years, Niebuhr has enjoyed something of a renaissance in contemporary thought, although usually not in liberal Protestant theological circles. Both major-party candidates in the 2008 presidential election cited Niebuhr as an influence: Senator John McCain, in his work Hard Call, "celebrated Niebuhr as a paragon of clarity about the costs of a good war."[52] President Barack Obama said that Niebuhr was his "favorite philosopher"[53] and "favorite theologian".[54] Slate magazine columnist Fred Kaplan characterized Obama's 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech a "faithful reflection" of Niebuhr.[55]

Kenneth Waltz's seminal work on international relations theory, Man, the State, and War, includes many references to Niebuhr's thought. Waltz emphasizes Niebuhr's contributions to political realism, especially "the impossibility of human perfection."[56] Andrew Bacevich's book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism refers to Niebuhr 13 times.[57] Bacevich emphasises Niebuhr's humility and his belief that Americans were in danger of becoming enamored of US power.

Legacy and honors

Personal style

Niebuhr was often described as a charismatic speaker. The journalist Aiden Whitman wrote of his speaking style: "He possessed a deep voice and large blue eyes. He used his arms as though he were an orchestra conductor. Occasionally one hand would strike out, with a pointed finger at the end, to accent a trenchant sentence. He talked rapidly and (because he disliked to wear spectacles for his far-sightedness) without notes; yet he was adroit at building logical climaxes and in communicating a sense of passionate involvement in what he was saying."[22]


Works by Niebuhr

  • Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Richard R. Smith pub, (1930), Westminster John Knox Press 1991 reissue: ISBN 0-664-25164-1, diary of a young minister's trials
  • Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics, Charles Scribner's Sons (1932), Westminster John Knox Press 2002: ISBN 0-664-22474-1;
  • Interpretation of Christian Ethics, Harper & Brothers (1935)
  • Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History, Charles Scribner's Sons (1937), ISBN 0-684-71853-7
  • The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, from the Gifford Lectures, (1941), Volume one: Human Nature, Volume two: Human Destiny, 1980 Prentice Hall vol. 1: ISBN 0-02-387510-0, Westminster John Knox Press 1996 set of 2 vols: ISBN 0-664-25709-7
  • The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, Charles Scribner's Sons (1944), Prentice Hall 1974 edition: ISBN 0-02-387530-5, Macmillan 1985 edition: ISBN 0-684-15027-1, 2011 reprint from the University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction by Gary Dorrien: ISBN 978-0-226-58400-3
  • Faith and History (1949) ISBN 0-684-15318-1
  • The Irony of American History, Charles Scribner’s Sons (1952), 1985 reprint: ISBN 0-684-71855-3, Simon and Schuster: ISBN 0-684-15122-7, 2008 reprint from the University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction by Andrew J. Bacevich: ISBN 978-0-226-58398-3, read an excerpt
  • Christian Realism and Political Problems (1953) ISBN 0-678-02757-9
  • The Self and the Dramas of History, Charles Scribner’s Sons (1955), University Press of America, 1988 edition: ISBN 0-8191-6690-1
  • Love and Justice: Selections from the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, ed. D. B. Robertson (1957), Westminster John Knox Press 1992 reprint, ISBN 0-664-25322-9
  • Pious and Secular America (1958) ISBN 0-678-02756-0
  • Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics: His Political Philosophy and Its Application to Our Age as Expressed in His Writings ed. by Harry R. Davis and Robert C. Good. (1960) online edition
  • A Nation So Conceived: Reflections on the History of America From Its Early Visions to its Present Power with Alan Heimert, Charles Scribner’s Sons (1963)
  • The Structure of Nations and Empires (1959) ISBN 0-678-02755-2
  • Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses ed. by Robert McAffee Brown (1986). 264 pp. Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-04001-6
  • Remembering Reinhold Niebuhr. Letters of Reinhold & Ursula M. Niebuhr, ed. by Ursula Niebuhr (1991) Harper, 0060662344

About Niebuhr

  • Beckley, Harlan. Passion for Justice: Retrieving the Legacies of Walter Rauschenbusch, John A. Ryan, and Reinhold Niebuhr. (1992). 391 pp.
  • Bingham, June. Courage to Change: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr. (1961), popular biography
  • Brooks, David. "A Man on a Gray Horse: The Mid-Century Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr May Have Gotten a Lot of Things Wrong-But We Could Use a Thinker like Him Today," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 290, September 2002 online edition, sees Niebuhr as 25% conservative
  • Brown, Charles C. Niebuhr and His Age: Reinhold Niebuhr's Prophetic Role in the Twentieth Century. (1992). 317 pp.
  • Carnahan, Kevin. Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Ramsey: Idealist and Pragmatic Christians on Politics, Philosophy, Religion, and War. (2010)
  • Chen, Liang. "From a Christian Socialist to a Christian Realist: Reinhold Niebuhr and the Soviet Union, 1930-1945". Ph.D. dissertation, Department of History, National University of Singapore, 2007.
  • Chambers, Whittaker. "Faith for a Lenten Age," Time (March 8, 1948)
  • Craig, Campbell. "The New Meaning of Modern War in the Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr." Journal of the History of Ideas" 1992 53(4): 687-701 in JSTOR
  • Davies, David Richard. Reinhold Niebuhr: Prophet from America (1945) 94 pages; full text online
  • Diggins, John Patrick. Why Niebuhr Now? (2011). 152 pp. Engages the question of why politicians and social commentators have returned to Niebuhr now. ISBN 9780226148830
  • Doenecke, Justus D. "Reinhold Niebuhr and his Critics: The Interventionist Controversy in World War II." Anglican and Episcopal History 1995 64(4): 459-481. 0896-8039, by a leading conservative historian
  • Dorrien, Gary. The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity 1900-1950 (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Fox, Richard Wightman. "Niebuhr, Reinhold" in American National Biography Online Feb. 2000, very good starting point
  • Fox, Richard Wightman. Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography. (1985). 325 pp., the standard scholarly biography; a well-researched, fair, and engaging treatment of Niebuhr's theological and political work that emphasizes his skill in working with Scripture and in interpreting human nature and the human condition. online review
  • Harland, Gordon. The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr (1960) online edition
  • Harries, Richard, and Stephen Platten, eds. Reinhold Niebuhr and Contemporary Politics (2010)
  • Hofmann, Hans. The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr (1956)
  • Kegley, Charles W., and Robert W. Bretall, eds. Reinhold Niebuhr: His Religious, Social, and Political Thought. (1956) 486pp 20 essays by scholars and reply by Niebuhr; online edition
  • Jackson, Kenneth T. (1992) The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930, Oxford University Press, 1967 (reprinted 1992)
  • Kennealy, Peter (1985) "History, Politics, and the Sense of Sin: The Case of Reinhold Niebuhr," In Athanasios Moulakis (ed.), The Promise of History: Essays in Political Philosophy. W. De Gruyter. Offers a systematic and analytic account of the central categories of Niebuhr's political theology and philosophy of history.
  • Lovin, Robin. "Reinhold Niebuhr in Contemporary Scholarship: A Review Essay," Journal of Religious Ethics 31 (Winter, 2003), 489-505 abridged version online
  • McCann, Dennis. Christian Realism and Liberation Theology (1981).
  • Merkley, Paul. Reinhold Niebuhr: A Political Account (1975),
  • Meyer, Donald B. The Protestant Search for Political Realism, 1919-1941 (1960).
  • Novak, Michael. "Father of Neoconservatives: Nowadays, the Truest Disciples of the Liberal Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr Are Conservatives," National Review, Vol. 44, May 11, 1992 online edition, sees Niebuhr as a conservative
  • Patton Howard G. Reinhold Niebuhr (1977) full text online
  • Rice, Daniel F. Reinhold Niebuhr and John Dewey: An American Odyssey. (1993). 358 pp.
  • Rice, Daniel F., ed. Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited: Engagements with an American Original (2009), old liberals still claim him online review
  • Rosenthal, Joel H. Righteous Realists: Political Realism, Responsible Power, and American Culture in the Nuclear Age. (1991). 191 pp. Compares Niebuhr with Hans J. Morgenthau, Walter Lippmann, George F. Kennan, and Dean Acheson
  • Smith, David L. A Handbook of Contemporary Theology (1992), ch 2. a Fundamentalist view of Niebuhr
  • Warren, Heather A. Theologians of a New World Order: Reinhold Niebuhr and the Christian Realists, 1920-1948. (1997). 199 pp.

External links


  1. ^ "Political realism" in foreign policy emphasizes national interest and is opposed to "idealism." See Michael Doyle, Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism, and Socialism (1997)
  2. ^ Frank A. Ruechel, "Politics And Morality Revisited: Jimmy Carter and Reinhold Niebuhr." Atlanta History 1994 37(4): 19-31; John McCain, Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them? (2007) pp 321-38; also "Reinhold Niebuhr Is Unseen Force in 2008 Elections", September 27, 2007, Benedicta Cipolla, Religion News Service of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
  3. ^ Elmhurst College has erected a statue in his honor.
  4. ^ Richard Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography (1985)
  5. ^ Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 (1992)
  6. ^ Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr ch 3
  7. ^ William G. Chrystal, "Reinhold Niebuhr and the First World War." Journal of Presbyterian History 1977 55(3): 285-298. 0022-3883
  8. ^ See Reinhold Niebuhr, "Detroit" (radio interview online).
  9. ^ a b Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr ch 4-5
  10. ^ Niebuhr, Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic pp. 79-80)
  11. ^ Ronald H. Stone, Professor Reinhold Niebuhr: A Mentor to the Twentieth Century (1992) pp 29-32
  12. ^ Stephen Meyer, The Five Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921, (1981); David Brody, Workers in Industrial America, (1980) ch 2 on welfare capitalism in 1920s; see also Richard M. Steers and Lyman W. Porter, eds. Motivation and Work Behavior (1979)
  13. ^ Stone, Professor Reinhold Niebuhr p 32
  14. ^ Some others included philosopher John Dewey and writer John Dos Passos.
  15. ^ The New York Times July 24, 1933
  16. ^ Rice Reinhold Niebuhr and John Dewey: An American Odyssey, (1993), page 146
  17. ^ Rice, Reinhold Niebuhr and John Dewey pages 43-58
  18. ^ Niebuhr, "Ten Years That Shook My World", The Christian Century (April 26, 1939) in Sources of the American Mind: Volume II, ed. by Loren Baritz, (1960) pp 542-546
  19. ^ Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr ch 7-8
  20. ^ Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity 1900-1950 (2003)
  21. ^ Khurram Hussain, "Tragedy and History in Reinhold Niebuhr's Thought," American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, Volume 31, Number 2, May 2010, pp. 147-159 DOI: 10.1353/ajt.0.0017
  22. ^ a b c Whitman, Alden (June 2, 1971). "Reinhold Niebuhr Is Dead; Protestant Theologan, 78". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2011. 
  23. ^ Fox, Niebuhr 169-70.
  24. ^ Brown, Niebuhr and His Age: Reinhold Niebuhr's Prophetic Role and Legacy, 2002, p. 102.
  25. ^ Matthew Berke, "The Disputed Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr", First Things (November 1992).
  26. ^ Michael G. Thompson, "An Exception to Exceptionalism: A Reflection on Reinhold Niebuhr's Vision of 'Prophetic' Christianity and the Problem of Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy," American Quarterly, Volume 59, Number 3, September 2007, pp. 833-855 DOI: 10.1353/aq.2007.0070
  27. ^ Donald Meyer, The Protestant Search for Political Realism, 1919-1941(1988) ch 13
  28. ^ Justus D. Doenecke, "Reinhold Niebuhr and his Critics: The Interventionist Controversy in World War II," Anglican and Episcopal History 1995 64(4): 459-481.
  29. ^ Gary B. Bullert, "Reinhold Niebuhr and the Christian Century: World War II and the Eclipse of the Social Gospel." Journal of Church and State 2002 44(2): 271-290. 0021-969x (online)
  30. ^ "Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr". Arthur Schlesinger Jr. September 18, 2005. NY Times
  31. ^ Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., New York Times, June 22, 1992 online
  32. ^ Morton White, Religion, Politics, and the Higher Learning, (1959) p.117-118
  33. ^ "Religion: Faith for a Lenten Age". Time. March 8, 1948.,9171,853293,00.html. 
  34. ^ a b Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr" (1985) p 252
  35. ^ Jackson (1992), The Ku Klux Klan in the City
  36. ^ Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 (1992), pp. 129, 134
  37. ^ Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr" (1985) p. 91
  38. ^ a b Greg Robinson, "Reinhold Niebuhr: The Racial Liberal as Burkean," Prospects 2000 25: 641-661. 0361-2333
  39. ^ April 13, 1970 Letter to Niebuhr
  40. ^ Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, 282-3
  41. ^ a b Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr" (1985)
  42. ^ He wrote several articles regarding the pre- and post-World War II plight of European Jews: "Jews After the War" (in 2 parts Nation February 21 and February 28, 1942, pages 214-216 and 253-255), "It Might Have Been" (Evangelical Herald March 29, 1923, page 202), "The Rapprochement Between Jews and Christians" (Christian Century January 7, 1926, pages 9-11), "Germany Must Be Told" (Christian Century August 9, 1933, pages 1014-1015, follow-up Letter to the Editor in to this article same journal May 27, 1936, p. 771).
  43. ^ Eyal Naveh, "Unconventional 'Christian Zionist': The Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and his Attitude toward the Jewish National Movement". Studies in Zionism 1990 11(2): 183-196; 1991 12(1): 85-88.
  44. ^ Martin E. Marty, "Reinhold Niebuhr and the Irony of American History: A Retrospective." History Teacher 1993 26(2): 161-174. 0018-2745
  45. ^
  46. ^ "The Origin of our Serenity Prayer". Retrieved 2007-10-09. ; Goodstein, Laurie. "Serenity Prayer faces challenge on authorship," New York Times. July 11, 2008.
  47. ^ a b Fred R. Shapiro, Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer, Yale Alumni Magazine (July/Aug. 2008).
  48. ^ Elisabeth Sifton, "It Takes a Master To Make a Masterpiece", Yale Alumni Magazine (July/Aug. 2008).
  49. ^ Laurie Goodstein, "Serenity Prayer Skeptic Now Credits Niebuhr", New York Times (November 27, 2009).
  50. ^ Matthew Berke, "The Disputed Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr", First Things (November 1992).
  51. ^ Berke, "The Disputed Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr", First Things (1992)
  52. ^ Elie, Paul. "A Man for All Reasons", The Atlantic, November 2007.
  53. ^ Paul Allen, "The Obama Niebuhr connection", The Toronto Star (14 June 2008).
  54. ^ "Obama's Favorite Theologian? A Short Course on Reinhold Niebuhr", "Pew Research" (26 June 2009).
  55. ^ "Obama's War and Peace". Fred Kaplan. Slate. 10 December 2009. Retrieved March 19, 2010. 
  56. ^ Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War, p. 33
  57. ^ Bacevich Andrew, The Limits of Power : The End of American Exceptionalism p202 (index Niebuhr)

External links

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  • Reinhold Niebuhr — (* 21. Juni 1892 in Wright City, Missouri; † 1. Juni 1971 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts) war ein einflussreicher US amerikanischer Theologe, Philosoph und Politikwissenschaftler. Niebuhr stammte aus einem deutsch amerikanischen Pfarrhaus und… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Reinhold Niebuhr — Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (Wrigth City, Missouri, 1892 Stockbridge, 1971) fue un teólogo y politólogo estadounidense. Como politólogo está considerado uno de los principales representantes teóricos del llamado realismo político americano junto… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Reinhold Niebuhr — noun United States Protestant theologian (1892 1971) • Syn: ↑Niebuhr • Instance Hypernyms: ↑theologian, ↑theologist, ↑theologizer, ↑theologiser …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Niebuhr, Reinhold — born June 21, 1892, Wright City, Mo., U.S. died June 1, 1971, Stockbridge, Mass. U.S. theologian. The son of an evangelical minister, he studied at Eden Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School. He was ordained in the Evangelical Synod of… …   Universalium

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