University of Groningen Standing in the shadows of Niebuhr

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ISSN 1751 3030, 487 Articles and Observations available Content last updated 21 September 10 12 Philica entries accessed 2 054 855. Philica front Standing in the Shadows of Niebuhr U S President Barack. pageSearchAbout Obama and Reinhold Niebuhr s Christian Realism. PhilicaTake the tour, Menno R Kamminga International Relations and International Organization. Publish your workWork,University of Groningen,needing reviewMost. Published in politi philica com,popular entriesHighest. rated entriesRecent Abstract, reviews U S president Barack Obama has called renowned Christian moral and political theologian Reinhold.
Niebuhr a major intellectual influence Although Obama s acknowledgement has been widely noted and. How to cite discussed a more systematic analysis and evaluation of the extent to which Obama has actually taken. Niebuhr s Christian realism as a guiding framework for his presidency does not seem to exist yet Such an. PhilicaFAQsSupport inquiry would be interesting and important given Niebuhr s status as greatest twentieth century American. theologian and highly influential public intellectual and given the renewed academic interest in Niebuhr s. PhilicaContact usGet, work fueled by both a widespread uneasiness about George W Bush s presidency and Obama s reminder of. confirmed status Niebuhr s authority The present article published on the 40th anniversary of Niebuhr s death aims to. make a contribution by applying in a rather dynamic way a set of key themes of Niebuhr s Christian. realism to Obama s personal development rhetoric and policy practice so far It finds tentatively that. Obama s reliance on Niebuhr is authentic and arguably more than superficial yet does not appropriately. NEWS The SOAP Project, incorporate the Niebuhrian core emphasis on sin Thus from a Niebuhrian perspective Obama s politics. in collaboration with, lacks theological depth appearing unduly liberal and national egoistic This article ends by suggesting that. CERN are conducting a, Obama does not or at least not yet seem to be a truly Niebuhrian president Total number of. survey on open access,words approx 19600,publishing Please take a.
moment to give them,your views Article body,Introduction. In 2007 during an interview about effective foreign aid programs in Africa journalist David Brooks. suddenly asked Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama if he had ever read Reinhold. Niebuhr Obama answered apparently enthusiastically I love him He s one of my favorite. philosophers Brooks 2007 And he quickly added, I take away the compelling idea that there s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain And we. We aim to suit all browsers, should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things But we shouldn t use that as an. but recommend Firefox, particularly excuse for cynicism and inaction I take away the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are. hard and not swinging from na ve idealism to bitter realism Obama in Brooks 2007. According to Brooks 2007 Obama thereby proved able to offer a pretty good off the cuff summary of. Niebuhr s The Irony of American History a book regarded by many observers as one of the most. important books if not the most important one ever written on U S foreign policy Thus Brooks 2007. suggested it would be interesting to see whether Obama would prove able to design a practical foreign. policy perspective as a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts. Obama s response is remarkable indeed Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 1971 is widely seen as the most. influential American theologian of the twentieth century The profound intellectual and public impact of his. work particularly from the 1930s through the 1960s seems beyond dispute While seeking the foundation. of his political realism in the Christian religion and regarding the doctrine of original sin as the only. empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith Niebuhr 1965 24 Niebuhr has been widely. appreciated by religious and non religious persons alike see Jorstad 1990 1091 1092 Since about 2005. a Niebuhr revival has taken place in the United States in the wake of widespread uneasiness about. George W Bush s neoconservative presidency notably his decision to attack Iraq in 2003 and boosted by. Obama s homage to Niebuhr Of course the Brooks interview is promising but cannot suffice to show that. Obama has indeed absorbed Niebuhr, Is Obama a Niebuhrian president The World Wide Web has come to display a huge number of mostly.
very short articles that reflect on the extent of Niebuhr s influence on Obama s public statements. However these writings while often stimulating and useful are generally fragmentary and pay little. attention to Obama s policy practice offering no comprehensive and systematic treatment of his. presidency up until now Also some scholarly works have appeared recently that draw upon the Obama. Niebuhr link Rice 2009 Harries and Platten 2010 Crouter 2010 However these works while very. valuable in explaining why we need Niebuhr again after the hubris and debacle of the Bush years go. little further than taking Obama s declarations and presidency as a hook to draw full attention to Niebuhr. and to point out that Obama should indeed adopt Niebuhrian insights as president What seems inexistent. is a body of academic publications that analyze s and evaluate s Obama s presidency more or less. thoroughly and comprehensively from a Niebuhrian perspective assessing evidence pro and evidence. In this article published on the 40th anniversary of Niebuhr s death I make an attempt to help analyze. and evaluate Obama s presidency from a Niebuhrian Christian realist perspective 2 My assumption is that. the relevance of such a perspective may be taken as given in view of both Niebuhr s intellectual authority. and Obama s mentioning of him as a personal favorite without further independent defense being. needed I do wish to stress that Niebuhr in contrast to many other academics and intellectuals is. particularly relevant for real world politics because of his insistence on experience based practical. wisdom or normative prudence rather than on abstract theoretical reflection for domestic and. international political behavior Novak 1991 315 332 Coll 1999 especially 78 92 94 97 Niebuhr is. also relevant because he as already noted has been widely appreciated by Christians but also by persons. who do not identify with his religion or identify with no religion at all And as we may presume Obama to. have internalized at least some ideas of Niebuhr notably during his period as a community worker in. Chicago we may find an application of a Niebuhrian framework even more appropriate Miller and Wolffe. 2008 It is then important and legitimate to assess the extent to which Niebuhr s Christian realism has. become influential again because in the presidency of Bush who saw Jesus Christ himself as his favorite. philosopher Niebuhr s authority seemed largely ignored. Admittedly to employ Niebuhrian ideas to try assessing Obama s presidency is a rather risky enterprise. 3 Thus first Niebuhr is no longer alive today Second Obama we must assume has never claimed to. be influenced by Niebuhr alone having also mentioned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and theologian. philosopher Paul Tillich a colleague and friend of Niebuhr s as intellectual influences Alter 2010 303 4. On the other hand Obama s fondness for Niebuhr seems truly special Third even if one holds that. Niebuhrian ideas could make a serious difference in practical politics one should not overestimate what a. single president can do to achieve a state of affairs more Niebuhrian cf Bacevich 2008 170 172 In fact. Obama took over the presidency in January 2009 under tough conditions wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. rough regimes in Iran and North Korea racing toward nuclear capacity an economic recession upcoming. climate change negotiations and summits and the high expectations that people all over the world had. about the first African American U S president As Obama himself noted in his 4 November 2008 victory. speech For even as we celebrate tonight we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the. greatest of our lifetime two wars a planet in peril the worst financial crisis in a century quoted in Alter. 2010 39 On the other hand Obama did promise among other things to shut down Guant namo Bay. outlaw torture battle for universal health care address climate change and end the war in Iraq And. fourth at the time of completing this article Obama s presidency is somewhat more than halfway in its. first term which is both rather short a period and already hard to capture in a single even if lengthy. article On the other hand Jonathan Alter seems right to observe that whatever their important new. initiatives or midcourse adjustments in later years American presidents set the tone for the rest of their. presidency in Year One 2010 viii Consequently we must acknowledge that one cannot demand a. presidency such as Obama s to fit quite perfectly within Niebuhr s Christian realism perfectionism being. very un Niebuhrian anyway especially when it comes to deeds rather than words We may expect no. more than a reasonable fit We must also acknowledge that the approach to be taken and the material to. be assessed cannot be but rather selective and somewhat opinionated I apologize for this in advance This. is so although the article will particularly focus on critical cases that is issues that Niebuhr if he were. alive now would probably have or could well have found important. In view of all this I think it is best to proceed along the following guidelines First Obama s personal. development and rhetoric should show Niebuhrian influence no less than to a high extent at least. implicitly without including arguably major inconsistencies with Niebuhrian notions Second Obama s. policies and actions should display real Niebuhrian influence at any rate at least implicitly without. including arguably really great inconsistencies with Niebuhrian notions so a standard lower than the one. of the first guideline Third whatever its content our conclusion has to be one about Obama s whole. approach and as such qualitative and largely holistic more so than our sub conclusions And fourth it. should be acknowledged that the analysis below will stay incomplete also because of reasons of space 5. In short this article is a first cut at best, I shall start by formulating a set of Niebuhrian Christian realist themes by which Obama s presidency. may be evaluated Indeed my concern with Niebuhr s thought is systematic not historical Niebuhr 1941. 1943 see also Minnema 1958 Veldhuis 1975 Next I shall examine to what extent the various. dimensions of Obama s presidency personality speeches domestic politics and foreign politics. resonate with these key Niebuhrian themes applied not statically but dynamically that is by taking. possibly changed insights or circumstances into account. Key themes of Niebuhr s Christian realism, Niebuhr was no Biblical scholar or systematic theologian but a moral and political theologian who asked. how one should live and act individually and collectively in a fallen world Importantly Niebuhr s political. ethics cannot be properly understood apart from its theological presuppositions Gilkey 2001 Merkley. 1975 Amstutz 2008 While his view of human nature and politics has been welcomed by many people. who do not share his theology Niebuhr himself always set the practical power of his ideas in a divine. context that transcends all human actions and judgments Theological ideas about creation sin judgment. and grace are pivotal to Niebuhr s realism Lovin 2005 461 462 465 There can be no adequate account. of the possibilities and limits of a just politics without a Christian conception of human history and life as. the ultimate cause of humanity s problems is not mere egoism and conflict but as Augustine taught the. universal and permanent presence of original sin Niebuhr 1953b. For Niebuhr ethics and politics are ultimately distinct yet intricately related practically As he wrote in. Moral Man and Immoral Society Politics will to the end of history be an area where conscience and. power meet where the ethical and coercive factors of human life will interpenetrate and work out their. tentative and uneasy compromises Niebuhr 1932a 4 The responsible political leader then is a realist. who values the influence of idealism and the permanent tension that results. The realistic wisdom of the statesman is reduced to foolishness if it is not under the influence of the. foolishness of the moral seer The latter s idealism results in political futility and sometimes in moral. confusion if it is not brought into commerce and communication with the realities of man s collective life. This necessity and possibility of fusing moral and political insights does not however completely eliminate. certain irreconcilable elements in the two types of morality internal and external individual and social. These elements make for constant confusion but they also add to the richness of human life Niebuhr. Niebuhr s thought highlights the simultaneous occurrence of ethical egoistic and coercive elements in. politics as a relatively autonomous sphere While then full justice is unachievable in politics the. difference between more and less social justice and between more and less individual selfishness may. mean differences between sickness and health between misery and happiness Niebuhr 1941 233 234. Standing in the Shadows of Niebuhr U S President Barack Obama and Reinhold Niebuhr s Christian Realism Menno R Kamminga International Relations and International Organization University of Groningen Published in politi philica com Abstract U S president Barack Obama has called renowned Christian moral and political theologian Reinhold Niebuhr a major intellectual influence Although

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