What is the central thesis of the irony of american history,
Reinhold Niebuhr Introduction by Andrew J. Niebuhr next turns to the international scene—in particular, to the third world. In the classless society created by the proletarian revolution, the sources of conflict will be removed so that social harmony can be achieved. Jesus preferred the company of the sick to the healthy, the poor to the rich, sinners to the supposedly righteous.
The Soviet system only exacerbates this phenomenon on a frightening new level. If such experiences become a guiding principle for defining the human condition generally, the resulting vision stands in sharp opposition to the ironic interpretation grounded in Christian faith. We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason. Thus, Christian Radicalism was transformed into a new synthesis, that of Christian Realism. The fact is that man cannot simply master history, because he is also a creature of it.
He did not disavow the use of power. Such presumptions will only lead to resentment by others. But there was fortunately no program to endow our elite of prospective philosopher-scientist-kings with actual political power. The ironic nature of our conflict with communism sometimes centers in the relation of power to justice and virtue.
Our cherished values of individualism are real enough; and we are right in preferring death to their annulment. Schlesinger feels the New Deal demonstrates the efficacy of a gradualist approach, showing that, contrary to Marxist doctrine, the capitalistic state is capable of meeting the social and economic needs of the people. These seemingly inconsistent attributes are grounded in the nature of human freedom as envisioned by the Bible, i.
Chapter 7 —The Restoration of Radical Nerve Liberalism fell into paralysis in the wake of the Russian revolution of With his analysis of sin as pride and sensuality, Niebuhr affirms that humans are sinful in both intellect and will.
The Irony of American History
Again the communist doctrine is more explicit and therefore more dangerous. The recognition of the limits of freedom may lead to repentance, contrition, and humility, and hope. Yale University Press, what is the central thesis of the irony of american history. In the sentences immediately preceding this passage, Niebuhr speaks to the relationship of his conclusions to Christian faith.
It ascribes the origin of evil to the institution of property. As sinful creatures, we are egoistic and self-centered; we tend to overestimate our own needs in comparison to the needs of others and to claim greater legitimacy and truth for our knowledge than is warranted from any external perspective.
Yale University Press, Sometimes it pretends that a liberal society is a purely rational harmony of interests. Volume I: We cannot ignore the limitations that even our friends want us to operate within.
In the heat of battle, neither side seems able to appreciate the inappropriateness of these beliefs.
God and Power. The goal of the use of power must always be to maintain a balance of power to protect humans from the risks of tyranny. Furthermore, if the conflict should break out, the non-communist world would be in danger of destroying itself as a moral culture in the process of defending itself physically.
It may actually make the conflict the more inevitable by this threat; and yet it cannot abandon the threat. Political action is another arena in which we reenact the Biblical account of the Fall — we seek to be like gods and forget that we are not.
No matter how powerful we may be, power alone will never enable us to achieve all of our intended goals, and the risk of overconfidence in our own power may corrupt business plan lecture notes pdf goals. The communists use power without scruple because they are under the illusion that their conception of an unambiguously ideal end justifies such use.
In reality, America does not operate that way and never could, because the market simply cannot solve all ills. Now we are immersed in world-wide responsibilities; and our weakness has grown into strength. The parallel to the natural sciences is evident: The obvious meaning is not less true for having become trite.
But if our academic thought frequently negates our individualistic creed, our social practice is frequently better than the creed. This hubris has led man not only to entertain utopian dreams, but also to measure those dreams in materialistic terms.
Yet failure can become success: We must exercise our power. John Knox Press, Faith in the market place fostered the bourgeois idea that self-interest is inherently harmless. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History With tensions in the Cold War escalating, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote The Irony of American History in to examine the unique difficulties Americans faced in confronting the threat of communism and to provide liberals with a pragmatic plan for viability.
While we trumpet the virtue of our free market, we actually have achieved a more just society through gradual means, balancing many countervailing forces.
This is as illusory as the communist faith in the unassailable virtue of the proletariat. Yet, the desire to play God and to conceive of ourselves in a messianic role remains a temptation. For our sense of responsibility to a world community beyond our own borders is a virtue, even though it is partly derived from the prudent understanding of our own interests.
And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things.
On the other hand, the Bolsheviks destroyed their elites, and while this made the Soviet transition more problematic, a more perfect totalitarian state emerged, presenting the West with a more entrenched and formidable adversary.
But fortunately we have already been somewhat better in our practice than in our quasi-official dogma. The final height of irony is reached by the fact that the most powerful nation in the alliance of free peoples is the United States. But our exaltation of the individual involves us in some very ironic contradictions.
The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory.
Whitman, Alden. John Knox Press,pp. Nazism did not destroy private economic ownership, but rather made alliances with existing elites. A Theological Study. An observer who is too hostile will deny the virtuous intentions of those involved in the ironic situation, while an observer who is too sympathetic will ignore the weakness and pretentions of the actors. Chapter 11 — Freedom: We avoided the prejudices of feudal Europe and guaranteed our freedom through prosperity—for a prosperous man, supposedly, need not covet the belongings of his brother.
This collection of essays is dedicated to President Barack Obama.
Such readings are not so much incorrect as incomplete, since for Niebuhr tragic conflicts are not final. For they are too Hegelian to casey anthony case study focus on evidence in case answers mechanistic materialists. We believe we came into existence, providentially, so that God could give mankind a fresh start. Our own nation, always a vivid symbol of the most characteristic attitudes of a bourgeois culture, is less potent to do what it wants in the hour of its greatest strength than it was in the days of its infancy.
James Madison understood the necessity of a balanced government, capable of addressing conflicts and frictions outside the marketplace. Hence, their suffering is not the result of any error on their part, and since they are not responsible for their suffering, no meaning or lessons can be discerned in it.
Young, Reinhold Niebuhr
We will likely fail to acknowledge that others will never interpret our intentions as favorably as we interpret them. It is frequently assumed that human nature can be manipulated by methods analogous to those used in physical nature.
Could there be a clearer tragic dilemma than that which faces our civilization? As Niebuhr points outs, elements of pathetic experiences can be seen in life and history, the most obvious of which is suffering resulting from a natural disaster. The Marxist belief in the innocence of the proletariat contributed to incongruity between the vision of a world of peace and justice and the cruelties committed by the Stalinist regime in the name of this vision.
For no one can be sure that a war won by the use of the modern means of mass destruction would leave enough physical and social substance to rebuild a civilization among either victors or vanquished.
The passage, in such readings, urges Americans to avoid viewing world conflicts exclusively through a lens that sees only the errors of our enemies. It is therefore embarrassing to any scientific scheme. In chapter four, Niebuhr challenges the precept that man can master his destiny. It is the ultimate triumph of democracy that common sense trumps dogma. Human beings are prone to good and evil, greatness and pettiness, creativity and destructiveness.
Edited by Richard Harries and Stephen Platten. But tragic elements in present history are not as significant as the ironic ones. They are in fact pre-requisites for saving it.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foes as it is from our own standpoint. Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited: So discerned, it yields a frame of meaning in which human freedom is real and valid and not merely tragic or illusory.
- On the one hand, our culture does not really value the individual as much as it pretends; on the other hand, if justice is to be maintained and our survival assured, we cannot make individual liberty as unqualifiedly the end of life as our ideology asserts.
- The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr, an excerpt
- In truth, it is the common sense application of governmental controls that has made the economic system more equitable, but the myth of the virtue of the marketplace persists.
- He does not accept the fact that history is played out on a stage too vast for him to comprehend.
He felt religion had a crucial role to play in guiding leaders to make moral choices, but favored practicalism in the day-to-day exercise of democracy. Our own culture is schizophrenic upon the subject of power.
His use of irony to describe American history is derived from the Christian interpretation of humans and the human condition as ironic. The illusion was partly negated by the contradictory one that human history would bear us onward and upward forever by forces inherent in it. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.
Disconnecting irony, as Niebuhr uses it, from the theological framework in which irony has meaning for him, is an example of the tendency to separate his politics from his theology.
Therefore, the good news for liberals is, they do not have to look to Marx for inspiration.
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History This distillation of evil from the claims of innocency is ironic enough. Nothing which is true or beautiful, or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
The pattern of the historical drama grows more quickly than the strength of even the most powerful man or nation. As a world power with relations to many nations, the failure to recognize our own sinfulness has important consequences. This divine source and center must be discerned by faith because it is enveloped in mystery, though being the basis of meaning.
Nonetheless, the recent discussions reflect a persistent tendency in commentary about Niebuhr, which is to read his political writings in isolation from his theology.
Also, Eastern religions are said to place little value on the individual, further eroding the allure of democracy. Edited by Daniel F.
Though confident of its virtue, it must yet hold atomic bombs ready for use so as to prevent a possible world conflagration. Our age is involved in irony because so many dreams of our nation have been so cruelly refuted by history.