Needing Niebuhr Again
IS IT only a year since Reinhold Niebuhr died? It seems like ten. His strong but broken body had not yet surrendered when “new historical situations” were being proclaimed and his work discounted as a period piece. Niebuhr’s “Christian realism,” Tom Driver said, “was essentially defensive or conservative.”
Not long ago, Niebuhr towered over Christian political thinkers in the land. Now the new Movement-of moralism, hope, vision, and radical analysis-appears to have tumbled that once lofty tower or, far more sadly, to have wandered past it into a desert.
Undoubtedly, the structure of Niebuhr’s thought must be enlarged, redirected, given a deeper and more accurate base. Yet it will be enough, in celebration of his memory, to apply the basic insights of his thought to those who so easily think to replace him. The new moralism we see all around us is all too like the old moralism, against which Niebuhr directed the central energies of his life. In many ways it is as if he had lived and worked in vain.
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