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Self-Deceptions of Empire

David Bromwich: Reinhold Niebuhr

23 October 2008
The Irony of American History 
by Reinhold Niebuhr.
Chicago, 174 pp., £8.50, June 2008, 978 0 226 58398 3
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... Nations,’ wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, ‘will always find it more difficult than individuals to behold the beam that is in their own eye while they observe the mote that is in their brother’s eye; and individuals find it difficult enough.’ The last six words crystallise the thought. Niebuhr’s political writings are an exhortation – part history, part criticism, part sermon – to hold nations as closely as possible to the individual standard; to make them recognise that even when they oppose a great evil, what they themselves embody still includes much evil ...
17 July 1980
Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... for anyone’s ‘thing’. Auden can satisfy his infantilism while subscribing to the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr; Huxley can freely investigate the subliminal Gods with the assistance of drugs; Isherwood can commune with Swami Prabhavananda along with any number of sun-tanned meditators and/or boyfriends. There is therefore a sequence to the ...

The Balboan View

Kenneth Silverman: Alfred Kinsey

7 May 1998
Alfred Kinsey: A Public/Private Life 
by James Jones.
Norton, 937 pp., £28, October 1997, 0 393 04086 0
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... Kinsey Report’). Prominent intellectuals took notice, too, not always favourably. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr protested that Kinsey made orgasm ‘the summum bonum of his value scheme’; the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer charged that the only reliable figures in his skewed sampling came from ‘college graduates in six of the north-eastern ...
8 December 1994
Years of Hope: Diaries, Papers and Letters, 1940-62 
by Tony Benn, edited by Ruth Winstone.
Hutchinson, 442 pp., £25, September 1994, 0 09 178534 0
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... many young Englishmen have felt; though not many young Englishmen in New York got to stay with Reinhold Niebuhr. The Oxford letters and diary are silent on the Benn apocrypha, which was current in the Seventies, that on more than one occasion he concealed his lack of effort by reading an essay to his tutor from a blank sheet of paper. The record is ...
30 September 1999
Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... and the Brightest about the making of the Vietnam catastrophe, more recently in biographies of Reinhold Niebuhr, McGeorge and William Bundy, John McCloy and George Kennan, among others. To many people (myself included) Niebuhr, for instance, was a serious theologian, a great preacher, a powerful intellectual ...

Hot Dogs

Malcolm Bull

14 June 1990
Mine eyes have seen the glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America 
by Randall Balmer.
Oxford, 246 pp., $19.95, September 1989, 0 19 505117 3
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In God’s Country: Travels in the Bible Belt, USA 
by Douglas Kennedy.
Unwin Hyman, 240 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 0 04 440423 9
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The Divine Supermarket 
by Malise Ruthven.
Chatto, 336 pp., £14.95, August 1989, 0 7011 3151 9
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The Democratisation of American Christianity 
by Nathan Hatch.
Yale, 312 pp., £22.50, November 1989, 0 300 44470 2
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Religion and 20th-Century American Intellectual Life 
edited by Michael Lacey.
Cambridge/Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, 214 pp., £27.50, November 1989, 0 521 37560 6
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New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America 
by Mary Farrell Bednarowski.
Indiana, 175 pp., $25, November 1989, 0 253 31137 3
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... have prospered on their mutual hostility, the no man’s land between them has grown desolate. The Niebuhr brothers (the subject of a stimulating essay by Richard Wightman Fox) were probably the last theologians to participate in, rather than merely comment on, public debates about moral and political values. Christian intellectuals have since found it ...

Separation Anxiety

David Hollinger: God and Politics

24 January 2008
The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West 
by Mark Lilla.
Knopf, 334 pp., $26, September 2007, 978 1 4000 4367 5
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... was even further from scripture than Schleiermacher’s work was. Both Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr, the two most politically important American theologians of the 20th century, were, by ancestry and training, embedded in the German theological culture to which Lilla attends so closely. Niebuhr’s ideas ...

Southern Discomfort

Bertram Wyatt-Brown

8 June 1995
The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism 
by Eugene Genovese.
Harvard, 138 pp., £17.95, October 1994, 0 674 82527 6
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... of Roanoke, Old School Presbyterian defenders of slavery, T.S. Eliot, Karl Marx, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, the Nashville Agrarians and their latterday apostles, Richard Weaver and Melvin Bradford. Liberals thus find themselves confronting a shrewd scholar who denies them the luxury of easy retort – he lashes out from both right and left to ...

AmeriKKKa

Thomas Sugrue: Civil Rights v. Black Power

5 October 2006
Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice 
by Raymond Arsenault.
Oxford, 690 pp., £19.99, March 2006, 0 19 513674 8
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... and racial equality did not put it into practice. At the outset of the civil rights movement, Reinhold Niebuhr expressed his scepticism about moral suasion. ‘However large the number of individual white men who . . . will identify themselves completely with the Negro cause, the white race will not admit the Negro to equal rights if it is not ...

With Slip and Slapdash

Frank Kermode: Auden’s Prose

7 February 2008
TheComplete Works of W.H. Auden. Vol. III: Prose, 1949-55 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Princeton, 779 pp., £29.95, December 2007, 978 0 691 13326 3
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... to religion. He learned much from the rather severe but public-spirited Protestantism of Reinhold Niebuhr, and did not reject the religious experiences he had brought with him from England, notably a powerful memory of Charles Williams, in whose presence he had sensed a ‘personal sanctity’. Conscientious examination of his religious position ...

Am I right to be angry?

Malcolm Bull: Superfluous Men

2 August 2018
Age of Anger: A History of the Present 
by Pankaj Mishra.
Penguin, 416 pp., £9.99, February 2018, 978 0 14 198408 7
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... of argument implicit in Mishra’s account, and it has not been welcomed by those whom Mishra, via Reinhold Niebuhr, calls the ‘bland fanatics’ of ‘the religion of universal progress’. But when Michael Ignatieff accuses Mishra of ascribing a ‘lofty worldview’ to terrorists (‘a gang of killers’), the comment seems wide of the mark. Mishra ...

The Ugly Revolution

Michael Rogin: Martin Luther King Jr

10 May 2001
I May Not Get there with You: The True Martin Luther King Jr 
by Michael Eric Dyson.
Free Press, 404 pp., £15.99, May 2000, 0 684 86776 1
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The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr. Vol. IV: Symbol of the Movement January 1957-December 1958 
edited by Clayborne Carson et al.
California, 637 pp., £31.50, May 2000, 0 520 22231 8
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... the outward-looking, meliorist gospel and the rich internal emphasis derived from the teachings of Reinhold Niebuhr on the presence of social sin. Unlike so many other black ministers, he was prepared to challenge Jim Crow. His future wife, Coretta Scott, had attended the 1948 Progressive Party Convention that nominated Henry Wallace for President (grist ...

Bland Fanatics

Pankaj Mishra: Liberalism and Colonialism

3 December 2015
On Politics: A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present 
by Alan Ryan.
Penguin, 1152 pp., £14.99, September 2013, 978 0 14 028518 5
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Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism 
by Larry Siedentop.
Penguin, 448 pp., £9.99, January 2015, 978 0 14 100954 4
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Liberalism: The Life of an Idea 
by Edmund Fawcett.
Princeton, 496 pp., £16.95, September 2015, 978 0 691 16839 5
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An Imperial Path to Modernity: Yoshino Sakuzō and a New Liberal Order in East Asia 1905-37 
by Jung-Sun Ni Han.
Harvard, 244 pp., £29.95, March 2013, 978 0 674 06571 0
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... 1989 emboldened the ‘bland fanatics of Western civilisation’, as the resolutely anti-communist Reinhold Niebuhr called them, ‘who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence’. It wasn’t too difficult for Cold War liberalism, defined and deformed by its ideological battle with ...

Plan it mañana

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Albert O. Hirschman

10 September 2014
Wordly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman 
by Jeremy Adelman.
Princeton, 740 pp., £27.95, April 2013, 978 0 691 15567 8
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The Essential Hirschman 
edited by Jeremy Adelman.
Princeton, 367 pp., £19.95, October 2013, 978 0 691 15990 4
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... a third force in world affairs. Kennan was glad to do so and invited several outsiders, including Reinhold Niebuhr and Robert Oppenheimer, to join him. They concluded that a sovereignty strong enough to calm French fears about Germany and resist what they took to be the threat of Soviet expansion would have to include the British and that the British, to ...

Beware Biographers

Jackson Lears: Kennan and Containment

24 May 2012
George Kennan: An American Life 
by John Lewis Gaddis.
Penguin, 784 pp., £30, December 2011, 978 1 59420 312 1
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Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War 
by Frank Costigliola.
Princeton, 533 pp., £24.95, January 2012, 978 0 691 12129 1
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... fallibility suited his assessment of human nature. Gradually he grew aware (as his contemporary Reinhold Niebuhr wrote) that ‘the evil in the foe is also in the self.’ This undermined the Manicheanism of the Cold War and underwrote Kennan’s increasingly critical perspective on US policy. Gaddis captures many of his subject’s contradictions, but ...

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