Friday, November 18, 2011

Charles Lemert's "Why Niebuhr Matters"

Charles Lemert is Senior Fellow at Yale's Center for Comparative Research. His recent books include The Structural Lie: Small Clues to Globalization (Paradigm, 2011) as well as Why Niebuhr Matters (Yale University Press, 2011).

When he applied the “Page 99 Test” to the new book on Reinhold Niebuhr, he found the following:
Even though page 99 of Why Niebuhr Matters is but a chapter ending fragment, it offers a concise brief for Niebuhr's famous idea that a personal ethic of love can never overcome the social force of states and societies. States are preoccupied with their global interests. Individuals who profess to change the world by loving others not only fail against the power of the larger society but, in the process, lapse into the inherent selfishness of human nature. This was the basic idea behind Niebuhr's1932 book Moral Man and Immoral Society which is recognized as his most important popular book. Reinhold Niebuhr went on to develop the idea that the conflict between individual morality and social structures makes social justice, when it comes to pass, a hard won outcome. After the 1930s, he became one of American's most serious and influential left-liberal leaders whose teachings on religious and political realism are increasingly popular today. Though many on the left can't see it, Barack Obama is known to be a Niebuhrian realist -- hence, a man of unbreakable patience who thoroughly understands the ubiquity of evil in the world at large and the tough-mindedness needed to deal with it.
Learn more about the book and author at Charles Lemert's website and the Yale University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue