U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Obama and Niebuhr

For those interested, Casey Blake has posted a response to Barack Obama’s declaration that Reinhold Niebuhr is a personal favorite. You can find it and more at the New Republic’s Open University site, which looks to be fairly interesting.

Also of note regarding twentieth-century liberal Protestantism is a new edition forthcoming of Walter Rauschenbusch’s “Christianity and the Social Crisis,” edited by his great-grandson and including commentaries from Cornel West, Stanley Hauerwaus, and Richard Rorty, among others.

One Thought on this Post

  1. Casey Blake’s short piece on Obama and Niebuhr is very good. For a very different angle, so too is Larissa MacFarquhar’s probing and elegant piece on Obama’s personality and style as “The Conciliator” in The New Yorker this month. Much of the email commentary that follows up Blake’s piece is really good too and worth reading. Some of the commentators may get a bit bogged down in parsing “irony” versus “paradox” for some of our tastes, but several of the authors have read MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY and, presumably, THE IRONY OF AMERICAN HISTORY, and have some good Niebuhrian insights. Also they nicely develop the theme of Obama’s conciliatory rhetoric (as per MacFarquhar’s angle) and early campaigning mode, which is clearly quite far indeed from 1932-era Niebuhr (when he was at his most radical and most inclined toward crisis rhetoric: who wouldn’t be in 1932?!). Let me add that anyone interested in the long arc of Niebuhr’s thinking should definitely check out Richard Wightman Fox’s 1985 intellectual biography of Niebuhr –still fresh and a marvelous example of intellectual history-qua-biography.

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