The Irony of American History
“[Niebuhr] is one of my favorite philosophers. I take away [from his works] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they...more
Niebuhr's thought straddles the two conceptions of american history, between the 'Puritan' moral ideal and 'Yankee' ideal of power. The United States, in time, became an exceptional nation. This was not necessarily due to any touted claims of m ...more
This is a timely reissue of a book originally published in 1952. Due to Barack Obama identifying N ...more
Although most of the book is a diatribe against Communism, Niebuhr does not glorify American democracy. His insights into American aggression in 1952 have been validated. More prophet than author at this point. I loved his st ...more
What makes Niebuhr’s book stand out is the special emphasis he places on morality, hubris, ...more
I was apparently oblivious to all of this at the time. When Obama gave his Nobel acceptance speech, the media pundits all no ...more
To start, Niebuhr asked us to differentiate three different elements of history (1) pathos, which is due to cross-purposes of forces — elicit pity, but no admiration nor contrition. In other words, “stuff happened”. (2) tragic, which is conscious choices of evil for the sake of higher good — elicit admiration, guilt, and pity (3) “Irony consists of apparently fort ...more
I enjoyed how he focused not only on the inconsistencies of Marxism but also that we as Americans like to master the historical process. We have no sense that certain factors enter history totally unexpectedly, and instead try to foresee everything. In a great quote, he says a weaker America has a better ability to do that as opposed to a powerful America because we grow arroga ...more
-It has very effective anti-Communist thoughts (it was written right at the beginning of the Cold War, when Stalin was still in power). It hits on many of the ideology's contradictions. This is not to make it sound like Niebuhr is any sort of anti-Leftist hawk--he's much more nuanced than all that.
-The most important idea in this book is an explication of the ir ...more
Also, given the title of this book, perhaps my expectations of the boo ...more
I feel unprepared to offer an engaging critique of the work. I feel tha ...more
Niebuhr writes with remarkable purpose and clarity, for sure. But that a work on religion, ethics, and politics originally published in 1952 is still relevant in 2014 is remarkable. While he wrote on the cold war and nuclear proliferation, the forward shows how this work is still relevant in the context of G. W. Bush's prosecution of the war in Irag, and it continues to be relevant ...more
Niebuhr takes issue with ...more
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Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”