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Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics)

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  758 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Kessinger Publishing is the place to find hundreds of thousands of rare and hard-to-find books with something of interest for everyone
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published May 5th 2006 by Kessinger Publishing (first published January 1st 1930)
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May 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What Niebuhr is selling* with this bad boy from 1932: It pains me to have to say this, but it's Cluebat time for all you arm-linked and well-intentioned but tunnel-of-love-visioned LOLcat lightweights, awash in pacifist dreams and tiptoeing about waiting for the Kingdom of God to answer all of your pinned-and-needled hopes. That happy realm lies in the occluded future; the present is anointed in Original Sin. It's a dark, hard, cold world, the more so as we lose ourselves within the collective—a ...more
Oct 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is Niebuhr at his finest (though most dense and packed with stream-of-consciousness). Insights into human nature, society, the influences on our choices from moral, ethical, spiritual, religious, political, economic and social perspectives, etc., are plentiful. The prose is tough - and, in truth, at points, impenetrable - but ultimately the cost is worth it to access so many critical guidelines for more effective individual and collective living.

Among the incredibly abundant piercing insigh
Mikey B.
Dec 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
There were some good points raised in this book – but for the most part I find the style overly verbose - an overuse of words. I agree with the main prognosis of the individual (good) arrayed against society (conformist – evil). There are a lot of obvious statements – like society being resistant to change.

I feel the proletariat is romanticized – who will be their leader – to be a leader one must rise above the proletariat level. In Hitler’s rise to power he was supported by all levels of societ
Very interesting and skeptical view of individual vs. group morality, and would be very useful for one attempting to enact positive change in society.
Adrian Colesberry
Apr 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A difficult book but essential reading for anyone wanting to engage in the conversation about how to effect improvement in the human condition. He judges society and any corporate body to be patently incapable of making moral decisions. In light of recent events, I don't know that any American today would disagree with him.
It's also nice to be reminded of a time when religious thinkers had nuanced intellectual positions. I'm sure these thinkers exist today, but the only opinions I hear from rel
The final chapter was focused on what I was hoping to read all along, looking at how we reconcile ethics with politics and idealism with realism, without ignoring either. The previous 9 chapters were certainly thought-provoking, however. It was interesting, too, to come across the completely unexpected reference to Moral Man, Immoral Society in Paulo Freire's and Miles Horton's spoken book, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. This put a lot of what Niebuhr ...more
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Niebuhr brought forth a great idea on the moral problem by contrasting the ethical attitudes of the 'Privileged' and 'Proletarian' classes. This is one of his most important explanations in MM&IS. Another solid suggestion in the book is learning to harmonize the animal nature of man with the spiritual needs of man in order to achieve justice and social progress. These two cases serve as pillars for every other premise in the book.

Niebuhr's writing implies that he had little room in his hypot
Conor Williams
Feb 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pragmatism
The following is part of my writeup on Moral Man and Immoral Society from my undergraduate thesis on John Dewey:

In Moral Man and Immoral Society, Niebuhr claims that Dewey underestimates the place of coercion and violence in human interactions. Niebuhr doubted that the social sciences could follow the natural sciences through experimentalism, since they were tied so carefully to various biases and predilections. From his perspective, interest-free social science was an oxymoron.

In his 1932 e
Sean Cox-marcellin
Abstract and verbose. Certainly not as concise as Irony.(I've got something like 145 highlights, I don't know if any of them are valuable outside of their context).

It is written at a very interesting time, 1932, when Communism was in Russia but had not shown the full horror of Stalinism, fascism was in power in Italy, but not in Germany, nor had it shown the full horror of Nazism. Niebuhr analyzes the struggles between particular and general interests, individual and collective power, and the p
Robert D. Cornwall
Published in 1932 "Moral Man and Immoral Society" continues to speak with wisdom and clarity to the issues humans face. While individuals may have a certain sense of morality, society exists on a very different plane. Hypocrisy and self-preservation stand at the heart of human society, and humans are often compromised by it.

While not everything in this book transcends time, it is amazingly prescient about the political troubles we face. One of the issues he handles head on is our desire to see o
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The last three chapters Moral Man are so dense and, stylistically, almost stream of consciousness, that it really required a Herculean effort to slog through them. It was like finishing a marathon on an uphill grade. I probably took longer to get through those last three chapters than all the preceding chapters combined. Ultimately I had to abandon any hope of being able to evaluate each idea as it presented itself and resign myself to just taking one word after the other in the hopes that somet ...more
Tony Gualtieri
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Niebuhr's central insight is that personal morality and group mentality are incompatible and that the latter will always trump the former. This means that social change can only be achieved through political means and by economic coercion. Ethics and education may change individual minds but they will never overwhelm the inherent selfishness of the collective will. Thus, patriotism is used to justify evil ends, making the individual feel part of a select and morally exempt group.

It's a pessimis
Oct 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. Has an uncomfortably Enlightenment-era view of reason, but his social critique and his analysis of the tension between ethics and politics is so spot-on. I wonder at some of his conclusions in the final chapter, but they're unsettling and challenging in ways I found helpful. In particular, the book problemitized my growing, and largely naive, faith in liberal progressivism as the solution to most major social problems. While I haven't quite abandoned the liberal ideal, Niebuhr has giv ...more
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A study from 1932, which is very relevant now, on how good individuals can combine into bad collectives. It has insights into the value of being a political realist. Neibuhr was a theologian, but he was no utopian.
Birgitta Gustafson
This book was instrumental in my development as an adult human being. It is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Difficult but important
Robin Friedman
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 -- 1971) was an American Protestant theologian and social thinker whose works continue to be read. The Library of America is about to publish a volume of Niebuhr's writing, including four books and a collection of essays, sermons and other works which has been provided to me for review. Reinhold Niebuhr: Major Works on Religion and Politics: (Library of America #263) I am in the process of reading and reviewing the four books separately before reviewing the LOA volume.

At l
Don Bryant
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Niebuhr, unlike his fellow liberal theologians, makes a place for radical evil and the necessary response of force to stop it. He had been a pacifist previous to the rise of Nazi Germany. Long before the rise of the religious right and the Moral Majority, the liberal church had been politically active and dominated the religious response to political, social and economic issues. It was largely socialist and pacifist. Niebuhr's move to a just war paradigm was a break with the liberal church. He d ...more
J. Christy Wareham
This giant of 20th century American liberal Protestant theology set the terms for discussion for at least two generations. His thought was clear headed, bold and original, and he was a realist who never danced around an idea or conviction. Reinhold Niebuhr rejected Evangelicalism's anti-intellectualism, employing instead the long-standing disciplines of Protestant (and sometimes Catholic) biblical criticism so disdained by Christian conservatives of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Moral Man
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In retrospect it was pretty naive of me to dive into this sucker as a layman, and without any context no less. It's worth the effort but I ran out of library renewals and ended up powering through the second half at a quicker clip than I normally would... gonna revisit this after I've recovered (and done some more background reading, because holy fuck I never appreciated how little I know about ethics or politics in general).
"THERE ARE IDIOTS. Look around." --Larry Summers

Economics, in its standard formulation, assumes rational markets, built from a base of rational actors. Summers, though a sexist jerk, was absolutely right to question that assumption, at least for purposes of dealing with real markets. Which brings us to Niebuhr. Moral Man, his 1932 bombshell, assesses the place of ethics, reason, religion, and persuasion in human societies. Niebuhr is as forceful as Summers, somewhat less of a sexist jerk, and fo
Donovan Richards
Looking Back

Review the 20th Century and you’ll find plenty to criticize. World wars. Genocide. Massive technological advances. For every slice of progress, it seems there’s an equal and opposite setback.
Two steps forward. Two steps backward.

With the benefit of hindsight, it can be surprising to discover how theologians viewed the world at the turn of the 20th Century.

With the many advances and the Industrial Revolution, Christians of a certain stripe believed God would usher in a utopian state.
Rick Folker
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
dense but intelligible and very relevant for our current theological dilemmas
Aug 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have never been a fan of Niebuhr. But I'd never actually read him. Only secondary treatments. Having been influenced by Yoder and Hauerwas, his Christian realism never set well with me. That it could be claimed by neo-cons and liberals both in the last 13 years of American political life, didn't help.

But I found myself more persuaded than I expected. Maybe it is because I've grown more pessimistic and cynical?

I began the book in August when the world appeared to be going to hell (that I was b
May 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-twice
One of the most influencing books on my thought on human nature. I'm not sure the book itself can be considered one of the greats, but it spoke to me in a way that resonated with my way of thinking more than other more classic texts have. Both a Christian theologian and an intellectual fluent in classical philosophy, Niebuhr's elaboration on human nature and its interaction with society brought together many different ideas and opinions I myself had been grappling with for some time. It crushes ...more
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved H. Richard Niebuhr's "Christ and Culture," so I decided to pick up this book written by his brother. Reinhold Niebuhr taught for many years at Union Theological Seminary in New York in the areas of ethics, theology, and political philosophy. The ethics and the political aspects are front and center as seen by the subtitle of the work. However, the theological aspect is kept to a minimum only appearing in glimpses by means of "religion," "Christianity," as well as other words. Nevertheles ...more
Nov 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-review
The final book in a series of theoretical readings I did at the beginning of this year. Niebuhr's thoughts on human moral behavior in groups was challenging both in style and content. Stylistically, the book is very dense, and contains long segments in which the author dwells on a certain idea that's somewhat tangential. Content-wise, the thesis of the book is that humans tend to act selfishly/immorally in groups when interacting with other groups, which contradicts my basic beliefs about human ...more
Oct 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book. The basic premise is that the rules and reasonable expectations of individual morality and group morality are different. Niebuhr posits that morality is an individual pursuit that finds its highest expression in self-denial as an expression of recognizing the values and needs of others. This is essentially an expression of love. Group behavior, society in other words, finds its highest concern in the cause of justice. However, Niebuhr claims that perfect social just ...more
Feb 19, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A worthy read from the perspective of its influence, not from the perspective of pleasure (it long and difficult). Even though most people have never heard his name, it is difficult to overestimate how much impact this man's political/ethical theory has influenced American thought and policy. His basic thesis is that in spite of whatever moral achievement can be accomplished in an individual life or intimate relationships, it is impossible when it comes to human collectives/societies. The collec ...more
May 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A great book, but one you'll want to dig into for long stretches as it's pretty dense (every other sentence seems like a premise for another book). My primary takeaway is that governments are incapable of behaving on moral parity with individuals, and that they should not, and that looking to them to do so is a futile endeavor that misses the point of effective government.

Current events and what they've revealed about our own expectations regarding how our government should react and behave indi
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U.S. theologian. The son of an evangelical minister, he studied at Eden Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School. He was ordained in the Evangelical Synod of North America in 1915 and served as pastor of Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit, Mich., until 1928. His years in that industrial city made him a critic of capitalism and an advocate of socialism. From 1928 to 1960 he taught at New Yor ...more
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“Rationality belongs to the cool observer, but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith, and the naive faith requires necessary illusion and emotionally potent oversimplifications which are provided by the myth-maker to keep ordinary person on course.” 25 likes
“When economic power desires to be left alone it uses the philosophy of laissez faire to discourage political restraint upon economic freedom. When it wants to make use of the police power of the state to subdue rebellions and discontent in the ranks of its helots, it justifies the use of political coercion and the resulting suppression of liberties by insisting that peace is more precious than freedom and that its only desire is social peace.” 6 likes
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