The Irony of American History Quotes

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The Irony of American History The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr
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“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

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.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“For man as an historical creature has desires of indeterminate dimensions.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“...element of comedy is never completely eliminated from irony. But irony is something more than comedy. A comic situation is proved to be an ironic one if a hidden relation is discovered in the incongruity. If virtue becomes vice through some hidden defect in the virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits – in all such cases the situation is ironic.
The ironic situation is distinguished from a pathetic one by the fact that the person involved in it bears some responsibility from it. It is differentiated from tragedy by the fact that the responsibility is related to an unconscious weakness rather than a conscious resolution. While a pathetic or a tragic situation is not dissolved when a person becomes conscious of his involvement in it, an ironic situation must dissolve, if men or nations are made aware of their complicity in it…. or it leads to a desperate accentuation of the vanities to the point where irony turns into pure evil.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“...the evils against which we contend are frequently the fruits of illusions which are similar to our own.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“The same strength which has extended our power beyond a continent has also interwoven our destiny with the destiny of many peoples and brought us into a vast web of history in which other wills, running in oblique or contrasting directions to our own, inevitably hinder or contradict what we most fervently desire. We cannot simply have our way, not even when we believe our way to have the "happiness of mankind" as its promise.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. 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 are 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.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“the hegemony of America in the community of the free world creates some curious moral hazards. We are ironically held responsible for disparities in wealth and well-being which are chiefly due to differences in standards of productivity. But they lend themselves with a remarkable degree of plausibility to the Marxist indictment, which attributes all such differences to exploitation. Thus, every effort we make to prove the virtue of our “way of life” by calling attention to our prosperity is used by our enemies and detractors as proof of our guilt. Our experience of an ironic guilt when we pretend to be innocent is thus balanced by the irony of an alleged guilt when we are comparatively innocent.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“Power,” he wrote, “always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws. Our passions, ambitions, avarice, love and resentment, etc., possess so much metaphysical subtlety and so much overpowering eloquence that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience and convert both to their party.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“There are no simple congruities in life or history. The cult of happiness erroneously assumes them. It is possible to soften the incongruities of life endlessly by the scientific conquest of nature's caprices, and the social and political triumph over historic injustice. But all such strategies cannot finally overcome the fragmentary character of human existence. The final wisdom of life requires, not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. 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.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“tragic elements in present history are not as significant as the ironic ones. Pure tragedy elicits tears of admiration and pity for the hero who is willing to brave death or incur guilt for the sake of some great good. Irony however prompts some laughter and a nod of comprehension beyond the laughter; for irony involves comic absurdities which cease to be altogether absurd when fully understood.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
“the mastery of historical destiny is a tortuous process in which powerful forces may be beguiled, deflected, and transmuted but never simply annulled or defied.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History