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Reinhold Niebuhr and Non-Utopian Liberalism

Beyond Illusion and Despair

Eyal Naveh is Professor of History at Tel Aviv University, Israel. Among his works are Crown of Thorns – Political Martyrdom in America (1990); The Liberal Ethos in the American Society (1997); The American Century (2000); and, with Esther Yogev, Histories – Toward a Dialogue with the Israeli Past (2002).


Reinhold Niebuhr, a Christian theologian, minister, and teacher of Christian ethics, had an enormous impact from the mid-forties throughout the fifties. Niebuhr made theology into something quite new by translating its concepts into the language of the philosophy of culture and social criticism, and charging them with a prophetic spirit. His arguments and ideas brought about a significant discourse relevant to the major historical events of the mid-twentieth century.


Hardback ISBN: 978-1-903900-04-8
Hardback Price: £45.00 / $65.00
Release Date: November 2002
   
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No
   

 



Foreword by Richard Polenberg
Acknowledgments


Introduction

I Liberalism and Its Discontents in a Time of Crisis
II Moral Man and Immoral Society: The Beginning of a Non-Utopian Discourse
III Divine Ethics and a Deficient Mankind
IV The Limits of Knowledge
V Pacifism, Intervention, and the Nazi Menace
VI Total War and Tragic Victory
VII From Precarious Peace to Stable Cold War
VIII "Irony", "Non Utopia" and "Dialectical Liberalism" in the 1950s
IX On the Threshold of a New Utopia: Liberal Experiments and Radical Illusions in the 1960s
X The Legacy: Non-Utopian Discourse after Niebuhr

Epilogue: The Open-ended Course of Non-Utopian Liberalism

Notes
Bibliography
Index


One of the many virtues of Eyal Naveh’s splendid work is that it places Niebuhr's thought in a broad intellectual context. By examining a wide-ranging group of writers and intellectuals who commented on Niebuhr's work, Naveh succeeds, as no other scholar has, in explaining the nature of the ‘discourse’ that arose around the central concept of non-utopian liberalism. Naveh sheds light on how Niebuhr came to reject the notion that people were essentially rational and beneficent, a notion he considered overly idealistic and sentimental
... By examining the discourse that developed around Niebuhr’s central ideas, this book helps explain much about the changing contours of American thought in the twentieth century. Reinhold Niebuhr died in 1971; thirty years later the World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed by terrorists. In the aftermath of September 11, Naveh explains, Niebuhr’s insight into situations of crisis can indeed invigorate American politics and culture, and may yet serve as an antidote to the illusions and sense of complacency that have too frequently dominated American life in recent decades.
From the Foreword by Professor Richard Polenberg, Cornell University

The rise of neoconservatism and postmodern radicalism at the end of the century suppressed the reform-minded liberals. The enthusiasts for the relatively utopian liberation theology eclipsed Niebuhr’s influence in theology in many places. The erosion of the mainline liberal churches by the loss of their children from the church weakened the base for Niebuhr’s type of neoliberal theology. The rise of evangelical and fundamentalist political movements also decreased the influence of Niebuhrian paradigms. However, Naveh sees ways that the mythological liberalism of Niebuhr shares common ground with much of postmodern epistemology while avoiding its relativism. Naveh’s own sense of politically fit discourse, in the end, sees that Niebuhr’s nonutopian liberalism transcends the particularities of its origins and has continued vitality for the post-9/11 American republic. Niebuhr is quintessentially American in his liberal pragmatism, which Naveh celebrates.
... Naveh’s book is the only one to focus on Niebuhr’s critique of utopianism as a motif for a book-length study. The study is accurate in what it presents, and the concluding chapters on the legacy of Niebuhr present interesting interpretations.
The Journal of Religion


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