chapter  10
17 Pages

Reinhold Niebuhr, virtue, and political society

A key to the Christian character of prophetic realism
WithR. Ward Holder

Reinhold Niebuhr’s ethical teaching is rarely considered as a form of virtue ethics. Analysts, both popular and academic, regularly claim Niebuhr for their own party, or reject him through caricature. Niebuhr regularly suffers in the analysis of political and ethical thinkers. In the build-up to the war in the 1930s, Niebuhr was laying the foundations of a Christian realism that depended upon an Augustinian and Reformation-tinged anthropology. Niebuhr’s shift to pacifism would follow the war, in 1923 after a visit to the Ruhr Valley in Germany convinced him of the inhuman effects of the Treaty of Versailles. Niebuhr was an early supporter of the Vietnam conflict but came to recognize that the war represented the worst of American imperialism, without a counterbalancing defense of either American interests or Western culture. The moving target that Niebuhr created allowed a variety of later thinkers to claim him as their spiritual or intellectual forebear.