chapter  13
19 Pages

Reinhold Niebuhr and the aesthetics of political leadership

WithTom James

During Barack Obama’s presidency, much was made of his having been influenced by the political wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr. David Brooks’ famous interview with then-candidate Obama, impressively on the fly, brought out the former president’s admiration for Niebuhr and his facility in paraphrasing him freely and accurately. This chapter explores the genre within Niebuhr’s broader corpus does not appear accidently, or simply because of an older man’s tendency to eulogize the past, but rather is connected to very important shifts in his thinking about politics that nevertheless fit with the larger theological and political themes for which he is famous. Niebuhr focuses his critical attention on the development of character in three prominent mid-century American novelists. Niebuhr’s interpretation of these characters is similar in interesting ways to Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian response to Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone. Nussbaum’s critique of the Platonic tradition recalls Niebuhr’s critique of “scientific culture.