This post is part of an article from
Gregg Easterbrook, an ESPN columnist and the author of The Progress Paradox:
How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, and other books. He is also a
contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The
to the columnist E.J. Dionne, Barack Obama not only used but correctly
pronounced the word "Niebuhrian," which means, "The thinking of
Reinhold Niebuhr." Most theologians probably cannot pronounce that word!
Though Niebuhr, a religious celebrity of the midcentury, is little-known today,
it is not that unusual to hear him cited by political leaders (who may or may
not actually have read him; Obama surely has). Niebuhr saw the world as a
malevolent place, and argued that although Christ was a pacifist, Christians
serve Christ by fighting evil. Much contemporary "just war"
philosophy is Niebuhrian. His writing and speeches convinced many Christians to
support war against Germany in World War II — war against Japan was
self-defense, while war against Germany needed just-war underpinnings — and
then to oppose Communist tyranny. Before the elder George Bush took the United
States into the 1991 Gulf War, he consulted religious scholars, including
experts on Niebuhr; the soldiers who fought in that war knew their
commander-in-chief was deeply concerned with moral reasoning. Before George W.
Bush took the United States into the invasion of Iraq, did he engage in any
philosophical contemplation at all?
Shouldn't even our recent history be instructive? Which Presidential candidate do we trust to make thoughtful, coherent decisions rooted in something beyond political expediency? I hope you have some answer…