What Sort of Realist Was Reinhold Niebuhr?

The great mid-20th-century Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr developed a political theory, dubbed “Christian realism,” that sought to synthesize the demands of Christian ethics with the demands of conducting foreign policy in a dangerous world. Decrying the utopian thinking that led some devout Christians to pacifism, Niebuhr supported American efforts in World War II and the cold war. Taking on the master’s mantle, some of today’s foreign-policy realists appeal to his critique of the notion that democracy can be spread easily across the globe, which they use as an argument against democracy promotion itself; according to Paul D. Miller, they lack a proper understanding of Niebuhr’s ideas:

[The] flaw in the realists’ reading of Niebuhr is that they elide his Christian sensibility, and so are unable to see the entire scope of his thought. . . . Niebuhr is strident, unapologetic, and explicit in his defense of democracy—a defense that suggests democratic ideals have universal applicability and should be the aspiration of all societies.

[And] Niebuhr goes further, in a direction that should make today’s libertarians and conservatives uncomfortable. Government, he wrote, “must guide, direct, deflect, and re-channel conflicting and competing forces in a community in the interest of a higher order. It must provide instruments for the expression of the individual’s sense of obligation to the community as well as weapons against the individual’s anti-social lusts and ambitions.” No autocracy can anticipate, invent, or create all the things that every individual might if given the chance. Autocracy shuts the door on human potential. Democracy opens it up.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Cold War, Democracy, History & Ideas, Reinhold Niebuhr, Religion and politics, U.S. Foreign policy


How to Turn Palestinian Public Opinion Away from Terror

The Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid, responding to the latest survey results of the Palestinian public, writes:

Not coincidentally, support for Hamas is much higher in the West Bank—misgoverned by Hamas’s archrivals, the secular nationalist Fatah, which rules the Palestinian Authority (PA)—than in Gaza, whose population is being actively brutalized by Hamas. Popular support for violence persists despite the devastating impact that following radical leaders and ideologies has historically had on the Palestinian people, as poignantly summed up by Israel’s Abba Eban when he quipped that Arabs, including the Palestinians, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Just as worrying is the role of propaganda and misinformation, which are not unique to the Palestinian context but are pernicious there due to the high stakes involved. Misinformation campaigns, often fueled by Hamas and its allies, have painted violent terrorism as the only path to dignity and rights for Palestinians. Palestinian schoolbooks and public media are rife with anti-Semitic and jihadist content. Hamas’s allies in the West have matched Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric with an equally exterminationist call for the de-normalization and destruction of Israel.

It’s crucial to consider successful examples of de-radicalization from other regional contexts. After September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia implemented a comprehensive de-radicalization program aimed at rehabilitating extremists through education, psychological intervention, and social reintegration. This program has had successes and offers valuable lessons that could be adapted to the Palestinian context.

Rather than pressure Israel to make concessions, Eid argues, the international community should be pressuring Palestinian leaders—including Fatah—to remove incitement from curricula and stop providing financial rewards to terrorists.

Read more at Newsweek

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion