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