Item description for Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics) by Reinhold Niebuhr, Langdon Brown Gilkey & Robin W. Lovin...
Overview Moral Man and Immoral Society is Reinhold Niebuhr's important early study in ethics and politics. Forthright and realistic, it discusses the inevitability of social conflict, the brutal behavior of human collectives of every sort, the inability of rationalists and social scientists to even imagine the realities of collective power, and, ultimately, how individual morality can overcome social immorality. The Library of Theological Ethics series focuses on what it means to think theologically and ethically. It presents a selection of important and otherwise unavailable texts in easily accessible form. Volumes in this series will enable sustained dialogue with predecessors though reflection on classic works in the field.
"Moral Man and Immoral Society" is Reinhold Niebuhr's important early study in ethics and politics. Forthright and realistic, it discusses the inevitability of social conflict, the brutal behavior of human collectives of every sort, the inability of rationalists and social scientists to even imagine the realities of collective power, and, ultimately, how individual morality can overcome social immorality.
The Library of Theological Ethics series focuses on what it means to think theologically and ethically. It presents a selection of important and otherwise unavailable texts in easily accessible form. Volumes in this series will enable sustained dialogue with predecessors though reflection on classic works in the field.
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Studio: Westminster John Knox Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.1" Width: 6.07" Height: 0.83" Weight: 1.16 lbs.
Release Date Feb 1, 2002
Publisher Westminster John Knox Press
Series Library Of Theological Ethics
ISBN 0664224741 ISBN13 9780664224745
Availability 0 units.
More About Reinhold Niebuhr, Langdon Brown Gilkey & Robin W. Lovin
ELISABETH SIFTON, an editor and book publisher for forty years, is the author of The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War. She lives in New York City and in Princeton, New Jersey.
Reinhold Niebuhr was born in 1892 and died in 1971.
Reinhold Niebuhr has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics)?
Poli-sci major? May 25, 2006
The principles in this book are as pertinent today as it was 75 years ago. "The individual or the group which organizes society, however social its intentions or pretension, arrogates an inordinate portion of social privilege to itself."
The author warns against religious patriotism because the natural impulse of christians is to love their fellow man, but the patriot nationalist leads them to selfishness and love of country more than people.
Every page has something of value. Anyone with even a passing interest in political science, or sociology for that matter would view him important.
"Social intelligence may prompt disillusionment without the immediate lesson of complete disinheritance. But the degree of anti-nationalism among workers will always depend somewhat upon the measure of social injustice from which they suffer.
Toolbox for American Civil Rights Mar 15, 2006
Niebuhr's answer to the question, "What then should we do?" influenced MLK's thinking and found its way into the action plan of the American civil rights movement. This work is well thought out and, decades later, remains truly readable to those of us who are not trained in psychology, theology or sociology. If you feel powerlessly subjected to the tyranny of the majority and want to do something about it -- read this book.
Some Sun Through Clouds of Self-Interest Feb 9, 2006
At first glance, Reinhold Niebuhr's (1892-1971) book "Moral Man and Immoral Society" (New York:Scribners, 1932, 1960), still relevant today, could seem to breed a cynical future "from the perspective of those who will stand in the credo of the nineteenth century," ". . . enmeshed in the illusion and sentimentalities of the Age of Reason." (xxiv) Niebuhr was a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and previously pastor during the Great Depression of a small congregation in or near Dearborn, Michigan, many of whose parishioners worked for Ford Motor Company's factories. Niebuhr, having lived through the frustrations and hypocrisy of the Victorian era and economic depression and two World Wars, assessed people in group types of church denominations, nations, privileged classes, the middle class, blue-collar working classes, and mobs. He lamented the necessary time restraints that representative democracy requires and that permit self-interest to misuse information and lapse into greed.
The theme of Niebuhr's text is that sometimes more or less those persons who look and act morally, quickly revert to immoral behavior in the face of the crowd. This is a special, powerful, deceptive influence of emotional "contagion." He expands upon Lord John Acton's (1834-1902) famous sentence, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." (Letter to Bishop Creighton, April 5, 1887; Niebuhr, 6) "The Liberal Movement both religious and secular seemed to be unconscious of the basic difference between the morality of individuals and the morality of collectives, whether races, classes or nations." (ix, xi, xxv, 257f., 262, 1960 edition) He elaborates on the crowd's collective original sin powerful to influence others.
Religious insights, Niebuhr wrote, powerfully make people "conscious of their preoccupation with self." (54) "The disrepute in which modern religion is held by large numbers of ethically sensitive individuals, springs much more from its difficulties in dealing with those complexities [--ethics and politics (257) and economics (5, 15, 142)--] than from its tardiness in adjusting itself to the spirit of modern culture." (63, 75f.)
And about psychology, "There is nothing, that modern psychologists have discovered about the persistence of ego-centricity in [hu]man[ity], which has not been anticipated in the insights of the great mystics of the classical periods of religion." (54)
Niebuhr's ten chapters then continue to illustrate and explore his theme as basic to human nature, in a rich multiplicity of historical events: religion, politics, socialism, justice, wars, hypocrisy, and so on. Niebuhr cautions about blind belief in governments: "The creeds and institutions of democracy have never been fully divorced from the special interests of the commercial classes who conceived and developed them." (14) "Perhaps the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy. We have noted that self-deception and hypocrisy is an unvarying element in the moral life of all human beings. It is the tribute which morality pays to immorality . . . ." (95, 117, 141, 177f.) Sinclair Lewis's (1885-1951) novel "Babbitt" (New York:Harcourt, Brace Co., 1922) reflects the history in Niebuhr's theme. So also does the historico-religious work of J. B. Noss's (and his brother David in later editions) "Man's Religions" (New York:Macmillan, 1964). Collective emotions, especially anger masked as justice, are exploited to their maximum.
Though Niebuhr wrestled with the basic polarization of authoritarianism versus true democracy and with human nature's compulsion of action-reaction, he does not reflect further upon and explore the phenomena that the majority consists of collections of minorities which control their leadership and polarization. (4, 5) Nevertheless, his perception of the historical human predicament is alarmingly accurate.
Niebuhr sees no comprehensive solution to this dilemma--the individual motivated by love and society by justice--though he hopes for groups of individuals that may bring about more of it. "Love must strive for something purer than justice if it would attain justice." (xxiv, 226, 264-266, 273f., 277)
The Rev. Dr. Charles G. Yopst, D.Min., D.T.R. Mount Prospect, Illinois, NW of Chicago firstname.lastname@example.org
A classic! Aug 12, 2003
This book was written in the 1930's, but the ideas in it are absolutely fresh. This is a well-thought-out Christian response to the fact of evil in the world. It says the Christian must be "in the world" and use power to confront evil, but at the same time be held personally accountable to the highest ethical standard. This is for anyone who wants to work for social justice while avoiding anarchy, relativism, and divisive identity politics. Those who still want to stand for something in a postmodern age should start here.