Why Niebuhr Now?
by John Patrick Diggins
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Like George Orwell, the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was a prophet of the twentieth century whose legacy has been claimed by combatants along a left-right political spectrum both men disdained. While both were left of center, both were also anti-Communist and believed that conservativism offers important truths. Both lamented that each side clings to its truths until they curdle into lies, leaving each side right only about how the other is wrong. Orwell foresaw the totalitarian consequences; Niebuhr, the grander, deeper thinker, surveyed “the abyss of meaninglessness” that “yawns on the brink of all [man’s] mighty spiritual endeavors.” His two-volume study, The Nature and Destiny of Man (1943), reviews the futility of Aristotelian and Platonic wisdom, of rationalistic, Thomistic church doctrine,
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