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Note: When this diary was published Galtisalie was still a separate pseudonym from Francisco Nejdanov Solomin. Here's an explanation for the prior separate pseudonyms and the decision to discard the separation:

If you appreciate Reinhold Niebuhr, and or you are simply curious about what might happen if Pope Francis, Robert Burns, and Simón Bolívar met Niebuhr at a bar near the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and then went on the U.N. tour, you might consider reading Francisco Nejdanov Solomin's photo documentary post entitled "Niebuhrian Coercion and a Non-Utopian Version of a Vision That Hopefully Will Never Die: Bolivarian-Burnsian International Justice and Solidarity." Then again, Solomin's piece is at a democratic socialist website, and since Bernie Sanders is being spied upon, so will you be if you look at it. So, to spare you an NSA commie-specific file, as opposed to being in the stuff in the regular NSA digital warehouse hopefully no one will ever read, I will below the curly-thing give you the most important part to me, the Niebuhr quotes contained within Solomin's piece. If you have the Pope's email address, please send him the Niebuhr quotes because he might appreciate the support. (If you want the U.N. photos, the Robert Burns and musical YouTube links, some interesting links relating to Dr. King's views on economic justice and Niebuhr, Woodrow Wilson trivia, and the Bolivarian quote, you will have to take the NSA risk.)    

11:50 AM PT: About the long RN paragraphs, other than my OCD, my rationale includes the following: (1) that was how Niebuhr wrote; (2) every time I go to edit out stuff of his, I realize how valuable the sentences are I had cut, and sometimes I go back and add them--he was, to me, a brilliant valuable independent thinker, and he was into details, so I hate to lose them; (3) I would rather get you or someone who could benefit from RN's words his words and not mine; and (4) I mistakenly thought that he was not available for free online, but I have now found at least one place where this book seems to be available for free: Regards.

All of these quotes are from Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society (Scribner, 1932). They are all golden, but then again, if you turn to almost any page in this book you will find gold and not get cooties. I will also include the introductory/contextual remarks from Solomin (minus the links) to each Niebuhr quote so that you will better understand the context.

Here is the first one:

Because of the self-justifying immorality of nations, which, among other things, put the mass of humans largely under the control of the powerful in what are ostensibly democracies, Niebuhr was skeptical of the U.N. just as he was that of its predecessor, the League of Nations. Of the latter, and the circumstances in which it operated, ever constrained by the powerful and ever undercut by the coercion-averse social scientists and religious people who most highly regarded it, he wrote in detail in 1932:
Modern religious idealists usually follow in the wake of social scientists in advocating compromise and accommodation as the way to social justice. Many leaders of the church like to insist that it is not their business to champion the cause of either labor or capital, but only to admonish both sides to a spirit of fairness and accommodation. …

[T]hey regard social conflict either as an impossible method of achieving morally approved ends or as a momentary expedient which a more perfect education or a purer religion will make unnecessary. …

[T]he romantic overestimate of human virtue and moral capacity, current in our modern middle-class culture, does not always result in an unrealistic appraisal of present social facts. Contemporary social situations are frequently appraised realistically, but the hope is expressed that a new pedagogy or a revival of religion will make conflict unnecessary in the future. Nevertheless a considerable portion of middle-class culture remains quite unrealistic in its analysis of the contemporary situation. It assumes that evidence of a growing brotherliness between classes and nations are apparent in the present moment. It gives such arrangements as the League of Nations, such ventures as the Kellogg Pact and such schemes as company industrial unions, a connotation of moral and social achievement which the total facts completely belie. … This glorification of the League of Nations as a symbol of a new epoch in international relations has been very general, and frequently very unqualified, in the Christian churches, where liberal Christianity has given itself to the illusion that all social relations are being brought progressively under the “law of Christ.” … [T]heologian and pastor, Justin Wroe Nixon, thinks that “another reason for believing in the growth of social statesmanship on the part of business leaders is based upon their experience as trustees in various philanthropic and educational enterprises.” This judgment reveals the moral confusion of liberal Christianity with perfect clarity. Teachers of morals who do not see the difference between the problem of charity within the limits of an accepted social system and the problem of justice between economic groups, holding uneven power within modern industrial society, have simply not faced the most obvious differences between the morals of groups and those of individuals.

Moral Man and Immoral Society, Introduction, pp. ix-xxii. Scribner, 1932. (Footnotes omitted.)
Here is the second one:
In less than two of his typically enormous paragraphs, Niebuhr accurately captured the plight of the individual, whether in Cairo, Egypt or Cairo, Georgia:
The need of the modern industrial overlord for raw materials and markets, and rivalry over control of the undeveloped and unexploited portions of the earth are the occasion of modern wars. Yet the ambitions and greed of dominant economic groups within each nation are not the only cause of international conflict. Every social group, as every individual, has expansive desires which are rooted in the instinct of survival and soon extend beyond it. The will-to-live becomes the will-to-power. Only rarely does nature provide armors of defense which cannot be transmuted into instruments of aggression. The frustrations of the average man, who can never realise the power and the glory which his imagination sets as the ideal, makes him the more willing tool and victim of the imperial ambitions of his group. His frustrated individual ambitions gain a measure of satisfaction in the power and the aggrandizement of his nation. The will-to-power of competing national groups is the cause of the international anarchy which the moral sense of mankind has thus far vainly striven to overcome. Since some nations are more powerful than others, they will at times prevent anarchy by effective imperialism, which in our industrial period has become more covert than overt. But the peace is gained by force and is always an uneasy and an unjust one. As powerful classes organize a nation, so powerful nations organize a crude society of nations. In each case the peace is a tentative one because it is unjust. It has been achieved only partially by a mutual accommodation of conflicting interests and certainly not by a rational and moral adjustment of rights. It will last only until those, who feel themselves too weak to challenge strength, will become, or will feel themselves, powerful enough to do so. …

[T]hus society is in a perpetual state of war. Lacking moral and rational resources to organize its life, without resort to coercion, except in the most immediate and intimate social groups, men remain the victims of the individuals, classes and nations by whose force a momentary coerced unity is achieved, and further conflicts are as certainly created. The fact that the coercive factor in society is both necessary and dangerous seriously complicates the whole task of securing both peace and justice. History is a long tale of abortive efforts toward the desired end of social cohesion and justice in which failure was usually due either to the effort to eliminate the factor of force entirely or to an undue reliance upon it. Complete reliance upon it means that new tyrants usurp the places of eminence from which more traditional monarchs are cast down. Tolstoian pacifists and other advocates of non-resistance, noting the evils which force introduces into society, give themselves to the vain illusion that it can be completely eliminated, and society organized upon the basis of anarchistic principles. Their conviction is an illusion, because there are definite limits of moral goodwill and social intelligence beyond which even the most vital religion and the most astute educational programme will not carry a social group, whatever may be possible for individuals in an intimate society. The problem which society faces is clearly one of reducing force by increasing the factors which make for a moral and rational adjustment of life to life; of bringing such force as is still necessary under the responsibility of the whole of society; of destroying the kind of power which cannot be made socially responsible (the power which resides in economic ownership for instance); and of bringing forces of moral self-restraint to bear upon types of power which can never be brought completely under social control. Every one of these methods has its definite limitations. … Since it is impossible to count on enough moral goodwill among those who possess irresponsible power to sacrifice it for the good of the whole, it must be destroyed by coercive methods and these will always run the peril of introducing new forms of injustice in place of those abolished. There is, for instance, as yet no clear proof that the power of economic overlords can be destroyed by means less rigorous than communism has employed; but there is also no proof that communistic oligarchs, once the idealistic passion of a revolutionary period is spent, will be very preferable to the capitalistic oligarchs, whom they are to replace. … So difficult is it to avoid the Scylla of despotism and the Charybdis of anarchy that it is safe to hazard the prophecy that the dream of perpetual peace and brotherhood for human society is one which will never be fully realized. It is a vision prompted by the conscience and insight of individual man, but incapable to fulfillment by collective man. It is like all true religious visions, possible of approximation but not of realisation in actual history. The vitality of the vision is the measure of man’s rebellion against the fate which binds his collective life to the world of nature from which his souls recoils. The vision can be kept alive only by permitting it to overreach itself. But meanwhile collective man, operating on the historic and mundane scene, must content himself with a more modest goal. His concern for some centuries to come is not the creation of an ideal society in which there will be uncoerced and perfect peace and justice, but a society in which there will be enough justice, and in which coercion will be sufficiently non-violent to prevent his common enterprise from issuing into complete disaster. That goal will seem too modest for the romanticists; but the romanticists have so little understanding for the perils in which modern society lives, and overestimate the moral resources at the disposal of the collective human enterprise so easily, that any goal regarded as worthy of achievement by them must be beyond attainment.

Niebuhr at pp. 18-22 (boldfacing added.)
Here is the third one:
That “more modest goal” should not mean the masses having no, zero, nada coercive power against capitalists. Under the MDGs, soon to be replaced by the SDGs, the U.N. effectively lets biased neoliberal point persons like Jeffrey Sachs go into rooms with the powerful and emerge to tell the desperate how much relief from their desperation they at best might expect from the capitalists over the next several decades. This does not cut it. Nor, sorry to say, does relying on the conversion of capitalist souls.
The Pope seems to be talented in evangelism that encompasses concern for the poor, but he will never be that talented. This is not about picking on Catholicism much less Christianity or religions as a whole. It is simply about facing facts. The Jesuit view of justice being in the service of love is remarkably consistent with Niebuhr who, on the one hand praised the religious passion for justice, and on the other, admitted that even the liberal Christians were easily disengaged from bringing coercion to bear against the powerful. As Neibuhr observed in 1932 when liberal Protestantism was still in its heyday, “fear” of using force to establish justice is a constant weakness of religious idealists in the quest to achieve social and political significance:

[W]e developed a type of religious idealism, which is saturated with sentimentality. In spite of the disillusionment of the World War [WWI], the average liberal Protestant Christian is still convinced that the kingdom of God is gradually approaching, that the League of Nations is its partial fulfillment and the Kellogg Pact its covenant, that the wealthy will be persuaded by the church to dedicate their power and privilege to the common good and that they are doing so in increasing numbers, that the conversion of individuals is the only safe method of solving the social problem, and that such ethical weaknesses as religion still betrays are due to its theological obscurantism which will be sloughed off by the progress of enlightenment. …

[S]ince liberal Protestantism is, on the whole, the religion of the privileged classes of Western civilisation, it is not surprising that its espousal of the ideal of love, in a civilization reeking with social injustice, should be cynically judged and convicted of hypocrisy by those in whom bitter social experiences destroy the sentimentalities and illusions of the comfortable. …

[T]he full force of religious faith will never be available for the building of a just society, because its visions are those which proceed from the insights of a sensitive individual conscience. If they are realised at all, they will be realised in intimate religious communities, in which individual ideals achieve social realisation but do not conquer society. To the sensitive spirit, society must always remain something of the jungle, which indeed it is, something of the world of nature, which might be brought a little nearer to the kingdom of God, if only the sensitive spirit could learn, how to use the forces of nature to defeat nature, how to use force in order to establish justice. Knowing the peril of corruption in this strategy, the religious spirit recoils. If that fear can be overcome religious ideals may yet achieve social and political significance.

Id. at pp. 79-81 (boldfacing added).
And the penultimate one:
“Utopia” Will Never Happen, But That Should Not Be the Goal

Men must strive to realize their individual ideals in their common life but they will learn in the end that society remains man’s great fulfillment and his great frustration.
Id. at p. 82.

I find Niebuhr’s methodical accounting of the weaknesses of humankind, whether or not religiously inclined, to be cathartic. Rather than excusing our apathy, our shared humanity calls for us to do our best as species-beings. Doing our best as species beings will involve stomaching use of appropriate “coercion,” coupled with democratic and human rights constraints, to build a sufficiently just world so that, as nearly as possible, everyone’s basic needs are met. This is a vital reality in what I call garden variety democratic socialism. You may call it something else if you prefer.

Fundamentally, the struggle for economic justice must make the powerful not only uncomfortable but no longer powerful. Clintonian cocktail party diplomacy will not cut it. I hope that Pope Francis will be willing to stomach this reality, but it will not be easy. He is going to have his hands full of reactionary clergy under the sway of reactionary fat cats and their batallions. Perhaps the constant temptation will be to wish he could have chosen the comfortable, dithering, liberal-bashing route of a Benedict XVI, but I hold out hope that Francis is truly embracing the uncomfortable because that is what he somehow feels “called” to do. It certainly is what the world’s desperate require.

And the last one:
One last quote from Niebuhr before I complete your U.N. tour. This is from the very end of Moral Man and Immoral Society:
We live in an age in which personal moral idealism is easily accused of hypocrisy and frequently deserves it. It is an age in which honesty is possible only when it skirts the edges of cynicism. All this is rather tragic. For what the individual conscience feels when it lifts itself above the world of nature and the system of collective relationships in which the human spirit remains under the power of nature, is not a luxury but a necessity of the soul. Yet there is beauty in our tragedy. We are, at least, rid of some of our illusions. We can no longer buy the highest satisfactions of individual life at the expense of social injustice. We cannot build our individual ladders to heaven and leave the total human enterprise unredeemed of its excesses and corruptions.

In the task of that redemption the most effective agents will be men who have substituted some new illusions for the abandoned ones. The most important of these illusions is that the collective life of mankind can achieve perfect justice. It is a very valuable illusion for the moment; for justice cannot be approximated if the hope of its perfect realization does not generate a sublime madness in the soul. Nothing but such madness will do battle with malignant power and “spiritual wickedness in high places.” The illusion is dangerous because it encourages terrible fanaticisms. It must therefore be brought under the control of reason. One can only hope that reason will not destroy it before its work is done.

Id. at pp. 276-77 (boldfacing added).

Originally posted to Galtisalie on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 08:04 AM PST.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat, Street Prophets , and Anglican Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    I'm on the left wing of the possible. I write for the same reasons Eric Arthur Blair did, just not as well.

    by Galtisalie on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 08:04:11 AM PST

  •  Nice. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie, NY brit expat

    But, really, create paragraphs for old RN.

    Even random ones make it all easier to read in electronic form.

    Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

    by dadadata on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 08:36:26 AM PST

    •  Good idea about breaking him up, but I (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      would feel like I was messing with history. Please see my other excuses in the above update! Regards, and I will seriously consider that in the future, but again, I am gun shy in more ways than one.

      I'm on the left wing of the possible. I write for the same reasons Eric Arthur Blair did, just not as well.

      by Galtisalie on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 12:01:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  About those long paragraphs... (4+ / 0-)

    He WAS German, after all.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 08:56:53 AM PST

  •  a more lucid analysis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is found in Charles Sumner's The True Grandeur of Nations later updated in The Duel Between France and Germany available free online. The failure of the UN is that the hegemon is immune from international law, the UN will work when correlated with disarmament.

  •  Thanks. I havent read Niebuhr in years, but he (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    influenced me a lot in my early 20's.

    It's refreshing to be exposed again to his commitment to holding the tension between exhilarating idealism (see Will I Am's powerful video, "Yes We Can" made during the first Obama campaign) and the complex, morally ambiguous nature of any actual movement forward.

    The temptation, of course, when the idealistic high ground is eroded, is to crash all the way down to cynicism, which at least can keep us emotionally fired up, and offers its own bitter but addictive emotional rewards.

    Niebuhr asks for a more difficult balancing act.  He asks that we keep our idealism and commit to the vision, love the vision, commit to achieving justice, even though we know that the final outcome will be imperfect and will face further threats of loss or corruption.  And we need to do that over and over again.

    It's a hard task.  FOr many of  us, it may only be possible if we at least know what we're doing.  If we know that our job isn't to totally succeed, but to lay everything on the line to get as far as we can.  Total success (justice and peace) are not achievable at this stage of human social development, so we can't judge ourselves or our movements by that standard.  But getting as far as we can may well be essential to our survival.

    --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

    by Fiona West on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:29:14 PM PST

    •  Those are beautiful and so true words. (0+ / 0-)

      I will study and treasure them. Your interpretation of Niebuhr and his challenge to us is precise and perfect. Peace. Onward always, even when it seems we are not getting anywhere!

      I'm on the left wing of the possible. I write for the same reasons Eric Arthur Blair did, just not as well.

      by Galtisalie on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 07:49:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

        by Fiona West on Tue Jan 07, 2014 at 11:13:17 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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