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Reinhold Niebuhr and Contemporary Politics$
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Richard Harries and Stephen Platten

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199571833

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199571833.001.0001

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Distinguishing Hope from Utopian Aspiration

Distinguishing Hope from Utopian Aspiration

Revisiting Reinhold Niebuhr

Chapter:
(p.129) 9 Distinguishing Hope from Utopian Aspiration
Source:
Reinhold Niebuhr and Contemporary Politics
Author(s):

Ian Markham (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199571833.003.0010

This chapter places John Gray in conversation with Reinhold Niebuhr. In Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, John Gray argues that Christianity provides much of the impetus for the utopian tendencies in the political discourse that dominates Britain and America. Gray believes the best example of this was the so-called ‘neoconservative’ confidence in liberal democracy and the attempt to use force to create a democratic Iraq. Reinhold Niebuhr understood all too clearly the danger of a utopian propensity shaping political discourse. So having summarized the principles out of which Reinhold Niebuhr shapes his outlook, three principles embedded in Niebuhr's thought that can both challenge all utopian aspirations and help us understand more clearly the nature of hope are identified. These principles are then applied to the current economic predicament. Having sketched, briefly, the reasons for the current difficulties (much of which vindicates Niebuhr's analysis), it is argued that a Niebuhrian approach can help us navigate this crisis.

Keywords:   Reinhold Niebuhr, John Gray, economic crisis, Christianity, utopia

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