Reinhold Niebuhr

(Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr)

Reinhold Niebuhr
Reinhold Niebuhr
  • Born: June 21, 1892
  • Died: June 1, 1971
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Theologian, Ethicist, Political Commentator, Minister (1915–28), Professor (1928–60), Magazine Editor (1941–66)









Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr was an American Reformed theologian, ethicist, commentator on politics and public affairs, and professor at Union Theological Seminary for more than 30 years. Niebuhr was one of America's leading public intellectuals for several decades of the 20th century and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. A public theologian, he wrote and spoke frequently about the intersection of religion, politics, and public policy, with his most influential books including Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man. The latter is ranked #18 of the Top 100 non-fiction books of the twentieth century by Modern Library. Andrew Bacevich labelled Niebuhr's book The Irony of American History "the most important book ever written on U.S. foreign policy." Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described Niebuhr as "the most influential American theologian of the 20th century" and Time posthumously called Niebuhr "the greatest Protestant theologian in America since Jonathan Edwards."

Quotes About
Author Quote
Quote Topics Cited
“… it is sheer moral perversity to equate the inconsistencies of a democratic civilization with the brutalities which modern tyrannical states practice. Democracies & Republics
A democracy cannot of course engage in an explicit preventive war. I lament the inability to comprehend the depth of evil to which individuals and communities may sink, particularly when they try to play the role of God to history. Democracies & Republics
Here is a deep layer of messianic consciousness in the mind of America. We never dreamed that we would have as much political power as we possess today; nor for that matter did we anticipate that the most powerful nation on earth would suffer such an ironic refutation of its dreams of mastery. Power
If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory. Religion & God
Men are never safe against the temptation of claiming God too simply as the sanctifier of whatever we most fervently desire. Religion & God
Religion is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values. Religion & God
The possession of power does not necessarily imply its unrighteous or oppressive use, although it generally awakes suspicion. Power
The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world. Justice & Injustice ;Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
The worst corruption is a corrupt religion. Religion & God
There is a constant trend in human affairs toward the perfectibility of mankind. This was plainly stated at the time of tile French Revolution and has been reasserted ever since that time, and with increasing plausibility. Human Nature
We must take, and continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized. Foreign Policy, World & International Affairs
All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions.
Democracies are indeed slow to make war, but once embarked upon a martial venture are equally slow to make peace and reluctant to make a tolerable, rather than a vindictive, peace. War & Peace
Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.
Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity.
Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice. Life ;Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Families, Children & Parenting
Forgiveness is the final form of love. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Power
I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the sentimentalism of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth. Truth
If we can find God only as he is revealed in nature we have no moral God. Nature ;Religion & God
If we survive danger it steels our courage more than anything else.
Life is a battle between faith and reason in which each feeds upon the other, drawing sustenance from it and destroying it. Life ;Religion & God
Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Hope
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. History ;Religion & God
Original sin is that thing about man which makes him capable of conceiving of his own perfection and incapable of achieving it.
Our age knows nothing but reaction, and leaps from one extreme to another.
The final wisdom of life requires not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it. Life
The mastery of nature is vainly believed to be an adequate substitute for self mastery. Nature
The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism. Religion & God
There are historic situations in which refusal to defend the inheritance of a civilization, however imperfect, against tyranny and aggression may result in consequences even worse than war. War & Peace
There is no cure for the pride of a virtuous nation but pure religion. Religion & God