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Moral Man and Immoral Society: Study in Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics) Paperback – January 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Series: Library of Theological Ethics
  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (January 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664224741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664224745
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 - 1971) was an ethicist, theologian, and political philosopher who taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City from 1928 to 1960. Before that, for thirteen years, he was minister of Detroit's Bethel Evangelical Church.

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Customer Reviews

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Buyer beware: Kessinger "Publishing" does not actually sell you a new printing of Niebuhr's book.
Thames
He lamented the necessary time restraints that representative democracy requires and that permit self-interest to misuse information and lapse into greed.
Charles G. Yopst
If you want to know the true motivations of man and why social justice does not at all exist in this country, then read his book.
Payam Sharifi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By F. Johnson on September 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
I must confess that it took me 75 years to finally get around to reading Reinhold Niebuhr's now classic work on human behavior, "Moral Man and Immoral Society." Written during the Great Depression in 1932, it turned out to be a very timely read in 2008.

During his lifetime, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was perhaps the best-known Christian theologian in America. In 1915, he became minister of Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit. From then until 1928, he personally witnessed the hardships of auto workers. This exposure made Niebuhr very critical of capitalism. In 1928, he began a long career with Union Theological Seminary in New York, serving first as professor of Christian ethics (1928-1960) and then Dean (1950-1960).

Niebuhr thought of himself as a preacher and social activist, but his theological writings on social ethics made him an important intellectual figure nationally. An early advocate of socialism, he eventually supported FDR's New Deal because he thought it was more just and more realistic than either Marxism or laissez-faire capitalism. A prolific writer and a popular, engaging lecturer, Niebuhr's influence was felt by Martin Luther King, policy makers in John Kennedy's administration, and even a young Barack Obama. In 1964, Niebuhr was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

An outspoken progressive and reformer from the beginning, Niebuhr was also a keen observer of human behavior. Niebuhr was critical of the pacifism that permeated the social programs of mainstream liberal Protestantism (the "Social Gospel") that sought to correct political and social injustices mainly through appeals to "reason." Niebuhr did not believe "reason" worked.
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78 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Charles G. Yopst on February 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
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.
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80 of 91 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
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.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Thames on July 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
Buyer beware: Kessinger "Publishing" does not actually sell you a new printing of Niebuhr's book. What you end up with is actually just a photocopy of an old edition (in this case, the 1934 Scribner's printing). Unbelievably, it also includes page underlining and marginal notes, photocopied from a used and marked up version of the text. Apparently it was too difficult to find an unmarked text, or to white-out the markings when photocopying the text. If you want an unmarked version of this text, avoid the Kessinger version--you might as well buy a used copy of an actual printing rather than a photocopy of someone else's marked-up text. It is disingenuous, misleading, and possibly fraudulent for Kessinger to sell this as "new."
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Scott A. Huizenga on March 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
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.
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