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The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense Paperback – September 1, 2011
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In his book, Niebuhr argues that "a free society prospers best in a cultural, religious and moral atmosphere which encourages neither a too pessimistic nor too optimistic view of human nature" (p. viii), and that this atmosphere is best served in democracy. "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary" (p. xiii).
Niebuhr designates the moral cynics as the "children of this world" or "children of darkness" (p. 9), making a reference to Luke 16:8: "the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." He defines the "children of light" as those who believe that "self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher law" (p. 9) and "in harmony with a more universal good" (p. 10). The children of darkness, in contrast, "know no law beyond the self" and they are wise because they "understand the power of self-interest" (p. 10). The children of light are foolish because they have a naïve, sentimental view of human nature that does not recognize the perils of anarchy.Read more ›
it is unsurpassed, imho, in predictive power and fairminded, broadminded useful analysis regarding certain macro-political concerns of the modern era. Written during a time when the evil capabilities of humankind were stripped of their disguises and protestations and rationalizations and perfume, this book lays down foundational principles for how and why a checksandbalances sort of democracy is the least bad of all forms of human government. The portions of the book written as critique are damning in showing how we can twist the most noble-sounding notions to horrifying cruelty with no other motive than banal selfishness, and do so on massive scales.
It touches lightly also on the notion of why the assumption of their being a God to see as a creator and designer, and as an AllGoodOne to Whom/Which we all must answer is a better approach than assuming we are truly self-governing.In this sense, it should be of interest to those interested in human depravity, original sin and related concepts, and the question of what it might take for humanity to overcome our thoroughgoingly superbrutal history, and whether a need for redemption is present, etc.
I think this makes a terrific companion to Churchill's speeches and writings, and some of the other history, holocaust literature and biography/memoirs of the era.
g s morris
ps this book was briefly referenced during former President Ronald Reagan's funeral
But after seeing the inevitable effect of human selfishness and hubris, requiring us to check government, contemporary libertarians seem unable to grasp the overwhelmingly central role that the private sector--our "free enterprise" system--played in generating, and even profiting from, the programs and practices that produced the housing bubble and the recent great recession. They seem almost oblivious to the reality that government's role in producing these unhappy roles resulted from the undue influence of money that resulted in an unseemly move to de-regulate large banking. Thus many were angrily opposing the government bailout, but not even there when it came to taking the steps that could seriously address the "too big to fail" phenomenon. So they fit perfectly into the model of historical, conventional "liberalism," that Niebuhr identifies as the fruit of the "children of light.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 -- 1971) was an American Protestant theologian and political thinker. His writings attracted great attention and controversy during his life and continue... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Robin Friedman
Niebuhr was an American theologian and political thinker active in public life from the 1920s to the 1960s. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Stephen N. Greenleaf
His analysis remains cogent ... this kind of stuff never grows old, but remains vital.
His grasp of American history is magisterial ... Read more
I remember reading Reinhold Niebuhr's books as an undergraduate and being enormously impressed by him. He was also a major influence on Martin Luther King. Read morePublished on March 20, 2013 by Michael E. Kehoe