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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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The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense + The Irony of American History + Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 8.2.2011 edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226584003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226584003
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Dr. Niebuhr is in our time one of the ablest spokesmen among theologians. And he brings to his chosen task rare gifts and wide-ranging interests.”
(New Republic)

“[A] clear and impressive statement of [Niebuhr’s] views on fundamental political and social problems.”—Spectator


“He cast an intellectual spell on my generation. . . . Niebuhr made us think anew about the nature and destiny of man.”—Arthur Schlesinger Jr., New York Times

(New York Times)

“[A] brilliant and creative vindication of democracy . . . a theology of Western culture which remains intellectually unsurpassed.”
(Larry Rasmussen in Reinhold Niebuhr: Theologian of Public Life)

“I love him. He’s one of my favorite philosophers.”—President Barack Obama

(President Barack Obama)

“His most lasting political book.”

(Jordan Smith Slate)

About the Author

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)taught from 1928 until 1962 at Union Theological Seminary, in New York City. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, he wrote many books, including Moral Man and Immoral SocietyThe Interpretation of Christian Ethics, The Nature and Destiny of Man, and The Irony of American History (the latter also recently republished by the University of Chicago Press).

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 7 customer reviews
I first read this book in college--35 years ago.
Tom McAffee
For even the most perfectly organized society must seek for a decent equilibrium of the vitalities and forces under its organization.
Stephen N. Greenleaf
For anyone hoping to gain some insight into the political struggles of the day, here's a book you don't want to miss.
T. Eggebeen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By John M. Balouziyeh on October 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Reinhold Niebuhr's Children of Light and Children of Darkness brings to the discussion on democracy many needed insights on human nature that have been articulated by Calvin, Augustine, and a host of other Church fathers. Although the insights presented in the book are not particularly novel or original, they remind modern society, which tends to cast a great deal of faith in government, of man's sinful propensities and how this should limit what we are to expect of democracy and of government more generally.

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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By G. Morris on June 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
i stumbled upon a copy of this book in a Salvation Army store sometime in the early 1980's. Best 25cents i have ever spent! :-)

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
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tom McAffee on October 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Today's Tea Party Members, many of whom profess a religious perspective, would be well advised to read this book. Niebuhr explains why libertarian advocates of laissez fare are simply too optimistic about human nature. What is a real shame is that libertarians seem acutely aware of the risks of government oppression and thus perceive the need and value of a system of checks and balances and implementing Madison's idea of providing incentives for the different actors--branches of government--to seize their turf and avoid putting too much power in any single hand. So modern libertarians, including at least some in the Tea Party movement, hold the American Constitution in high regard as a meaningful way to check government to avoid its overreaching.

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.
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