The Magazine

Howdy, Niebuhr

Theologian, philosopher, and sage in one package.

Jul 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 42 • By JORDAN MICHAEL SMITH
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Echoing Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean, Niebuhr suggested that the best position was between two extremes: that of assuming a pose of pure righteousness, and that of refraining from living up to international responsibilities. This can easily become a way of justifying evil, of absolving oneself of one’s sins—which is why Niebuhr insisted on shedding the myth of innocence from the beginning. Doing so is the first step towards wisdom, and nobody taught that principle better than Niebuhr. For that alone, he matters to our time, as to his.

Jordan Michael Smith is a contributing writer to Salon.