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The Uses of Tragedy: Reinhold Niebuhr's Theory of History and International Ethics [Abstract]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 9 (1995)

December 3, 1995

As Smith points out, Reinhold Niebuhr's political ethic is closely linked to his philosophy of history. This view of history blends a dualistic understanding of human nature and rigorous contingency of experience - all sobered by a creative sense of tragedy. Niebuhr's modest sensibility was forged amid the early catastrophes of the century and fell on fertile ground early in the Cold War. But in the ironic wake of that superpower struggle there is much in Niebuhr's anitriumphalism to commend to today's international relations theorists and practitioners. Following Augustine, Niebuhr offers no escape from the complexities and contingencies of history, but neither does he view history as gloomily fixed. Rather, Niebuhr's complex and often contradictory sense of historical destiny reflects a sober hope for a more just and peaceful world order.

 

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