"As Tragic as the World Conflict": The Split Between Christian Realists and Pacifists, 1930-1939 Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
Christian realism has left its mark well beyond the liberal Protestant circles in which it developed. Since the 1940s, politicians and intellectuals of all ideological stripes have turned to Reinhold Niebuhr, Christian realism's chief architect, for answers regarding the United States' role in the world. As Niebuhr ultimately supported American intervention in World War II and later earned a reputation as one of the most influential intellectuals behind the United States' Cold War policy, Christian realism is commonly portrayed as little more than the rejection of pacifism and justification for a tough foreign policy.Far too often scholars have relied solely on Niebuhr's longer works and accepted without question his criticism of his liberal Protestant contemporaries. This dissertation restores nuance to our understanding of Niebuhr by placing him in conversation with both his allies and his critics, most notably John Coleman Bennett, Richard Niebuhr, and Charles Clayton Morrison. Furthermore, I attempt to develop our understanding of Niebuhr's theology as well as his politics through rigorous analysis of both his books and his many editorials on contemporary events from the Manchurian crisis to Pearl Harbor. By examining both sides of the debates over American intervention, I hope to recover the overwhelming sense of confusion and helplessness that characterized all efforts to devise an adequate response to Nazism in the 1930s and to demonstrate that the distinction between Niebuhr's new realism and the older liberalism has been greatly exaggerated, first by Niebuhr, and later by historians.