Reinhold Niebuhr and an Ethic of Humility in Deliberative Politics
Spino, Matthew Peter
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The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the degree to which the political psychology of Reinhold Niebuhr contributes to a more capacious theory of deliberative politics and to what degree such a theory may permit individuals to express themselves with more workable forms of democratic practice. Considerations of Reinhold Niebuhr's understanding of impermanence, anxiety, self-reflection, and empathy borne of humility guide the framework of the argument in that they inform and augment individual political preferences. The author uses these ideas to develop a theory of deliberative politics built upon the empathetic tendencies found in the self-scrutinizing humility of Reinhold Niebuhr's politics. The author considers this theory in contradistinction to ascendant strains in political theory and theologies of public life, which at times may disavowal Niebuhr's understanding of natural theology, his correspondent political realism, or otherwise miscategorize Niebuhr's political claims. The degree to which Niebuhr's ethical framework can or should be separated from Christian considerations of ethics more broadly, especially from Christian eschatology, is a major topic of discussion. Contrasting Niebuhr with other Christian ethicists permits us to see in what manner Niebuhr's political psychology might retain political value beyond a particular religious community. This work also considers limits of Niebuhr's understanding of liberal politics, and whether an ethic of humility can be overly disempowering at times. Tension between individual and aggregate political perspectives frames that discussion.