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U.S. intellectual history since 1877 - Essay Example

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Reinhold Niebuhr suggests there is a persistent flaw in modern American thought that underestimates the power of evil and predatory self-interest. In this way he finds that American liberalism is limited. …
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Download file to see previous pages Reinhold Niebuhr suggests there is a persistent flaw in modern American thought that underestimates the power of evil and predatory self-interest. In this way he finds that American liberalism is limited. Dr. Martin Luther King and Allen Ginsburg show how American liberal and progressive thought was challenged, renewed, and expanded as understood through the insights of Reinhold Niebuhr. Yet Malcolm X was almost defeated by the human flaws of which Niebuhr writes, and the writers of the Port Huron Declaration went too far in accepting methods of the children of the darkness as explained by Niebuhr. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail which he wrote April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King rooted his thoughts to a tradition of philosophers and theologians, including Niebuhr. King expressed how difficult it was to get privileged groups to change. He wrote, “. . . as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”Niebuhr felt that liberalism essentially lied to itself. Dr. King could see this. Bourgeoisie society, in the south had advanced because of those lies. Niebuhr identifies the ugly powers of self-interest as pulling the chords of individuals outside any real beliefs in community. The morality that the racist South put forward was a cynical one. It was one that could not stand true from the way it dealt with black people. But the point is that this was not merely a feature of the South. As long as the segregation policies existed it was also a feature of the entire country. Hence, from Niebuhr's view, democracy did not have any adequate cultural base. It had one that was built on a house of hate. This is why Dr. King's letter was important. Building on a principle of progressive liberalism in action, King's letter extended the cultural base of the country with some honest truths. One of these truths reflects the human flaw that Niebuhr saw in man. In this letter Dr. King noted this as the inner conflict of man. He explained that he had been disappointed with his Christian and Jewish brothers. He pointed out how they allowed a "negative peace" to exist in the absence of justice. In a way this is similar to Niebuhr's thought of 'the children of light' who, in this case, were somehow led to believe that the progress of black people, according to Southern standards, was okay. Drawing further from Niebuhr, it is possible to say that Southern racism reflected an order that was cynical on the top, and laid upon Niebuhr's "perils of chaos". Dr. King pointed to this chaos. He pointed to it in the white church and its leadership. He made some exceptions. But what stood out were the members of the white religious establishment that opposed the civil rights movement Dr. King led. Dr. King was actually forging the cultural revolution that exemplified an expression of Niebuhr's ideas. It was a revolution that pursued unity while expressing a freedom and participation of formally denied people into a system of democracy. In the active outplay of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King led black and white forces to demonstrate how it was possible for America to reflect a real culture of community. That was what King sought and what, while he was living, did. Dr. King stood as the leader who influenced thought and action. There is also a way in which an artist, who has freed his or herself from the limiting confines of human prejudice and self-interest, may also illustrate some of the themes of Niebuhr. Allen Ginsberg is one of these artists. Allen Ginsberg was one of the main poets during the beat generation. He was also a public homosexual during the 1950s when homosexuality was illegal. Ginsberg was at the extreme end of the poets in that he criticized a lot about American society that Niebuhr criticized. Niebuhr, being a Christian, would probably not accept Ginsberg extreme view of homosexuality. But maybe he could have. The important thing is that Ginsberg in his poetry, especially 'Howl', attempted to turn America upside down and look into her. In order to do this all the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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