Moral Man and Immoral Society

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Moral Man and Immoral Society
The words "MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY" in alternating red and blue above the words "A Study in Ethics and Politics" in blue above the words "by Reinhold Niebuhr" in red
First edition cover
AuthorReinhold Niebuhr
CountryUnited States
Published1932 (Charles Scribner's Sons)
Media typePrint

Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics is a 1932 book by Reinhold Niebuhr, an American Protestant theologian at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York City.[1] The thesis of the book is that people are more likely to sin as members of groups than as individuals.[2] Niebuhr wrote the book in a single summer.[3] He drew the book's contents from his experiences as a pastor in Detroit, Michigan prior to his professorship at UTS.[4] The book attacks liberalism, both secular and religious, and is particularly critical of John Dewey[5] and the Social Gospel.[6] Moral Man and Immoral Society generated much controversy and raised Niebuhr's public profile significantly.[7] Initial reception of the book by liberal Christian critics was negative, but its reputation soon improved as the rise of fascism throughout the 1930s was seen as having been predicted in the book.[8] Soon after the book's publication, Paul Lehmann gave a copy to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who read it and was impressed by the book's thesis but disliked the book's critique of pacifism.[9] The book eventually gained significant readership among American Jews because, after a period of considerable anti-theological sentiment among Jews in the United States, many Jews began to return to the study of theology and, having no Jewish works of theology to read, turned to Protestant theological works.[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Pianko 2010, p. 117.
  2. ^ Crouter 2010, p. 48.
  3. ^ Rasmussen 1981, p. 10.
  4. ^ Gill 2006, p. 143.
  5. ^ Rice 1993, p. 17.
  6. ^ Stumme 2006, p. 100.
  7. ^ Brown 1987, p. xv.
  8. ^ Dorrien 2003, p. 459.
  9. ^ Bethge 1999, p. 268.
  10. ^ Goldy 1990, p. 53.


  • Bethge, Eberhard (1999). Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress. ISBN 978-1-4514-0742-6.
  • Brown, Robert McAfee (1987). The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-16264-6.
  • Crouter, Richard (2010). Reinhold Niebuhr: On Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith. Octord: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-977969-7.
  • Dorrien, Gary J. (2003). The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox. ISBN 0664223559.
  • Gill, Robin (2006). A Textbook of Christian Ethics. A & C Black. ISBN 978-0-567-03111-2.
  • Goldy, Robert G. (1990). The Emergence of Jewish Theology in America. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-32601-0.
  • Pianko, Noam (2010). Zionism and the Roads Not Taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-22184-1.
  • Rasmussen, Larry (1981). Reinhold Niebuhr: Theologian of Public Life. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress. ISBN 978-1-4514-1282-6.
  • Rice, Daniel F. (1993). Reinhold Niebuhr and John Dewey: An American Odyssey. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-1345-6.
  • Stumme, Wayne (2006). The Gospel of Justification in Christ: Where Does the Church Stand Today?. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-8028-2690-9.