The Christian realist pendulum: between pacifism and interventionism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In a famous exchange with his brother H. Richard in the pages of The Christian Century over the U.S. response to the Manchurian crisis, Reinhold Niebuhr reproached the moral complacency of the pacifist’s detachment from the affairs of the world. Christian realists, however, have always had an uneasy relationship with pacifism. Striving to reconcile the Christian command of love with the harsh realities of power as the consequence of universal sinfulness, Christian realists tended to oscillate between the two sides of a pendulum swinging from Christian pacifism (as in the case of early Martin Wight) to the endorsement of interventionist policies (as in the case of Jean Bethke-Elshtain’s defence of the ‘War Against Terror’). This chapter argues that while this ambivalence has been a source of frustration for both sympathisers and critics, it should primarily be recognised as an asset that accounts for Christian realism’s continued relevance and resurgent popularity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRealism
Subtitle of host publicationa distinctively 20th century European tradition
EditorsAlexander Reichwein, Felix Rösch
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783030584559
ISBN (Print)9783030584542, 9783030584573
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameTrends in European IR theory
ISSN (Print)2946-5273
ISSN (Electronic)2946-5281


  • Christian realism
  • Pacifism
  • Reinhold Niebuhr
  • Herbert Butterfield
  • Martin Wight
  • Jean Bethke-Elshtain


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