Diversity under Freedom: Reinhold Niebuhr and the Transatlantic Community
In the midst of U.S. exhortations that European nations increase their defense budgets to meet their NATO obligations, one observer wrote an article for a U.S. audience trying to explain why Europeans, mired in an economic recession, resisted these pressures. The prospect of such defense spending, he said, “threatens living standards to a greater degree than Americans can realize. The issue of guns or butter is a real one.” Facing such difficult trade-offs, it was no wonder that Europeans would resent such hectoring. The U.S. author was Reinhold Niebuhr, and the year was 1951.
Niebuhr matters for transatlantic relations today for much more substantial reasons than just the comfort of historical perspective. That the transatlantic relationship has endured and evolved as it has testifies to the force of Niebuhr’s original vision. But as the United States and Europe are buffeted today by new challenges and an uncertain future, Niebuhr offers some insights that may help in restoring the transatlantic community to a firmer foundation. Looking at why Niebuhr believed so passionately in the “Atlantic community” (to use his oft-repeated phrase) reveals an enduring foundation for transatlantic relations — a foundation that remains fresh and relevant for the 21st century.