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At a crossroads


Ezekiel Gebissa, Special to Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, September 15/2007 – In his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential American theologian and ethicist, discusses the difficulty of achieving social justice through moral and rational means.  Following Thomas Hobbes, Niebuhr argues that individual humans, suffering from the anxiety of knowing the finiteness of life, tend to rely on power and self-assured security as a means of protection against competitors. This renders them incapable of considering the interest of others. While selfishness is thus an inescapable reality for both individual persons and human groups, Niebuhr reiterates, humans are endowed with unselfish impulse, which, when reason prevails over the instinct to survive, affords them the ability of self-transcendence, a measure of sympathy and a sense of justice.