This study aims to examine why Niebuhr viewed democracy as a necessary and valuable instrument for the promotion of greater social justice. His democratic views flow logically from his reflections on human nature and the pursuit of greater justice within societies.
In the course of this study, Niebuhr’s theological ideas are considered as far as it provides key insights from which he extrapolates his political thinking. Niebuhr’s conception of human nature depicts humans as capable of being both caring of others but also as self-interested seeking power and glory. This also has implications for the behaviour of groups within societies. Niebuhr tries to find some political means to address especially the dangers of group interest and domination. He argues that a need for political organisation exists that provide the necessary protection against domination and exploitation of some groups over others, but also as force that promotes equilibrium of power between competing groups within society. Niebuhr thus searches for a system of government that would deal more appropriately with the problems of freedom and order within societies and found democracy as appropriate instrument.
Ultimately, Niebuhr argues that democracy is a valuable form and necessary instrument in the organisation of society because it does justice to the essentially free nature of humans, but also takes seriously the dangers of human self-interest. Democracy is also capable of absorbing and advancing many different and diverse views, as well as to readjust different claims in the promotion of the welfare of societies. He supported liberal democratic ideals but realised that the government has a vital role to play and he advocated for government involvement in the promotion of social welfare, which alludes to important social democratic principles. His view on government is always informed by his theological convictions and he thus aims to impart Christian values into the organisation of society so as to promote greater levels of justice throughout society.