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Robert Nisbet: Communitarian Traditionalist (Library of Modern Thinkers) Hardcover – November 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet (1913-96) wrote extensively on community and social breakdown, articulating a principled perspective of the decline of civic-minded solidarity in light of the growth of the bureaucratic state. His key books include Tradition and Revolt, Twilight of Authority, and History of the Idea of Progress. In this intellectual biography, Stone (sociology and American studies, Oglethorpe Univ.) offers a systematic overview of Nisbet's contributions to sociology and the conservative movement. The author suggests that Nisbet's works "are an excellent place to start when persons are serious about the truths of our social world and when they seek guidance as to how they might better it." He compares Nisbet to those who have written in the communitarian vein, finding him far superior to such contemporary theorists as Robert Bellah and William Julius Wilson. On the whole, this is an uncritical biography, though Stone takes exception to a couple of relatively minor aspects of Nisbet's analytic framework. Recommended for libraries with special collections on conservative though and/or sociological theory.
Kent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The great philosophical sociologist Robert Nisbet (1913^-96) emphasized one primary theme: that the contemporary desire for community was the result of alienation caused by politics. The rise of the modern centralized state, Nisbet held, came at the expense of other loci of authority, such as the church, the guild, the neighborhood, and the family, which together constitute society. As the state arrogated those other institutions' functions, it freed the individual person from their strictures but weakened society. The individual develops not in isolation but in relation to others and, lacking the obligations of membership in associations other than the state, feels unattached and yearns for community. With a clarity that matches his subject's, Stone outlines Nisbet's basic concepts, their philosophical roots (Greek, specifically Aristotelian), and their relationship to conservatism; and he presents Nisbet's assessment of the two disciplines to which he contributed, sociology and history. Finally, Stone marries Nisbet's thought to classical liberalism in order to formulate the challenge to new and revived community formation as a choice between re-creating intermediate institutions or continuing to delegate responsibility to the state--that is, a choice of either social pluralism and diffused authority or social monism and the centralized authority of a political elite. A sterling precis of a thinker who couldn't seem more relevant. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 170 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute; First Edition edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 188292648X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882926480
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,063,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
~Robert Nisbet : Communitarian Traditionalist~ is a biographical sketch about the life and essentially the ideas of this influential twentieth-century sociologist and social thinker. Sociology has long been the mainstay of statist liberals and radical collectivists, and Nisbet is definitely out of touch with the quixotic or authoritarian mindset of most sociologists. Brad Lowell Stone's research is highly recommended and an excellent overview of Nisbet's social thinking. It is prudent to read Nisbet's books in tandem with Stone's biography. Stone points out some of Nisbet's influences, which are rather fascinating. Nisbet was weaned on the writings of Southern Agrarians like Crowe, Ransom and Tate who penned _I'll Take My Stand_ in the 1930s. Nisbet also gain insight from the late conservative luminary Russell Kirk, having read his book _The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot_ in 1953 the same year he wrote _The Quest for Community_. Since his assent in the 1950s, the late Robert Nisbet has gained recognition from both the Left and Right. Contemporaneously, his appeal is primarily with those on the Right whether traditionalist or libertarians. Nisbet's sociological thinking is aloof from the statist sociologists who often fail to distinguish between state and community. Essentially Nisbet made a dichotomy between monism and pluralism. The thought of Plato, Hobbes, Compte, Rousseau and Marx embodied monism, while Aristotle, Burke, and De Tocqueville represented the pluralist camp.

Nisbet achieved notoriety for his groundbreaking manuscript, entitled _The Quest for Community_. His thesis therein was remarkable, for he asserted that the contemporary preoccupation with community was a result of the displacement of the intermediary institutions between the individual and the state.
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Stone presents a lucid explanation of Nisbet's thought. The primary concept is the political state serving as the only uniting effect in modernity. The goal of ones who support this, think Rousseau and Robespierre, is to promote a selfish individualism that requires each to look to only the distant, abstract, rational, political state as important. The local, visible, heart felt, community of real humans is unimportant.

This involves the removal of any and all intermediate group relationships. Religious or civil voluntary groups and particularly the family interfere with the authority and control of the political. Nisbet believes personality growth occurs in such voluntary communities. Only the approval or disapproval of such can train one to the necessary level of a functioning culture.

Nisbet explains the rediscovery of the Justianian Code in the Middle Ages reromanized Europe. War is the foundation of the modern state. The military mindset replaces all "other functions of a legal, economic, judicial, and even religious nature". . . War provides the most intense sense of community. . .which reach the depths of human nature. . . Democracy, in all its variants, is the child of war." (25) Think Athens, Imperial Rome, the mass infantry of the Middle Ages that led the democracy.

Therefore, Nisbet explains, twentieth century war is worse "because war has become more and more identified with popular, moral aspirations: freedom, democracy, self-determination, and justice." These are modern day crusades in the name of nation instead of the Church. (26)

The drive for equality becomes a religious rather than a secular idea. To achieve equality central power without limits is needed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Conceived to showcase the quality, vibrancy, and moral passion of leading 'conservative' thinkers, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Library of Modern Thinkers is an excellent and long overdue complement to other more well-known series (such as the Fontana Modern Masters, or Routledge Critical Thinkers) dealing with largely left-wing theorists. Brad Lowell Stone's introduction to the life and thought of the American sociologist Robert Nisbet is a most welcome addition. Stone clearly shows the skein that unifies Nisbet's work as consisting in his emphasis on the 'intermediate level' of social structure, extended family, religious affiliation, neighbourhood and local civic groups --- the essential fabric that protects the individual from himself as well as the depredations of powerful corporations, public and private. Nisbet's profound engagement with the kind of social conditions that really support and nourish human dignity is a much needed antidote to today's shallow philosophies of universal emancipation and pale non-committal communitarianism.
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