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The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America Hardcover – May, 1988

5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Nisbet, noted sociologist and conservative, argues that a revolution of ideas is needed in America. He deplores the country's moralizing international interventionism that Woodrow Wilsom made popular, because it has resulted in a "prevalence of war." He also criticizes the growth of the federal bureaucracy, which he regards as more absolutist than the divine-right monarchies. Nisbet blames the influence of Rousseau and disregard of Tocqueville for the centralization of power and attendant egalitarianism that he feels presently threaten individual liberty. He is further alarmed about the rampant greed and consumerism that he observes followed World War I. Though much of this is an update of ideas Nisbet has presented in previous works, it is recommended for public and academic libraries. David Steiniche, Missouri Western State Coll., St. Joseph
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 145 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; 1st edition (May 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060159022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060159023
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,705,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It seems to be a fairly well-kept secret, especially from the self-insulated intelligentsia, but some of the most cogent 20th century critics of political chicanery, martial foolishness and cultural excess have been traditional ( as opposed to "neo" ) conservatives like T.S. Eliot, Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk, whose work is both considered in its reflective power and fiercely independent of what many assume (falsely) are virtual cognate "identifiers" (conservatism = big business + GOP ). The late and widely esteemed social theorist Robert Nisbet (1915-96) was a member of a small but august group, writing many well-received books: one of his last, "THE PRESENT AGE" (1988) is particularly apposite, offering as it does a critique of (in the words of his subtitle) "progress and anarchy in modern America".

Nisbet's analysis begins with that period of America's history that amounted to a sea change in governmental policy: President Woodrow Wilson's administration and America's entry into the hostilities of The Great War ( WW I ). As Nisbet writes in the first chapter:

"...the [ American ] people participated widely in a revolutionary upsurge of patriotism and of consecration to the improvement of the world in the very process of making `the world safe for democracy', as the moralistic President Wilson put it ..."

In the same chapter Nisbet makes a number of provocative comments on what he terms "the prevalence of war":

"...War is a tried and true specific when a people's moral values become stale and flat. It can be a productive crucible for the remaking of key moral meanings and the strengthening of the sinews of society ..."


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Format: Paperback
Commemorating, so to speak, the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Robert Nisbet (1913-1996) asked what would strike the founders as the major surprises from the time of the founding to today. According to Nisbet, these are: the importance of war for America; the growth of government; and the "loose" (rootless) individual.

Nibset analyzes these changes from 1914-1989, providing a rapid historical and sociological overview of that time period. In discussing the growth of government, Nisbet shows that Burnham was correct that the U.S. government was in fact taken over by the "managerial elite" at the time of Wilson. America has adopted a Wilsonian foreign policy that has far outlasted any usefulness it may have had in the cold war. Nisbet is quite prescient in his prediction that this foreign policy would outlast the fall of Communism. "Take away the Soviet Union as a crucial, and . . . content of some kind will expand to relentlessly fill the time and space left." [p. 29.] This describes the motivation for the neocon New World Order perfectly.

I generally agree with Nisbet and found this working provoking. I don't quite understand why Nisbet was so hostile to Reagan; although Reagan wasn't the conservative or libertarian some hoped him to be. For example, Nisbet isn't correct in asserting that Reagan did not want "mandatory" prayer in the public schools, nor do I understand Nisbet's assertion that SDI was "utopian."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great purchase.
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Format: Paperback
I've given a bunch of books to my uncle. He's not getting this one. This is a keeper. Following is a blurb from the copyright page that I thought important:
"The cuneiform inscription that appears in the logo and serves as a design element in all Liberty Fund books is the earliest-known written appearance of the word "freedom" (amagi), or "liberty." It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 B.C. in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash."
It's a classic book because the cover pages are larger than the pages. Paperbacks are never creative like that. I went straight here to put 2 other Liberty Fund books on my wish list. I'm aware of Regnery Press but they're the corporate/fascist alternative to Liberty Fund.

The trouble started in WWI. America or the U.S. thanks to Woodrow Wilson, took an evangelical approach to foreign policy. The writer speaks of "the Great Myth." Nationalism coupled with righteousness that comes directly from the puritans who believed the new world was the city on a hill, and the new israel.
"where the church had been for so long the most widely accepted institutional base for reform of society, a constantly increasing number of social scientists, philosophers, and critics, in the 1920's and now, put full emphasis on the national state."
He includes that it was rousseau who came up with the idea of beaurocracy pushing the citizenry forward into sophistication. America just took it to new levels. New levels that cannot last in my opinion.
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