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The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order & Freedom Paperback – May 1, 1990
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The state of contemporary society has denied man his basic need for community by neglecting the associations that build up the social order, such as the family, the church, and the local community. In describing modern man, Nisbet concludes that, "On the one hand, and partly behind us, is the historic world in which loyalties to family, church, profession, local community, and interest association exert, however ineffectively, persuasion and guidance. On the other is the world of values identical with the absolute political community--the community in which all symbolism, allegiance, responsibility, and sense of purpose have become indistinguishable from the operation of centralized political power" (p. 249).
Modern man craves community and order. As Nisbet says, modern society encourages a sense of alienation and a loss of community. Nisbet brilliantly describes how modern literature, politics and religion bears witness to this sense of alienation. If man can't find community in mediating institutions such as the church and the family, he will find it in totalitarian movements. "The greatest appeal of the totalitarian party, Marxist or other, lies in its capacity to provide a sense of moral coherence and communal membership to those who have become, to one degree or another, victims of the sense of exclusion from the ordinary channels of belonging in society." [p. 32.] War itself becomes a means of escape from the "vast impersonal spaces of modern society." [p. 34.]
In addition to describing alienation in modern life, Nisbet analyzes the ideological origins of man's loss of community. Although many paved the way for this state of affairs, the chief villain was Rousseau. Rousseau sees the individual and the state as the two most basic entities, and it is the state that reconciles the conflicts between men and within man himself. [pp. 125-28.] The state "frees" man by destroying his allegiance to intermediate social institutions, thereby freeing him for service to the General Will.
This is the most important work I read in 2001. I would say that it ranks with Prof. Martin van Creveld's masterly The Rise and Decline of the State as one of the most important works on the theory of the state in print. Coincidentally, I reviewed that work exactly one year ago today.