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Robert Nisbet and the Modern State

Robert G. Perrin

Editors Note: The following Reconsideration, a part o f the ongoing series being regularly featured in Modern Age, was written before Dr. Robert A. Nisbets death, at age 82, on September 9, 1996. The editors o f Modern Age are pleased to be able to publish Professor Robert G. Perrins essay in this issue not only as an evaluative examination o f Dr. Nisbets contributions as a distinguished sociologist and scholar both to the history o f ideas and to conservative thought and ideals, but also as a deserving tribute to his life and work. SOCIOLOGIST AND HISTORIAN Robert Alexander Nisbet @. 1913) has been writing for m o r e t h a n half a c e n t u r y . Two overarching themes characterize his lifetime work. First, he attempts t o reorient the formal study of social change in the social sciences so that the hoary metaf growth and development, a mainphor o stay in conceptualizing historical change from the time of Aristotle t o the present, yields to narrative history as such. In different words, Nisbet argues that social change cannot be understood as a kind o f gradual, cumulative, necessary, directional, and inborn development of underlying potential (a view he dubs developmentalism). Real history is not gradual or stage-by-stage development, but, in effect, an incessant and f idea usually unpredictable conflict o systems. Actual history, as opposed t o
most social-science theoriesof change, is the stuff of time, place, and circumf key men and usually adventistance; o tious events sparking crises and reactions whose final outcomes are continf significant change gent. Real sources o are not timeless and inherent causes, for example, curiosity, scarcity, deviance, social tensions, cultural drift, or the additive effects of conflicting norms, roles, and statuses. Instead, major change owes todatable happenings such as wars, the action of heroes (or villains) and charismatic leaders, migrations, trading, inventions, culture contact and diffusion of ideas and technology, environmental shifts, and natural disasters. Such exogenous factors lie outside the range of predictive theory. Major social change thus consists in the reaction of individuals to intrusions or alterations of their environment2 or settled patterns of behavior by factors and conditions which are foreign to the metaphor of organic growth and development. N o analogy exists between biological and

ROBERTG . PEFWN i s Professor o f Sociology at

the University o f Tennessee, Knoxville, and author of Herbert Spencer (1993), and The Social Bond ([with Robert Nisbet] 1977). Modern Age

social change. Second, Nisbet warns ofthe danger to individual freedom and well-being posed by the runaway political state. He calls for unblocking the traditional road to full human development by dislodging Leviathan-the modern territorial, centralized, bureaucratized, and increasingly all-invasive sovereign state-with freshly renewed or reinvigorated intermediate social bodies with real social functions. Although Nisbets effort to refashion the analysis of social change has been widely applauded, he does not expect that his call for displacing o r at least containing Leviathan will be taken seriously in todays world. The present essay briefly reviews Nisbets thought on the state, and also shows, in a conclusion, how the two leitmotifs of his lifes work eventually connect, that is, how Nisbets fatalistic and Tocquevillian political outlook emphasizing crushing state power and paralyzing bureaucracy is already answered by his critique of developmentalism and consequent view of history as the record of clashing idea systems.

ascendant political state and erosion o f intermediate social structure and moral community is t h e multiplication of loose or unconnected individuals and f social and the innumerable maladies o moral isolation and uncertainty. Although the modern state can stir up popular and temporary enthusiasm for such collective goals as wars, it cannot meet deep-seated psychological needs for recognition,fellowship, security, and rnember~hip~-not,that is, without developing into a hypertrophic and suffof political community that cating type o is absolute or totalitarian in its dimensions. Community lost and empty yet seeking individuals, together with a seductive political state, give Nisbet cause for alarm. Beginning with his radical reinterpretation of Rousseau as a philosopher not of democracy (a willthat is truly genf totalitarianism (or absolute eral) but o political community), Nisbet has illuminated the nature and profound consequences of centralizing power in a monolithic state.5 The French Revolution, Nisbet notes, provided the first modern example of the total state, a colossus f goodthat attempted-in the name o Nisbets study of social change emphat o be all things to its citizens while refussizes the rise in Western society of the ing t o countenance any group or affiliacentralized territorial state and the contion or partial association(as Rousseau comitant decline of community and intermed it)6 between itself and the solif human association termediate forms o tary individual. (Even private charity (corps intem&diaires). Without doubt, and educational and literary foundations says Nisbet, this is the single most deciwere banned by the new French state.) sive influence upon Western social orgaGuided by Enlightenment ideals of indinization, for the modern state has instividual (qua individual) a n d statef almost permatutionalized aprocess o individualisme and &tatisme-revolutionnent revolution against the social groups aries sought to eliminate autonomous and authorities which [lie] intermediate between [the] individual and [ i t ~ e l f ] . ~ social groups, that is, the societe or social fabric that lay intermediate between Crisis, whether because of actual war, the individual and the state. defensive or security needs, loudly proNisbets political philosophy is especlaimed social problems, public disorcially well articulated in three books der, or other emergency, real or imagspanning more than thirty years. The ined, is a n indispensable means of politicization, of accelerating and conf Leviathanas asubstitute (and dangers o potentially total) community (or basis centrating state power. The result o f an

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for belonging) for increasingly detached and spiritually needy individuals are analyzed in The Quest for Community, where Nisbet finds the beginnings of atomistic individualism in the justification for central-state power and prerogative by intellectuals such as Hobbes, Bentham, Rousseau, and Marx.8 For the political intellectual, the state appears to offer unity, even a pure form of community, if only competing sources of loyalty and identity are banished or at least severely weakened. Rousseau, for example, writes that it is our business to make every individual member [of society] absolutely independent of his fellow members and absolutely dependent on the ~ t a t e . In ~ Twilight ofAuthority, Nisbet castigates a state that systematically engulfs or sterilizes everything between itself and the isolated individual, noting in particular the decay of Western politics and its host culture. He details how militarism, bureaucratic arrogance and absolutism, wholesale cultural disintegration,O and individual alienation have accompanied the growth o f the state in the twentieth century. Perversely, the states ability to maintain public order and safety hasdecreased with its growth. Political Leviathan is now confronted and threatened by the very social disintegration,alienation, and disorder it has helped to create. Writing in the aftermath of Watergate and the Viet Nam debacle, Nisbet wonders if a new Reformation may be astir, that is, a retreat o f the state, at least in its present form. Finally, Nisbets Present Age focuses on the rapid growth of government and federal power in the United States from the time of the First World War, a warridden period Nisbet christens the Seventy-Five Years War.12 The national government is involved in the day-to-day affairs-great and small-of states, cities, and towns, and in the daily lives, from cradle to grave, of each citizen. It
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enthralls by its growing control over detail.I3The allencompassing role ofthe federal government in present-day America could not have been imagined by the Founding Fathers. The present f ceaseage in the United States is one o less militarism; hyperbureaucracy; the f the human spirit by monetarization o the Carlylian cash nexus, this spawning loose or morally rudderless individuals; and the trivialization of culture with such subjectivist bosh a s deconstructionism and minimali~rn.~ f Nisbets political treatises conEach o f countermeacludes with a discussion o sures-how to restore some measure of personal freedom and group autonomy. Each is also a jeremiad that seems more tenebrific than its predecessor, so that The PresentAge virtually despairs o f any halt or even break step in the march to a bureaucratized, totalitarian society. The only visible h o p e is pinned o n Tocquevilles observation that change o f the many by the few (great reformers) may be ignited when the condif men are notyetabsolutelyequal tions o f great revoluand thus contraceptive o tions of the mind or new ideas that can suddenly change the face of the world.I5 The state became ascendant in Western society by successfully undermining the autonomy and functions of civil society, that is, the intermediary or close-athand social groupings which develop, integrate, regulate, and energize individuals through kinship, belief, work, and recreation.I6 Civil society (or sometimes society as contrasted t o the f hustate) is, then, the whole range o man communities and associations (including Edmund Burkes littleplatoons and smaller patriotisms) that always and everywhere precedes the state, whose origin and growth lies in war and other crises or emergencies, real or contrived. The consolidation of power in the territorial state has depended on a

manufactured individualism where political power reaches directly to each individual to create both rights and immunities uis-ci-vis intermediary social groups and institutionsas well as obligations and dependencies on itself. The growth and extension of state power has also (and especially of late) depended on egalitarianism, that is, levelling the f competing sonatural hierarchies o cial institutions, thus creating equal individuals, all conceived as liberated from competing allegiances....8 The continuing drive for redistributive equality presently represents the greatest single threat to liberty and social initiati~e.~ As Louis d e Bonald perceived long ago, despotism and democracy share a common goal: levelling social differences and thus promoting an equality wherewith the individual is more nakedly exposed to the state.20 Although political states have always been aggrandizing, democracyhas done the most t o widen and deepen the states supremacy over o t h e r social ailegiances, for it is first and last about power, not freedom. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced t o nothing better than a flock o f timid and industrious animals of which The the government is the shepherd.22 state extends its reach under the disarming banner of beneficence; it seduces any real or titular opposition and enlarges itself by acting to secure or better ensure incontestable values such as individual rights, equal opportunity, and public well-being and safety.23 In the aforementioned triune process of centralizing power while individualizing and equalizing people abstracted from anterior social memberships, the Western state has attracted t o itself a clerisy of power-a long succession o f philosophers and intellectuals from

Greek and Roman times t o our own who h a v e m a d e t h e political s t a t e t h e temple ...o f their devotion.24 For the political clerisy, the ideal state wields all power a s it presides over individuals who are equal, that is, men shorn of meaningful and rival social ties and loyalties and democratized, in so far as practical, in their life situations and circumstances. The history of the rise of f the atrothe state is also the history o phy and decline of once-competing social institutions, for example, the tribe in ancient Athens, the family in ancient Rome, the guild, family, village, community, and church in the early modern period, and the family, neighborhood, local community, town, school, university, church, enterprise or business, voluntary association, and local and regional government today. Historically, f individualism offered the the doctrine o attractive idea of full individual development and, correlatively, release or liberation from presumedly restrictive or even oppressive institutions such a s kinship, guild, and church. But these same institutions were a counterweight against centralized political authority; they offered some immunity o r protection against political excess or arbitrariness. As the creed o f individualism indeed worked to undermine traditional institutions in Western society, state power increasingly filled the vacuum. As the functions of traditional social institutions diminished, so did the respect in which they are held and their moral influence. Consequently, the state more and more becomes the exclusive source of aspiration, allegiance, and authority. What remains today is an omnipotent state and badly crippled institutions and intermediate associations. The price of Leviathan is paid daily. Government in the United States presently extracts half or more of the earnf which ings of even ordinaryfamilies, all o is not nearly enough to satisfy its wildly
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escalatingcosts from the four black holes of war, welfare, waste, and wile.25Besides its mounting material cost, the centralized state has an atomizing and alienating effect in that it does not-and cannot-truly replace the functionally significant and psychologically meaningful groups and associations it has helped to devitalize and disintegrate; for these are the small areas of association within which alone...valuesand purposes can take on clear meaning in personal life and ensure the integrity o f the larger collectivity.26Human beings seek community, a strong sense o f purpose, membership, status, and contin~ity,~ and this basic human urge cannot be satisfied by simply calling citizenship in a giant territorial state political community. The political state cannot seriously offer-at least, not without promf psyising totalitarianisrnz8-the kind o chological gratification that alone results from membership in the social group. The decline of intermediate association, which Nisbet calls the funf our time,29lies damental problem o behind increasing disenchantment, estrangement, alienation, isolation, rootl e s s n e s s , insecurity, u n c e r t a i n t y , normlessness, and the social symptoms o f unchecked individualism or egoism,3o for example, intense,often morbid, subj e c t i ~ i s m , irrationalism, ~ including occultism, inner consciousness probing, narcissism and hedonism at large, and the fragmentation of the body politic into cynical interest groups, each seeking control ofLeviathan for its own gain.32 Such periods of deepeningdarkness,ours included, are twilight ages,times when power is ascendant and moral authority is in retreat. Nisbet favors a political state that recognizes a pluralism of functions and f its people, that loyalties in the lives o actively seeks decentralization because it values culturalautonomy and spontaneous association and creation over
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monolithic power and intractable bureaucratic decree.33 He urges a renewal o f the social and its diverse contexts o f authority and freedom while recognizing that the road to relief or even serious reform is all but closed.%Much, indeed, would be required to break or even blunt the absolutism of the iron state. True pluralism entails, first, functional f autonomy for the various spheres o society-familial, educational, economic, religious; second, decentralization of power from the political state to as many hands as possible, including workers, enterprisers, professionals, families, and neighborhoods; third, natural hierarchy reflecting real function and true merit instead of vain and crippling equality fatuously enforced by agencies of the absolutist state; and, fourth, the greatest possible reliance on the automatic pilot of tradition-i.e., convention, custom, adaptive and utile practices, or use and wont in general-instead of formal law, ordinance, regulation, adversarial mentality, and constant litigation which step-by-step surrenders the private to the public sphere by legally defining and controlling once autonomous social relationship~.~~ Over fifty years ago, Nisbet explicitly f a free American linked the future o societyto rehabilitat[ing] and mak[ing] meaningful the small social units.36He thought theparipassu multiplication of state functions and decline of primary groups and mutual aid was an ominous trend. In Nisbets current estimate, prospects for reversing the politicization of society are bleak. Americans endure ever-widening and ever-deepening governmental intrusion into both the common features and private recesses of their lives.37We are, he says, prisoners in the House of Politics.38Indeed, the major political ideologies-conservatism, liberalism, and radicalism-increasingly embrace, rather than chal43

lenge, the sovereign state as an effective tool or ready-made vehicle for enforcing, from the top down, their own social, cultural, economic, and moral agenda. Conservatism,for instance, seems of late to mean far-right moral evangelism and sometimes unabashed militarism, while liberalism generally means ever-multiplying restrictions on peoples liberties (of association and property, for example) and heavy taxation to finance endless entitlements and transfer payments in the name of still greater equality-not of opportunity, but of result.39 Todaythe American state has opted for redistributionism as its philosophythat is, for egalitarian steamrollering of ... difference^."^^ Envy, which actually increases in proportion as differences are eliminated,that is, as things are equalized, fuels the team roller.^' For some time now, the politics of envy has played a leading role in the American political drama.42 The drift towards absolute political community-even in the face of public disillusionment and present decentralist winds-seems irreversible. Indeed, the means for resisting the Leviathanstateuiz., healthy intercessory social bodiesare not present. Democraticnations, with their liberty-sapping cult of equality and growing ethic of redistributionism, are especially vulnerable to political absolutism, for they best offer the illusion of As compensating for community lost.43 Herbert Spencer once observed, the longer people are accustomed to a state that does everything for them, the more difficult becomes even theconception of assuminggreater responsibility for themselves and their own families and fut u r e ~The .~~ legacy of thirty years experience (some would say sixty) with the f a state paterAmerican welfare state, o nalism that now reaches everywhere in the name of justice, rights, equality,and compassion,is a growing number of Americans without the qualities,

skills, or even will to take care of themselves, and a Leviathan state that cannot cover its daily costs without annual deficits and cumulative public debt which truly stagger the mind. For Nisbet, the present age is one that greatly challenges all those who cherish freedom of person, association, and property, for a political state that trumpets inequality as its most pressing and gravest suffering situation is one where confiscatory and despotic policies converge t o hasten its citizens along the road to serfdom.45 Robert Nisbet has had alifelong concern with t h e Western theory of developmentalism (social change as growth or development) and the nature of political legitimacy (or the relation between the state and not only individuals as such, but groups and associations as well). As a result, he is instructive on two essential matters. First, Nisbet shows us how to understand major social change as the result of essentially exogenous variables or intrusions (precipitated by crises born of fortuitous events) upon settled social patterns. Seen this way, we wax suspicious of all old and new attempts to find the sources (and future direction) of important change within the structure or natureof the changing entity, and of all proud claims to have constructed a unified or general theory o f change, one with fidelity to a wide range of historical data. In fact, Nisbet demonstrates how history is not unequivocal; its complex and variegated materials can be arranged and rearranged to imply support for almost any f change. Neither preconceived theory o is history goal-directed. There is nothing towards which it necessarily tends. It is not pushed from behind by the past or pulled forward from a future state, as if it were stage-by-stage development towards a genetically fixed and future end. There are no developmental or InWinter 1997

exorable Laws, or, for that matter, any historical and social forces before which human beings stand helpless. In different words, human agency is supreme and historicism, including futurology, is bunk.46Second, Nisbet explains how the present Leviathan state came to be as it is, what now sustains it, and what its immense dangers are: primarily, evaporating liberties and the continuing aftershocks (often called contemporary social problems) of ruptured families and communities a s well a s weakened intermediate or interstitial association in a world increasingly composed o f rudderless o r loose individuals and monolithic states. Whatever Nisbets deep personal pessimism and its firm basis in the past four his centuries of Western e ~ p e r i e n c e , ~ own disproof of developmentalism (and any other differently-named approach to change or social trends resting on f what is natural, direcassumptions o tional, necessary, continuous, and so on) suggests that life with Leviathan is

not inevitable: It can, at least in principle, be ended by divorce. For Nisbet, Everything vital in history reduces itself ultimately to ideas, which are the motive forces.@ Indeed, Nisbetsideasf a sociologically his own articulation o informed philosophy of pluralism-are now playing a part in energizing those who would attempt to reverse the tide and devolve many of the functions of the central government while restoring intermediary authorities. Writing in The Washington Monthly, Nicholas Lemann, a candid adversary o f Nisbets Burkean o r pluralist political philosophy, is comf pelled t o proclaim the triumph o Nisbetism as the stated creed o f American politics at t h e highest Lemann means that Nisbets ideas, as first enunciated four decades ago in The QuestforCommunity,now constitute the f anti-big-government conmother lode o servatism in America.5oNisbetism has become a n intellectual and political force-an idea system-with which to reckon.

1. Social Change andHistory@lewYork,1969).2.The Quest for Community @lew York, 1953), 87, italics omitted. 3. The Quest for Community, 98; Twilight of Authority(TVewYork, 1975),204-205. This theme is provocatively encapsulated in the long title of a short article Nisbet contributed to Harpers Magazine: Besieged by the State: By Defending the f SociIndividual, Government Destroys theFabric o ety (268 [June 19841, 49-52). It is not surprising that Nisbet numbers Albert J. Nocks Our Enemy, the State (N.P.: Free Life Editions, 1935) among the books toinfluence himthemost. Thepoliticalstate is a unique institution in that it has sovereigntythat is, absolute and unconditional power over all individuals, associations, and their property and possessions within a specified geographical area. Euphemisms for its power are many (state as family, religion, social compact, ThePeople, or social welfare), but all state power is ultimately secured by the same thing, namely, amonopoly on the right to use force, including violence, to compel obedif In Fair of Speech, ence (The State, pp. 185-202 o ed. byD. J.Enright [Oxford, 1985]).4.MoralValues and Community (1960), pp. 129-141 of Tradition and Revolt (New York, 1968), 137. 5. Cf., e.g.,

Rousseau and Totalitarianism,Joumal ofpolitics,

5 (May 1943). 9S114; Rousseau and Equality,

Encounter,43 (September 1971),40-51.6. Rousseau was largely opposed to even the family. He reasoned that its abolition bythe state would have the f separating children from the wrong-headed virtue o notions (prejudices) of their fathers. Nisbet observes that the war between family and state is very old in human history; as a rule, there is an inversely functional relation between the two institutions: When one is strong, the other is weak (Prejudices [Cambridge, Mass., 19821, 111). Today is no exception, for under the intent and rhetoric o f helping the family, of shoring it up against divisivesocial and economic undercurrents, t h e h e r i can state often further damag[es]the family as a f vital authorities and functions (Forerepository o word, pp. xix-xxvi of The American Family and the State, ed. by J. R. Peden and F. R. Glahe [San Francisco, 19861, xix). 7. Nisbet was first labelled conservative as a result of this book. For a concise account o f the central tenets o f conservatism, as it emerged in the wake of the French Revolution, see Nisbets Conservatism and Sociology(American Journal ofSociology,58 [September

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19521,167-175).(This essay also anticipates Nisbets novel argument in The Sociological Tradition [New York, 19661that thedisciplineof sociologyemerged as a conservative reaction to the French and Industrial Revolutions. See also The French Revolution and the Rise of Sociology in France, American Journal ofSociology,49 [September 19431,156-164.) f thesubject is ConservaNisbets fullest treatment o tism: Dream andReality (Minneapolis, 1986). which includes his less-than-cheery estimate of conservatisms future prospects (essentially that of gadfly in the liberal welfare state). In brief, conservatism values the sacred, the family, social rank, property, viable intermediary social bodies, local community, tradition, and political decentralization. See also Nisbets thoughtful reflections on American conservatism (or neo-Conservatism) f disaster after as reinvigorated bythespectac1e o disaster in the welfare state, each a result ...of putting into practice ideas so long hailed a s liberal and progressive by most intellectuals in this country (The Dilemma of Conservatives in a Populist Society, Policy Review; no. 4 [Spring 19781, 91-104 at 95). For Nisbet, the essenceof conservatism is the f the social order-family, neighborprotection o hood, local community, and region foremost-from the ravishments of the centralized political state (Prejudices, 55). 8. Nisbet has enriched a line of thought in thesocial sciences that dates as far back as Auguste Comtes conviction that intellectuals tend to oppress the people when they have power or access to it. He names the rise to power of the intellectual in our society as one o f the two most f our time (the other being the seminal changes o f peoples sense of membership in a erosion o larger social order). (Interview of Robert Nisbet by Robert W. Glasgow,fsychologyToday, 7 [December 1973],43-64at 64). Intellectuals want to see socif ety run by ideas not, say, the mere interplay o social and economic interests (Ibid., 64). Nisbet links attraction to power, especially public power (and its centralized use to achieve fashionable socialobjectives through planning),to what he sometimes calls liberal intellectuals (cf. Power 53 [March 19641, and theIntellectual,YaleReview, 321-341; see also Robert G. Perrin, The Dynamics and Dialectics of Capitalism,[JournalofLibertarian Studies, 5 (Spring 1981), 21 1-2361on whyintellectuals tend to disparage what is traditional or customary and what is spontaneous and self-regulating, e.g., capitalism). Nisbet also sees (and attempts to account for) a general dedication to egalitarianism (or compulsive large-scale redistribution of property, income, power, and status) on the part of f academics and other intellecthe large majority o tuals in the West (The Fatal Ambivalence o f an Idea: Equal Freedmen or Equal Serfs,Encounter,47 [December 19761,lQ-21 at 13-14). For intellectuals, f the political state is generally the apparatus o viewed as the necessarymeansfor realizing certain ideals and abstractions.9. Le ContratSocial(l762),

ed. by Charles E. Vaughan (Manchester, 1918), Bk. 2: 12. 10. The root cause of the malaise, entropy, and decay of twentiethcentury Western society is, Nisbet writes in 1980(Historyofrheldeaofhgress [New York, 1980],354),spiritual-namely, thedisappearance of the sacred,always at the heart of any genuine culture.InNisbets (ibid., 352-357) estirnation (like Toynbees in an earlier generation), something on the order of a major revival of religion-a f the sacred-would be deep and wide sense o required to reinvigorate and reintegrate a despairing and decaying Western culture in which money has become the only common denominator. Such spiritual renewal, however, is not judged as very likely(ibid., 353).11. TwilightofAuthority,6.12. The PresentAge(New York, 1988), 1.13. Bureaucracyis the invisible government; it consists in the comf evmissions, bureaus, and regulatory agencies o ery imaginable kind [that enter] daily into what f life(Nisbet, Tocqueville calls the minor details o Twilight of Authority, 197). This fourth branch of government is often nearly impervious to the will of elected constitutional bodies (ibid., 197). 14. The PresentAge, 134-135. Subjectivism-obsessive preoccupation with ego, self, states of the mind, reflexivity, etc.-ordinarily increases as institutional authoritydecreases (Interview, 44). 15.Democracy in America (1835-1840), qt. in Nisbet, The Present Age, 135-136. 16. Certainly, Nisbet recognizes that the modern states pulverization of intermediary association-e.g., of primary groups (membership groups directly mediating between man and his larger world)-has been a process or long-term trend, not a fait accompli. At one point (Moral Values and Community, 134), he refers to the naturaland autonomouscommunitiesof individuals which have developed somehow even with the great impersonal spaces of the modern state. 17. TwilightofAuthority,205. 18. Ibid., vii, 206.19. Ibid., 198.20. Qt. in Robert A. Nisbet, De Bonald and the Concept of the Social Group,American Journal of theHistoryofldeas,5(June 1944),315-331at327.21. Besieged by the State, 50. Nisbets political sociology develops a key theme o f TocquevillesDemocracy in America, namely: A critical tension exists f liberty and equality. Bebetween the demands o cause democracy tends to undermine or inhibit hierarchy, it also deters the formation of intermediary social bodies (those between the individual and the political state), thus promoting both individualism and political centralization, which, if unimpeded, tends towards a despotic or authoritarian regime. 22. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2vols. (1835-1840), ed. by Phillips Bradley (New York, 1945), 2: 337. 23. As Anatole Broyard aptly frames this idea, peoples freedom and humanity.. .[are] being crowded out by governmental humanitarianism:Inthealleged interestso f equality, welfare, education, safety, health and environment, we are increasingly being forced to surrender areas of decision we traditionally regarded a s our


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own(Humanvs. Humanitarian,New York Times, 125 [22 December 19751, 27). Of course, as the conception of thekindof equality to be achieved f equality of rightsand evolves (as it has) fromthat o opportunityto equality ofconditionor result,governmental control necessarily broadens, deepens, and, especially, tightens, for in the natural order of things, people are different-not equal-in their aptitudes, merits, and achievements {Twilight of Authority, chap. 4). Such control as is needful to ensure equal or nearequal outcomes in lifes game is a natural suppressant of initiative and creativity and, eventually, respect for the larger political o r d e r . For Nisbet (ibid., vi-vii), social f equalitarianism bred less by the moral value o equalitythan by [the] centralized [states] leveling effects upon the natural hierarchies of all social institutions. 24. Twilight ofAuthority, 205-206.25. f NBC News According to Dateline(a production o [8 and 15 November 1995]), Medicare fraud-to take just one example-consumes $46,000,000 everyday. 26. The QuestforCommunity,70.27.lbid.,73. Communities fulfill the fundamental human desires of livingtogether, working together, experiencing together, [and] being together (MoralValues and Community, 137). Thus, the quest for community-some kind of community cannot be stopped, for it springs from some of the powerful f human nature (The Quest for Community, needs o 73). Communitycontrasts with emotional and spiritual emptiness; anticommunity is thus social void, estrangement, alienation, isolation, and lost or missingidentity. Communityreaches its highest unity during times of conflict with external forces{The Social Philosophers [New York, 19731, 5). 28. Nazism, for example, may be understood as a movement attempting to confer upon the individual some sense of that community which [had] been lost under the impact of modern social changes (Moral Values and the Community, 132). Liberal democracies are subject to totalitarianism in proportion as they eliminate individual and institutional immunitiestostrictlypolitical power, whether such power is called majoritarian or otherwise.29. The Quest for Community, 70.30. For all its celebration of individuality and self, Nisbet argues that American cultural history reveals a powerful and ongoing, if often overlooked, quest for community (American Culture and the Idea of Community, pp. 93-105 of Arab and American Cultures, ed. by George N. Atiyeh [Washington, D.C., 1969],94). 31. The great fallacy of subjectivism is the belief that what lies within persons consciousness has more reality, more value, [and] perhaps even more truth, than what lies outside the person in the world (The Present Age, 128). Like Coethe, Nisbet (ibid., 125-126) associates subjectivism with cultural decline.32. TwilightofAuthority,vi; The Quest for Community, 103.33. The Quest for Community, 283.34. TwilightofAuthority,230. 35. Ibid., 23. 36. f Sociology, The French Revolution and the Rise o

164. 37. The Present Age, chap. 2. 38. Twilight of Authority, 242. 39, Cf. The New Equalitarians, Columbia Forum 4 (Winter 1975), 2-1 1; The Fatal Ambivalence of an Idea, passim. 40. Besieged by thestate, 52.41.Prejudices, 109.42. Nisbet recalls that it was Tocqueville who excoriated socialism for stirring up war between the classes,and who condemned the democratic disease of envy, [which] infect[ed] more and more people (Tocquevilles History, Partisan Review 57, no. 3 [ 19901, 483-486 at 484). 43. Prejudices, 52-54. 44. Robert G. PerrinJferbertSpencer, 2vols. (NewYork and London, 1993), 1: chap. 1.45. TwilightofAuthori& chap. 4. 46. Cf. Karl R. Poppers Poverty of Historicism(NewYork,1964),wherescientific theof historical development that serve as a basis ries o for prediction are ruled out on strictly logical f futurology (the grounds. Nisbets excoriation o study and forecasting of future or potential developments) is so thorough that even his own idolsEdmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Max Weber-are not forgiven their occasional lapses into prognostication and prophecy. Nisbet labels futurologists extrapolation charlatans (Has Futurology a Future?Encounter,37[November 19711, 19-28; see also The Year 2000 and All That, Commentary, 45 [June 19681,60-66).47. Nisbet advises, for example, that the conservative impulse, at least in any true sense of the term, isnot destined for a long life; its force is nothing compared to the sheer mass of the liberal provider-state (Prejudices, 60). In fact, present efforts to reduce the provider-state d o not even compare with chip munks tryingto bringdownagiantredwood (ibid., 61). Subsequent writings, including (as noted) The PresentAge, do not encourage the desires of social Reoiew,SO pluralists. StillQuesting(Intercol1egiate [Fall 1993],4145), Nisbets most recent statement on the subject deftly restates the problem o f withered intermediate association, including, especially, the universal antagonisms between state and family (which generally disrupt, weaken or even disintegrate the latter), and individualismturned-social fragmentation. But the analysis, including wise words for a would-be conservative party, begins and ends in cold darkness, that is, without the ray of light that even faint hope would emit. 48. Twilight ofAuthority, 233. 49. Paradigm Lost: The Shortcomings of the Small-Town Solution,TheWashingtonMonthly,23(Aprill991),46-50 at 46.50. Ibid.

Modern Age