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Thread: The Conservatism of Robert Nisbet

  1. #11
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    Now I remember where I heard of him before, in Hawley's Right-wing Critics of American Conservatism. He's mentioned throughout the book actually but gets a section in a chapter on what the author calls localism. The Quest for Community is summarized. In it Nisbet defines community as encompassing all forms of relationship characterized by personal intimacy, emotional depth, moral commitment. social cohesion, and continuity in time. In that book and a later Twilight of Authority, Hawley says the key idea is that the central state grows as intermediate institutions decline.

    Nisbet did not see democracy as preventing totalitarianism. He aimed at disentangling the unitary view of democracy from the pluralistic. The unitary view, similar to Rousseau's General Will, called for an end of previous social loyalties to regional and local authorities and the "construction of a scene in which the individual would be the sole unit, and the State the sole associate, of society." On that view all intermediate institutions fractuare society and hinder social harmony. A state built on this philosophy may have the formal attributes of democracy such as equality, but it creates "conditions of social dislocation and moral alienation." Such a democracy is no guarantor of freedom.

    The pluralistic view of democracy maintains the importance of institutions and sources of authority that stand between the individual and the unitary state. Small-scale institutions that grow from the family, common interest and social needs protection against the totalitarian impulse. "Only in their social interdependencies are men given to resist tyranny that always threatens to arise out of any political government, democratic or otherwise. Where the individual stands alone in the face of the State he is helpless."

    (The quotes are Nisbet's.)
    Edmund Burke: "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!"

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    Mister D (01-13-2018)

  3. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    Now I remember where I heard of him before, in Hawley's Right-wing Critics of American Conservatism. He's mentioned throughout the book actually but gets a section in a chapter on what the author calls localism. The Quest for Community is summarized. In it Nisbet defines community as encompassing all forms of relationship characterized by personal intimacy, emotional depth, moral commitment. social cohesion, and continuity in time. In that book and a later Twilight of Authority, Hawley says the key idea is that the central state grows as intermediate institutions decline.

    Nisbet did not see democracy as preventing totalitarianism. He aimed at disentangling the unitary view of democracy from the pluralistic. The unitary view, similar to Rousseau's General Will, called for an end of previous social loyalties to regional and local authorities and the "construction of a scene in which the individual would be the sole unit, and the State the sole associate, of society." On that view all intermediate institutions fractuare society and hinder social harmony. A state built on this philosophy may have the formal attributes of democracy such as equality, but it creates "conditions of social dislocation and moral alienation." Such a democracy is no guarantor of freedom.

    The pluralistic view of democracy maintains the importance of institutions and sources of authority that stand between the individual and the unitary state. Small-scale institutions that grow from the family, common interest and social needs protection against the totalitarian impulse. "Only in their social interdependencies are men given to resist tyranny that always threatens to arise out of any political government, democratic or otherwise. Where the individual stands alone in the face of the State he is helpless."

    (The quotes are Nisbet's.)
    Interesting. That's a common conservative theme (bold).
    Whoever criticizes capitalism, while approving immigration, whose working class is its first victim, had better shut up. Whoever criticizes immigration, while remaining silent about capitalism, should do the same.


    ~Alain de Benoist


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    Some more on Nisbet...

    How Power Destroys Community

    As I had the opportunity to write in my previous essay for The Imaginative Conservative, Oxford University Press gave the grand sociologist and historian of ideas, Robert A. Nisbet, a chance to review his 1953 masterpiece, The Quest for Community. As a part of the republication, Nisbet demanded a new title. Not The Quest for Community but, as Nisbet thought more accurate and appropriate, Community and Power....

    Nisbet, following upon a theme that he would dedicate himself to over the next thirty-five years of his life, brilliantly juxtaposed authority with power. In essence, authority served ordered liberty, while power destroyed it. Power, Nisbet wrote, exists as “something external and based upon force.” Power, unlike authority, comes from a distant region, imposing itself upon numbers and numbers of people it will never know, nor want to know. As such, it seeks the destruction of difference, often cloaking its own language in the celebration of equality or diversity. When it cries “equality,” though, it really means uniformity, regimentation, conformity, and mediocrity. Not surprisingly, Nisbet’s arguments come directly from Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville. As Burke wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France, power is the law that can be enforced only by its “own terrors.”

    Authority, however, arises necessarily from a free people in a variety of ways. Indeed, types of authority will arise in as many varied ways as there are communities and persons. “Authority, like power, is a form of constraint, but, unlike power, it is based ultimately upon the consent of those under it; that is, it is conditional.” No one should ever mistake authority for its perversion, “authoritarian.” Real authority arises with parenthood, with education, with business, with social networking, and, especially, with religion. Indeed, for Nisbet, the ultimate expressions of authority within a free society come from the family and the church.

    No community, Nisbet argued, can avoid structure and hierarchy. What it can choose, however, is how many authorities, what kind of authorities, and how many levels in the hierarchy. More often than not, though, these choices are not mechanical or regulated, but organic and spontaneous. In a free society, the human person belongs to a myriad of communities: some competing, some compromising, some overlapping, some conflicting, and some merely concentric. It is in the space between these concurrent communities, that the human person finds real freedom. As such, “authority and liberation, convention and revolt” form the very essence of history, “the creative rhythms of civilization.” These rhythms “are as vivid in the history of politics as in the histories of art and poetry, science and technology, education and religion.” After all, Nisbet wisely asks, “if there is not a recognized authority or convention, how can there be the occasional eruption of revolt and liberation that both the creative impulse and free mind require.”

    Since the French enlightenment—but especially from the thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau and its manifestation in the horrors of the French Revolution—the cult of power has grown to gargantuan proportions....
    Edmund Burke: "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    According to Nisbet, "Sixth, that all political power should devolve to the lowest and most immediate level possible...." Not in some distant central government.
    Governments at all levels must be limited by written documents, constitutions or charters.
    Call your state legislators and insist they approve the Article V convention of States to propose amendments.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MisterVeritis View Post
    Governments at all levels must be limited by written documents, constitutions or charters.
    I think Nisbet would argue government comes from custom, traditions and naturally arising social institutions.
    Edmund Burke: "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    I think Nisbet would argue government comes from custom, traditions and naturally arising social institutions.
    Without a written constraint on each level of government, the government will grow to consume the civil society.
    Call your state legislators and insist they approve the Article V convention of States to propose amendments.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MisterVeritis View Post
    Without a written constraint on each level of government, the government will grow to consume the civil society.
    But in a society we belong to a wide variety of groups each governing, none in control. From OP: "In a free society, the human person belongs to a myriad of communities: some competing, some compromising, some overlapping, some conflicting, and some merely concentric." Granted, there will form hierarchies of authority, but if the social order is bottom up, there should be no possibility of some abstract, positied government consuming civil society.
    Edmund Burke: "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!"

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    Nisbet seems like the type of conservative who would argue that a written constitution is one that has already lost its power.
    Whoever criticizes capitalism, while approving immigration, whose working class is its first victim, had better shut up. Whoever criticizes immigration, while remaining silent about capitalism, should do the same.


    ~Alain de Benoist


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    Quote Originally Posted by Mister D View Post
    Nisbet seems like the type of conservative who would argue that a written constitution is one that has already lost its power.
    His book just came in thugh it might be a while before I get to it.
    Edmund Burke: "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    His book just came in thugh it might be a while before I get to it.
    Let me know what you think. I just bought a massive tome on the Holy Roman Empire and a book about the Hapsburgs but I wll add it to my next order if it gets a good review.
    Whoever criticizes capitalism, while approving immigration, whose working class is its first victim, had better shut up. Whoever criticizes immigration, while remaining silent about capitalism, should do the same.


    ~Alain de Benoist


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