What Robert Nisbet teaches conservatives today is a valuable lesson about the inherent dangers of conservatism. Conservatism was born in early-modern times as a reaction to the radicalism of political ideology. It was reactive, and in that sense defined itself in reference to liberalism. In modern American history - in reaction to the radicalism of the Left on the world stage, particularly given the threat of Communism - American conservatism reacted by occupying space that had recently been vacated by the Left. In responding to calls for global citizenship, conservatism defended the nation-state - while losing sight of a deeper allegiance to localities. In responding to the threat of economic socialism, conservatism defended the free market - while losing sight of a deeper allegiance to the associational life that an economy was brought into being to sustain and preserve. In responding to the dogmatic “multiculturalism” on college campuses, conservatism defended a form of rationalist universalism that contributed to the deracination and homogenization of our colleges - while losing sight of a defensible form of true diversity, a diversity of places, localities, and actual cultures. Nisbet, finally, is an invaluable teacher for today’s conservatives because he teaches us that, more than being a simple reaction against, the deepest commitments underlying conservatism must always be for something, and that something must be finally more than merely “the quest for community,” but the reality and flourishing of community itself.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Robert Nisbet's Quest
I have an edited version of my lecture on Robert Nisbet, delivered recently in Seattle, over at Front Porch Republic. My conclusion: