Nobert Nisbet must be the only man ever to have written for both Reason and Commentary, which is rather like James Dean being the only man ever to have slept with both Natalie Wood and Rock Hudson.
I like that ambidexterity—Nisbet’s, not Dean’s—but then I once cheerfully voted for Jesse Jackson and Ron Paul within a few months of each other.
Of all the pillars in the TAC pantheon, and they range from Robert Taft to Wendell Berry, from Christopher Lasch to Russell Kirk, from Pat Buchanan to Jane Jacobs, the late Robert Nisbet is the one whose political views most consistently align with those animating this magazine over its first two decades.
If anniversaries, even vicennial ones, are a time for looking back, then Nisbet’s Quest for Community, Twilight of Authority, The Present Age, and Conservatism: Dream and Reality ought to light our way.
Robert Nisbet grew up in a Christian Science household. I’m no follower of Mary Baker Eddy, yet I marvel at the quality of those raised Christian Scientist: Nisbet, Horton Foote, Robert Duvall, and the FDR-hating Ginger Rogers, among other great Americans. (We'll skip Nixon’s Cerberean guardians Haldeman and Ehrlichman.)
It’s that weird old America that I love and feel in my bones. I remember the day they knocked down the Christian Science church in Batavia. The Christian Scientists met in a once-grand columned manse built in 1812. It was razed because, our daily newspaper editorialized, it impeded “the rush into the future.”
To which we might quote Minor Threat, the greatest band ever to come out of Washington, D.C.: “Why is everybody in such a f—g rush?”
This question has been asked if not answered by Americans from Henry David Thoreau to Glenn Frey.
Sociologist Nisbet was a gentle contrarian, a Californian who had been much affected by his reading of the Southern Agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand while a student at Berkeley. Ah, Berkeley, hotbed of Southern agrarianism!
Nisbet had guts. . .