100 Books: Texts That Influenced My Thinking and Scholarship–Nisbet’s The Quest for Community

Sociologist Robert Nisbet’s first important work, The Quest for Community (was initially published in 1953, then again in 1969).

It claimed that modern social science’s individualism denied an important human drive toward community as it left people without the aid of their fellows to combat the centralizing power of the nation-state.

The New York Times called the book “arguably the 20th century’s most important work of conservative sociology.”

Nisbet began his career as a leftist but later converted to a philosophical conservatism.

Nisbet was especially concerned with tracing the history and and impact of the “Idea of Progress.” He challenged conventional sociological theories about progress and modernity, insisting on the negative consequences of the loss of traditional forms of community, a process accelerated by World War I.

British sociologist Daniel Chernilo stated that for Nisbet, “The sociological interest in the formation of modern society lies in whether and how it can re-invigorate forms of communal life and, if not, in understanding what will be the consequences of such failure.”

Nisbet “inverts what had been until then the mainstream proposition that society was more important, both historically and normatively, than community.”

Chernilo argued that Nisbet’s claim that the Great World War marks the transition from community to society offers a one-sided view of the historical process as moving unequivocally towards a decaying condition.”