Robert Nisbet

For other people named Robert Nisbet, see Robert Nisbet (disambiguation).

Robert Alexander Nisbet (September 30, 1913 – September 9, 1996) was an American sociologist, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Vice-Chancellor at the University of California, Riverside, and an Albert Schweitzer Professor at Columbia University.


Nisbet was born in Los Angeles in 1913. He was raised with his three brothers and one sister[1] in the small California community of Maricopa,[2] where his father managed a lumber yard. His studies at University of California, Berkeley culminated in a Ph.D. in sociology in 1939. His thesis was supervised by Frederick J. Teggart. At Berkeley, "Nisbet found a powerful defense of intermediate institutions in the conservative thought of 19th-century Europe. Nisbet saw in thinkers like Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville—then all but unknown in American scholarship—an argument on behalf of what he called 'conservative pluralism.'"[2] He joined the faculty there in 1939.[1]

After serving in the United States Army during World War II, when he was stationed on Saipan in the Pacific Theatre, Nisbet founded the Department of Sociology at Berkeley, and was briefly Chairman. Nisbet left an embroiled Berkeley in 1953 to become a dean at the University of California, Riverside, and later a Vice-Chancellor. Nisbet remained in the University of California system until 1972, when he left for the University of Arizona at Tucson. Soon after, he was appointed to the Albert Schweitzer Chair at Columbia.

On retiring from Columbia in 1978, Nisbet continued his scholarly work for eight years at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan asked him to deliver the Jefferson Lecture in Humanities, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. He died, at 82, in Washington, DC.


Nisbet's first important work, The Quest for Community (New York: Oxford University Press, [1953] 1969), 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. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat called it "arguably the 20th century's most important work of conservative sociology."[3]

Nisbet began his career as a leftist but later confessed a conversion to a philosophical conservatism.[4] He was a contributor to Chronicles. He was especially concerned with tracing the history and impact of the Idea of Progress.[5]





  1. 1 2 Woods, Thomas (2005-12-05) Twilight of Conservatism, The American Conservative
  2. 1 2 McWilliams, Susan (2010-02-01) Hometown Hero, The American Conservative
  3. Douthat, Ross (March 15, 2014). "The Age of Individualism". New York Times.
  4. Robert Nisbet: The Quest For Community, 1953
  5. Nisbet, Robert (1979). "Idea of Progress: A Bibliographical Essay," Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought, Vol. II, No. 1.

Further reading

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