I was first introduced to Nisbet when I was a college student in the Reagan era. A left-anarchist friend gave me a copy of Nisbet’s Question for Community and said, “Check this guy out! He’s supposed to be a conservative but he sounds almost like one of us.”
The American Conservative
Though sadly forgotten by almost everyone today—with the exception of a few sociologists and other academics, here and there, and by a few conservatives and libertarians, here and there—Robert Nisbet once stood as a leading public intellectual, respected and admired in the media and throughout western universities. Even histories of conservatism and the right, such as George Nash’s magisterial The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, have generally ignored or underplayed Nisbet’s contributions to the post-war movement.
Yet just one example is needed to see just how vital he was to the conservative movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In late 1953, after the publication of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind and Nisbet’s The Quest for Community, an executive at General Motors, Jay Gordon Hall, contacted Kirk for the first time. Did he know of a wonderful book by a California scholar, Robert Nisbet? As it turned out, Kirk and Nisbet had already corresponded and developed a deep respect for one another, a respect that would last until the death of each.