War, Progress, and Sociology in the Age of Ideology

HomeArticlesWar, Progress, and Sociology in the Age of Ideology

In the preface to The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet explained the theme of his work: “I have chosen to deal with the political cause of the manifold alienation that lies behind the contemporary quest for community.” (QC, vii) Although economic, religious, and cultural factors played a role in modern man’s alienation, the role of the state was preeminent in severing the ties between the individual and his kin, church, and local associations. Supplanting traditional communities, the state was able to reorganize society with its ideology of individualism, secularism, and progress that was aimed at imperial expansion.

The growing concentration of power in the state allowed it to penetrate successfully into “man’s economic, religious, kinship, and local allegiances” and dislocate “established centers of function and authority” with its own mandate and bureaucratic organization. (QC, viii) The decline of traditional communities, and the corresponding rise of individual alienation, was a direct result of the concentration of power and the complete sovereignty of the modern state.

For Nisbet, communities rather than individuals were the units of society, as best exemplified during the Middle Ages, when the “group was primary.” Honors, privileges, and immunities were attached to communities because they were prior to the individual in origin and authority: “whether we are dealing with the family, the village, or the guild, we are in the presence of the systems of authority and allegiance which were widely held to precede the individual in both origin and right.” (QC, 81) Decisions of occupation, welfare, and family were decided not by the individual but by the community. The medieval town “was itself a close association, and its members — citizens in the medieval sense — were bound to live up to its articles and customs almost as rigorously as the peasants on the manor.” (QC, 81-83) Contrary to Locke’s state of nature or Rawls’s original position, Nisbet contended that all individuals were born in a community instead of some a priori condition from which they could consent to a societal contract. Like Aristotle, Nisbet believed that the community was prior to the individual in both origin and authority because it was only in the community where the individual could find fulfillment and achieve self-sufficiency.

Not only did Nisbet reject the modern liberal premise of abstract individualism, but he dismissed the idea of equality as the basis for it. For Nisbet, a community was a hierarchal and authoritative organization where humans sought fulfillment and self-sufficiency. One was a member of a community as a “father, mother, priest, soldier, student, or professor” where hierarchy instead of equality defined the stratification of function and role in the community. (DA, 44) As Nisbet said, “Wherever two or more people associate, there is bound to be some form of hierarchy, no matter how variable, changing from one actor to the other, or how minor. Hierarchy is unavoidable to some degree.” (TA, 238) The hierarchal nature of functions and roles provided “the visible bonds, roles, statuses, and norms” for a community’s boundaries of what was acceptable and unacceptable in thought and behavior. (DA, 41) In short, social and political stability was impossible for Nisbet without some form of hierarchy and authority.

However, the stability of the community did not have to rest on exploitation and power; rather, Nisbet pointed out that consensus was the foundation for social and political order. Legitimacy of the regime was rooted in “some manifestation of consensus,” whether it resided in the “family, monastery, or university,” and was the essence of community. (DA, 43-44) The stratification of function and role in the community was based on habit, custom, and use where the individual was engaged in and part of “a pattern of authority.” (SB, 142) Similar to proponents of civil society, Nisbet believed that the legitimacy of a community should not found in the exploitation and power of the state — something which occurred when authority had broken down.1

A community’s legitimacy in some sense was voluntarily given by its members where individuals submit to a stratification of function and roles within that organization. Yet the community’s legitimacy was not entirely determined by the member’s choice because habit, custom, and tradition provided a context in which the individual found himself. As Burke had argued, the community, as prior to the individual, already has been legitimatized by members before that individual even existed. When born into a community, the member’s context was already established and therefore the member had no choice other than to engage in and be a part of that community’s “pattern of authority.”

Crucial to a community’s “pattern of authority” — its cohesive and consensual nature — was its function. As Nisbet wrote, “Nothing is so likely in the long run to lead to the decay of community than the disappearance of the function that established it in the first place, or the failure of some commanding function to take the place of the first.” Nisbet did not specify what function a community should adopt except to suggest that “a community is strong in the sense of some transcending purpose, some ideal or ideals.” (DA, 43) He also rejected utilitarian and commercial concerns as the proper function of a community: “In the community of blood, kinship cannot be assessed in terms of either material or pecuniary interests. . . . And in the traditional community of scholars, in the university, one prided himself on an aloofness to the kinds of material or dollar interests that actuated businessmen.” (DA, 45) This was not to say that utilitarian and commercial matters should be neglected; rather, these concerns should not be the highest ones for the community to seek. Again, Nisbet differed with modern liberal thinkers who placed property as the foundation for their new communal order.

When the members of the community began to say “I” instead of “we,” “one may trace the phases of dissolution of a community.” (DA, 44) For Nisbet, the sixteenth century was the beginning in which individuals became steadily more detached from their “close confinements of kinship, church, and association.” (QC, 86) The modern individual who emerged from the sixteenth century understood communities as particularistic, exclusive, and egalitarian in an ideology of individualism, secularism, and progress. This progressive emancipation of the individual was a direct result of the decline of the traditional communities from which he has been emancipated. Although this transition contained a variety of economic, religious, and cultural factors, the role of the political state was preeminent in this transformation of the modern individual. (QC, 97)

The War State

For Nisbet, the state was an artificial construct that was opposed to traditional communities and arose out of force in the conditions of war. (QC, 100) The state’s expansion of power during times of war was especially evident to Nisbet, “Everywhere the state, as we first encounter it in history, is simply the institutionalization, and projection to wider areas of function and authority, of the command-tie that in the beginning binds only the warrior-leader and his men.” (AF, xxi) The rise of the state was often at the expense of kinship, as illustrated by Homer, whose epics painted “Greek society just beginning to face the pangs of conflict between its age-old kinship structure and the pressing needs of war.

Eventually the political state won out.” (AF, xxi-xxii) In Athens itself, the state’s victory was assured with the Cleisthenean Reforms that abolished kinship and replaced it with the polis, individualism, and contract. Roman history was no different than Greek when it came to the “conflict between patria potestas, the sacred and imprescriptible sovereignty of the family in its own affairs, and the imperium militiae, the power vested in the military leaders over their troops.” (AF, xxxiii) When the empire replaced the republic, the state triumphed over traditional kinship. Civil and religious life became one when Augustus was anointed Pontifex Maximus, and the Institutes of Justinian codified the sovereign as the sole source of law and above it. As Nisbet described the Roman family during this period, “By the fifth century, the once-proud Roman family had been grounded down by the twin forces of [the state’s policies of] centralization and atomization . . . .” (AF, xxxiii)

The rediscovery of the Institutes of Justinian during the early modern period greatly influenced the re-militarization of society; and with this re-militarization came war, which in turn assisted in the state accumulating more power at the expense of traditional communities. (TA, 167) Under the conditions of war, these communities became subordinated to the state, and “Only through the State’s penetration of traditional social authorities to the individuals who live under them can its authority be said to be manifest.” (SB, 385) Individuals were to express their loyalty and identity first and foremost to the state rather than to their kin, church, or local association. As Nisbet had observed, war provides the most intense sense of community among its members, “the kind of community that is brought into existence by emergency and then reinforced by shared values and emotions which reach the depth of human nature.” (P, 309) But this new sense of community was at the price of the traditional ones, with innovation and invention replacing custom and tradition. (P, 309-11)

Over time, “we see the passage of the State from an exclusively military association to one incorporating almost every aspect of human life.” (QC, 101) Besides the state’s penetration into traditional communities, the condition of war also promoted the democratization of society: “Democracy, in all its variants, is the child of war.” (P, 312) As Nisbet recounted, the Cleisthenan Reforms created the first democracy, imperial Rome furnished entitlements to its citizens, and the first mass infantry was formed during the late Middle Ages and had a direct affect on modern democracy’s notion of egalitarianism. Once a society had become democratized, it had an affect on the nature of war, with twentieth conflicts identified with popular and moral aspirations. As Nisbet observed, “When the goals and values of a war are popular both in the sense of mass participation and spiritual devotion, the historic, institutional limits of war tend to recede further and further into the void.” (QC, 39) War now had become a type of crusade in the name of the nation, with its martial character more intense and reach greater in range because it had become more popular.

The affinity between the conditions of war and the democratization of society led to the state’s centralization of power. The state’s removal of intermediate political and civil institutions created a condition in which men were equal in role, status, and function. In Nisbet’s words, “the very centralization of monarchical and State power could not help but create the conditions for a growing interest in personal equality.” (QC, 107) By restricting the authority and power of intermediate institutions, the state can stress “upon the impersonality and equality of the law, to create a scene in which many traditional medieval inequalities had to be diminished.” (QC, 108) The state’s centralization of power promoted a passion of equality among its citizens where “[a]ll that has magnified equality of condition has necessarily tended to abolish or diminish the buffers to central power which are constituted by social classes, kindreds, guilds, and other groups whose virtual essence is hierarchy.” (TA, 209) The flattening of hierarchies in traditional communities resulted in a national community of equality where the state becomes the sole source of power and authority.

The disappearance of traditional communities coincided with the rise of alienation among citizens: the individual was “uprooted, alone, without secure status, cut off from the community or any system of clear moral purpose.” (ST, 265) People felt powerless to influence their own lives or the lives of others and therefore withdrew from social and political organizations. (SB, 264-65) Lacking institutional resources, the individual had to rely upon his own subjectivity to direct his life, which often collapsed either into a philosophical relativism or hedonistic calculations. Instead of cultivating genuine individuality and creativity, the individual took “mechanical roles he is forced to play, none of them touching his innermost self but all of them separating man from this self, leaving him, so to speak, existentially missing in action.” (ST, 266) Without any intermediate institutions, the individual viewed the state’s impersonal bureaucratic institutions as remote, incomprehensible, and fraudulent.

In addition to acting as barrier to the state’s power, intermediate institutions served as the venue to cultivate values such as love, honor, and loyalty that cannot be taught effectively by the vast, distant, impersonal state. In fact, when the state attempted to indoctrinate such values into its citizenry, the result was a degradation of traditional dogmas, traditions, and values. (TR, 130) Humans learn and acquire meaningful skills and values in concrete contexts which only intermediate institutions, like the family or churches, can furnish. Without such groups that point to higher purposes, humans reduce their relationships to contractual ones, with property or currency being the common denominator.

Values of honor and loyalty become replaced with what Nisbet referred to as the “cash nexus”: “Every act of service, responsibility, protection an aid to others is an act presupposing or calling for monetary exchange, for cash payment.” (PA, 86) It should come to no surprise that the state’s centralization of power preceded and made possible the existence of capitalism. Capitalism required the context of “a single system of law, sanctioned by military power, to replace the innumberable competing laws of guild, Church, and feudal principality.” (QC, 105) The vast power of the state, and therefore its attractiveness, was its ability to standardized objects and men, whether it was currency, property, or rights. The imposition of uniformity upon both objects and men “provided a powerful political stimulus to the rise of capitalism.” (QC, 105)

It was in this homogenous environment where capitalism could emerge and thrive. Of course, the great irony for Nisbet was that the continual expansion of state power had undermined and even threaten capitalism: capitalism needed intermediate institutions — its moral capital and cultured order — in order to survive. As Nisbet observed, “Most of the relative stability of nineteenth-century capitalism arose from the fact of the very incompleteness of the capitalist revolution.” Capitalism required the “the continued existence of institutional and cultural allegiances which were, in every sense, precapitalist” in order to exist. (QC, 237)

Alienation and America

With the decline of intermediate institutions and the rise of alienation, the modern individual searched for  community in the state, for it is the state that held the greatest promise and “evocative power” for an “image of community.” (QC, 33) The individual’s identification with the state is part of his national community contributed to the legitimatization of further state expansion into society. When intermediate institutions like the family or churches have disappeared, we are at the point that Tocqueville had predicted of the administrative despotic state where a majority tyranny dictated and instructed people in all incidents of their lives.

Citizens soon lose the capacity to think for themselves and become reduced to “timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”2 (II: 310, 313, 337, 345) For both Nisbet and Tocqueville, the rise of individualism and the state’s concentration of power were not contradictory impulses in democratic societies but rather complementary ones. Individualism — the mature and calm feeling that leads citizens to withdraw from society in order to pursue their private affairs — was the greatest opponent to liberty, especially in democracies where social and class structure was eliminated (at least psychologically among the citizenry). With the equalization of inheritance, democrats were forced to a life of economic independence, after which they had achieved, led them to believe that they were masters of their own destinies. The ties to intermediate institutions, the sentiments of obligation and loyalty, were transformed into independence and self-interest. (II: 104-06) Yet this newly-won independence became subsumed under the politics of majority tyranny, because democratic citizens believed all are endowed with an equal capacity for judging and evaluating truth. Thus, “the greater truth should go with the greater number,” with “the majority its ministering prophet” in politics. (II: 11-12)

This new form of politics was aptly described by Foucault as “bio-politics,” where the state guided and managed citizens according to a rational criterion of its own determination.3 With the decline of intermediate institutions, the state slowly assumed the role of supervising, structuring, and directing the lives of people. Under the “responsible management” of the state, the citizen was reduced to a passive entity: individuals were categorized by social sciences and then fitted into an assortment of institutions to better serve the state. At the center of this process was an architecture of control with multiple networks of power centers that treated citizens as objects and with nothing escaping its surveillance. With its access to technology, a vast bureaucracy, and an ideology of individualism and progress, the state now had acquired the capacities to equal its ambition to implement a politics to affect an entire population. From birth to death, the citizen’s life was under the administration of the state.

The emergence of the administrative despotic state usually occurred in times of war; as Nisbet observed, “Most of the great wars in the modern West have been attended by the gains in the political and social rights of citizenship as well as by increased nationalism and centralization of power.” (MM, 133) Creating a vast bureaucracy to oversee its war objectives, the state not only penetrated into every aspect of society but the “stifling regimentation and bureaucratic centralization of military organization is becoming more and more the model of associative and leadership relationships in time of peace and in nonmilitary organizations.” (QC, 43) When citizens become reduced to equal, homogeneous entities, the state can manipulate and incorporate them into its most effective and efficient goals. Genuine individuality becomes replaced with timidity and industry for the sake of the “national community.”

The emergence of the welfare state was an example of a bureaucracy modeled after the efficiency of the military to further the state’s objectives. Social reforms such as “the equalization of wealth, progressive taxation, nationalization of industries, the raising of wages and improvements in working conditions, worker-management councils, housing ventures, death taxes, unemployment insurance plans, pension plans, and the enfranchisement of formerly voteless elements of the population” were administered by the state. Furthermore, these social reforms were usually implemented during times of war or in the name of war. (QC, 40) According to Nisbet, 75 percent of all national programs in the last two centuries in western countries have been designed to equalize income, property, and opportunity that first arose out of the “war state and of the war economy.” (TA, 220)

In the United States, the origins of the state’s centralization of power resided in President Woodrow Wilson’s entry of the United States into World War I. For Nisbet, Wilson’s presidency was the crucial event for America during the twentieth century:

“[Wilson’s] political, economic, social and intellectual reorganization of America in the short period 1917-1919 is one of the most extraordinary feats in the long history of war and polity. . . . Within a few short months he had transformed traditional, decentralized, regional and localist America into a war state that at its height permeated every aspect of life.” (PA, 42-43)

Congress acceded to Wilson’s request for war powers, with wages, prices, and profits controlled by the national government; industries like the railroads and telegraphs nationalized; and civil liberties suspended. Nisbet was so disturbed by Wilson’s concentration of power that he compared his presidency to “the West’s first real experience with totalitarianism — political absolutism extended into every possible area of culture and society, education, religion, industry, the arts, local community, and family included, with a kind of terror always waiting in the wings — came with the America war state under Woodrow Wilson.” (TA, 183)

The Wilson administrative state became the offspring for the social programs of the New Deal which were created and advocated by such progressive intellectuals like Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, and John Dewey. To Nisbet, the “so-called New Deal was no more than an assemblage of governmental structures modeled on those which had existed in 1917.” (TA, 184-85) The variety of programs and their acronyms — NRA, AAA, WPA — were not only national entities that centralized power but also were modeled after military organizations. In fact, the New Deal was often referred to as the “moral equivalent of war” and continued to advance the idea of a national community. When the United States entered into World War II, the notion of the national community became the only possible one for Americans to conceive of in their fight for self-preservation.

Nisbet recognized the connection between American intellectuals and the national government’s centralization of power. Not only were intellectuals active in the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations, but they became even more involved in the governmental activities during the Cold War. As Nisbet described this period, “Political omnicompetence, with the state the spearhead of all social and cultural life; industrialization, however farcical in context; nationalization of education; rampant secularism; and growing consumer-hedonism—all this bespeaks modernity to the Western clerisy and the welcome sign of the developed, the progressive.” (PA, 73) In Nisbet’s lifetime, the idea of the national community as governed by intellectuals reached its apex under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with its New Frontier, War on Poverty, Great Society, and the Vietnam War.

Intellectuals and Ideology

The relationship between American intellectuals and political leaders was not confined to the Democratic Party. The most recent example of this alliance between an intellectual and political elite can be found in President George W. Bush’s administration, with its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the expansion of the welfare state in education and Medicare. These policies were created, supported, and justified by neo-conservatives, who, during the Cold War, were anti-communist, pro-free-market, and supporters of traditional cultural values.4 For neo-conservatives, democracy was a superior form of government because it protected human liberty; and other regimes that curtailed human freedom, like the Soviet Union, were deemed evil. Regimes therefore were evaluated and ordered, with democracy as the best, totalitarian as the worst, and authoritarian governments as somewhere in between.5 For the neo-conservatives, the United States should have prevented the Soviet Union from spreading totalitarian regimes around the world as well as have promoted democratic ones (or in conditions when it was not possible, supported authoritarian ones).

This sense of American exceptionalism — the United States had a unique role to play in the protection and spread of freedom throughout the world — was shared and encouraged by American intellectuals, including neo-conservative thinkers.6 According to them, the United States’ commitment to liberal democracy, a free-market economy, and the spreading of these ideals throughout the world made it exceptional. As the exemplar nation that promoted democracy and capitalism, the United States was seen as part of an ideology of exceptionalism and progress that became attractive to intellectuals and political elites, whether they were from the left or right. As I will show later, for Nisbet the notions that democracy was inherently the best form of regime or that progress could occur in the realm of history were flatly rejected.

The form of government mattered less than its relationship to intermediate institutions to Nisbet; and the idea that the state could promote freedom in the name of progress was considered by him silly, for the concept of progress itself had become distorted into an ideology that justified the state’s centralization of power. After the United States was attacked by Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration was in a position to centralize more power in the national government because the state was at war. In the name of national security, civil liberties were curtailed, the national bureaucracy expanded, and another war was justified. Rather than being immune to the state’s drive for war, the United States under the Bush Administration was merely another example of a state that expanded its power in an ideology of exceptionalism and progress. As Nisbet noted, ideologies were the justifications of a centralized, bureaucratic, national state. This transformation began in war time conditions and has been sustained by subsequent wars in order support the state’s ideology. The problem for society was that wars can be justified on ideology as fed by intellectuals rather than evidence.

The Bush doctrine that emerged after September 11, 2001, “called for offensive operations, including preemptive war against terrorists and their abetters, more specifically against the regimes that had sponsored, encouraged, or merely tolerated any ‘terrorist group of global reach.’”7 Like Wilson, Bush’s foreign policy contained a moral component in the promotion of democracy, as in the case of Iraq. The most articulate justification of the Iraq War can be found in the national security presidential directive entitled “Iraq: Goals, Objectives, and Strategy” that the President signed on August 29, 2002.8 The United States’ objectives were to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, to prevent Iraq from being a threat to regional stability, to liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny, and to create a society based on pluralism and democracy. Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz believed that “it was necessary and it would be relatively easy” to topple Saddam Hussein because, in Vice President Dick Cheney’s words, the United States would be “greeted as liberators.”9

This ideology of exceptionalism and progress — that the rest of the world eventually would become part of the liberal democratic and capitalist order — was the centerpiece to the neo-conservative’s ideology. Fukuyama’s variation of the modernization thesis in The End of History and the Last Man predicted that all societies were converging into a single order of democracy and capitalism. Although there has been some disagreement among these thinkers about how much the United States should promote democracy around the world, the underlying belief remained the same. Of course, this ideology has been questioned by the Iraqi War’s aftermath: weapons of mass destruction were not discovered, regional instability has become greater in the Middle East after the American invasion, and the Iraqi people are engaged in a civil war, in which the United States military is entangled. Worst of all, the number of international terrorists and threats to the United States are on the rise, as the “Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”10

Underlying this ideology was a belief that humans, specifically bureaucrats, can direct events in a progressive and directional fashion. With respect to war, the “revolution in military affairs” (RMA), or more commonly known as the Rumsfeld doctrine, was the latest manifestation of the belief that bureaucracies can guide, direct, and control human events. Proponents of RMA believed that technology was the primary driver of change in war. By providing superior information to leaders, the RMA would enable political and military leaders to make better decisions on the battlefield.11 The cultivation of character and training of soldiers was secondary to investment in technology, weaponry, and information systems.

The United States’ quick and relatively low-cost defeat of Iraq seemed to justify the RMA, but the subsequent insurgency and civil war exposed the flaws of this doctrine. The problem of the doctrine was that the enemy became indistinguishable from civilians, thereby negating the American technological or informational advantage. Furthermore, the use of asymmetrical weaponry such as suicide bombers undermined the United States advantage in conventional weapons. The insurgency had to be fought in neighbors, from door-to-door instead of from the sky or sea where missiles could be launched. The virtues of prudence, discretion, and courage were more necessary in combating this type of conflict than weapon systems or transformation doctrine.

The blending of civilians and combatants, the use of low technology weaponry, and the propaganda of ideas in a decentralized network was known as “fourth generation warfare.”12 Most of the post–World War II conflicts the United States has been engaged have been fourth-generational: Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. What determined the outcome of this type of conflict was will instead of technology, with subnational actors, manipulation of the media, and the cooperation of civilians as the main theaters of battle. Organizations like Al-Qaeda and the insurgent groups in Iraq have used this type of warfare with great success. What the United States military needed to do was become more flexible in its organization and responses to the enemy. In other words, the United States must abandon the RMA and focus more on training of the infantry, media propaganda, and nation-building. Philosophically speaking, the underlying belief that the centralized state, with its vast and impersonal bureaucracy can control and direct events, must be replaced with intermediate institutions and individual decisions.

The suggestions of fourth-generation war advocates coincided with Nisbet’s ideas on bureaucracy, intermediate institutions, and progress. Instead of relying upon the command-and-control of the Pentagon, the United States military should trust the intermediate institutions of battalions, media groups, and non-governmental organizations to make decisions in a battle that was defined not by certainty of information but by contingency of events. In order that these institutions to make the correct and prudent decisions, the United States will have to invest into training and cultivation of character in its soldiers, which again is most effective among small groups with their local sentiments and attachments. But for this to be accomplished, the idea that humans solely can direct history in the name of progress must first be dismissed.

Progress and History

The concept of progress was a crucial feature in the ideology of the war state to justify its centralization of power at the expense of intermediate institutions. Citizens voluntarily have sacrificed their privileges and liberties to the state if they believed that the future promises more than the past. The justification of “making the world safe for democracy” — whether it was against the Germans, Japanese, Soviets, or Islamic fundamentalists — only became persuasive if the concept of progress existed; otherwise, there was no compelling reason why citizens should submit themselves to the state. Given this fact, it should come to no surprise that intellectuals were not only the best equipped but also played an active role in presenting the case of progress on behalf of the national government to its democratic citizenry. As Nisbet had noted, the concept of progress in our times “had reached its zenith in the Western mind in popular as well as scholarly circles. From being one of the most important ideas in the West it became the dominant idea.” (HP, 171)

For Nisbet, the concept of progress was neither uniquely modern nor entirely secular in origin and history. Rather than emerging in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the concept of progress was founded in the Greek and Roman attempt to understand their histories. The key to understanding progress to the classical mind was the idea of nature (physis or natura): the nature of any object — animal, plant, a person, or even a civilization — “was simply a pattern of growth and change that was held to be inherent in it, natural to its very structure or being.” (MM, 39-40) The task of classical science was to identify the nature or essence of an object and trace its development and progress sequentially over a period of time. Thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, and other classical thinkers each wrote on human development that occurred over several generations.13 (SC, 15-61; HP, 13-26)

Christian theologians and philosophers fused the classical notion of nature with the Israelite conception of sacred history in order to describe human events as something “that could not have been other than it actually was.” (P, 239) In other words, God directed human progress as it unfolded in history; or as Nisbet wrote, “All of the essential ideas involved in the philosophy of progress — slow, gradual, and continuous advance through time of all mankind, in a pattern of successively higher stages of development, the whole process revealing, necessity, direction, and purpose — are to be found in the Christian philosophy of history.” (P, 239) However, the nature of human history was not in reference to the external events — a series of unintelligible and therefore meaningless events — but to the spiritual development of mankind. The Christian philosophy of history for Nisbet was essentially Augustinian in its belief of temporal historical necessity and ecumenical spiritual unity. (HP, 59-76) The concept of progress was to be discovered not in the city of man but in the city of God. In this sense, the concept of progress as a spiritual experience of the divine available to all humans reached its greatest refinement in the Christian philosophy of history.

The mistake of modern thinkers was to misplace the concept of progress to the realm of historical necessity. Although the “the move from the Christian to the ‘modern’ concept of progress was short and uncomplicated,” this replacement took place sequentially in the works of Turgot, Lessing, and Kant, where human progress was not determined solely by God’s grace but also by natural causes. (P, 240) The Enlightenment philosophers for Nisbet argued that both God and nature — the former accessible by faith, the latter by reason — provided humans the path towards progress. In spite of permitting God’s existence, the Enlightenment thinkers not only had redefined the divine as a distant watchmaker deity, but they have allowed reason an equal, if not superior, epistemological claim to knowledge in nature. This   source of knowledge, nature, did not refer to the essence of a human being but to the external causes and relations of man’s environment. Consequently, nature and reason were held to be co-equal to God and faith as epistemological and metaphysical realities. Progress no longer translated into man’s spiritual development to the divine but also to his relation to the external world of nature and its causes.

By the nineteenth century, the concept of progress had degenerated into an article of popular faith with the divine entirely disappeared. Social evolutionary theorists dominated the age with their redefinition of progress as something completely natural, directional, immanent, continuous, and necessary. (SC, 168-88) Progress solely resided in the realm of historical necessity that was accessible only by reason, and more specifically, scientific reason. With the introduction of the comparative method, Western civilization became measured against its own past as well as against other civilizations were evaluated to determine the progress of human development. Unstated and assumed was that contemporary Western civilization — alienated individuals, a centralized state, an ideology of secularism — were the criteria against which other past and present civilizations were to be measured against. This assumption would be exposed and somewhat dismantled in the twentieth century after two world wars and the rise of postmodernism.

Nisbet himself doubted the assumptions of nineteenth-century evolutionary theories: “Change is not natural, not normal, much less ubiquitous and constant. Fixity is. . . . If we look at actual social behavior, in place and in time, we find over and over that persistence in time is the far more common condition of things.” (SC, 270) Furthermore, change is not directional: “Patterns, rhythms, trends are inescapably subjective. There is no inherent relation to the data. However persuasive a given ‘direction’ may be to our acquired interests or values, it has no independent or objective validity.” (SC, 285) Consequently, theories that claim progress or directional change in the realm of historical necessity were fundamentally flawed. According to Nisbet, there was no inherent progress or direction in history because events were in the state of continual flux. By contrast, human nature was a constant. (SC, 298) If we resorted to the classical understanding of nature as discovering the essential aspect of human beings, we discover that progress occurred only in sacred and not temporal history. The claims of social evolutionary theorists therefore were misplaced not only metaphysically in the realm of historical necessity but also epistemologically in the denial of the divine.

In spite of its falsity, the concept of progress remained “a powerful intellectual force behind Western civilization’s spectacular achievements” that cemented people to the past, present, and future. (P, 241) But the transformation of the concept has created a condition of crisis in contemporary society: “[societies] are destroyed by all the forces which constitute their essence.” The result was a society that “steadily [is] losing the minimal requirements for a society — such requirements being the very opposite of the egoistic and hedonistic elements that dominate Western culture today?” (HP, 356) With the disappearance of the spiritual dimensions of man’s existence, society can conceive of progress only in temporal and material terms. This modern conception of progress has become emptied of any transcending significance for citizens and as a result can bind people together only in a false ideology of individualism, secularism, and state.

From the social scientist’s perspective, the modern conception of progress has no utility. The concept of progress was
originally born in the “classical world, sustained by religion from the third century on, and now threatens to die from the loss of religious sustenance.” (P, 242) Nonetheless, Nisbet believed that recovery of the religious sustenance behind the concept of progress was possible, for there was a “faint, possibly illusory, signs of the beginning of a religious renewal in Western Civilization, notably in America.” (HP, 356) If this renewal was possible, then we were likely to regain “a true culture in which the core is a deep and wide sense of the sacred” and “the vital conditions of progress itself and of faith in progress—past, present, and future.” (HP, 357) Progress in this sense was not a matter of historical necessity but one that transcended human hedonistic egoism for community and removed a utopian belief in politics as a means of salvation.

Ideas in History

The confidence in progress that bureaucrats proclaim in directing historical change was undermined by the absence of a directional law in the realm of historical necessity. History was a series of discrete events rather than intelligible laws inherent in any temporal and material process from which someone can uncover and discern. As Nisbet wrote, change was contingent, episodic, and variable. There were constants in human nature but they were “of little help in accounting for variables” to explain historical change. (SC, 298) The multiplicity of factors that caused historical change were too numerous for the bureaucrat to capture and manipulate for the state’s ends. Like progress, the notion of a directional change in history as discovered and guided by an elite was a faulty one at best and a destructive one at worst.

For Nisbet, the constancy in human nature — the nature or essence of the person — was his ideas as forces in the realm of historical necessity: “everything vital in history reduces itself ultimately to ideas, which are the motive forces . . . Above all, man is what he thinks the transcending moral values are in his life and in the lives of those around him.” (TA, 233) Nisbet allowed for the influence of social, economic, and political factors to influence historical events, but he believed intellectual, moral, and ethical ideas were paramount in the shaping of social community and political sovereignty. In this sense, Nisbet was similar to the neoconservative thinkers in their emphasis upon ideas as the moving forces in history.

However, Nisbet differed from the neoconservatives in two important respects: 1) he recognized other variables, such as economics, culture, and religion, played a vital role in the shaping of events; and 2) he rejected any directional sense of history or conception of progress that was strictly temporal in nature. There was no cause, direction, or movement in history for thinkers to discover, and any attempt to do so would be futile. The only fundamental thing we can know with some certainty was the constancy of human nature and the ideas that they produce.

According to Nisbet, the two great traditions in Western social and political thought were political monism and social pluralism, with the former started by Plato and the latter by Aristotle. Social pluralism made a clear distinction between the state and society and was characterized by a “relationship that exists between the political state, whatever its form of government, and the several institutions of the social sphere.” (TA, 245-46) The form of the government mattered less than its relationship to intermediate institutions, for “a government monarchial or oligarchical in structure can be a free government if — as has been the case many times in history — it respects the other institutions of society and permits autonomies accordingly in the social and economic spheres.” (TA, 246) By contrast, political monism was the preeminence of the state, so that “[s]uch groups as family, locality, neighborhood, church, and other autonomous associations are almost uniformly reduced to their individual atoms, made into unities dependent upon concession of existence by the state, or in some other way significantly degraded.” (TA, 245)

Although Plato was the first political monist in the West, it was Hobbes and Rousseau who were the first modern representatives of this tradition where “the affirmation in each instance is the state conceived as being, not force, not repression, but justice, freedom, and tranquility for the individual.” (SP, 10) The social contract rather than natural or social associations was the basis of political sovereignty: individuals would fulfill their rights not in local groups or traditional associations but in the state. For Hobbes, “the greatest claim of the absolute State lay in its power to create an environment for the individual’s pursuit of his natural ends.” (QC, 137-38) Rousseau went even further than Hobbes in proclaiming that “there is no morality, no freedom, no community outside the structure of the State.” (QC, 140) Whereas Hobbes was content to tolerate individuals to pursue their own ends within the state, Rousseau was the “first of the modern philosophers to see in the State a means of resolving the conflicts, not merely among institutions, but within the individual himself.” (QC, 140) The state for Rousseau was absolute, indivisible, and omnipotent with its general will reconciling both social and individual conflict through civil religion. (SP, 37-45) The individual lived a free life as determined by the state.

In the tradition of modern social pluralism, with its emphasis on local communal associations against the arbitrary and impersonal power of the state, Nisbet cited the works of Burke, Acton, Tocqueville, Lammenais, Proudhon, and Kropotkin. Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France was given particular attention by Nisbet as the father of modern social pluralism. Burke’s opposition to the French Revolution was rooted in his “profound belief in the superiority of traditional society and its component groups and associations, as well as what he regarded as its inherent organic processes of change, over-centralized political power.” (SP, 53) It was the “rationalist simplicity” of the French Revolution that Burke had feared because of its destructive effect upon the intermediate institutions of traditional groups and local associations. (SP, 56) Sentiments such as love and loyalty were best cultivated in small groups rather than in a “national community.” In fact, a genuine national community could exist only when individuals were able to transcend their local attachments for the greater good, or as Burke wrote, “the love of the whole depends upon the subordinate partiality.” (PS, 58) But if there were no intermediate institutions in society, then citizens would not have anything to sacrifice or transcend for the national community. Paradoxically then, traditional groups and local associations made possible a national community, because they provided something from which citizens could transcend.

The other thinker that was given a preeminent place in the modern social pluralist tradition by Nisbet was Tocqueville: “There is a clear and logical line of descent from Burke’s espousal of traditional groups and associations, his belief in limits on all forms of power, and his advocacy of traditional pluralism and of decentralization to the fundamental principles in Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America . . . .” (SP, 58) According to Nisbet, Tocqueville’s central thesis was that alienation led modern society from intermediate institutions to the state centralization so that the power of modern democracy was rooted in public opinion. (ST, 120)

The solution to further concentration of state power was the preservation of intermediate institutions and federalism: “Fundamental among the causes of continued freedom in American democracy, Tocqueville shows us, is the American principle of division of authority in society.” (SP, 65) The division of authority between the national and state governments — as well as in intermediate institutions that served as a barrier against the state — fragmented the state’s authority and power in society. (SP, 68) Tocqueville’s insights into the federal principle and intermediate institutions as the key features to preserve liberty in American democracy influenced Nisbet’s own work and methodology in studying the United States.

The State of Sociology

Nisbet’s selection of the traditions of political monism and social pluralism was part of his overall project of restoring sociology to its classical foundations. Most historians of social thought have regarded sociology “as a logical and continuous outcome of the ideas which had commanded the intellectual scene during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” (FS, 157) To Nisbet, this was an inaccurate characterization: sociology arose in direct response to the French Revolution that sought to destroy society. (FS, 159) The government destroyed the churches and guilds, abolished familial and property rights, and declared education as the sole function of the state. The destruction of society prompted the discipline of sociology, with Burke, Comte, and others hoping to rebuild society and its intermediate institutions. (FS, 161; CS, 172) Concepts such as “social, tradition, custom, institution, folk, community, organism, tissue, and collective” were re-introduced into intellectual life in the aftermath of the French Revolution and became the foundation of the discipline of sociology. (C, 77)

Unfortunately for Nisbet, sociology usually adopted one of two approaches to the study of intellectual history: it either have analyzed individual thinkers or concentrated on schools of thought. Both of these approaches contained serious flaws. The focus on the individual thinkers’ ideas ignored the cultural, economic, and political impact upon the thinker’s thought. Ideas consequently “are treated as extensions of shadows of single individuals rather than as the distinguishable structures of meaning, perspective, and allegiance that major ideas so plainly are in the history of civilization.” (ST, 3) Nevertheless, this approach was superior to the second method, which concentrated on schools of thought.

The study of ideas in this approach made them irreducible givens that resisted analysis. (ST, 4) That is, schools of thought were abstractions of ideas that presented themselves as a systematic account of reality, regardless of whether they actually corresponded to that reality. These ideologies were a further removal from reality that the sociologist was trying to penetrate. Finding both approaches inadequate, Nisbet decided to study “unit-ideas” where one began “with neither the man nor the system, but with the ideas which are elements of the system.” (ST, 5) These unit-ideas had to be general but distinct, continuous yet discrete, and provided a theoretical perspective to understand social and political reality. By focusing on unit-ideas, the sociologist can account for cultural, economical, political, and other factors that influenced their formations while not making any of these structural variables the primary explanatory cause. Unit-ideas also were anchored in a civilizational reality, unlike schools of thought that were abstracted from anything concrete and therefore subject to speculative fantasies about the directional nature of history. Rooted in unit-ideas, Nisbet’s sociology thus provided a correction to the approaches that had focused either on the individual thinker or schools of thought.

Some examples of unit-ideas were community, authority, status, the sacred, and alienation. Following the Hegelian tradition, Nisbet claimed these unit-ideas were created when an idea and its “conceptual opposite, to a kind of antithesis, from which it derives much of its continuing meaning in the sociological tradition” came into conflict. (ST, 6) In the case of community, the unit-idea not only referred to local communities but to religious institutions, occupations, and the family. When compared to its opposite — the state, with its impersonal institutions and contractual obligations — the unit-idea of community became crystallized in distinction and meaning.

Nisbet continued with his clarification of unit-ideas with authority, status, and the scared. Authority was practiced in
intermediate institutions and legitimized by function, tradition, and custom, while power was rational, centralized, and popular. (ST, 107) Status was the individual’s position “in the hierarchy of prestige and influence that characterizes every community and association,” with its antithesis as class: a new hierarchy created by the individualization and fragmentation of society. (ST, 6, 177)

Finally, the sacred referred “to the totality of myth, ritual, sacrament, dogma, and the mores in human behavior; to the whole area of individual motivation and social organization that transcends the utilitarian or rational and draws its vitality from what Weber called charisma and Simmel piety.” (ST, 221) Its antithesis was the secular as characterized by utility or rationality. Interesting, Nisbet did not create an opposite for alienation: the sense of estrangement and rootless when one was cut off from community. Rather, Nisbet called alienation the inversion of progress, i.e., the forces that produce progress also create alienation. (ST, 264-70)

Emptied of any transcendental meaning, the modern concept of progress can mean anything that humans want to subscribe to it in the realm of historical necessity. As stated before, usually the content furnished into the concept of modern progress was the promise of national security or material prosperity, which, in turn, required the state to centralize power at the expense of intermediate institutions. Citizens must be alienated from their local attachments and obligations in order to identify with the “national community” and to serve its goals in the name of progress. This particularly was true in times of war, when citizens voluntarily alienated themselves from intermediate institutions for national and progressive causes. The end result was an atomized society led by a “progressive” state.

Unit-ideas most clearly emerged when there was a “conflict between two social orders,” such as the “feudal-traditional and the democratic-capitalist,” with thinkers like Tocqueville and Weber writing about the “tension between the values of political liberalism and the values of a humanistic or cultured conservatism, however reluctant this conservatism might be.” (ST, 316; 317) The current problem confronting sociology was that the theoretical paradigms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were still in place and consequently have become outdated and overused. As Nisbet pointed out:

“It thus becomes ever more difficult to squeeze creative juices out of the classical antitheses, that, for a hundred years, have provided theoretical structure for sociology. . . . It becomes ever more difficult to extract new essence, new hypothesis, new conclusion, from them. Distinctions become ever more tenuous, examples ever more repetitive, vital subject matter ever more elusive.” (ST, 138)

What were required of sociology were new unit-ideas, which only can emerge of out of imagination and intuition rather than methodological innovations and research designs. (ST, 319) The sociologist must be inspired by his creative and intellectual impulses to direct his discipline away from scientism — the belief that the scientific methodology provided the only source of knowledge about reality. For Nisbet, sociology was dominated by scientism, which explained its dependence upon outdated unit-ideas to explain reality. According to Nisbet, not one unit-idea was derived from scientific analysis: “Without exception, each of these ideals [unit-ideas] is the result of thought processes — imagination, vision, intuition — that bear as much relation to the artist as to the scientist.” (ST, 18-19) The sociological unit-ideas of the bourgeoisie and worker, the bureaucrat and intellectual were a result of a creative act “that is not different in nature from what we have learned of the creative process in the arts.” (SA, 9) What sociologists needed to do today was to create new unit-ideas that “have a significant relation to the moral aspirations of an age,” such as the problems of individualism, urbanization, and secularism. (CS, 168)

Nisbet was pessimistic about the prospects of sociology’s, and the social sciences’ in general, future as a discipline. The inability to generate new unit-ideas because of the predominance of scientism in the social sciences made the their contributions to society “minimal when not actually counterproductive, and that in so many of the projects of social reconstruction designed by social scientists for government execution more harm than good has been the result — as in the benignly intended but disastrous ‘wars’ against poverty, ethnic discrimination, poor housing, slums, and crime.” (HP, 347) Furthermore, the social sciences had become politicized to such an extent that objectivity was difficult to achieve. (P, 287) Given the influence of these two factors in the social sciences, scientism and the politicization, Nisbet was not hopeful about the social sciences being able to diagnose the nature of society. The discipline of sociology had become corrupted and outmoded in this age of ideology.

The Age of Ideology

In its quest to create a national community, the state centralized power at the expense of intermediate institutions with an ideology of individualism, secularism, and progress. The introduction of egalitarianism into society destroyed the established hierarchies of traditional communities and fostered alienation among citizens where they have no recourse to fulfill their communal longing other than in the national state. The result was individualism where people pursued private interests instead of public obligation, leaving those tasks to intellectuals and bureaucrats. Not conceiving of anything higher than the state, both the intellectual and bureaucrat promoted secularism in order for the citizen to find meaning and significance in the realm of historical necessity; and this history had become redefined as progressive where the state would provide its citizens security and prosperity in the future.

The emergence of this ideology coincided with the state’s centralization of power — a process that was accelerated in times of war. The destruction of intermediate institutions and the removal of transcendence from the public sphere allowed the state to defined wars in moral and spiritual terms; and the democratization of society enabled the state to mobilize all resources of the population towards war, thereby making it a mass, ideological movement. Rather than the exception, the United States has been exemplar of these processes of democratization, centralization, and ideological justification. With its belief in exceptionalism and progress, the United States since President Wilson has conceived of history as one of necessity that inevitably will lead to liberal democracies and free-market economies.

The ideology of “making the world safe for democracy” contained a state-sanctioned moralism that enabled the United States to justify its wars to its citizenry. Wars are presented to the American public in ethical, moral, and sometimes even in spiritual terms to rationalize the curtailment of civil liberties, the nationalization of industries, or the monitoring of intermediate institutions. In the name of national security, the state was permitted to centralize its power; and with the promise of progress, the state was able to ask its citizens for sacrifice and commitment to its national cause. In the end, we are left with Tocqueville’s administrative despotic state and Foucault’s “bio-politics”: citizens are guided, supervised, and directed by the state from their birth to their death.

This ideology of individualism, secularism, and progress has even penetrated into the American military  establishment, with its belief that bureaucracies some day will be able to guide and direct human events with perfect informational certainty. The practical consequences of such a belief were investment into technology, weaponry, and information systems instead of the cultivation of character and training of soldiers in intermediate institutions, where such values as honor and loyalty were best developed. As a consequence, the United States military was poorly prepared in confronting the new type of conflicts that emphasized flexibility, prudence, and the propaganda of ideas. Rather than relying upon a vast bureaucracy to control and dictate events, the United States military was forced to reinvent itself to make decisions not by certainty of information but from the contingency of events.

The inability for the United States military to diagnose the post-Iraqi situation correctly was due to this ideology of individualism, secularism, and progress. The emptying of transcendence from the public sphere has allowed ideologies to take its place under progressive causes, like “making the world safe for democracy.” This process of eliminating spiritual history from politics and society emerged during the early modern period with the introduction of nature and reason as equal metaphysical and epistemological realities to the realities of God and faith. By the nineteenth century, reality was conceived solely in the realm of historical necessity that was given significance and meaning by social evolutionary theorists and other ideologues. Progress became an immanent process, which contents could be filled by anyone’s speculative fantasy.

This removal of the Christian philosophy of history, with its two sets of account as historical and spiritual, reduced reality into the single realm of historical necessity. With this new condition, the re-introduction of religion into the public sphere now was understood not in the spiritual realm but only in the historical one: the city of God has been infused into the city of man. Spiritual progress became understood in the terms of historical progress. Thus, we should not doubt the sincerity of the religious declarations of political and intellectual elites, but we should question in which city did they understood their spiritual and religious views to be.

For Nisbet, significance and meaning in the realm of historical necessity was not possible, because “Patterns, rhythms, trends are inescapably subjective. There is no inherent relation to the data.” (SC, 285) Theories, as found in social sciences, that claim progress existed in history should be regarded as suspect. History was a series of discrete events with no inherent, intelligible laws. Whether it was the bureaucrat or intellectual, the attempt to discover such a meaning in history for Nisbet was hopeless.

The correction to this age of ideology was the recovery of the social sciences on classical foundations in order to diagnose the fundamental problems of society. Nisbet established the foundations of sociology on the traditions of political monism and social pluralism, with his understanding of unit-ideas as the new basis of this discipline. By taking into account culture, economics, and political factors into his methodology, Nisbet was able to avoid the intellectual reductionism of neo-conservatives in understanding reality, but he still was able to give preeminence to ideas as the primary motivating force in history. Nisbet also avoided the speculative fantasies in his analysis because he rejected the notion that history had any pattern or directional change inherent within it. In this sense, Nisbet’s sociology was able to provide us a diagnosis of reality without reductive analyses or extraordinary projections about it.

The quest for community was a permanent and constant one in human nature for Nisbet, so any attempt to eradicate this desire was impossible. The question that confronted him was where would this longing be fulfilled: in the state or in intermediate institutions? Clearly for Nisbet, it was intermediate institutions like the family, the church, and local associations. But for us, the problem is even more complicated because we lack the conceptual apparatus to make sense of our own alienation in this age of ideology. Nisbet also recognized this plight, which is why he sought to establish sociology on the classical foundations of nature and transcendence. The challenge before us now is whether we can follow in Nisbet’s footsteps.



The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom by Robert A. Nisbet (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1953; San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1990). (QC)

“Foreward” to The American Family and the State, edited by Joseph R. Peden and Fred Glahe (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1986). (AS)

“Conservatism and Sociology,” The American Journal of Sociology 48 (September 1952), 167-175. (CS)

The Degradation of Academic Dogma: The University in America, 1945-1970 (New York: Basic Books, 1971). (DA)

“The French Revolution and the Rise of Sociology in France,” The American Journal of Sociology 49 (November 1943), 156-64. (FS)

History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books, 1980). (HP)

The Making of Modern Society (New York: NYU Press, 1986). (MM)

The Present Age: Progress and Authority in Modern America (New York: Harper and Row, 1988). (PA)

Sociology as an Art Form (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976). (SA)

The Social Bond: An Introduction to the Study of Society (New York: Knopf, 1970). (SB)

Social Change and History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969). (SC)

The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought (New York: Washington Square Press, 1982). (SP)

The Sociological Tradition (New York: Basic Books, 1966). (ST)

Twilight of Authority (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975). (TA)

Tradition and Revolt: Historical and Sociological Essays (New York: Random House, 1968). (TR)



1. I prefer the term intermediate institutions rather than civil society because it seems closer to Nisbet’s description of this reality. The modern usage of civil society often denotes a political or ideological connotation instead of an analytical and empirical one that Nisbet had used. Some examples of the modern usage of civil society are Jeffrey C. Alexander, The Civil Sphere (Oxford University Press, 2006); Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Rivals (New York: Penguin, 1994), 3-4; and Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” Journal of Democracy 6 (1995): 65-78.

2. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 vols., Phillips Bradley, ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1945). Citations are volume and page number.

3. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).

4. Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 1978); Kristol, Irving. Two Cheers for Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 1978); Podhoretz, Norman. The Present Danger (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980).

5. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, “Dictatorship and Double Standards,” Commentary (November 1979).

6. Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006); Walter A. McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997); Tony Smith, America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 1994).

7. Charles Kesler, “Democracy and the Bush Doctrine,” Claremont Review of Books 5: 1 (Winter, 2004), 18.

8. Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), 154-55.

9. Ibid., 21-22; Vice President Dick Cheney’s interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, September 10, 2006.

10. “Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate ‘Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States’ dated April 2006” at www.dni.gov/press_releases/Decalssfied_NIE_Key_Judgments.pdf; also see Anonymous, Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror (Washington DC: Brassey’s, Inc. 2004).

11. Max Boot, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today (New York: Gotham Books, 2006); Frederick W. Kagan, Finding the Target: The Transformation of the American Military Policy (New York: Encounter Books, 2006).

12. Col. Thomas X.Hammes, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the Twenty-First Century (St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2006); F. B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War, The Strategic Theory of John Boyd (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2006).

13. It was Lucretius who was the first one to introduce the term “progress” (pedetemtin progedientes) to describe the nature of human development over time (HP, 37-46).


This article was originally published with the same title in The Political Science Reviewer 36:1 (2007): 311-43.

Lee Trepanier

Written by

Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science, Department Chair, and University Pre-Law Advisor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan. He is author and editor of several books and also is the editor of VoegelinView (2016-present) and editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film (2013-present).