Twilight of Authority
AUTHOR: Nisbet, Robert A.
PUBLISHER: Liberty Fund, Incorporated
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We had thought, or our forefathers had, that modern liberal democracy would be spared the kind of erosion and decay that both Plato and Aristotle declared endemic in all forms of state. Now we are not so sure.” So wrote Robert Nisbet in the first edition of Twilight of Authority, published by Oxford University Press in 1975, shortly after the resignation of President Richard Nixon revealed what Nisbet called “only the most extreme and corrupt manifestation of a democratic royalism that has roots in several preceding administrations.” Nisbet argues that the political community in the West has broken down after two centuries of ascendancy. He believes that the West has entered “a twilight age” that will be characterized by political and cultural crises similar to those that preceded the fall of Rome. He foresees the displacement of traditional, liberal society by centralized, collectivized power—what he terms “the war society,” driven by the rising power and expense of a hugely scaled military. “The centralization, and, increasingly, individualization of power is matched in the social and cultural spheres by a combined hedonism and egalitarianism, each in its own way a reflection of the destructive impact of power on the hierarchy that is native to the social bond,” he writes. Nisbet offers no prophecy of inevitable decline; rather, he means to call attention to “the problem of finding the means of generating a social order within which the individual can live and derive a spirit of initiative.”
Robert Nisbet (1913–1996) was renowned worldwide for his scholarship in the history and philosophy of social and political thought. He taught at Columbia, the University of California at Berkeley, Smith College, and the University of Bologna, and was the author of several major works, including Social Change and History and The Quest for Community.
Robert G. Perrin is Professor of Sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2/1/2000
CATEGORY: Political Science