As a distinguished conservative sociologist--almost a threeway contradiction in terms--Nisbet sits under a lonely tree in Academe. Yet he is a perceptive and valuable critic of contemporary society if only because he reminds us that the conservative tradition is a critical one. The thrust of his work here is that governmental power has eclipsed the many instruments of social authority--kinship, community, religion--to become the chief regulator of our lives. The state now claims a unitary allegiance--and exercises a single dominion--where other institutions once mediated between rulers and ruled. This is a condition which would have alarmed de Tocqueville, who is one of Nisbet's mentors. The book abounds in insight--Watergate as the American Dreyfus case; the inflation of language and education which parallels that of the economy. Nisbet draws upon the histories of other societies to illustrate his points about our own. The observation that we have lost the distinction between the social and the political is probably his most valuable apercu. As politics becomes the religion of the times, says Nisbet, it imposes a political morality on the content of our lives--our interactions with persons and institutions, once conceived of as purely social, are now seen as political, and are subject to a moral evaluation which is couched in political terms. Salutary reading from an always literate, stylish observer.