THE PRESENT AGE: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America by Robert Nisbet

THE PRESENT AGE: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America

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A neoconservative's thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis of what plagues American society today: an ever-expanding governmental bureaucracy, an out-of-control and shockingly ineffective military establishment, greed that has stifled economic growth in a welter of leveraged buy-outs, corporate takeovers and insider trades. True, many of the problems that Nisbet (The Twilight of Authority, 1975; Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary, 1982; etc.) explores have become staples of conservative argument, but here he treats them with a clarity and reasonableness that lend impact to his opinions. Nisbet traces the origins of these problems back to Woodrow Wilson, who, upon US entry into WW I in 1917, was granted unheard-of powers to discourage dissent and create a homogeneous wartime society. Subsequent presidents, up to and including Reagan, have built upon these Wilsonian foundations to create a labyrinthian governmental-military-industrial nexus. According to Nisbet, the Founding Fathers, suspicious of Federal hegemony, would be horrified. The author also attacks another tendency found first in Wilson's ""Fourteen Points""--the moralistic stance taken by the US vis-á-vis the rest of the world. This, he says, has resulted in nearly uninterrupted warfare during the past 75 years. In an especially effective passage, Nisbet rejects what ""conservatism"" has come to mean today: an ideology seeking to capture democratic absolutism through legislation and constitutional amendment. He deplores the amalgam of ""military hawkishness, evangelicism, libertarianism, supply siders [and] the power-obsessed Right."" Lost is the idea of conservatism as a social and moral authority distinct from political power. No matter whether the reader espouses a liberal or conservative philosophy, Nisbet's work should be read for its gracefully written, lucidly presented, middle-of-the-road strictures. Rational, resonant.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1988
Publisher: Harper & Row