PREJUDICES: A Philosophical Dictionary by Robert Nisbet

PREJUDICES: A Philosophical Dictionary

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The title invokes both Voltaire, author of the first Philosophical Dictionary, and Burke, who advocated the rational exploitation of prejudice as a method of social inquiry; in Nisbet's 70-odd reflections on various topics, however, the prejudices are more of the unthinking, Mencken variety. Thus Nisbet, a neoconservative stalwart, assails egalitarianism under a variety of headings, including ""Envy"" and ""Genius."" Egalitarianism is a ""pathology"" that creates ""poisons""; a ""religious dogma."" His solution: a heavy dose of ""liberty"" that would ""make acceptable the differences of strength, talent, and will which are as natural to the social as to the biological order."" (There is no heading, curiously, for either ""Egalitarianism"" or ""Individual Liberty""; instead, the struggle permeates the entire enterprise.) Reflecting current preoccupations are sections on ""Abortion"" (Nisbet decries the excessive moralism of both sides); ""Environmentalism""--now a ""redemptive movement"" that has become, ""without losing its eliteness of temper, a mass socialist movement of, not fools, but sun worshippers, macrobiotics, forest druids, and nature freaks generally, committed by course if not yet by fully shared intent to the destruction of capitalism""; and ""Judicial Activism""--itself a symptom of the fact that our government is not democratic, ""that is, fully responsive to the considered will of the people"" (a significant gloss indeed). Under the heading of ""Tyranny"" comes a meditation on the Jonestown episode; under the rubric of ""Ideology,"" a discussion of the reaction to Three Mile Island (""No casualties, then or since, but the ranks of the nuclear doom-sayers have greatly enlarged since the nonevent at Three Mile Island""). Closer to a collection of datelined columns, all told, than an enduring set of reflections.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press