its report on the Defense of MarriagernAct, “Gay couples lose bid for recognition.”rnIt smirked at the impassionedrn”oration” of Senator Robert Byrd ofrnWest Virginia, sounding like a countryrnpreacher in defending the wisdom of fivernmillennia, and commented, favorably itrnseems, on Senator Edward Kennedy forrnsaying that the attached gay rights provision,rnwhich narrowly failed, is the lastrngoal that needs to be achieved by therncivil rightists. Senator Kennedy seems tornbe doing his best to make Washingtonrnresemble the Rome which Tacitus described,rna cesspool to which all that is vilernand corrupt in the universe flows.rnFor the Tribune, the vote was not a victoryrnfor traditional morality, natural andrncommon law, and common-sense language,rnbut a defeat for “gay couples.” It’srnas though legislation to ban tobaccornsmoking without explicitly protectingrnmarijuana smokers were characterizedrnmost of all as a defeat for marijuanarnusers. Its front-page color photo showedrna circle of what it called “Gay Christians”rnpraying in front of the Supreme Courtrnbuilding, making it plain that the hopesrnof those who would remake all society inrntheir own image rest on the unelectedrnmagnates who make the rules, the Justicesrnof the High Court. The courts mayrnwell decide to define a relationship betweenrntwo men or two women as “marriage,”rnas the zealots of “rights” and “diversity”rnstridently demand, but they willrnnot make it marriage, any more than arndecision by the Supreme Court declaringrnthat all dogs are legally cats wouldrnhelp the pooches to climb trees.rn—Harold O.J. BrownrnR O B E R T N I S B E T , R.I.P. The recentrndeath of Robert Nisbet has removedrnfrom our midst one of the premier socialrnthinkers of the century. His works, particularlyrnThe Quest for Communityrn(1962) and The Sociological Traditionrn(1966), will be read as long as literaternpeople consider the nature of human relations.rnNisbet brought to his disciplinernboth a rich historical sense and a justifiedrnanxiety about the modern state. Hernviewed the “national state” as an administrativernmechanism run by social engineersrnand born and sustained by thernbreakdown of traditional community.rnAnd he saw the rise of this regime as beingrntied to another social crisis, the frenziedrnsearch among the uprooted for newrnforms of association and security. ForrnNisbet, this constituted the greatest dangerrnof modern political life, the continuedrnneed for authority in a society thatrnpreached individual autonomy. Thisrnneed for direction turned people towardrnredemptive political movements and encouragedrnthe state’s attempt to socializernits subjects. Contrary to a recent commentaryrnin the Wall Street Journal whichrnargued that the statists, after “making arnmess of things economically,” havernturned their “penetration point to thernarena of family life,” Nisbet maintainedrnthat social democracy has always beenrnprimarily about social reconstruction.rnThose who support this patently intrusivernsystem, he explained, are looking forrncontrol, not only social services.rnAgainst these flights from freedom,rnNisbet had little to offer, except soundrnwarnings and prescriptions about “intermediaterninstitutions.” Though hernpraised such institutions, the buffer hernsaw between isolated individuals, oftenrncolluding in their enslavement, and anrnencroaching state was never more, forrnhim, than a last defense. Nisbet thoughtrnthat the Western welfare state, with fortunesrnto spend and a monopoly of power,rnwould probably continue to get itsrnway. In the United States it would managernopposition by offering entitlementsrnand by waging crusades against ideologicalrnenemies.rnThe compasses for his social thinkingrnwere the genteel skepticism of DavidrnHume and the counterrevolutionaryrnthought of the early 19th century. Fromrnthese sources he drew his critical viewsrnabout the superstition of rationalism andrnabout plans to redo societies from thernbottom up. Of all social doctrines thatrnNisbet criticized the one he found mostrnabsurd was the belief that individualsrncould be trained by the state to be autonomous.rnMen, explained Nisbet, replicatingrnHume’s critique of John Locke,rnhad never existed outside of fairly constantrnsocial units; it was therefore highlyrndoubtful that they could live in any otherrnway or that our social existence untilrnnow was somehow unnatural. The state’srnoffer to help human beings rise abovernnatural social groupings seemed to Nisbetrna call for control, one whose advocatesrnwould apply force on behalf of arnwhimsical but far-reaching social project.rnNisbet singled out for praise therncritics of the ideal of the sociallyrnautonomous and self-defining individual.rnBut his respect for such critics andrncorresponding distaste for libertariansrndid not prove Frank Meyer’s passionatelyrnheld view that Nisbet worshipped thernstate. The truth is more complex: Nisbetrnheld organic authority to be essential forrna stable and satisfying human existence,rnand he accused libertarians of weakeningrnsocial resistance to the modern state byrnimitating its appeal to individual rightsrnand pleasures. Despite this particularrncensure, it would be a mistake to considerrnNisbet a friend of the welfare state. Hisrnpublished remarks on this subject are asrnvitriolic as those of Murray Rothbard.rnIt may be permissible for me to expressrnmy own considerable debt tornRobert Nisbet, the scholar and the man.rnWhatever I have done in my own fieldrnwould certainly have less value if hisrnbooks had not come to my attention as arngraduate student. And I studied themrnclosely without knowing of Nisbet’srnstrong views about American politics.rnWhile he and I, as I later discovered,rnheld generally the same political opinions,rnthose opinions were not what drewrnme to his world of ideas. Though, likernhim, a conservative, I shared his appreciationrnof Marx and Emile Durkheim,rnboth men of the left, whom he preferredrnto that dreary protoliberal John Locke.rnNisbet’s writings had in my case anotherrnlong-rage effect: they led me toward socialrnhistory and the history of sociology.rnIndeed they illustrated that one can berninterested in both and respect traditionalrnsocieties. This pairing of attitudes is alsornexemplified by the social anthropologyrnof Grace Goodell, an admirer of Nisbet,rnbut it might have taken me decadesrnmore to become aware of it if I had notrnencountered The Sociological Tradition.rnLate in life, after I had met him, Nisbetrnwrote generously about my booksrnand more than once worked to salvagernmy derailed academic career. Whatrnmade these efforts particularly noteworthyrnis that by then he was gravely ill butrngave no indication that his health wasrnfailing. No matter how afflicted he was,rnhe sounded cheerful in phone conversations.rnAnd though an internationallyrnhonored author, an Albert SchweitzerrnProfessor of Humanities, and recipient ofrnthe Ingersoll Prize for Scholady Letters,rnNisbet spoke to his disciples as an equal.rnHis lack of condescension was obvious tornhis acquaintances, though Bob’s friendlinessrnnever caused me to forget in whosernshadow I stood. This always elegantlyrndressed, affable, and strikingly handsomerngentleman looked as academic luminariesrnshould but rarely do. He alsorn6/CHRONICLESrnrnrn