The state vs. civil society

The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and FreedomThe Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom by Robert A. Nisbet

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nisbet, writing in 1953, provides a powerful framework for understanding the power of the state and its relation to civil society since the French Revolution: as the state has grown, it has reduced and often tried to replace the smaller, often local associations (churches, local communities, families, etc.). He tells the story well, though his chapter on totalitarianism needed more evidence and explanation.

The ISI edition also has a good introduction by Ross Douthat and the response of three other authors at the end. Two of them, by David Bosworth and Jeanne Heffernan Schindler, point out some important weaknesses as well. Bosworth notes that not enough attention is paid to economic and technological change because of the focus on the role of the state, and Schindler presses for a more solid definition of human beings, marriage, and the church based in Catholic teaching.

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