Robert Alexander Nisbet


Biography of Robert Alexander Nisbet

Robert Alexander Nisbet (September 30, 1913, Los Angeles – September 9, 1996, Washington D.C.) was an American sociologist, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Vice-Chancellor at the University of California, Riverside and as the Albert Schweitzer Professor at Columbia University.

Nisbet was born in Los Angeles in 1913. He had three brothers, one sister, and a dog, and was raised in the small California community of Maricopa, where his father managed a lumber yard. His studies at Berkeley culminated in a Ph.D. in sociology in 1939. His thesis was supervised by Frederick J. Teggart. At Berkeley, "Nisbet found a powerful defense of intermediate institutions in the conservative thought of 19th-century Europe. Nisbet saw in thinkers like Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville—then all but unknown in American scholarship—an argument on behalf of what he called 'conservative pluralism.'" He joined the faculty there in 1939.

After serving in the US Army during World War II, when he was stationed on Saipan in the Pacific theatre, Nisbet founded the Department of Sociology at Berkeley, and was briefly Chairman. Nisbet left an embroiled Berkeley in 1953 to become a dean at the University of California, Riverside, and later a Vice-Chancellor. Nisbet remained in the University of California system until 1972, when he left for the University of Arizona at Tucson. Soon thereafter, he was appointed to the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Chair at Columbia.

After retiring from Columbia in 1978, Nisbet continued his scholarly work for eight years at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. In 1988, President Reagan asked him to deliver the Jefferson Lecture in Humanities, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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