Over the course of 2 days, in the spring of 2012, a group of scholars met in Hong Kong to discuss one of the most penetrating thinkers of twentieth century social enquiry. Participants offered the only kind of tribute that Robert Nisbet (1913–1996)—American sociologist, historian of ideas, political writer—would have deemed serious. Engaging critically with his ideas, speakers plumbed their sources, assessed their plausibility, enquired into their relevance, and weighed alternative models and hypotheses. This special issue of The American Sociologist is the fruit of those endeavors. Encompassing both his social and his political ideas it is also the first collection of essays ever published on Nisbet’s work. Why might that be? The briefest answer is that while Nisbet’s books are still individually cited and respected, their author does not command the stature, the attention, of such thinkers as Talcott Parsons, C. Wright Mills, Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu and Jürgen Habermas. Explaining these writers’ prestige, and Nisbet’s marginality, compels us to recall some of the deepest currents of the social sciences.
The contributors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Lingnan University, Hong Kong. LU sponsored and hosted the conference on Robert Nisbet from which these papers derive.