This article discusses the ideas of progress and social change in the sociology of Robert Nisbet. It contends that Nisbet is a unique figure in US sociology given his conservative political views, his historicist understanding of social and political thought and his interest in the moral texture of sociological ideas. In terms of structure, the article proceeds in three steps. Firstly, it reconstructs the central tenets of Nisbet’s conception of social change, history and progress by looking at the role of metaphors and analogies in the construction of scientific statements. Secondly, the piece revisits his analysis of the rise of modern social institutions in America as an empirical application of sociology’s key distinction between community and society. Here, I pay special attention to Nisbet’s assessment of America’s transformation after WWI, as in his view the Great War paved the way for the definitive modernisation of American society. Finally, the article compares Nisbet’s arguments, as developed in the previous two sections, with Karl Löwith and Strauss’s critique of modern thought. I contend that mutual lessons can be learnt through an engagement between these philosophical critique of modern social science and Nisbet’s own critique of sociology.