Book reviews of: Seymour Martin Lipset's American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword Part 3
American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword; book reviews Commonweal September 13, 1996, Pg. 38
There is no dearth of opinions about what ails the United States today. Everyone seems to have a diagnosis as well as a prescription for our reputed moral decline. However, new books by political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset and by legal scholar Ronald Dworkin go beyond merely expounding a set of predetermined conclusions or recommendations and provide readers with analytic tools for use in the assessment of American political culture.
Lipset's title gives a reliable indication of the central thesis of this work, which proceeds in continuity, with a well-developed body of social science literature to which Lipset himself has been a major contributor. The United States is different from other countries because it is founded upon a national creed rather than upon the social bonds of ethnicity and history that normally cement peoples together. Our national sense of self is derived from a broadly shared ideology which includes commitment to liberty, equality, populism, individualism, and antistatism. This consensus does not, of course, eliminate all conflict, but it does constrict considerably the range of mainstream opinion to one or another form of liberalism (in the classical sense of the word). From these same cultural roots stem both faces of U.S. distinctiveness: the laudable (voluntarism, individual initiative, personal responsibility) and lamentable (self-serving behavior, atomism, disregard for the common good).
Lipset takes seriously the adage: "to know only one culture is to know none." Group traits are best highlighted by observing patterns of variation and contrast. This insight serves as an organizing principle of his book, which includes chapters comparing the political culture of the United States with that of our closest kin, Canada, and of our fellow misfit (or "outlier" in terms of social indicators) in the international community, Japan. Lipset's analysis of distinctive U.S. social, political, economic, and historical factors succinctly recapitulates the classic debate (started by Marx and Engels) over the surprising underdevelopment of class consciousness and socialist movements in the United States. Lipset joins such commentators as Louis Hartz, Richard Hofstadter, and Michael Harrington in seeing Americanism (the ideology of success that posits the existence of unrestricted opportunity) as, in effect, a substitute for socialism in the U.S. context. This phenomenon renders the American experience qualitatively different from the consciousness of limited opportunity and political power that prevails in other industrialized societies.
Lipset's use of contrast is not limited to cross-national comparison. Nearly half the book is devoted to "exceptions to exceptionalism," social groups within American society which have undergone experiences at variance from the national mainstream. Lipset chooses three: American Jews (who are notable for how their unusual material success remains coupled with an abiding commitment to social equality), African-Americans (whose marginalization is linked to a greater openness to such group-oriented solutions as affirmative action), and intellectuals (who are more likely to embrace leftist approaches because of their alienation from market-driven populist society). In all three cases, deviation from the U.S. norm sheds much useful light on the inner logic of the distinctive American ideology. Lipset's portrayals allow the reader a revealing glimpse of why our polity is capable of engaging simultaneously in noble attempts to institutionalize virtue or to impose an often intolerant, crusading moralism while we hold fast to a construal of meritocracy which fosters a ruthless instrumental pursuit of material success that is largely indifferent to social decay.
‘’America a unique blend of good, bad and ugly’’ The Toronto Star, July 6, 1996, Pg. J15
Canadians are fated to share the territory between the Rio Grande and the North Pole with the United States - a nation, as George Grant put it, that has no history of its own before the age of progress and which has become the dynamic centre of technological modernity. What sort of a people are these, whose destiny we share whether we like it or not?
Seymour Martin Lipset is the distinguished author of more than 20 books of sociology and political science. Even more unusual for an American, he has a deep and enduring interest in Canada. Continental Divide (1989) is still the best comparative study of Canadian and American institutions and values.
Comparison is the key to Lipset's approach since, as he says, to know only one country is to know none. The great observers of the American scene were like Alexis de Tocqueville who, when he wrote his masterpiece, Democracy In America, really wanted to know what made America different from his native France.
Lipset shares the view of de Tocqueville and others that the United States is unique among nations. He calls it an "outlier," and by this he means that on scales measuring such social indicators as disparities of wealth and property, crime rate, the number of lawyers, church attendance, the USA is found at one extreme or the other.
Nowhere is this more clear than in America's treatment of race. On the one hand, the USA has treated Jews with extraordinary generosity from the beginning of its history. Although Jews make up a small proportion of the population, their religion has been respected from the time of the American Revolution.
However, at the same time as it was showing religious tolerance, it was oppressing and marginalizing its African-Americans.
One important consequence of American treatment of blacks has been the creation among blacks of a set of group-related values: They see themselves as part of a group and demand group rights, whereas whites are more strongly committed to individual rights.
However, as Lipset points out, affirmative action programs were introduced by Republicans, under Richard Nixon no less; they were opposed by black leaders at the time who feared that they would divide the black and white working classes, as indeed they have. This difference of attitude sets blacks and whites at odds.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the United States that Lipset identifies is its moralism.
In Lipset's words, "Americans are utopian moralists who press hard to institutionalize virtue, to destroy evil people and eliminate wicked institutions and practices."
Domestically, Americans often hold their politicians and political institutions in undeserved contempt. Because they think that government is so prone to corruption, they believe it is better to limit the power of the state. Consequently, the American state is the least intrusive in the developed world, but it is also the one that does the least for the elderly, the poor and the sick.
Another important element of the American creed is the belief in the individual and his or her ability to get ahead by their own initiative and efforts. Lipset argues that this trait is so strong, it even explains America's exceptionalism with respect to crime. Success seen in terms of wealth is such a fundamental value for Americans that they subordinate everything to it.
In foreign policy, American moralism has meant that their enemy of the moment - whether King George, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein or some minor Somali warlord - has to be seen as the devil incarnate. The Vietnam war, Lipset argues, was unpopular, because Lyndon Johnson was unwilling sufficiently to vilify North Vietnamese communists, frightened of stirring up another wave of McCarthyite intolerance.
Another important theme that Lipset addresses is the question of American decline. Many analysts have sought to explain why America had ceased to be economically competitive; they tend to either blame Japan or urge that America become more like Japan.
Lipset makes a convincing case that America has shaken off its rivals, and has restored its position as the world's dominant economy. However, he is fascinated by the differences between Japan and the USA. Japan, he argues, is another outlier, and he devotes a fascinating chapter comparing American exceptionalism with Japanese uniqueness.
Lipset's thesis is provocative but by no means totally convincing. Too often the reader feels that he has chosen only those statistics that support his argument.
Even with these limitations, this book overflows with brilliant insights. Few people will agree with everything in it, but no one will close it without having learned something about our exceptionally annoying but also exceptionally interesting neighbor.
Battles between God and the devil; The Times Higher Education Supplement July 5, 1996, Pg.23
In the late 1930s and early 1940s there appeared a remarkable group of young Jewish intellectuals in New York City. Gathered around the various alcoves in the cafeteria of the City College of New York, these students battled over the various doctrines that separated the pro-Stalinist Left, the Trotskyists, and Norman Thomas socialists. From among those ranks emerged men whose impact on modern American political thought would be formidable; it was there that the likes of Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol and the late Martin Diamond earned their stripes.
Over time, a number of those left-wingers became, to one degree or another, leading conservative thinkers. Diamond nearly single-handedly established the study of the political thought of the American founders as a serious object of concern for political scientists and policy makers as well as historians. Glazer eventually joined Kristol as co-editor of The Public Interest; and Kristol went on to found The National Interest as well as Basic Books (now an imprint of HarperCollins) and eventually found himself dubbed the godfather of the neoconservative movement. All of them have roiled the waters of contemporary American politics on issues ranging from the continuing relevance of the electoral college in electing the president to affirmative action to foreign policy. Taken as a whole, they have exerted an enormous influence in American politics. But in many ways, the most exceptional of all those exceptional fellows has been Seymour Martin Lipset.
Lipset is a true social scientist, a man whose formidable learning has been focused on the most fundamental of issues in social and political life. His books have become classics in his fields of endeavour to such an extent that he has served as president of both the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association. He has taught at Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley; he has been elected to the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a scholar's scholar; but he is more than that. He is a public intellectual, a man whose learning is not closed in the confines of the academy but is rather accessible to a broader public. All the better that he should now turn his attention explicitly to a phenomenon that has fascinated him throughout his prolific career, American exceptionalism.
American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword is more than a collection of essays but less than a cohesive book. All of the chapters have appeared in one form or another elsewhere, and the transitions from one to another are not infrequently rickety. Still Lipset brings to his subject such learning as to render those structural irritations no more than that, irritations. While one might wish that he had opted to write a new work on the same subject, one that was in fact a seamless offering on the subject of American exceptionalism, this is nonetheless a work that towers over most contemporary social science. It is worthy of the attention of scholars and citizens alike.
The great strength of Lipset's works is that he trades only in the currency of hard facts; there are no unsupported opinions here. The conclusions he draws may vex and infuriate, but they are always based on a wide range of sociological data. As a result, Lipset is hard to get around. There is seemingly nothing he has not read, nothing he has not grasped. From the status of blacks in American life as compared to the Jews, to the cultural differences between the Japanese and the Americans, to the nuances of political correctness in the universities, Lipset provides fresh insights about not only the great strengths of America but what he rightly calls 'the dark side of American exceptionalism'.
In Lipset's view, the basic fact is that America is without doubt a 'qualitatively different' country from all the rest. In size, power, and wealth it has no peer. But American exceptionalism runs deeper than such attributes as strength and wealth. As Alexis de Tocqueville knew so long ago, and as Lipset seeks to remind his readers, there is a spirit that sets America and Americans apart; there really is something like an American Creed. That creed is rooted in the fact that America was the first nation born of fundamental political principles rather than the quirks of history. 'Being an American,' Lipset points out, 'is an ideological commitment. It is not a matter of birth. Those who reject American values are un-American.'
In America patriotism is judged by adherence to or departure from principles deemed basic; Americans are willing to fight and die in wars (or to resist such wars by protests peaceful and otherwise) not for the fatherland but for ideas held to be universally true, such as 'all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights'. As Alexander Hamilton put it at the time of the founding, it seemed to have been reserved to the people of America to prove once and for all whether societies of men could determine their constitutions of government from reflection and choice or must depend simply on accident and force. The abiding belief that mankind can create good government from reflection and choice is the foundation upon which the bright side of American exceptionalism finally rests.
That confidence also lies at the root of the darker elements of American exceptionalism. 'American values,' as Lipset argues, 'are quite complex, particularly because of paradoxes within our culture that permit pernicious and beneficial social phenomena to arise from the same basic beliefs.' The very idea of an American creed of 'liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire' cuts two ways: 'It fosters a high sense of personal responsibility, independent initiative, and voluntarism even as it encourages self-serving behaviour, atomism, and a disregard for the common good.' When it comes to the American dream, the same forces lead to the American nightmare: crime, illegality, drug abuse and a host of other socially deviant forms of behaviour. Yet amid all the soaring crime rates, poverty, and racism, Americans are still the most devout and church-going people on the face of the earth. More believe that natural disasters may indeed be divine retribution for moral decline than in any other nation. And even though America boasts one of the lowest public expenditures for welfare, it is unmatched in its level of private philanthropy.
One of the greatest assets of Lipset's analysis is to remind his readers that Americans routinely, throughout their history, have thought themselves on the downward moral slope. The reason is not that they have been, or even are in a state of absolute moral decline, but rather that their standards are so high to begin with that 'no country could ever measure up'. It is this tendency as well that explains the fervour of American politics. 'Americans . . . tend to view social and political dramas as morality plays, as battles between God and the Devil, so that compromise is virtually unthinkable . . . Both conservatives and liberals see their domestic opponents as advocates of immoral policies.'
One of the most fascinating parts of American Exceptionalism in this regard is Lipset's chapter on 'American Intellectuals - Mostly on the Left, Some Politically Incorrect'. The essence of this chapter is an account of how neoconservatism arose and how it reflects the various moral tensions within American politics today. While the neoconservatives get a lot of credit for building the foundation of the rise of contemporary conservatism in the United States, from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich, that is giving credit where credit is not really due. The fact is, neoconservatism was a term imposed from without rather than a true ideological position generated from within. While many who have been so labelled (including Lipset himself) shared common assumptions such as being dedicated anti-communists, most have continued to be social liberals, especially when it comes to the defence of the welfare state and nagging suspicions about an unaffected free market. By Lipset's measure, had the neoconservatives been in Britain in the 1980s, 'most would have been members or supporter of the Social Democratic Party'. The real foundation of contemporary conservatism was poured by the National Review crowd. It was that collection of conservatives led by William F. Buckley who 'helped revive American conservatism (classical laissez-faire liberalism), transform the Republican party, and refurbish belief in the free market system'. It was this group (a group always suspicious of the neoconservatives, it is worth noting) that truly 'paved the way for Reaganism'.
This sort of analysis is the great strength of Lipset's work. In many ways, Lipset takes his approach from his great predecessor in trying to understand American exceptionalism, Alexis de Tocqueville. By looking at the smallest things, the most obvious things, the hustle and bustle of daily life, you can often see the largest things and begin to grasp the vast sweep of the course of American history.
Several years ago, Irving Kristol set down his memories of those long ago raucous days in the lunchroom of CCNY. Among that crowd of future scholars that gathered there, Kristol said, Seymour Martin Lipset was 'a kind of intellectual bumblebee, whose function it was to spread the pollen of ideological doubt and political consternation over all . . . the flowering ideologies'. As American Exceptionalism makes very clear, some things never change.
The Great Exception in America's Experiment, The Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 1996
Political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset is one of the world's most distinguished Tocquevillists.
Characterizing his work this way refers to the fact that it has been powerfully influenced by Alexis de Tocqueville, the great 19th-century French social theorist. "American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword," extends Lipset's examination of American social development from a Tocquevillian perspective.
Tocqueville gave the concept of American exceptionalism its first complete statement in "Democracy in America" (1835, 1839). He did not call America exceptional in the sense of being unusually good. He meant that the country was literally an exception - it had followed a line of social development different from any other.
Unique origins of US
De Tocqueville found the origins of American exceptionalism in a related set of factors, writes Lipset, involving who settled the new nation; what was happening in Europe at the time; and the conditions the emigrants encountered upon arrival.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Europe was engulfed in a great revolution that saw the collapse of an old social order resting on aristocratic principles and the often painful birth of a new order based on egalitarian and individualist premises. In this setting, a middle-class "fragment" broke off from the mother countries and came to North America, bringing to speedy fruition here a new type of social system.
Physical distance allowed the fragment to develop in remarkable isolation from Europe's feudal past. De Tocqueville understood what all this meant: "The great advantage of the Americans is, that they have arrived at a state of democracy without having to endure a democratic revolution; and that they are born equal, instead of becoming so."
America's social origins yielded a distinctive ideology. Lipset sees it defined around ideas of "liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire." He credits this idea system with enormous energy, but sees in it a "dark side," too.
The US is "the most religious, optimistic, patriotic, rights-oriented and individualistic. With respect to crime, it still has the highest rates...; The country remains the wealthiest in real income terms, the most productive as reflected in worker output, the highest in proportion of people who graduate from or enroll in higher education... It is the leader in upward mobility into professional and other high-status and elite occupations ... but the least egalitarian among developed nations with respect to income distribution, at the bottom as a provider of welfare benefits ... and the least taxed."
Good or bad, the American ideology has dominated the country's social development with one large exception - race relations. There, a society whose founding premises stipulate that all people are "created equal" and endowed by God with "unalienable rights," permitted slavery until the 1860s, and then "Jim Crow" discrimination for a century longer.
Lipset argues that this experience of African-Americans has left them the great exception in American exceptionalism. "Being defined either de jure or de facto as a caste for most of their history, blacks, like European workers, are much more likely than whites to respond to group-related, rather than individually oriented values."
He is not by any means alone, of course, in finding America's racial history a great break with its central values. Gunnar Myrdal made this his central premise in "An American Dilemma" (1944). In recent years, many analysts have described the US as "two societies" on racial lines.
Nevertheless, one society
Whether America today is that, or instead - for all its flaws - one society built around widely shared values is obviously of the greatest importance to the country's future. It's also a very complex question. Lipset's "two societies" interpretation is the one instance in a book of the first rank where he is open to real challenge.
My Roper Center colleagues and I reviewed a broad collection of survey findings of the outlook of African-Americans compared with others of their fellow citizens. These data show that most Americans of all groups see the country's current race relations in terms far more complex and ambiguous than "two societies" envisions them.
African-Americans are naturally more inclined than others to see racism, past and present, as a huge problem. But, the data show, they also see comity along with conflict, opportunity as well as discrimination, and progress together with persisting problems.
What's more, for all the legacy of slavery, segregation, and exclusion, African-Americans are "in many ways the most resilient archetypal Americans, still holding onto the notion that perseverance and hard work will give them a real shot at opportunity and equality," as Norman Hill, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute points out in the February/March issue of the Public Perspective.
Roper presents extensive survey data supporting Hill's argument - that on most core social and political values, and personal ones too, the story is not one of sharp racial differences but of agreement across racial lines.
This said, Lipset is surely right in reminding us of the magnitude of America's historic exception in race relations to its otherwise defining commitments. It's long past time that we end this exception.
Why We Are How We Are The Washington Post April 07, 1996, Pg. X04
SEYMOUR MARTIN LIPSET is one of America's most useful intellectuals. At least, we foreigners think so. More than any other figure, with the possible exception of John Kenneth Galbraith, he plausibly explains to us baffled aliens why you Americans are so very odd.
He tackles the really interesting questions that seldom seem to occur to the rest of you; why America never developed a serious socialist movement; why you exhibit almost Iranian levels of religiosity; why Canada is so different; and why you so hate turning out to vote but so enjoy joining voluntary organizations.
American Exceptionalism is his masterpiece, an attempt "to explain contemporary America, including the nature and strength of American political parties, by reference to its organizing principles and founding political institutions." I shall plagiarize the book shamelessly, plundering the deeper arguments while scavenging among the startling statistics Lipset has assembled. Like everybody else, I assumed that the rise in illegitimacy and the breakdown of the black family was something to do with teenage girls getting pregnant. In fact, chides Professor Lipset, it is "not so much a function of a growth in births among the unmarried as a great decline among the married."
Then there is the cool, Lipsetian account of what must have been the world's greatest hangover. These days, you abstemious Americans consume about a gallon of spirits per head per year. In 1830, your magnificent ancestors swigged down five times that amount. And within 10 years flat, thanks to the Temperance Movement, you were down to two gallons a head. (I shall never sneer at Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign again.) Of course, the Edgar Allan Poe generation made up for it with opium, imports growing seven times as fast as the population from 1840-70.
Lipset salts a deeply serious and faintly subversive argument with irresistibly tasty facts such as this: The opium imports suggest that the Civil War must have passed in something of a haze. So did the 1960s, a decade which Lipset describes as "an anomaly in the context of the country's long-term modernization trends, and not -- as popular imagination would have it -- the way America always was."
Lipset is a great debunker of conventional American wisdoms. This particularly endears him to us foreign correspondents who exploit the inexhaustible appetite in the rest of the world for what we Brits call TWA stories. It stands for "Those Wacky Americans," and beyond sensational improbabilities about Michael Jackson's sex life or Pat Buchanan winning the New Hampshire primary, they fall into two main categories.
The first is the flippant: Multimillion dollar lawsuits for hot coffee spilled in a customer's lap, the parents in Boston who have gone to court over the spat between their 3-year-olds in a sandbox, the innovative surgical adventures of John Wayne Bobbitt, or even John Wayne Buchanan campaigning for the presidency from the O.K. Corral. Only in America. The second category of TWA is far more serious, rooted in the fact that much of the rest of the planet believes America to be dangerously peculiar in its attitudes toward gun ownership and towards the national health. There is a core sense of public hygiene in most of the civilized world which is repelled by the thought of promiscuity in firearms and particularity in medical services for the poor.
One of the interesting features of the young Clinton administration was the way it threatened to put us chroniclers of TWA out of a job. He sought to tighten the gun laws and provide a national health care system and make the U.S. as placid and egalitarian as, say, Eastbourne or Kitzbuehel.
Of course, it was too good to last. As Lipset argues, each of the horrors of American life is the counterpart of one of its glories. You cannot have one without the other, so that controlling private firearms threatens a fundamental revision of the relationship between government and citizen. Nowhere is it easier to become rich and privileged, but the price of failure is steeper than elsewhere. Nowhere is there more equality of opportunity or less equality of outcome. Nowhere is the medicine or the higher education better, but the nation that preened itself on evading the sickening rigidities of the European class system has pioneered the new social stratification of the underclass.
"Exceptionalism is a double-edged concept," Lipset notes. "We are the worst as well as the best, depending on which quality is being addressed . . . Those who focus on moral decline, or on the high crime or divorce rates, ignore the evidence that much of what they deplore is closely linked to American values which presumably they approve of, those which make for achievement and independence."
The deep seriousness of Lipset's argument is that we were wrong ever to think that the U.S. might become more like old Europe. From the evidence of Margaret Thatcher's economic reforms and the slow dismantling of the French and German welfare states, from our divorce figures and our declining trade unions and soaring litigation rates -- let alone our televiewing habits -- he concludes that we Europeans are becoming more and more like you. I suspect he is only two-thirds right; in reality, we are all becoming more like Canada.
Martin Walker, U.S. bureau chief of Britain's the Guardian, is the author of "The Cold War: A History."
Not Just Another Country The New York Times February 11, 1996, Section 7; Page 7; Column 2
To assert that America is exceptional, as analysts have been doing since Tocqueville, is to dwell on paradox. In "American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword," Seymour Martin Lipset motes that while the United States is the most litigious society in the world -- spending four to eight times as much on lawsuits as Germany, England, Italy, France, the Netherlands or Japan -- it is simultaneously one of the most lawless, vexed by crime rates triple those of other industialized nations. Hence America's double-edged sword: on one side of the blade, "a high sense of personal responsibility, independent initiative and voluntarism"; on the other side, "self-serving behavior, atomism and a disregard for communal good."
Central to Mr. Lipset's American exceptionalism is the idea of a definable American Creed, "a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society," deriving mostly from the Revolution. These include liberty, egalitarianism (defined as equality of opportunity, not result), individualism, populism and laissez-faire. To buttress his argument, he uses copious survey data to demonstrate how different America is from other advanced countries. For example, in 1992 just 38 percent of Americans agreed that government should reduce the difference in income between rich and poor, compared with 65 percent of Britons, 66 percent of West Germans and 80 percent of Italians.
Pausing form cross-cultural explication, Mr. Lipset refreshes the reader with historical explanation. Whereas conservatism in the Old World, he writes, derived from "the historic alliance of church and government," in America it has adhered to the anti-stasist Whiggish tradition instead. Inheritors of Europe's feudal legacy, Tories like Disraeli and Bismarck established group-oriented programs for the poor, it spends more on education.
This emphasis on individual opportunity makes racial preference programs automatically suspect to most Americans. Reaching back to 1871, Mr. Lipset cites the abolitionist Frederick Douglass as a fierce opponent of quotas; his narrative then leaps forward to the Nixon Administration, which implemented quotas over the opposition of civil rights leaders like Clarence Mitchell, a prominent official with the N.A.A.C.P., and Representative Augustus Hawkins. Of course, Republicans soon abandoned their policy offspring, which then took on a life of its own inside thejudiciary and bureaucracy and in the Democratic Party). "By a supreme irony," Mr. Lipset concludes, Richard Nixon, "the man most hated by the father of the affirmative action programs that have brought them so much ballot-box grief.
If Mr. Lipset's strengthin this book is his ability to sift vast evidence and pluck out apt conclusions, his weakness is his seeming desire to get some matters off his chest (or off the hard drive of his computer) even if they don't fit hsi thesis. Three chapters, on African-Americans, Jews and intellectuals, seem to have wandered in from some other book; the author procrusteanizes them in this one with the declaration that they are the exceptions. Each of these groups has gone its own, sometimes surprising way. Blacks, Mr. Lipset argues, are faring better than most Americans realize: "The 'invisible man' of the 1990's is the successful black working- and middle-class suburbanite." Jews, combining affluence and liberalism, remain "unique in the American ethnic kaleidoscope"; in contrast to the national trend, Jewish support for Democratic candidates actually rose from 1992 to 1994. Intellectuals are also, Mr. Lipset asserts, "exceptions on the margin," although his quick chronicle, from Communism to McCarthyism to neoconservatism to political correctness, adds little insight into the ways of America's intellegentsia. Meanwhile, Mr. Lipset's own internal cliche-check has failed to catch such clunkers as "leaner and meaner" or "American as apple pie."
The chapter on Japan also seems out of place, although it allows him toponder how two nations with "highly disparate value systems" can both be economically successful. He pithily summarizes Japan's economic awakening in the late 19th century as a "revolution from above," noting that new business and commercial values were inculcated into old warlords and warriors; yet even after a century of modernization, he adds, Japan's uniqueness -- Nihonron -- survives. Of course, this finding gives rise to the thesis-undercutting thought that perhaps all countries are exceptional in their own way.
In his 22d book in a distinguished half-century career as a social scientist, with positions at Harvard, Stanford and now George Mason University, Mr. Lipset has chosen to concentrate before him: on the handful of nations with advanced social-science databases that can be analyzed in minute detail. Yet if the subject is America in a shrinking world on the eve of the 21st century, surely it's important also to compare America to the 175 or so developing nations, even if their survey-research infrastructure is sparse. That might be a good topic for Mr. Lipset's 23d book.