Seymour Martin Lipset

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Seymour Martin Lipset (March 18, 1922 - December 31, 2006) was a leading American political scientist and sociologist. His major work was in the fields of comparative politics, Canadian studies, political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion, and the sociology of intellectual life. He also wrote extensively about the conditions for democracy in comparative perspective.

Early life

Lipset was born in New York City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father, Max Lipset, was a typographer and had been one in Russia; as a member of the Kiev typographer's union, who once met Stalin. "I remember that he was different from the other Bolsheviks," said Max. "The others would come and talk about Marxist theory and the revolution. Stalin spoke about organization, efficiency and money."[1] He grew up in the Bronx among Irish, Italian and Jewish youth. "I was in that atmosphere where there was a lot of political talk," Lipset recalled, "but you never heard of Democrats or Republicans; the question was communists, socialists, Trotskyists, or anarchists. It was all sorts of different left wing groups." Seymour was active in the Young People's Socialist League, an organization of young Trotskyists.[2]

Academic Career

Lipset graduated from the City College of New York, where he was an anti-Stalinist leftist and later became national chairman of the Young People's Socialist League. He left the Socialist Party in 1960 and described himself as a centrist.

Lipset received a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1949. He was the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science and Sociology at Stanford University (1975–1990) and the George D. Markham Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. He also taught at Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, and George Mason University, and had an appointment at the Hoover Institution.

Lipset received the MacIver Prize for Political Man and the Gunnar Myrdal Prize for The Politics of Unreason. His book The First New Nation was a finalist for the National Book Award. He was also awarded the Townsend Harris and Margaret Byrd Dawson Medals for significant achievement, the Northern Telecom-International Council for Canadian Studies Gold Medal, and the Leon Epstein Prize in Comparative Politics by the American Political Science Association. He has received the Marshall Sklare Award for distinction in Jewish studies. In 1997, he was awarded the Helen Dinnerman Prize by the World Association for Public Opinion Research.

Lipset was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was the only person to have been president of both the American Sociological Association (1992–93) and the American Political Science Association (1979–80). He also served as the president of the International Society of Political Psychology, the Sociological Research Association, the World Association for Public Opinion Research, and the Society for Comparative Research. He was also the president of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Society in Vienna.

Lipset was active in public affairs on a national non-partisan level. He was a director of the United States Institute of Peace, and of the Albert Shanker Institute, a member of the U.S. Board of Foreign Scholarships, co-chair of the Committee for Labor Law Reform, co-chair of the Committee for an Effective UNESCO, and consultant to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the American Jewish Committee.

He was president of the American Professors for Peace in the Middle East, chair of the National B'nai B'rith Hillel Commission and the Faculty Advisory Cabinet of the United Jewish Appeal, and cochair of the Executive Committee of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. He worked for years on seeking solution for the Israeli-Palestine Conflict. This was part of his larger project of researching what factor allow societies to sustain stable and peaceful democracies. His work focused on the preconditions to democracy -- especially high socioeconomic development and the consequences of democracy for peace. [3]

Lipset's first wife, Elsie, died in 1987. With her, he had three children: David, Daniel, and Cici. He is survived by his second wife, Sydnee, whom he married in 1990

American exceptionalism

In a 1996 book, he discussed American exceptionalism, [4]

He quotes G.K. Chesterton in commenting that the U.S. is based on a shared creed rather than shared history: "That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence. . .", distinguishing it from Winston Churchill's opposition to banning the Communist Party:

Winston Churchill once gave vivid evidence to the difference between a national identity rooted in history and one defined by ideology in objecting to a proposal in 1940 to outlaw the anti-war Communist Party. In a speech in the House of Commons, Churchill said that as far as he knew, the Communist Party was composed of Englishmen and he did not fear an Englishman. In Europe, nationality is related to community, and thus one cannot become un-English or un-Swedish. Being an American, however, is an ideological commitment. It is not a matter of birth. Those who reject American values are un-American.

Lipset describes that creed as defined by five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissezfaire As noted in the Introduction, the nation's ideology can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.


  1. Velasco (2004);. Seymour wrote Union Democracy: the Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union (ITU) about his father';s union, one of the few with internal democracy.
  2. Velasco (2004)
  3. Metta Spence, "Lipset's Gift to Peace Workers: On Getting and Keeping Democracy
  4. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, Washington Post, 1996