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Lipset and Friends, Part 1
Mr. Wattenberg: Marty Lipset can we start with you what does that phrase American exceptionalism mean?
Mr. Lipset: I suppose you could say that its individualism and democracy or egalitarianism and democracy. You Tocqueville stressed at the time that America is the most egalitarian country in the world, by that he didnít mean equal in income or equal in power but he meant equal opportunity but also equal in terms of social relationships.
Mr. Wattenberg: Hello Iím Ben Wattenberg. When Seymour Martin Lipset died on December 31st 2006 America lost one of its great political scientists. His work ranged far a field; political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion and the sociology of intellectual life. He wrote extensively about the conditions for democracy, he both studied with and taught some of the great minds of our times including his friend the quite remarkable Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Joining us to learn more about Lipset and the constellation of scholars around him are Michael Novak the George Fredrick Hewitt scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of many book including The Universal Hunger of Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations is Not Inevitable and E.J. Dionne Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington Post Columnist and Author most recently of Stand up and Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Whips and The Politics of Revenge. The topic before the House: Lipset and Friends, this week on Think Tank.
Mr. Wattenberg: Michael Novak, E.J. Dionne, welcome once again to Think Tank. Weíre going to talk about Lipset & Company. Seymour Martin Lipset, the quite remarkable political scientist and sociologist and his company.
Mr. Wattenberg: Before we get into the meat of this thing, E.J., I know you wanted to talk briefly about Marty as a human being.
Mr. Dionne: Right, well, Marty was exceptional partly because, you know, for a long period where lots of people had serious breaks with other people over politics, I think Marty had more lines open and more ins of politics than almost...
Mr. Wattenberg: I think thatís right.
Mr. Dionne: ...anyone else. And, you know, for those of us who like to think we produce things, Marty produced so many books that his wife, Sydnee said, heís not exactly sure how many of his books are published in how many languages, let alone how many articles he produced. Secondly, itís something you love to do. He could make numbers sing. I mean, I have his 30-year old copy here of his book, Political Man, and you look at a table and you look at what Marty says about a table, and suddenly you have a big light bulb in your head. He could use numbers to illuminate so many issues. The other thing is, he had a great time. His first book was called Agrarian Socialism. Marty was always fascinated with why...
Mr. Wattenberg: Iím sorry. It was called what?
Mr. Dionne: Agrarian Socialism.
Mr. Wattenberg: Oh, yes.
Mr. Dionne: And he was -- I canít remember. It was Union Democracy or Agrarian Socialism. One of his first books was Agrarian Socialism, and Marty was fascinated by why there was no Socialism in the United States. Saskatchewan elected one of the first -- there were local Socialist governments, but Socialists took over Saskatchewan. He trekked up there and spent a couple of years trying to figure out, well, what happened here that hasnít happened in the United States. So his immense personal curiosity, he put to work to produce so much interesting work in so many different areas.
Mr. Wattenberg: Iíd like to talk not only about Marty Lipset but that remarkable group of public intellectuals, action intellectuals, whatever you want to call them, that formed in the United States, I guess, starting around 1950 or so, were subsequently called the founding fathers of neo-conservatism, but in point of fact, some of them went well to the left, and some of them went well to the right. But I donít think too many people would argue against the notion that they really played a seminal role in shaping American public thought. Michael, why donít you pick it up from there.
Mr. Novak: Well, theyíre often referred to as the New York intellectuals...
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Novak: ...even though they did not all live and work there.
Mr. Wattenberg: Jim Wilson came from California.
Mr. Novak: But they published out of the magazines in New York. They probably belonged, as a group, to the left-most one or two percent of the population.
Mr. Wattenberg: To start.
Mr. Novak: To start.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yes.
Mr. Novak: Thatís where they began, and more than most American intellectuals at that time, they had a strong and familiar understanding with Marx, because if you look at Martyís book here.
Mr. Wattenberg: Karl. Karl, not Groucho, as we say, right.
Mr. Novak: Yeah, Karl, and they, he divides the book almost entirely in terms of class and...
Mr. Wattenberg: This is the Agrarian Socialism book?
Mr. Novak: No, this is from the...
Mr. Dionne: Political Man.
Mr. Wattenberg: Oh. Oh, the Political Man.
Mr. Novak: The Political Man.
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Dionne: His best known book.
Mr. Novak: Yeah.
Mr. Dionne: Now, it would be called Political Person.
Mr. Novak: But itís about the, you know, who votes and why and on a comparative basis, different parts of the world. And thatís another thing about Marty. He had a voracious curiosity about the rest of the world.
Mr. Wattenberg: When you visited his apartment, he had an interesting sort of decorating scheme. He had a set of end tables. He had stacks of books, which was just a very elegant sort of...
Mr. Novak: Well, he was like most of the others of that group, more European in a sense. But Marty was -- let me say also, he was a big man. I mean, he filled...
Mr. Wattenberg: Huge, yeah.
Mr. Novak: ...a chair. He filled a room, and yet his voice was light, and he was as friendly and as down to earth as could be. He used very clear examples, very homey things. He would just notice what other people didnít notice. For example, Marty loved to notice that in Canada and the United States, both governments adopted the metric system at the same time, but it didnít take more than a dozen years before the U.S. abandoned it. And he would say, enjoy. You go to Canada, and 100 meant kilometers, and 60 here, or 65 would mean miles.
Mr. Wattenberg: Miles per hour.
Mr. Novak: An inch and pound and so forth.
Mr. Wattenberg: And his point was that because the Canadians were the descendants of the English Royalists, they listened to authority, and the Americans were the oppositionists to state power, and they said. Was that basically the idea?
Mr. Novak: Yeah, thatís...
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah.
Mr. Novak: Thatís the point. I think he, you know, oversimplified a little bit, but he always noticed little things like that, that caught his attention.
Mr. Lipset: Americans were told to go metric and they didnít. Canadians were much more differential to authority, they have a lower crime rate. They listen to their betters and America doesnít.
Mr. Moynihan: Marty wouldnít you let me phrase it just a little bit differently. The Canadians were told by their government. Itís their government not somebody elseís. It reflects what they think is proper. They would make that wonderful phrase about, they would say ďIn the United States the west was won, here in Canada it was negotiatedĒ
Mr. Wattenberg: What Iíd like to do in this part of the program, I want to concentrate on two themes. One is this idea of American exceptionalism, and the other is the idea of the promotion and promulgation of Democratic views and values during these last 30, 40 years.
Mr. Wattenberg: E.J., Michael, give me a sense of what this phrase American exceptionalism means.
Mr. Dionne: Well, there was always an idea, and, you know, in Lipsetís case, without saying him, is why we were never a Socialist country and never really an aristocratic country, and then why...
Mr. Wattenberg: And why we were religious when every other modern country was going the other way.
Mr. Dionne: Right, thatís part of us as well. And so the, you had to explain a lot of things about the United States that didnít seem to fit other industrial societies. And so the idea of American exceptionalism has been talked about and debated for a long time. Marty had a very interesting thesis about what makes Americans tick. In some ways, it was two sides of his...
Mr. Wattenberg: And what makes them different. That was really...
Mr. Dionne: Right.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah.
Mr. Dionne: And it was really, in some ways it was two sides of Martyís own personality. He talked about Americans being devoted to equality and to achievement. And Marty, I think, as just a human being was a deep egalitarian. You know, right back to the beginning of the republic, there was more concern with equality of rights, and indeed, you had a lot of social movements around the Jacksonian period that were committed to greater economic equality. But alongside that commitment to equality was this desire for achievement for upward mobility, and so you could explain a lot of the dramas, I think, of American politics by a conflict between two values. Not values that one group of us held and another group of us didnít, but actually values that most Americans hold in common. And I think a lot of the tensions in America can be explained by that idea of a war and a sort of an overlap and a war between equality and achievement.
Mr. Wattenberg: And there are certain American national experiences that he tapped into. I mean, Frederick Jackson Turner said that was unique about Americans in the Modern Era is that they were a frontier nation until well into the early 1900s. They were always pushing forward, pushing forward. Europe was a closed and static society. I mean, it ended at the English Channel, or it ended at England, and America was conscious of this whole idea of manifest destiny and moving outward and expansionist sometimes in a not so nice way, sometimes in a very vigorous and bold way.
Mr. Novak: But thereís another way to look at what Marty, what fascinated Marty about American exceptionalism. When he was growing up, the two huge tides of ideas that were capturing the world, I mean, just spreading like wildfire, were Marxism, Communism...
Mr. Wattenberg: Socialism.
Mr. Novak: Lenin, Marx, and marching armies, and then the glorification of the state in Nazism. Excuse me, the glorification of the state in Fascism, and then the glorification of race in Nazism. These are the big movements, and these armies are capturing the world. But not only that, people of all social classes, it seems, were captivated by them. The intellectuals were, the workers were, and when you started applying Marxist categories, they illuminated a lot of what was happening very well in Europe. But when you came to America, there were some puzzlements. If you came with a background in European social thought as he did, Marty did, America was a puzzlement. It didnít fit the usual categories, and he had to start thinking fresh. I think this was a great part of Martyís own originality. He began where some of the other intellectuals of his generation began, but he took the American perplexity to enrich his thought and to keep learning more and more and pay more attention to detail.
Mr. Dionne: But, you know, Marty, I think one of the things that categorized him was that he never really was, except perhaps for a brief period in his youth, an ideologue, and that he could talk about that he obviously loved the United States and loved American democracy.
Mr. Wattenberg: Deeply.
Mr. Dionne: Deeply, but he had no illusions about America as a perfect place. I was reading one of his essays before we were doing the show, and, you know, he pointed out that there were many other European societies after World War II that developed mobility rights, upward mobility rights as high as Americaís were. He didnít sort of shrink back from data that didnít fit into his or anybody elseís preconceived thesis. And I think that was one of the things that kept him in dialogue with everyone, because people knew Marty would never cook the numbers to push a thesis.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah. You know, itís very interesting. This group of putative neo-conservatives, although thatís a misnomer, I mean, it included Irving Kristol and Irving Howe and a slightly younger Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick later on, Nat Glazer. Moynihan had a great story about this American exceptionalism. After World War II, many Europeans came over here to see how democracy ticked, and he had this surely apocryphal story that a guy came over from France and wanted to see an American worker and how it works. And he talks to this guy whoís working on the assembly line, and he says, ďTell me about how you work.Ē He says, ďI work here from nine to five.Ē ďDo you ever see your boss?Ē ďYeah, he comes by every once in awhile.Ē ďIs he friendly?Ē ďYes, heís very friendly. Sometimes, he even takes me out for dinner.Ē ďReally? Is that right?Ē ďYes, absolutely, and sometimes, heíll even ask me up to his apartment for a drink.Ē ďIs that right?Ē And he said, ďAnd sometimes, he even asks me to stay over. Did that ever happen to you?Ē ďNo, but it happened to my sister.Ē (Laughter)
Mr. Wattenberg: That was Moynihanís line, but it really does tell you, the Europeans were fascinated by the idea that the line is, America can look any man in the eye, and you know, you didnít have this class structure.
Mr. Dionne: Although you know whatís interesting also is, Marty was fascinated by the trade union movement because his dad was a trade unionist. And so...
Mr. Wattenberg: I didnít know that.
Mr. Dionne: He wrote another essay called ďElections as a Representation of the Democratic Class StruggleĒ, and while youíre quite right that he saw many ways in which America was different, he also saw ways in which class inequalities, while not as severe as in some of the European societies, constantly worked themselves out in American society. You couldnít understand the New Deal Coalition without understanding that it did have a very strong class component. It wasnít the only thing going on. It had an ethic and regional components as well. And so Marty, you know, Marty was fascinated, particularly in his early years where I think he was especially influenced by Marxist thought, even though he was much more a Social Democrat...
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Dionne: ...than anything to the left of that. You know, he was constantly sort of focused on class in a way that a lot of scholars now may not do enough of. I think some of the people who like Martyís work in some ways could usefully sort of take the whole of Lipset, you know, beginning and end, and say, by being willing to look at this multiplicity of factors, he laid out a more complete view of the world than if you can if you, say, choose to ignore class and ignore class inequalities.
Mr. Novak: Marty often was fascinated by the failure of socialism to work very well in many parts of the world.
Mr. Dionne: Right.
Mr. Novak: And so, from thinking that it was a good idea, but they hadnít figured out how to make it work, he began to think if it keeps failing, itís not such a good idea.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah, well...
Mr. Novak: And that led him to looking at different directions. It made him look a little bit more carefully at the American model, and that he and others with him were in a way trying to frame an ideology for the American way, a philosophical theory better than an ideology, because it had been so neglected.
Mr. Lipset: Well if you look around the developed world now not a single, and I donít mean most Iíve done the research, not a single socialist party can be called socialist today. Everyone of them says you need a market economy, everyone of them has been giving up nationalized property if they have nationalized it, everyone of them has everyone of them is in favor of cutting back on welfare or cutting back on the budget, though they start from a much higher point. Well you can say in a certain sense that the United States has not developed a socialist party like the radicals here and in Europe anticipated, but in Europe is developing a democratic party.
Mr. Dionne: He was an early searcher for a kind of third way and wrote some very interesting things in connection with the...
Mr. Wattenberg: E.J....
Mr. Dionne: ...Democratic Leadership Council on this subject.
Mr. Wattenberg: Why donít you explain that concept of a third way?
Mr. Dionne: Well, in other words, the notion that -- I mean, there had been many different kinds of third way. The original third way was, you know, a path between Communism and pure capitalism, and people talked about Sweden as the original third way. Later on, people were talking more about a path between capitalism and the sort of traditionally social democratic parties...
Mr. Wattenberg: Between America...
Mr. Dionne: ...Clinton...
Mr. Wattenberg: ...and Sweden, yeah.
Mr. Dionne: Yeah, and itís sort of much more along the lines of Clinton and Tony Blair...
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Dionne: ...and that whole excitement where you did have Social Democratic leaders around the world who were saying, the old thing doesnít quite work. We donít want to give up on these egalitarian ideals, but weíve got to do it differently. And I think...
Mr. Wattenberg: You know...
Mr. Dionne: ...Marty was involved in that project in some ways long before it actually existed.
Mr. Wattenberg: I mean, I would argue, and itís sort of blasphemy in the church to say so, but the present incumbent, George W. Bush, heís a big spender. He believes in the social safety net. The conservatives go crazy about the idea that heís running deficits, but he -- the no child left behind, prescription drug benefit, thatís sort of the social democratic safety net, isnít it?
Mr. Dionne: Well, I think we probably shouldnít go off on a big argument about President Bush, but Iíll go back into...
Mr. Wattenberg: Discussion, not argument.
Mr. Dionne: ...the argument that Marty, or the -- Marty Lipset made an interesting argument in one of his essays. He talked a lot about Disraelian conservatism, and he argued that the natural tendency of most democratic political systems is to the left. He wasnít talking about Communism. He was talking about the fact that if you have a broad inclusive electorate, then the people who have less are always going to be a larger group than the people who have a whole lot, and so the pressures in the system will be to do something for those who have less. And so he argued that even conservative parties often end up having to abandon some of their own conservatism because there is this pressure in a democratic society to create something closer to equality. So that when you look at Bush supporting the prescription drug benefit for seniors, you can argue about his version or another versionÖ
Mr. Wattenberg: No, I understand.
Mr. Dionne: But it was about the fact that large numbers of seniors, including fairly well off ones, were feeling very oppressed by drug prices. And responding to the demands of the Democratic marketplace, he knew that he had to promise it in an election, deliver it in an election, and in some ways, thatís a pure Lipset kind of thing to do.
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely. I mean, there is this tropism to satisfy voters. Thatís what you do in a Democratic society, and you can get that in a runaway kind of thing, but in our society, you have this balance between people who have government floors, and at the same time, and I think Marty exemplified this, to allow the market to function and to let people to invest and save and create new innovative businesses, which create jobs. And itís not a perfect system, but it works pretty well, I mean.
Mr. Dionne: And that is that balance between equality and achievement, and that youíre looking for a level of social decency that lifts people up but doesnít necessarily push lots of people down.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah, I guess the formulation Iíve heard is equality and opportunity...
Mr. Dionne: Right.
Mr. Wattenberg: ...as opposed -- yeah, but thatís sort of the watchwords, you know. Itís a blend. Itís a third way.
Mr. Novak: One other part of his thought thatís important to bring out is his early memories were of these awful wars and these tremendous marching armies, and there looked to be almost no way to stop them. I can remember myself in World War II going to the movies and watching the black ink spread of what the Germans had just occupied and moved on, you know, in Argentina and Paraguay, which were becoming Fascist. It looked like the whole world was going to be covered with...
Mr. Wattenberg: Every country in Europe, I guess with the arguable exception of Holland and Denmark, had a legitimate and often powerful Fascist movement, and that includes England.
Mr. Novak: And they also had simultaneously Communist movements.
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely.
Mr. Novak: So that after the second World War...
Mr. Wattenberg: And it was sort of the splitting apart that scared people. I mean, they had the authoritarian left, the authoritarian right.
Mr. Novak: But what I mean to say, one thing that characterized Lipset and others in his group was they really had experienced the rule of force in societies and the tremendous evil that could be done, and they also learned a lot from the lessons of appeasement, that you donít stop this force just by trying to ignore it. So they were a little bit more quick than many other Americans, or many on the American left. The American left is softer, you know. It doesnít have those memories of the war so much.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah.
Mr. Novak: They were a little bit quicker to see the dangers in budding threats to the United States and to fear the United States becoming too weak. They couldnít help thinking thereís evil in the world. They had seen it, and you need to be prepared to resist it. And more and more as tides change, only America could do it, and only America was willing to do it, and that tended to make them sound a little bit more conservative, I think, than otherwise they would.
Mr. Dionne: He came out of a Marxism that quickly came to condemn the totalitarianism or dictatorship, whatever word you want to use in the Soviet Union. And so his fascination with how do democracies thrive, how can you grow, expand the rate of democracy, if you will, around the world, was an obsession and a good one, an obsession of his all his life.
Mr. Novak: And he also opened up the way. He didnít do a lot of this himself, but he opened up the way to consider the importance of economics. That is, when he showed the figures, the tables, even some of the tables in this book, on what makes democracy successful, it had a lot to do with per capita income, levels of education, with the growth of the middle class. And so he saw earlier than most the importance of the economic considerations, but not in a Marxist way. You need a growing, strong, inventive economy. The economy is not just the enemy of the worker. The worker depends on a strong economy for the mobility that it gives.
Mr. Wattenberg: He was -- and I think itís fair to say. Iíd appreciate your comments on it -- that he and this group of intellectuals around him, almost without exception, and acknowledging that Americaís made certain mistakes, but that our goal was the promotion and extension of liberty around the world. We were the first mass democracy. We made some mistakes in trying to purvey that idea, but almost without exception, these people believe in that notion. The Freedom House numbers, Freedom House is an organization founded by the High Priestess of Liberalism, Eleanor Roosevelt, show, and Iíd like to run it on the screen, an incredible expansion of the number of Democratic societies in the world. Not perfect, and they rank them in a variety of ways, and it goes up and down, but just never have so many people lived under Democratic rule in the history of this planet. I think itís now thereís a majority of the nations are democratic, and thereís a majority of the people in the world are democratic. And thatís an astonishing accomplishment, and itís largely the doing of this first mass democracy.
Mr. Dionne: I think Marty would be a strong sympathizer with the idea of spreading democracy and be a sensible skeptic about the means. That I think he was a deeply democratic person is why he was so sympathetic to the trade union movement.
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely.
Mr. Dionne: And he believed in democracy and reaction to totalitarianism. At the same time, he spent so much of his life examining what conditions promoted democracy and what retarded it. What kind of social situation did you need for democracy to take root. And so therefore, I do not think Marty would be wild-eyed about it or support every kind of intervention to spread democracy. I think he would be in favor of practical steps to make it happen, which is why I find it hard to figure out exactly where Marty might have ended up in the end on the Iraq war.
Mr. Wattenberg: Ok on that note we will have to end it. Michael Novak, E.J. Dionne thanks so much for joining us on think tank and thank you. Please remember to join us for a future episode when we will continue our discussion about Seymour martin lipset and America. And also please remember to send us you comments via email, we think it makes our program better. For Think Tank Iím Ben Wattenberg.
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