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Lipset and Friends, Part 2

MR. WATTENBERG: Marty Lipset, could we start with you? What does that phrase íAmerican exceptionalismí mean?
MR. LIPSET: I suppose you could say its individualism, democracy or egalitarianism. You know, Tocqueville stressed the fact that America at the time was the most egalitarian country in the world. By that he didnít mean equal in income or equal in power, but he meant that equal opportunity, but also equal in terms of social relationships.
Mr. Wattenberg: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg, when Seymour Martin Lipset died on Dec. 31, 2006, America lost one of its great political scientist. 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 the remarkable Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Joining us to learn more about Lipset and the constellation of scholars around him are Michael Novak, the George Frederick Jewitt Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The Universal Hunger for Liberty and E.J. Dionne, Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, Washington Post Columnist, and author most recently of Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Whips, and the Politics of Revenge. The topic before the house Lipset and Friends Part Two, this week on Think Tank.

Mr. Wattenberg: Michael Novak, E.J. Dionne, welcome back. Letís begin with a brief biography. Michael, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mr. Novak: Born in Western Pennsylvania, Johnstown, the flood city. Educated there for lower grades, then at Notre Dame for high school, and Massachusetts at Stonehill and so on.
Mr. Wattenberg: Studying for the ministry?
Mr. Novak: I, well, for the priesthood, I did, for a number of years until I realized it is not my vocation.
Mr. Wattenberg: Okay.
Mr. Novak: And then...
Mr. Wattenberg: Youíve written about 30 books now?
Mr. Novak: Yeah, probably not as many words as Marty Lipset, but more than his books.
Mr. Wattenberg: No, thatís right, he was quite prolific. E.J.?
Mr. Dionne: I grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, went to Harvard, ran into Michael Novakís brilliant work which helped make me a liberal. Went to graduate school and started working on the New York Times and finished my Ph.D. thesis thanks in part to a strike of the Pressmensí Union at the New York Times. I joined the Washington Post...
Mr. Wattenberg: You were a strike breaker.
Mr. Dionne: No, I was -- I honored the picket lines.
Mr. Wattenberg: You honored it. I see, okay.
Mr. Dionne: And I had some time as a result of the strike which allowed me to finish my doctoral thesis. Joined the Washington Post...
Mr. Wattenberg: Which was in political science. Which was in political science?
Mr. Dionne: It was actually in sociology, and one of the reasons was Ďcause I loved the work of Marty Lipset and Nathan Glazer, who was my undergraduate thesis advisor. Nat Glazer was another friend of Martyís and part of his intellectual circle.
Mr. Wattenberg: Coterie, right.
Mr. Dionne: And joined the Washington Post, write a column there, teach at Georgetown, and I work at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Wattenberg: E.J. and Michael, weíve been talking about Lipset and company, that Marty was larger than just one guy. Who were these seven, eight, ten people who would be associated with that group?
Mr. Dionne: I think the original neo-conservatives certainly included Irving Kristol. They included Nathan Glazer. They included Daniel Bell, Jeane Kirkpatrick to some degree, and James Q. Wilson.
Mr. Wattenberg: Michael, you want to pick up a few others?
Mr. Novak: Well, in a way, Robert Nisbett, who was a sociologist. It makes a little difference to talk about where they came from, how they came to this. Iíll do it very briefly. But James Q. Wilson came from California, a suburban environment, but many of the others came from city environments. Many of them were children of immigrants, very close to poverty, but not all. And so theyíre quite different in sociological constitution.
Mr. Wattenberg: Oh, I understand.
Mr. Novak: Daniel Patrick Moynihan had been practically orphaned through his fatherís leaving the family.
Mr. Dionne: Hellís Kitchen.
Mr. Novak: Yeah, and he found his way to Harvard. Harvard, City University, took these young people in.
Mr. Wattenberg: Long before he was a senator, he was on the front cover of Time Magazine as an ad for urbanology.
Mr. Dionne: Right.
Mr. Novak: Well, he was witty, and -- he was witty and quick, and all these people were counter-thinkers. Whatever everybody else was thinking, they were asking, hey, wait a minute. What about this? What about that? And they did it with good humor, usually. I think thatís what helped them to come to public attention and be publicly acceptable. Again, if you looked at their politics, they were far more to the left than Nixonian America was, but they were so smart and so (overlap) -- bring them in.
Mr. Dionne: You know what. You know what was central. People now say a neo-con is somebody who was an architect of the Iraq war, but the neo-conservatives began as liberals who were critical of liberalism and liberal programs. And when you think back to the first issue of the Public Interest Magazine, one of their flagship enterprises, it was about, well, liberalism is a good thing, but itís getting this wrong or that wrong or the other thing wrong. And it was a kind of reaction to what weíve seen as the arrogance of liberalism at a certain period. I think whatís happened is that the neo-conservative movement kind of, people went in different directions. Some people in the neo-conservative movement just became straight out conservatives.
Mr. Wattenberg: Like Jeane did. Jeane Kirkpatrick said, ďIím a conservative.Ē She was traumatized by the events at the Chicago convention, and she just said, ďIím out of here.Ē
Mr. Dionne: Right, and I think what you may have now is an opening for liberals to study what happened 40 some years ago, because I think now, after a long period of conservative dominance. Remember, they came along after a long period of liberal dominance. There is a sense of arrogance and a need to become very databased. I mean, the neo-cons really wanted to subject public policy to very careful databased analysis. I think what youíre going to see is the development on the center left, if you will, of a very similar kind of movement of people who are not necessarily hardcore ideologues, but are skeptical of what the conservative project has done. And so my hunch is, a lot of liberals are going to be going back to the early neo-conservatives to say how did they do what they did, because thereís a need now to do that from the other end of politics.
Mr. Novak: I want to go back to journalism though. You want to start a revolution, start a magazine, somebody attributed to Lenin.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah, Kristol felt that way strongly.
Mr. Novak: Kristol did, but...
Mr. Dionne: You start at least two.
Mr. Novak: But there was Commentary Magazine. They didnít start it, but Kristol and later Norman Podhoretz and...
Mr. Wattenberg: Mitch Decter.
Mr. Novak: Mitch Decter, um, his wife, became terrific writers, but they also published lots of other people, including Marty. People met on the pages of these magazines before they met in person quite often, and the magazines gave them all a kind of identity. I canít imagine even calling it a movement, if it hadnít been these really good magazines to give them visibility and to make them look like friends just by reading it.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah, Iím writing something about neo-conservatives, and itís called Movement, a Tendency, a Persuasion, an Orientation. There are about six words, and nobody can really define it. Iíve gone through dictionary definitions, and every one has got something wrong, and I donít know that anybody can nail the jell-o to the wall. Itís a way of looking at things, subjecting public policy to scrutiny, if it doesnít work, try to fix it. Itís very pragmatic and practical. Itís putting a screen on these things...
Mr. Novak: To give you an example of how it works, one of Irving Kristolís -- Irvingís called the godfather of neo-conservatism.
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Novak: One of his early papers is on how so much of what he learned about America is wrong, what he learned in college and from the magazines, too. And one of them is that the people arenít too the left. If only we could bring more people in. If only we can get closer to people. Thatís where democracy comes from. And he said, look at the referendum movement, and he just laid out some of the referendum. He said theyíre almost usually started by people quite to the left and the results are often very much more conservative than what was in place before. And his point is, thereís a conservative undertow in American life that often isnít represented in our public speech. But I think that was one of the fertile suggestions of what came to be, after the fact came to be called neo-conservatism.
Mr. Dionne: But you know whatís funny about neo-conservatism, of course, the term was invented by a critic of neo-conservatism.
Mr. Novak: Yeah, it was worse (overlap)...
Mr. Dionne: It was invented by Michael Harrington.
Mr. Wattenberg: Michael Harrington.
Mr. Dionne: The great, late great American...
Mr. Wattenberg: And then Irving Kristol decided to glory in it, and he said youíre damn right, thatís what we are.
Mr. Dionne: Thereís a great Irving Kristol line where he says what youíve got to do is just to take your label and run with it. And Iíve actually cited that to my liberal friends a lot, saying why are liberals running away from defending the word liberalism. The neo-conservatives initially wanted to say, we are still liberals. Mike Harrington coined the neo-conservatism term. If Kristol suggests, if youíre not willing to defend your own term, how will you be counted on to defend much of anything else.
Mr. Wattenberg: You know, it...
Mr. Novak: Well, Iíll say, itís important to say Michael made it as an insult.
Mr. Wattenberg: I understand.
Mr. Novak: But conservative is the worst thing you can call an intellectual, there are so few of them who are conservative, and then neo meant theyíre not even real conservatives, like pseudo.
Mr. Wattenberg: But theyíre not.
Mr. Novak: Well, theyíre not because they had a vision of a future. Theyíre different from conservatives because they believe in the importance of an idea of the future and where youíre trying to go.
Mr. Wattenberg: I mean, the clichť was conservatives believe that stop the world, I want to get off. Thatís not what neo-conservatives...
Mr. Novak: Not the neo-conservatives.
Mr. Wattenberg: You know, itís very interesting. Irving Kristol, he said it to me. I assume he wrote it. He said that neo-cons believe in a conservative welfare state.
Mr. Dionne: Right.
Mr. Wattenberg: And, you know, the views and values of traditional values married with those aspects of big government. Nobody wants to see an America without Medicare or...
Mr. Novak: Well, thatís what...
Mr. Wattenberg: ...Medicaid or Social Security. I mean, and itís very interesting. Youíre both familiar with this. When you ask people how they regard themselves ideologically, about 40 percent of them say moderate, and about 30 percent of them say conservative, and 20 percent liberal, and ten unidentified. Well, you know, another buzzword for neo-conservative, and itís a broad spectrum, would be moderate conservative, you know. Does that sound about right?
Mr. Dionne: Well, it is, although I think something happened to neo-conservatism over time, which is, I think it began as a kind of dissenting movement and a kind of questioning movement.
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Dionne: And then in some ways it sort of hardened into an ideology or people shifted out of. Not all people. You know, Moynihan was always, I think, a real neo-conservative.
Mr. Wattenberg: Oh, absolutely.
Mr. Dionne: And Lipset was...
Mr. Wattenberg: And neither Moynihan nor Lipset felt comfortable with the phrase neo-conservative, you know.
Mr. Dionne: Right. But I think it sort of became more and more doctrine. Now if you come to believe the other doctrine, thereís no sin in that, but I think it became something else than it was at its origins, which is why I think there are aspects of the original neo-conservatism that liberals could usefully look at now, because the idea that, well, gee, our best intentions can go awry. The law of unintended consequences...
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah.
Mr. Dionne: ...was one of the central...
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely.
Mr. Dionne: ...neo-conservative truths, and you know, when I was arguing with friends about the Iraq war, neo-conservative friends, I said, look. You guys taught me something very important, which is the law of unintended consequences, and Iím worried that this war is full of potential negative unintended consequences. So I think wherever you are in the ideological spectrum, thereís something especially in the earliest work of the neo-cons thatís actually useful.
Mr. Dionne: Many neo-conservatives, Frank Fukiyama is one, says, ďI donít like the connotations that go with neo-conservatism. Iím going to call myself a Wilsonian realist.Ē Well, you can call me a Wilsonian realist. Thatís that blend, the Scoop Jackson blend of idealism and pragmatism in foreign policy. And I just think itís, I donít want to use the word gutless, but itís silly to say change the label, I mean, particularly to say Wilson.
Mr. Novak: Well, you know, one thing here you have to understand about the initial experience is that most of the people later came to be called and gradually allowed themselves to be called, most uncomfortably for quite awhile, a neo-conservative, is that we started dissenting on certain points, and to our amazement, this meant excommunication from the left and the breaking of friends. That is, friends, people that had been your friends all along, stopped calling you, stopped talking to you. Sometimes wrote mean letters or whatever. So there was a certain internal toughness about it. You have to say whatís necessary to say regardless of the consequences. Practically everybody, not everybody can stand that heat.
Mr. Dionne: Mike talks about sort of bad feelings. We have gone through various periods, now is certainly one of them, where political questions become deeply personal and where politics is in transition. People are switching sides, and you know, my own personal inclination is try never to break with someone over politics unless they become a Nazi or something like that.
Mr. Wattenberg: Good rule. Good rule.
Mr. Dionne: It is a good rule, I think. But these were very serious -- see, these were very serious splits about whether you were talking about Vietnam and all the things that flowed from Vietnam, whether you were talking about attitudes toward the counter-culture, whether you were talking about attitudes toward government. I mean, these were particularly bitter times then and now, and again, I think itís worth looking at the original neo-conservative revolt because I think you now have some of the same sort of friction on the right end of the political spectrum where you also have, just as you had a kind of redefinition going on among liberals where some defected, I think you have some redefinition going on on the conservative side. You donít know whether there will be massive defections as there were the other time. But I think these two eras again, and Marty was the one guy who had to bridge the whole thing.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah. No, he really...
Mr. Dionne: Because he never completely broke with his liberal or left past, but he did journey some way with his neo-conservative comrades.
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely, no question about it.
Mr. Novak: And when I said he was a big man, filled a room, it was true also the way he thought about things. He could have conversations with practically everybody and do it with that scientific spirit that he maintained, the curiosity that he maintained, and without carrying personal grudges about it.
Mr. Wattenberg: Letís listen for a moment to some of the quite remarkable interview dialog that we recorded between Marty Lipset and Pat Moynihan, I think its quite enlightening.
Sen. Moynihan: We are exceptional in that there is not a country, a major country in the world with which we could be compared on which we do not have stationed American military personnel, American bases. The one exception is France, but France is part of NATO, and we have been protecting France for 50years, having liberated the place. We have our armed forces all over the world in a peaceful participation, in a confrontation with the Soviet Union in the end. It began with the German and Japanese empires. That surely is exceptional.

Mr. Wattenberg: Has that ever happened before in history?

Mr. Lipset: I donít think so, but you know, it ties in with another aspect of exceptionalism in the book, that weíre an ideological country, that Americanism is an ideology in the same sense that communism or socialism or fascism are ideologies. Richard Hofstadter once said itís been our fortune or misfortune as a nation to be an ideology. And as part of that ideology

Mr. Wattenberg: Fortune or misfortune.

Mr. Lipset: Yeah, because, you know, being an ideology leads you to want to change the world. And this is something Americans have wanted to do; theyíve wanted to be involved. In many ways, up to 1917, up to the Russian Revolution, we were the center of the world revolution, that is, the democratic revolution. Democratic revolutionaries from all over the world, when they were defeated, when they needed R&R or they needed money

Sen. Moynihan: Came here.

Mr. Lipset: Came here. Sun Yatsen did, Kossuth did, Garibaldi did, and this was the place that they wanted to when we wanted to export our values, our institutions. END CLIP

Mr. Wattenberg: Marty Lipset also wrote about the role of American popular culture in America and around the world. Movies, television, musical comedies, things that have traveled around the world. What do you think? Did that play a role in extending sort of American views and values in a potent way, in a way that changed other societies.
Mr. Dionne: The first thing I think about American popular culture, when you think of it in relationship to the rest of the world, is how it has on the one hand created enormous affection for us, and on the other hand created some substantial opposition to us. You know, among many examples on the plus side, jazz was one of the most subversive things to the Soviet Union and probably one of the most useful things the American government did was to make jazz available. A conservative friend of mine said that they should have pumped in a whole lot of rock and roll before the wall went down. So thereís this kind of attractive subversive quality to American popular culture. On the other hand, some very traditional societies look at American popular culture and say this is a terribly permissive culture. We donít trust that permissiveness.
Mr. Wattenberg: And, and...
Mr. Dionne: And you have both these things...
Mr. Wattenberg: And theyíre both...
Mr. Dionne: ...going on at the same time.
Mr. Wattenberg: And theyíre both right. And theyíre both right, and the interesting thing is, you hear the same thing in the United States. People are saying itís great, and my God, itís destroying children.
Mr. Dionne: But itís always the case that in order to have the freedom, you always need some of the permissiveness. I always used to...
Mr. Wattenberg: I agree.
Mr. Dionne: ...joke about why was Dallas one of the most popular television shows in the world, and it was easy. Because people who loved America, loved your ability to get rich, loved the fact that, you know, people here had a good time, they loved Dallas. People who thought America was an inegalitarian society, a corrupt society, they loved Dallas, too. So everybody on every side of politics could sit down and watch this show and look for something totally different.
Mr. Wattenberg: It mirrored life, you know. Itís not all good. It just isnít.
Mr. Novak: No, it was again instructive. Marty began by pointing out that antagonism, almost loathing for popular culture, was one of the things that alienated intellectuals...
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely.
Mr. Novak: ...from the culture and made them more on the left.
Mr. Wattenberg: And for the longest time, the intellectuals said, ďI wouldnít have a television set...
Mr. Novak: Yeah.
Mr. Wattenberg: ...in my house.Ē But they were missing the American experience.
Mr. Novak: But Marty was among those who began paying more and more attention to popular culture.
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely.
Mr. Novak: And he would see in it things like this, that almost every American movie has as its assumption at the beginning of the show that the main character is not yet what she can be or what he can be, and he or she has to decide. And the struggle of the movie is what they do in these decisions. Thatís the dramatic suspense, and this is astonishing because in most of the world you donít have that chance to create yourself.
Mr. Wattenberg: We did a -- perhaps you remember it, Michael -- a session, an all day session at American Enterprises on American popular culture, and Sydney Pollack, the director of Out of Africa and Academy Award winning director, was our keynote speaker. And he said something which has stuck with me ever since. He said, ďIn American film, the hero shapes destiny.Ē And then he went on. He had a little riff. He said, you know, in France, the first 30 minutes is what kind of baguette should you buy, and you know, what, how did you sleep, and in America, it just goes ďpowĒ! (snaps fingers) Thereís a crisis, and is this man or woman going to be able to overcome it.
Mr. Dionne: You know, in the last five years, Iíve felt always called upon to defend the poor French, but I think they do know something about making movies. And I think that whatís interesting about popular culture now is, I think thereís a real inner penetration. I think that when you, you know, when I lived in Europe, I could watch French movies that were clearly not all that distant from our own sensibility. And I think this American popular culture has shaped popular cultures in other nations, and in turn now, I think more than ever Americans are probably more open to taking a look at other cultures. That thereís a kind of internationalization going on, even if American popular culture, for a variety of reasons, is still probably the most powerful force in that process.
Mr. Wattenberg: Okay. Now letís wrap this up. If each of you could give me a closing comment on this question. Looking back, what were the lasting contributions of Seymour Martin Lipset and the collection of people that gathered with him and around him to American life and possibly greater than that to the global dialogue? Why donít we start with you, Michael.
Mr. Novak: Well, Iíd like to just confine my remarks to Marty himself.
Mr. Wattenberg: Okay.
Mr. Novak: Thatís what I called him, Marty. Iíd just like to say that in my life anyway, he gave a solidity to ideas of politics and sociology and economics that just seemed like the work of a genius. I mean, he just managed to round all those out, round it out in a comprehensible way. It wasnít too filled with jargon, just what was necessary. It had very interesting factual base. I mean, you could, youíd get these little perceptions along the way that met your own experience, explained something youíd been through. For example, he said once in one passage, why do intellectuals identify with the oppressed, and he says, because in America, if youíre intellectual at 14 or so, it doesnít go down so well in the public school. And he says, you get beat up and ostracized, and he says, you never forget that for the rest of your life. And he said intellectuals look back to this period of their lives and feel as if they donít belong. They were made to feel as if they donít belong. Well, you know, thatís a little bit silly in a way, but thereís a lot of truth to it.
Mr. Wattenberg: Oh, yeah.
Mr. Novak: And otherwise, because the point is, people with very good salaries, with a lot of prestige, still feel as if theyíre outsiders. Marty was really good at things like that. And then in addition to being able to put so many things together, he could do it in so many different audiences, to so many different groups, with people with so many different political persuasions. There arenít many people who had all those skills and managed to maintain the friendship, affection, trust of those he dealt with.
Mr. Wattenberg: Absolutely. E.J., Lipset and company.
Mr. Dionne: Well, again, Iíd like to talk mostly about Marty.
Mr. Wattenberg: Please.
Mr. Dionne: I mean, Marty Lipset showed better than almost any sociologist how you could take numbers, bring them to life, and explain a lot of things. Neither be a slave to your numbers, nor destroy them for your own purposes. He showed that if you had intellectual curiosity, you could follow it where it took you and end up producing things of value for lots of other people. He was in the Academy, so he studied professors a lot. He was an American Jew. He wrote a great book about the American Jewish community. His dad was a trade unionist. He wrote a great book about union democracy. You can go down the list where Marty took personal passions and converted them to extraordinary work. And I think the other thing was, he never lost his deep egalitarian impulse that said, you know, Iím an intellectual. I know lots of stuff, but Iím, you know, really fundamentally just like my dad, like the people I grew up with. He never lost that tie, which I think allowed him to write in a way that was sophisticated but extremely direct. You could imagine his talking over the kitchen table to one of his neighbors whom he grew up with and explaining a whole chart in a way that they could understand, that you didnít need a degree in statistics to understand. And as I said, the devotion to democracy, I think, is one of the deepest moral commitments of his life.
Mr. Wattenberg: Okay. On that note we will have to end it, Michael Novak, E.J. Dionne thank you so much for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please remember to send us your comments via e-mail, we think it makes our program better. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.

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