Lipset, Seymour Martin 1922-2006

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Lipset, Seymour Martin 1922-2006

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born March 18, 1922, in New York, NY; died of a stroke, December 31, 2006, in Arlington, VA. Sociologist, political scientist, educator, and author. An eminent political sociologist, Lipset was renowned for his groundbreaking work in studying American society and how the unique history and character of the nation influenced the course of its politics. The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, he was born in Harlem and grew up in the Bronx. His parents wanted him to study dentistry, so that he could eventually take over his uncle’s practice. After one year in college, however, Lipset became more interested in history and politics. While at the City College of New York, he was drawn to the active student socialist community there and became a member of the Young People’s Socialist League. Among this group were such future luminaries as critic Alfred Kazin, political journalist Nathan Glazer, and sociologist Daniel Bell. Lipset graduated in 1943, and by this time had become fascinated with a sociopolitical problem: why had the United States so stringently resisted becoming a communist country when Karl Marx had predicted it would be the first nation to convert to this political model? To better understand this problem, he traveled to neighboring Canada to study how its government and society differed from that in the United States. He analyzed the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan, Canada’s most prominent leftist party at the time, and compared it with America in his classic work Agrarian Socialism (1950). The issue was further explored in such volumes as The First New Nation (1963) and North American Cultures: Values and Institutions in Canada and the United States (1990). Meanwhile, Lipset completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1949 and taught at the University of Toronto in the early 1950s. He then joined the Columbia University faculty, where he was assistant director of the Bureau of Applied Social Research. Moving on to the University of California at Berkeley in 1956, he directed its Institute of International Studies from 1962 to 1966. Over the years, Lipset became more conservative. Though still a Democrat, he was one of the first prominent scholars associated with the neoconservative movement. He came to understand that it was the American belief in the importance of individualism that made the United States resistant to communism; indeed, the politics of the country even prevented a major socialist party from successfully forming. Lipset discussed in clear, jargon-free prose his many conclusions and theories in his important most work, Political Man (1960), which was later expanded as Political Man: The Social Basis of Politics (1981). Here he covered topics ranging from industrialization and social hierarchies to public opinion and democratic ideals. A nominee for the National Book Award, it was published all over the world and sold over four hundred thousand copies. He would be nominated for a second National Book Award for The First New Nation: The U.S. in Historical and Comparative Perspective (1963; 2nd edition, 1981). Lipset would later teach at Harvard, where he was George D. Markham Professor of Government; from 1975 to 1992 he was a professor at Stanford University, retiring as Caroline S.G. Munro Professor. A former president of both the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association, he would become active in the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation as he reconnected with his Jewish roots. Deeply concerned about the conflicts in the Middle East, he was a former president of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East and the Progressive Foundation, chaired the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Aurora Foundation, and was cochair of the executive committee for the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. Among his other important publications are Revolution and Counterrevolution (1968; revised edition, 1988), Opportunity and Welfare in the First New Nation (1974), The Confidence Gap: Business, Labor, and Government in the Public Mind (1983), American Exceptionalism: A Double-edged Sword (1996), and It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (2000).



Times (London, England), January 11, 2007, p. 60. New York Times, January 4, 2007, p. A21.

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Lipset, Seymour Martin 1922-2006

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