By Larry Diamond
December 6, 2004
Tonight we honor one of the most important modern scholars of democracy, Seymour Martin Lipset. Over a career of more than half a century, Marty Lipset has been one of the most seminal and prolific analysts of the conditions, dynamics, values, politics, and prospects of democracy. His extraordinary output—some 25 books, a similar number of edited volumes, and hundreds of articles and essays—has spanned a range of themes too vast to summarize. His topics have included the origins of socialism, fascism, revolution, protest, prejudice, and extremism; class conflict, structure, and mobility; social cleavages, party systems, and voter alignments; public opinion and public confidence in institutions; and the social conditions of democracy, including economic development and political culture. He has explored each of these topics, and many more, in a lucid and strikingly accessible style, and with a range of works, some comparing across countries and some focusing on the United States.
During the second half of the twentieth century, no one writing about democracy was more frequently cited by other scholars, more often translated into other languages, or more widely read and appreciated, not just by legions of professors and students, but by policy makers and civic activists who were struggling to implement democracy. In both substance and style, no scholar has more strongly influenced the Journal of Democracy.
For over 50 years, Lipset has inspired, taught, and mentored several generations of leading political scientists and sociologists. Their diverse theoretical perspectives and political orientations testify to Marty’s open-mindedness, breadth, and toleration. He has lived his life as he has woven his theories, with a strong belief in reason, moderation, tolerance, pragmatism, and restraint as the bedrock values of democracy and of a decent society.
This core philosophical conviction runs like a silver lining throughout his work and his life. It explains his constant search for equilibrium—between consensus and conflict, between ideological extremes, even between political parties in the United States. It explains his opposition to radicalism and revolution, yet his abiding concern for the need to attenuate inequality. It explains his celebration of the bourgeoisie and the middle class as the social foundations of democracy, and his intellectual drive to understand fascism of both the left and right. We see it in the political theorists who have most influenced him (Aristotle, Tocqueville, Max Weber, and Joseph Schumpeter) and in the American presidents he most admires (George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt). It is apparent in the remarkable way in which he has evinced, throughout his life, pride in the United States—“The First New Nation”—and yet has resisted all forms of chauvinism and ethnocentrism.
Marty Lipset has become justly famous not only for his substantive contributions to the study of democracy but for his commitment to and promotion of comparative studies. No comparison of societies has fascinated and occupied him more than that between Canada and the United States. It is thus entirely fitting, and I know deeply satisfying to Marty, that we honor his lifelong commitment to the study of democracy with a lecture sponsored jointly by institutions representing these two great democracies.