Memorial Tribute to Seymour Martin Lipset

NED President, Carl Gershman

I want to welcome everyone to this memorial tribute celebrating the life and work of Seymour Martin Lipset – our dear friend Marty.  Since Marty died two months ago after a long illness, there has been an enormous amount written about him.  Much of it, of course, dwells on his scholarship and his monumental contribution to our understanding and appreciation of democracy, and we shall hear more of that this morning.  But I am struck by how many times people have emphasized Marty’s personal qualities.  In this regard, let me just quote briefly from messages we received from three people who could not be with us today.  Earl Raab calls Marty “the model of…kindness to others….a friend to his friends” and “a friend to anyone who needed a friend.”  Juan Linz writes that Marty was “a teacher, a mentor, a co-author, and above all a friend,” adding that Marty once picked him up when he was down and helped him start working again.  Theda Skocpol writes that Marty was so “much loved” by “a huge number of students” that “He will reverberate through their lives and work, and through those of their students after them, for a long time…”

We’ll hear this morning from ten of Marty’s friends who knew him especially well, starting with Francis Fukuyama and Don Kash representing SAIS and George Mason University, the two co-sponsoring institutions along with the NED.  I might note here that we are grateful to Jim Finkelstein of George Mason for his support for this event, and to Richard Solomon of the US Institute for Peace, for assembling the collection of articles about Marty that you have before you.  I also want to recognize and thank Paul Rich, who has organized and endowed the Lipset Library at the American Political Science Association; as well as Marty’s student Lianchao Han and Frank’s student Drew Helene who are working on a website of Marty’s work.  Returning to our program this morning, after Frank and Don speak to us, we’ll see a short video of Marty talking about some of his favorite themes, and then we’ll hear from Bill Schneider, Karlyn Bowman, Max Kampelman, Marc Plattner, Irving Kristol, Michael Barone, Tom Edsall, and Larry Diamond. We’re grateful to all of them for being with us today.  We have planned this program in close consultation with Sydnee Lipset, whose extraordinary devotion to Marty somehow grew even deeper during his illness, and whose strength, love, and courage are an inspiration to all of her friends.

Before Frank begins the formal program, I’d like just to say a brief word of my own about Marty.  As everyone knows, Marty’s pioneering comparative work began with his attempt to understand why the socialist movement out of which he came was so much weaker in the United States than in other industrial democracies.  As it happens, I was Chairman of the Young People’s Socialist League three decades after Marty had the same position, and just around the time he was beginning to produce and assemble a vast literature explaining the weakness of the socialist movement in this country.  You might reasonably ask what I was doing there three decades later, long after history had already passed its judgment on American socialism and when the movement was even weaker than in Marty’s day, but that’s another story.  In 1974 Marty co-edited a 750-page volume called Failure of a Dream? with a question mark, which I read from cover to cover.  The issue of  “why no socialism” was so much on my mind that I used to console myself by thinking, half jokingly to myself, that Marty had discovered a new sect of “Wino Socialists” somewhere on the Bowery among alcoholics.

Far from being discouraged by reading Marty, I found myself awakened with a new understanding of America and how its exceptionalism embodied many of the democratic ideals that brought us into the socialist movement in the first place, though it also had its drawbacks, which Marty was always quick to point out.  Marty was a patriot but never a triumphalist.  I thought of all this in re-reading an article Marty wrote about a decade ago defending the NED during one of its periodic crises in the Congress.  He mentioned a gathering we had organized of democrats from around the world and how it signified that America had once again become “the center of a global democratic revolution,” as it had been during the 19th century when foreign activists were drawn to our shores for support and inspiration.  He attended a ceremony at the conference honoring four activists from Russia, Rwanda, and Mexico and wrote that “to see and to listen to them was an emotional experience.”  Marty was unsurpassed as a dispassionate analyst of America and of democracy, but he was just as much a passionate believer in our country and its underlying principles at the end of his life as he was at the beginning.  That’s why we not only learned from Marty but also loved him.

We’ll now hear from Marty’s colleague and our host, Frank Fukuyama