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American exceptionalism : a double-edged sword / Seymous Martin Lipset

Main Author Lipset, Seymour Martin Country Estados Unidos. Publication New York : W.W. Norton & Company, cop. 1996 Description 352 p. ; 25 cm ISBN 0-393-03725-8 CDU 321.01(73)
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Monografia Biblioteca Geral da Universidade do Minho
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BVAS 321.01(73) - L Indisponível | Not available 183309
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

"American values are quite complex," writes Seymour Martin Lipset, "particularly because of paradoxes within our culture that permit pernicious and beneficial social phenomena to arise simultaneously from the same basic beliefs."

Born out of revolution, the United States has always considered itself an exceptional country of citizens unified by an allegiance to a common set of ideals, individualism, anti-statism, populism, and egalitarianism. This ideology, Professor Lipset observes, defines the limits of political debate in the United States and shapes our society.

American Exceptionalism explains why socialism has never taken hold in the United States, why Americans are resistant to absolute quotas as a way to integrate blacks and other minorities, and why American religion and foreign policy have a moralistic, crusading streak.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Publishers Weekly Review

In this dense and extravagantly footnoted study, political scientist and Hoover Institute fellow Lipset (The First New Nation) marshals a daunting amount of material to defend an old but often maligned idea‘that the United States, as a nation "born modern," without feudal baggage, remains (mostly for the better) culturally, politically and economically distinct from the European societies that spawned it. Lipset marches impassively over widely scattered territories here‘the roots of American moralism and utopianism, the difficult history of American trade unionism, the unique experiences of blacks and Jews, the origins of so-called political correctness in the universities‘and much of what he discovers is interesting. But the airless sociological prose and emphasis on opinion polls and "values" surveys may leave nonspecialist readers feeling somewhat oxygen-deprived. Lipset's book is most readable when he examines‘as in his last chapter‘possible gaps between American perception and reality. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Lipset tackles a question that social critics have pondered for many years: American exceptionalism. Using extensive survey data comparing the US to other developed nations, the author seeks to put into context the question of the uniqueness of the US. As Lipset argues throughout the book, American exceptionalism is a double-edged sword characterized by personal responsibility, independent action, and voluntarism, but also by self-serving behavior and disregard for communal values. Lipset guides the reader through a vast array of comparative survey data that document American uniqueness. He shows that high US crime rates reflect an American individual commitment to achievement by whatever means are available. Although this book's strength is its comparative focus through survey information, that is also its weakness. Lipset often accepts survey data unquestioningly, without probing its weaknesses. The result is an uneven book that provides an interesting overview of the data, including chapters on marginal groups in America, e.g., blacks, Jews, intellectuals, which the author labels as exceptions to his thesis. However, the reader is left wondering whether anything has been added to the debate on American exceptionalism. Undergraduates and above. P. Seybold Indiana University-Bloomington

Booklist Review

Defining exceptionalism as "qualitatively different," not "great," Lipset here analyzes attitudes characteristic of American society. He has been doing so for 40 years and here collects and connects his recent articles about what distinguishes America from comparable industrial societies in Canada, Europe, and Japan. Lipset argues that the social pathologies many deplore (crime, litigiousness, a nonsocialist medical system) are a consequence of values they presumably approve, such as individualism, populism, and laissez-faire. That's the double-edged sword, which Lipset swings through copious quantities of polling and survey data. Among other things, these show Americans are the most religious people in the West by far; that intellectuals as a class are not, and are more alienated from the market system than the bulk of people who believe it works; and that blacks and whites see racism in black and white. So whereas the William Bennetts inveigh against a crisis in morals, Lipset claims our social ills have a pedigree extending back past the 1960s, back to anti-statist instincts from the Revolutionary/Jeffersonian period--a thesis sociologically inclined readers will be interested in evaluating. --Gilbert Taylor

Kirkus Book Review

Noted political analyst Lipset (Public Policy/George Mason Univ.; Jews and the American Scene, 1995, etc.) argues compellingly that both the defects and advantages of American society arise from the same values. While the US has exercised tremendous influence over Western countries since WW II, Lipset argues, it remains exceptional: Americans are more religious, more patriotic, more populist, more egalitarian, more likely to volunteer, less likely to vote, more prone to divorce, and wealthier than citizens of other developed countries. Lipset asserts that these seemingly contradictory qualities result from several traits that have characterized America from its founding: a commitment to competitive individualism and self-determination; a deep anti-statist orientation; and a tendency toward populism and egalitarianism. What has emerged from this mix is a genuinely ``liberal'' society in the classical sense: Even those called conservatives in our political lexicon are committed to individualist and egalitarian principles that would have marked them as radicals in 19th-century Europe. The moral foundation of public affairs in America has resulted in an ideological, crusading approach to foreign policy, while the commitment to individualism has resulted in high crime and divorce rates. Lipset makes an interesting comparison between two ``outlying'' countries: America, with its feeling of ``exceptionalism'' and Japan, with its sense of ``separateness'' In contrast to Japan, Lipset notes, America remains a heterodox, competitive, individualistic society. He points out that the same moral concerns that produce America's high rate of patriotism also produce opposition to war, and that the ``conservative'' counterrevolution of the 1980s and '90s has roots in traditional ``liberal'' mistrust of government and belief in the primacy of the individual. A well-reasoned analysis of the unique and self-contradictory values of American society, which underlie both our extraordinary success and our perceptions of moral decline.

Author notes provided by Syndetics

Seymour Martin Lipset: March 18, 1922 - December 31, 2006 American political theorist and sociologist, Seymour Martin Lipset, was born in New York City on March 18, 1922, and educated at City College of New York and Columbia University. Lipset taught at a number of universities, including the University of Toronto, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, and Stanford University. A senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, he was also a member of the International Society of Political Psychology, the American Political Science Association, and the American Academy of Science.

Among Lipset's many works are "Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics" (1960), "Class, Status, and Power" (1953), and "Revolution and Counterrevolution" (1968). He also contributed articles to a number of magazines, including The New Republic, Encounter, and Commentary. Lipset has received a number of awards for his work, including the MacIver Award in 1962, the Gunnar Myrdal Prize in 1970, and the Townsend Harris Medal in 1971.

Lipset died on December 31, 2006, as a result of complications following a stroke. He was 84.

(Bowker Author Biography)

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