Seymour Martin Lipset
Seymour Martin Lipset
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American Exceptionalism:  A Double-Edged Sword
ISBN: 0393316149
American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword
Professor Lipset discussed his book, "American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword," published by W.W. Norton and Company. He talked about the differences between the United States and other nations in positive ways, such as freedom and social equality, and in negative ways, such as crime and racism.
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TRANSCRIPT
American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword
Program Air Date: June 23, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Seymour Martin Lipset, in your book, in the foreword you write, "I will confess that I write also as a proud American." Why did you have to say that?
SEYMOUR MARTIN LIPSET, AUTHOR, "I WILL CONFESS THAT I WRITE ALSO AS A PROUD AMERICAN": Because a lot of people who write books these days, a lot of intellectuals, are not proud Americans, and I think there's probably more, well, you know -- as a nation, we're experiencing a tremendous wave of cynicism about American society, and a large part of that cynicism comes from the elite that project ideas, values, information. And while they obviously don't have a uniform sets of ideas, I think it is true that there's probably more cynicism in the media elite and the intellectual elite than in the public at large.
LAMB: What makes you proud of America?
LIPSET: I'll tell you something of what I'm proud of in the book. I think it's a country which has done pretty well. We're the most democratic country in the world, which people don't know. You know, an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union couldn't exist in almost every other country -- Canada now can -- because it exists, because we have a Bill of Rights. And the British don't have a Bill of Rights; the French don't have a Bill of Rights. And, in fact, the democratic governments of Europe have much more power to arbitrarily interfere with people.

During the student revolt in '68, Dani Cohn Vandieter, who was one of the leaders of the revolt, was booted out of the country by de Gaulle in three hours. He had no recourse. There's no court that he could have sued in to defend his rights. And our democratic rights of free speech, assembly and the like, which are greater here than any other country have been expanding, thanks to various decisions of the Supreme Court. We're a country where social class differences, not economic differences -- obviously, are very great and even increasing. But as Tocqueville pointed out many years ago, there's more social equality in America; that is, that people, in dealing with each other, there's more respect given to people because they're people, regardless of rank and status. And this, again, I regard as a good thing. And so that there are a lot of aspects.

Now there are a lot of bad things about America. The subtitle of my book is "A Double-Edged Sword," and by that, I mean to imply that American exceptionalism and the way America is different -- it's different in good ways and it's different in bad ways. In spite of the fact that the crime rate's going down, we have a higher crime rate than other countries. We have a lower voting rate than other countries. So that you can point to all sorts of things about this country which I think most people would agree are not good, and a lot of things which are good. And the good things, I think, in general, outweigh the bad in my judgment, but one could argue the other way.
LAMB: Where have you lived in your lifetime?
LIPSET: Well, mostly in the United States. I spent three years in Canada. At different times, I spent a half a year in Germany and a half a year in Britain. I guess those were the longest stays -- I've been to Japan ...
LAMB: What took you to Germany?
LIPSET: Oh, I was giving a course. I was teaching, actually, at the Free University in Berlin. I've been there on shorter stays, but that was my longest stay in Germany.
LAMB: And what took you to Canada?
LIPSET: Well, originally, my first book and study was a study of a book called "Agrarian Socialism," which was published, I think, in 1950. That was my doctoral dissertation at Columbia. And what happened was, I was a young socialist at the time. I was interested in the question, which I still am, of why the United States is the only country the only industrialized country which doesn't have a significant socialist movement or labor party. And Canada, which hadn't had one, suddenly developed one. Then was a cooperative commonwealth federation, and they won an election in the province of Saskatchewan and formed a government. And I thought at that time, I thought Canada was more like the United States than I now think it is. And I did a book about Canada and the US, and I pointed out a lot of differences between them which I think helped explain why Canada has a socialist party of some significance. But in any case, I got a fellowship and went up to Saskatchewan for a year and studied the party, the government and so on, and ended up with a book called "Agrarian Socialism."
LAMB: You were a young socialist?
LIPSET: Right.
LAMB: How did that happen?
LIPSET: How did it happen? Well, I guess I can explain in part how it happened. I grew up in the Bronx, in New York. At the time, my father was a printer who was in the typographical union, an organization I also did a book about, and he was a socialist of some kind. He wasn't very active in that, but it was a Jewish working class area, and really, the dominant atmosphere around there was socialist. In fact, there was a park about a block away from where I lived where, on weekends, the men used to gather near Union Square in New York and stand around people who were arguing and discussing. And the people who were arguing were communists, socialists, anarchists, Trotskyists, Lufstinites, every variety of leftist you could think of, and I think one never heard about Democrats or Republicans, though most of them probably voted that way.
LAMB: What did it mean to be a socialist?
LIPSET: Well, it meant at that time -- and this was in the middle, late '30s, when I was active, when I was in high school -- it meant that one thought that a lot of the problems -- and at that time, there were tremendous economic problems -- mass unemployment -- my father was unemployed on and off for most of the Depression -- was the result of the system we called capitalism, and that the notion -- I thought, grossly simplified -- that you could solve these problems by the government controlling the economy and that part of the problem was caused by the fact that businesses have to make profits and that profits don't continue indefinitely, and this leads to -- well, the whole question leads to its recurrent unemployment and depressions and so forth, and that the solution to depressions was something called socialism. Of course, there were other factors, negative things, around, like Nazism and the Spanish Civil War and the like. And at that time, as I say, the tensions -- it's hard to recall, if we can recall it -- not that hard; it's easy. I was, in my career, when I was a leftist, on what we know as the anti Stalinist left, the Trotskyists, socialists, anarchists, people who regarded the Soviet Union as a terrible place and were bitterly opposed to the Communists. And so we spent a lot of our time -- probably more time fighting the Communists than we did fighting the capitalists, or fighting the Democrats or Republicans.
LAMB: Where would you put yourself on the political spectrum today?
LIPSET: Oh, a moderate Democrat. I have an affiliation with the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council, and with its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.
LAMB: In what way?
LIPSET: Well, I'm supposed to be a senior scholar of the Progressive Policy Institute, and they don't ask me to do very much, but what I do, in writing about politics or society, I identify with them. And I've done things for them. I did some in the book. I did a pamphlet on the affirmative action, which I think is chapter four or five in the book. I did another thing for them on social democratic parties around the world and what's happened to them politically, and left wing movements. I've taken part in various conferences and meetings.
LAMB: This is the same group that Bill Clinton and Al Gore and Dick Gephardt all started back in '84 '85?
LIPSET: Right. Yeah. Clinton was head of it for two years. And I don't think it's a secret that the DLC is not very happy with him, and probably vice versa.
LAMB: Where do you teach now?
LIPSET: Well, I did teach for a long time at Stanford; before that, at Harvard. But I retired from Stanford a few -- well, I was close to retirement from Stanford, and George Mason University in Virginia offered me a job. They were starting a new public policy school, and they offered me a position which seemed to be good, and also, I had never written about politics all my life, but I've never lived in Washington prior to this stint at George Mason, and so I thought coming to Washington would be interesting. Then I have a wife who I -- my first wife died, and my second wife is a fourth generation San Franciscan who thinks, however, New York and Washington are much better places to live than San Francisco, which is the kind of thing that would shock both Easterners and Westerners.
LAMB: You write in here about college professors, and you talk about some studies that show that college professors are -- a lot of them are atheists. Why is that?
LIPSET: Well, intellectuality, it's a curious phenomenon. I've tried to explain in things I've written about and studied about professors and intellectuals why they're -- in the United States -- tend more to be on the left than other groups. I've not thought too much about why they're atheists. It ties in, I suppose, with the conditions which make them leftists or make them sympathetic to different kinds of leftist ideologies. Whether there's an inherent tension, a rationale, an emphasis on intellectuality, on creative scientific creativity and belief in God, it seems empirically to be so, but I don't know that one could argue it. There are plenty of religious scientists and other intellectuals, but I think compared to any other stratum in the population that academics and intellectuals are more irreligious.
LAMB: I wrote down a lot of things that you write about, and how we're different than others. And, by the way, define "American Exceptionalism."
LIPSET: Well, the term, as you know, was coined, actually, by Alexis de Tocqueville in his justly famous book "Democracy in America." And Tocqueville, who was here in the 1830s, said America's is exceptional, by which he meant that it's qualitatively different than European countries, and particularly his native country of France. And then he listed all sorts of ways in which it is different. And many of the ways in which Tocqueville stressed the differences are still true, and a lot of those he didn't stress have become true, and some have declined. For example, we're an ideological country, a thing which Americans don't realize, since they take their country for granted. But the United States was founded around an ideology. It was contained in the Declaration of Independence. And we talk about "Americanism." An Americanism, in the sense of the American creed is an "ism," an ideology, in the same sense that liberalism or communism or socialism are "isms." It's a set of values, a set of doctrines about the content and nature of the good society, and we've projected this on a population.

We fight ourselves as to what we mean by Americanism, but we have some unity about the notion that there are various American values. We talk about people not being American, by which we mean that they don't believe in the American creed; they don't follow it. Now one doesn't talk about people being German or Swedish or British, and the reason is that the other countries all other countries are historical countries. What defines them is that there are people who live in the same areas, have a common culture, a common history, but not a common ideology, not a common value system. There was another ideological country, and that was called the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union, as you know, broke up. But we as an ideological country, we were, and to some degree still are, a revolutionary country; that is, we think that the rest of the world should be like us -- not be part of us, the way, say, the Soviets thought of it, but to be like us.

I've put it, before 1917 -- that is, the time of the Russian revolution -- Washington was what Moscow was. That is, Washington was the center of the world revolution. And people who wanted to create democratic societies in Europe and overthrow the monarchy, overthrow dictatorships, would come to the United States for R&R. Garibaldi, Kossuth, Sun Yat Sen, all came here to rest up be in between the revolutions in their own country, but also to raise money. They'd go on national tours, and Americans would hail them and give them money because we thought Hungary or China or wherever should become a democratic country. For a long time, we were very ambivalent about Canada, because we had this notion -- they were somehow still under, unfortunately, the British monarchy, and this is a bad thing and should end.

So that we -- beyond this aspect of what Americanism is in terms of different aspects of it -- are also the only Protestant sectarian country in the world. Tocqueville noted back in the 1830s that Americans were much more religious than other peoples, and he was surprised at this. And if you read a lot of the foreign traveler literature, those books written by Europeans, mainly, who've come to the United States, that's an invariable comment they make -- they can't understand how a country can be so religious. You raised the question about the atheism of the intellectuals, but what strikes these visitors is, they don't find atheists in America, whereas there are plenty of atheists back home. Well, if you look at the data that we have now and we have abundant survey data, public opinion data, the Americans go to church much more than people in other countries. They're more likely to believe in God. Ninety five percent of them or more say they do. They believe -- 50 percent of them say they believe in the devil and heaven and hell and angels and so on. You ask these same questions in Europe, and you get 5 percent, 10 percent.

The nature of our Christianity is different from that of Europeans. The majority of Americans belong to what are known as the sects -- the Protestant sects -- you know, Methodists, Baptists and hundreds of others. The overwhelming majority of Europeans belong to the churches, which were state related, hierarchical institutions -- Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox -- and the churches are hierarchical. Parishioners are supposed to listen to what they're told by the hierarchy. The nature of the sects is that parishioners are supposed to read the Bible and make their own decisions. They hire their ministers, and the church, and they are deacons -- have to raise their own money. In the state churches, priests and pastors are and were civil servants. The Anglican Church, if you go to Britain, the Church of England is the state church. The churches are empty, literally empty. Almost nobody goes to church in the Anglican Church. Methodists and Baptists do. But the vicars get their money. They're civil servants. And this is true in a number of ...
LAMB: How about Ireland? Is it the same thing in Ireland?
LIPSET: No, Ireland is different. I mean, there's a state Church, but Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe where you have a high degree of Ireland and Poland, and Poland's gone way down since the Communists were overthrown, are two countries where there's strong religious involvement. But in those two countries, Ireland and Poland, the Church was an organization around which nationalism, a national identity, was organized. It resisted, in one case, Protestant rulers; in the other case, Communist rulers. So the Catholic Church in those countries maintained a great deal of strength.
LAMB: What about in Israel? Are the rabbis paid by the state?
LIPSET: No. The rabbis themselves are not, but in Israel, the religious schools, the yeshivas, get money from the state. This was and still remains a controversial issue, though the rabbis are not paid, no.
LAMB: Let me ask you about chapter five. "A unique people in an exceptional country." And you start off by saying, "If African Americans are perceived as close to the bottom of the stratification system, Jews are seen by friend and foe alike as near or at the top." Tell us more about that.
LIPSET: Well, Jews in America have been remarkably successful. They're economically, politically and intellectually. If you look at the data -- and there's an abundant amount of it -- a lot of this is the kind of data that you'll find anti Semites, who fortunately are relatively quite small in this country in spite of getting a lot of attention, will point to -- 25 percent of the Forbes 400 are Jewish. You find that the average income per capita income of Jews is higher than any other major identifiable ethnic group in the United States.
LAMB: I've got the list here. I am on the page.
LIPSET: Sure.
LAMB: I'll just read a little bit of it so we can be talking from the same list. "These include the leading intellectuals, 45 percent; professors at major universities, 30 percent; high level civil servants, 21 percent; partners in the leading law firms in New York and Washington, 40 percent; the reporters, editors and executives of the major print and broadcast media, 26 percent; the directors, writers and producers of the 50 top grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982, 59 percent." I could go on.
LIPSET: Right.
LAMB: What's your point? How does that happen?
LIPSET: Well, it's an interesting question. I think Jews work harder. Well, I'll backtrack a moment. First of all, what I think characterizes Jews is an extreme dedication to work and rationality, intellectuality, mutual support and the like. Now a lot of this relates to their experiences in the Middle Ages -- when Jews were in Christian Europe, they were the minority. They were the only non Christians, and they were put in behind ghetto walls. And this created a situation where they were also barred from certain occupations. Most people were on the land. Jews weren't allowed to own the land. But on the other hand, Christians were not allowed to lend money for interest. That was defined as usury. So you got a situation where the only people who could lend money and sort of engage in a kind of banking were people who weren't Christians, and the only people who weren't Christians were the Jews. So the Jews became the money lenders and the people involved in things.

They also were involved in all sorts of artisan occupations because, again, the Christians were largely on the land. They were literate when very few Christians were -- until the Protestant sects came along. One of the obligations in Judaism is that every male has to be literate if he's religious, and they all were religious then -- he has to read the Bible every day. He has to study it. The Jews gave the prestige, honor, deference to people who showed intellectual ability in reading the Bible, in interpreting the Bible so that a lot of that emphasis on religious intellectuality got secularized into secular intellectuality. And given the fact that they were in a hostile environment, they developed a norm of saying that Jews have to be very cautious. For example, Jews drink a lot less than non Jews, and part of this is related to the fact that if you drink and you're surrounded by hostile people, if you get drunk, you can get in trouble. And so there was pressure from Jewish parents on kids not to work hard, study, not drink and the like, all of which contributed to their success in business, success in intellectual activities, and this has carried over in this country. And, of course, in the United States in Europe, Jews, until relatively recently, faced bans, restrictions on what they could do. The United States has been a totally open society to Jews since it existed.

In fact, one of the great documents, I think, of the United States is a letter which George Washington wrote in 1790 to a synagogue in Newburyport in Rhode Island, Truro Synagogue. They had written him a letter congratulating him on taking over the Presidency, and he wrote back saying how happy he was that Jews were part of the United States. And in 1790, when Jews had no rights anywhere, except to some degree in France, he criticizes the idea of tolerance, saying that Jews are not tolerated in America -- he doesn't use these words, but this is basically what he says -- that tolerance is an invidious concept. You tolerate other people. The Jews are Americans as much as anybody else and have the same rights as every other group in America.
LAMB: You say that Margaret Thatcher, when she was in the House of Commons, represented ...
LIPSET: The most Jewish district in Britain, yeah.
LAMB: Did she do that on purpose?
LIPSET: Yeah. She picked it, essentially. Now Thatcher is both an Americaphile -- that is, she loves America, and she also loves the Jews. And love is too strong a term, but she had about five or six Jews in her Cabinet. In fact, The Economist once had a story I remember reading when somebody new was appointed to the Thatcher Cabinet, and they said he was a typical Thatcher person: self made, red brick and Jewish. And she's been president of the Anglo Israel Society for a long time. She's also president of the institution in London for the study of the US and is in very involved in that.
LAMB: You say that the nation has 2.5 percent of its population Jewish?
LIPSET: Right.
LAMB: Is that higher or lower than it's been in history?
LIPSET: It's lower. The highest point in terms of estimates was about 3.5 percent, 3.7 percent. It's been going down for two reasons. One is the birth rate. Jews have a very low birth rate, about 1.1 percent, I think, which is quite a low reproduction. The other thing is an extremely high rate of intermarriage. There was a very good survey done of Jews in 1990. It was called Jewish Population Survey, which started out with doing a random digit dialing, calling 125,000 people to locate 2,500 Jews randomly. And among the other things that they reported that was in the previous five years -- that is, between '85 and '90 -- something like 55 percent, 57 percent of all marriages involving a Jew were with a non Jew, and while there's a certain amount, maybe 25 percent, 30 percent of non Jews who marry Jews who convert, most don't, and their children tend, in any case, not to be raised as Jews or not very strongly, and then to marry other non Jews, so that the combination of a low birth rate and a very high later rate of intermarriage is reducing the identified Jewish population.
LAMB: Contrast that with your the first sentence I read. "If African Americans are perceived as close to the bottom of the stratification system" -- and that previous chapter was all about blacks and whites in this country -- "Jews are seen by friend and foe alike as near the top." Why are the blacks and the African Americans close to the bottom of the stratification?
LIPSET: Well, for one thing, they, of course, came -- they're the only group in the United States who didn't come here voluntarily or they were kicked out of elsewhere. They were dragged here as slaves. They were slaves until 1865, and basically until the 1960s. Most of them, those in the South, lacked political rights and were held down economically. So that, in effect, blacks have only entered American society, to compete within the society and to learn how to compete and so on, and to be helped by the society -- what is it? -- 60 -- 35 years. And it's from that point of view, it's not surprising that they are on the bottom. And besides having faced Jim Crow in isolation, the overwhelming majority of blacks were, in effect, peasants lived in rural areas. They had no skill; their level of education was very bad. And people coming out of a peasant background, regardless of the kind of -- worse in an urban area. It takes them two or three generations to catch up.

That was one of the Jewish advantages, by the way, that Jews in Europe were much more urban. They, again, had to live in cities. They couldn't live on the land, so that they could deal with cities and the requirements of city life. Blacks, like Poles, if you take Polish -- a lot of the Jews came from Poland, but a lot of Polish Christians were largely peasants -- and they also didn't do well. I mean, they did much better than the blacks, and by now they're doing quite well, but it took them a couple of generations to get over this handicap of being rural people in an urban area. One of the problems that Chicanos face today is the same thing: they're peasants who have come to an urban society. Well, that's part of it, but then there's, of course, the fact that the whole tradition of racism is a real thing. It didn't disappear in 1960. The position of the blacks has improved, actually. As one of the things I suggest in the book is that there has, in fact, been a tremendous improvement in the position of the blacks since the since 1960, not only politically, but economically as well. But it still leaves a lot of them -- most of them, perhaps -- considerably behind the average white population and certainly far behind the Jews.
LAMB: But you do say here that you quote Henry Louis Gates as saying that "never before have so many blacks done so well." And then you suggest that the black leadership never acknowledges the progress.
LIPSET: That's right. Well, it's part of a general pattern. If you want more -- that is, if you're a trade union leader, if you're a feminist leader, if you're a black leader if you acknowledge that you've got a lot, that reduces the value of the argument that you need more. And the black leaders are constantly emphasizing how bad the situation is, how little progress has been made, just as a lot of the women leaders do, when in fact now, as I said before, they're certainly far from equal, but they also are certainly have improved the situation tremendously from what it was. But they don't want to acknowledge it.

And there have been studies made in which samples of black leaders have been interviewed, whether there's been progress made in the last 10 years or whatever, and invariably, the large majority of them say, "No, there has been no progress," or, "There's been retrogression." At different times, when the black population has been interviewed, the majority of them say there has been progress and that their personal situation is better. Now that's varied with the social economic conditions. During recessions, blacks suffer worse than others, and so blacks will not say it's better. But on the whole there's a gap between what black leaders say the situation of blacks is and what the average black American says it is.
LAMB: There's one sentence I always wanted to ask you about. "The American left, from Jefferson to Humphrey, stood for making equality of opportunity a reality." Is Thomas Jefferson of the left?
LIPSET: In his day, he was. What one means by the left -- the left has changed over time and varies from country to country, but if you divide, politically, groups between those who are trying to push for a more egalitarian society -- I would say, what characterizes the left moderate from the right is that the left is presses more for -- that is, nobody wants an absolute egalitarian. And Jefferson, who was the founder of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Republicans -- they were the more egalitarian party. The Federalists, which were the party of Alexander Hamilton, were -- I don't want to say conservative, but less egalitarian.
LAMB: On the same thing about the left, you have a subchapter saying, "Television's Distorting Picture," and you write, "There can be little doubt that the predominantly left views of reporters affect the way the news is presented." Do you think it affects the way people vote?
LIPSET: Probably somewhat. Though I also make the point, if I cannot amend that in the book, that the biggest bias of the media is not left or right, but bad news; that is, the good news is not news. If planes land, nobody reports that; if a plane crashes, it's news. And that's, of course, true for everything. So that what you get, if you watch the news or read the news is, it can a steady dose of bad news -- of negative information. If take the economy -- we have all these stories about downsizing of major corporations. We don't have stories about up-sizing namely, the growth of all sorts of new companies. I I spend a lot of time out in the San Francisco Bay area, and Silicon Valley these days is a kind of economic paradise. That tremendous new companies opened up. You read the San Jose Mercury News and they're begging for workers. And this is true in a large part of the country.

It is also not true what you read in the media that the new jobs are all bad jobs. In fact, the meticulous study of new job creation -- we have many more new jobs than any other country in the world, by far is that most of them are good jobs. It's not true that most of them -- there are certainly bad jobs among them -- but the good news is somehow not reported much. The bad news is reported. The New York Times ran a series recently about downsizing, which I think is just wrong. And most economists think that it's in terms of a picture of what is happening in the economy.

But I think somehow you think this is what will get readers' attention, what will get viewers' attention. And, of course, television is a much more effective conveyor of the news, good and bad, in terms of influencing people's attitudes than the print media, because the print media -- you can think is biased. You know somebody's writing something for you. Television, you think you're seeing the truth, and so if television shows you pictures of bad things happening, you're much more likely to believe it and react to it than from the print media. And so the growth of television as the conveyor of news has, I think, increased our malaise.
LAMB: I tried to count the number of books that you list here, and I got either 21 or 22 that have been written since 1950, when you started out with "Agrarian Socialism," to 1995, "Jews in the New American Scene," with Earl Rabb or Robb.
LIPSET: Rabb.
LAMB: Rabb. What is the number? What book is this?
LIPSET: I don't know.
LAMB: Well, what audience were you writing for and when did you get the idea to write this book?
LIPSET: Well, in one sense, I've been writing it all my life -- or all my literate life -- because the term American exceptionalism, as I've said earlier, applies generally to that America is different. But the most striking form of American exceptionalism -- and some people even think that that's what the term means -- that the United States is the only country which doesn't have a socialist party or a labor party, and that was the same as my original interest when I did my first study, and I've had this sense or knowledge that America was different particularly politically and in terms of stratification and so on, and I've been interested in trying to explain it and understand it. And I've argued, as have a lot of people, that the only way to understand the country and try to study a country is compared to other countries; that a person who knows only one country doesn't know any country because you're not sensitized to what is unique, what is different, what is special about your country.

So that one of the things -- I wrote a book over 25 years ago called "The First New Nation: The United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective," and in that book, I compared the United States as a developing country, in part, to other developing countries today. Ironically, one of the reviewers -- in fact, the reviewer of the book in The New York Times -- at the end of his review, criticized me, because in this book I didn't compare the United States to the developing countries. Well, I can say I did it in an earlier book. But I did a book some years ago on Canada -- I've done a lot of work on Canada. In fact, I can claim to be fairly exceptional or unique in that respect, because Americans just ignore Canada. You know, Canada is regarded as somehow another minor league United States; it's not very interesting, not very different, and people will say, "As boring as Canada." I think there was somewhere a reference to Al Gore that he seems almost like he's a Canadian, that he is boring.

I find Canada, however, a very interesting country precisely because there were two countries that came out of the American Revolution, the United States and Canada. Canada is the country of the counterrevolution, where the revolution failed, which remained the monarchy, which retained the state church and so on. And hence, that was part of my early efforts and continuing efforts to explain the United States by looking at the way Canada and the United States differ, one having retained the monarchy, respect for the state, much traditionalism, and the United States is quite different. And in this respect, a number of my books and articles have been about trying to understand different aspects of the United States.
LAMB: Let me list a bunch of things that you have in your book -- United States, highest crime rate; most incarceration, people in prison; most lawyers per capita; the lowest percentage of eligible voters; the highest rate of voluntary organizations; the wealthiest country; the most productive country; highest population in college; commitment to work; least egalitarian income distribution; and the lowest provisions of welfare, the lowest to provide welfare. Pick any one of those, and let's see, well, let me just pick one out of here. Let's say the wealthiest country. How do we compare to Japan?
LIPSET: Oh, we're wealthier in terms of real income; that is, in terms of consumption. You know, there's a debate, because there are two ways at least two ways of measuring income. One is by exchange rates in that you know, how many buy many yen do you buy. And if you do it in exchange rates, in terms of the dollar, then the United States doesn't come out wealthier. However, if you do it in terms of consumption, of real income, of what standards of living and what you can buy with money, the United States is $4,000 or $5,000 per capita wealthier than Japan.
LAMB: How about the rest of the world? Anybody ...
LIPSET: Nobody, no. Well, I'll take that back. Some of the Arab, oil rich sheikdoms are wealthier, but there it's not produced by. It's just that they have oil, and the oil gives them this abundance.
LAMB: Most prisoners in jails in this country than anyplace else in the world. Why?
LIPSET: Well, this reflects, I think, two things. One is the fact we have a higher crime rate than other countries. The other is that we put more emphasis on the law and on state attempting to get respect for the law. Then you get into this question, "Why do we have a higher crime rate?" And while there's no definitive answer to this, one which has been suggested by some sociologists, which I think makes a great deal of sense and that's related to the wealth, is that we're a country which has always placed a great emphasis on meritocracy, on getting ahead, on achievement; in which we say everyone should be equal, everyone is equal in starting out. And, hence, if you don't succeed, you've failed personally. So there is this kind of drive to succeed.

European societies, Japanese societies, are post feudal societies. They come out of a tradition of very fixed class lines, where people inherited class position. And while those have broken down in varying places, they're stronger or weaker -- the emphasis on achievement, on personal achievement, is weaker in these societies. And if you have this great emphasis on achievement, it, in effect, says you should win by hook or by crook. I'm not quite sure what hook is, but crook we can understand. Or Leo Durocher's comment, "Nice guys finish last." This is a very American statement. On the other side, Lord's Cricket Club in London says, "It matters not who wins the game; it matters how you play it." Now this is the motto of aristocracy, who people who've won the game 300 years ago, they don't emphasize winning. We emphasize winning, and winning by, as I say, by hook or by crook.

So that if Americans don't have the means to get ahead -- they haven't had enough training, enough education, enough whatever -- they're more likely to violate the law. I think to some degree, perhaps, the fact of our being an immigrant society and some of the tensions of that has contributed to crime, but any rate, we have higher crime and, therefore, higher incarceration. And this aspect of talking about crime illustrates this double edged character, that the same sort of thing which made people get ahead, work hard, also makes for greater crime. So you have the two sides of the thing. Or if you take the question of inequality of income, we're when we're such an egalitarian country, how come much less egalitarian countries, in terms of their social image, have more equality?

Well, I'd suggest the reason is that we emphasize, again, the prize-winning and that the people who win should be rewarded. We have a star system, which has sort of developed in the United States -- exists everywhere. And there's a push from the bottom. You know, Americans at the bottom don't resent people higher up who get paid a lot more than they are. If you look -- it's an amazing thing -- but you find in the opinion polls that people will not be critical; in fact, they'll agree with the differentiated income thing because they think that if not they themselves, their children will get there.
LAMB: You've got on the differences between countries -- let me read this. "Outside the English speaking countries, there is not much of a voluntary tradition. In fact, the modern state in Europe and Japan has been openly hostile to anything that smacks of volunteerism." And that's Peter Drucker's quote that you have in here. Don't people volunteer for things in Japan and Europe?
LIPSET: Oh, they do, but much less than here.
LAMB: How much less?
LIPSET: Well, I don't know ...
LAMB: Is it significantly less?
LIPSET: Oh, yeah. In fact, I have a table in the in the book from the World Values Study of membership in voluntary associations, and the proportion of people -- if I remember correctly, something like eight only 18 percent of Americans don't belong to any organization.
LAMB: Yeah, and 64 percent in Japan don't belong.
LIPSET: Yeah. Right.
LAMB: Sixty four percent in Italy, 47 percent in Great Britain. You point out real early in the book, de Tocqueville talked about this business of voluntary organizations. When did you first get interested in Alexis de Tocqueville?
LIPSET: Good question. Oh, I think it wasn't until -- oh, by the late '50s. I know, because I did a book called "Political Man," which was my most successful book in terms of sales and attention and so on.
LAMB: The reason why I ask is that, of the BOOKNOTES we've done, this is the 70th book that's talked about Tocqueville for some reason or another. It seems to be that he's talked about today as much as ever. Why has he survived all these years?
LIPSET: Well, because so much of what he had to say still seems accurate and still seems to characterize the United States. You know, like this emphasis on religion or the way he defines equality and stresses it -- or discussions of populism or of federalism. But one of the amazing things about Tocqueville is, he spent nine months here in, I think, something like 1835, and never came back. And so the book was based on a nine month visit, plus reading. And yet, that book turned out to be the most influential sociological work ever done on this country.
LAMB: Well, when he came here, he was 25.
LIPSET: Yeah.
LAMB: Well, how could a 25 year old come to this country -- and why did his work, compared to all the others that you know -- you've mentioned some of them survive?
LIPSET: I know. Well, you have to say that he was smarter or something. He interviewed; he first came with a question. His question was, why did the United States -- at that time, it was the only democratic country in the world. It was very much more exceptional. His own native country of France had had a revolution to create democracy, and it had failed by the time he was here. So his question really was: Why did the United States have a stable democracy? What was it? So he looked at everything. He looked at things about the political system. He looked at the religious system. He looked at voluntary associations. He says -- not in the book, but in his notes -- that he never wrote a word about the United States without thinking about France.

There's actually a very interesting book put out by a man named George Pearson, who was an editor -- a historian at Yale, called "Tocqueville and Beaumont in America." Beaumont was a friend of Tocqueville's who was with him on the trip. And it's a very thick book, and he went through Tocqueville's notes and reproduces a large sections of things which are in his notes which aren't in the book. And Pearson's book, which I recommend, I think should be required reading for social scientists, particularly reporters, of how one does observation, how one checks insights against the facts. And Tocqueville, trying to answer this question, "Why was the United States different?" sort of looked at all these things and came up with these interpretations. He was struck by the nature of American religion. He was struck by these voluntary associations. He was struck by federalism.

You know, the one fascinating little tidbit in the notes book: his father was a prefect in France, sort of equivalent of the kind of man who ran a local district, had a lot of power. And Tocqueville writes back to his father saying that all his life he had heard that France was a highly centralized country, which it was and is compared to the United States, but he said he'd never thought much about it until he came to the United States and suddenly looked at a decentralized country. And then he realized that he didn't really know much about France. That is why he writes back to his father and asks him to explain various things about how the French system works. His father sits down and writes a 200 page memorandum to Tocqueville, explaining centralism, prefects, the power structure in France. Well, having that kind of research assistant also helped a great deal in his doing it.
LAMB: You were earlier talking about the travelers, and you mention Garibaldi and Sun Yat sen and ...
LIPSET: Oh, Kossuth.
LAMB: Kossuth. Who were they?
LIPSET: Well, Garibaldi was, of course, an Italian revolutionist who played a major role in the unification of Italy. Kossuth was a Hungarian.
LAMB: What year did Garibaldi ...
LIPSET: Oh, Garibaldi was around 18 -- well, Italy unified in 1870, so he was here probably before that.
LAMB: So he came to visit -- and you say on R&R.
LIPSET: Yeah, and also to raise money. And Sun Yat Sen, I think, was here after the turn of the century, around 1900. Kossuth ...
LAMB: And who was Sun Yat Sen?
LIPSET: Oh, he was Chinese revolutionary. The first president of the republic of China, 1911. He helped lead the fight for the overthrow of the empire and so forth. And Kossuth was a Hungarian who wanted to break down the Austro Hungarian monarchy. But there were a lot of Poles and others who came here -- they were foreign travelers, of course, but most of those people, they were activists, didn't write the books, but there were a lot of books written about the United States by intellectuals -- usually, obviously, by people who were upper class, and they had money to come and spend a year or two or three or four.

Apropos the Jews, you mentioned earlier there was a Polish prince -- I think it was Kosciusko; I'm not sure -- who spent about four or five years in the United States before the Civil War and wrote a lot of articles about the United States back home, and he was interested in Poles in America -- there was not as many as later and he included among the Poles the Polish Jews. And he noted that the Polish Jews were doing very well economically. And so he writes back to Poland about what a treasure we have, and this is ironic, given what happened to the Jews in Poland. He writes back, saying he had never realized what a treasure we have in Poland, because 10 percent of the Polish population was Jewish. And he says, "Once Poland becomes a free country, the Jews will make us rich, because we have these people who work hard, who know business, who know how to develop an economy. And you see that they're in a free country in America, and they're doing very well. Once Poland becomes a free country, the Polish Jews will lead the country into abundance." Well, this was not exactly the point of view that developed in Poland.
LAMB: You mentioned this earlier -- what is the American creed?
LIPSET: Well, the American creed can comprise a number of things. One is, of course, an emphasis on egalitarianism; another, populism and the rule of the people; the third -- which is very important in terms of the debates going on in Congress -- is anti statism. The American revolutionists, the founders, distrusted the state. You know, Jefferson said that government governs best which governs least,. These are elements which are part of the belief system of America.
LAMB: Explain -- then you mentioned that Jefferson was of the left.
LIPSET: Right.
LAMB: And if you were to apply the same thing that you just said today, you would find that the conservatives over here are the ones that are the anti statists?
LIPSET: Yeah. That's an interesting and important point. The American ideology, and this leftism -- what was known as liberalism at the time. Well, the word "liberal" came into existence some time later, but basically it was what came to be known as liberalism. The original meaning of liberalism, not just in the United States and Europe, was anti-statism, was anti-monarchy, anti mercantilist, was for a free society in which people were not only free socially and free politically, but were also free economically to do anything they wanted, and without any restrictions on them by the state. The conservatives in Europe and in Canada believed in a monarchy and a strong state, in mercantilism and hierarchy, so that the difference between the left and the right was -- where the left was anti state, anti-monarchy, anti hierarchy, for separation of church and state, the conservatives were for a strong state.

Now later on, the right was for a strong state; the left was for a weak state. And that was true in the United States, though our right was never like the European right. Well, the point which has been made by many people is that we never had conservatism in America; that is, what we call conservatism, Europeans always called liberalism. Friedrich Hayek, who's one of the gods of the Reagan Friedman ideology, Friedrich Hayek would knock your head off if you called him a conservative. Hee was an Austrian. Conservatives are people who believe in the emperor, believe in state church, believe in a strong state. He was a liberal. He insists in that sense America was a liberal society without conservatives. Now the American ideology was this classically liberal ideology.

In H.G. Wells -- who was a Fabian and wrote social analyses, not just some of his novels -- H.G. Wells wrote a book about the United States, I think, in 1906, called "The Future in America," in which he says that there are two parties missing in America that exist in Europe. "There's no socialist party, but also," says Wells, "there's no conservative party in America. Both American political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, if they were in Britain," he said, "would be part of" what was then a large party, "the British liberal party." They'd be the left and right wing of the liberal party. And this is still true. The Democrats are not socialists; the Republicans are not conservatives in the European sense. And a lot of European conservatives find the ideology of the Republicans offensive. Conservatism in Canada has been statist. Brian Mulroney, who was the last conservative -- well, minus Kim Campbell, who served for a couple of months in 1988 -- during the campaign said, "The welfare state is part of Canada's sacred heritage." This is the leader of the Conservative Party saying this. Now if you can imagine Ronald Reagan or even George Bush saying it, you have a much better imagination than I do.

And this fact that your conservatism in the European sense of statism has not been present in America is again something that people don't understand. And hence, if you compare the United States to Europe today, we have the weakest welfare state. We're debating the budget. We're debating taxation. Well, the deficit in the United States is the lowest deficit in the developed world. We have a smaller deficit as a percentage of the Gross National Product, which is the only way to measure it, than any other country. The British, the Japanese come close. We have the lowest tax rate. We're the least taxed people. You know, we're now yelping about the increase in the price of gas, but gas in Europe is $2.50 to $3 a gallon, because most of it is taxes. In the United States a big part of the gas price is taxes, but in much less than other places. The taxation in the number of European countries is 50 percent or more; in the United States, it's the high 20s -- or in fact, I find when I tell this to some of my Republican friends, they get very angry. They won't believe it. They say, "Oh, you're not counting state and local taxes." Well, I am, or the people who produce these figures do. And the fact is that we're not taxed highly, compared to other countries.
LAMB: We have just a few moments left. Let me just ask you about this statement. I just pulled this out of context. "Annual per capita consumption of distilled spirits was five gallons in 1830, almost five times what the average American consumes today." You mean they used to drink a lot more?
LIPSET: Yup. That's what the record seems to show.
LAMB: Does that surprise you?
LIPSET: Even opium -- even drugs, there were various kinds of drugs which were in greater circulation then than now.
LAMB: In your foreword, you talk about a lot of foundations -- Bradley, Donner, Earhart, Ford, MacArthur and Olin Foundations. Have they all, over the years, supported you?
LIPSET: Yeah. I've gotten money from all of them.
LAMB: That's all over the political spectrum. I mean, why would all the way to the left and the right support your work?
LIPSET: I don't know. I write them a letter or send them a proposal, and part of it I is that these foundations are not giving money for political reasons. Presumably, they have some respect for the project I've proposed or the work that I've done, but I think that I confuse people. In fact, Michael Harrington, who was the leader of the Democratic Socialists and who was a friend of mine, once said of me, he finds me the most difficult person in the United States to place politically. But he and I don't know. Irv, my friend Irving Kristol, also complained about my being a centrist and ...
LAMB: By the way, where did you get your undergraduate and your ...
LIPSET: At City College.
LAMB: In New York.
LIPSET: Yeah. Where I was -- well, Irving Kristol is a couple of years older than me, but we were both in the City College alcoves, in the anti-Stalinist ...
LAMB: What about your Ph.D.?
LIPSET: Columbia.
LAMB: What was the dissertation you talked about?
LIPSET: Oh, it was "Agrarian Socialism." It was the study of the Canadian Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.
LAMB: This is what our book looks like that we were talking about tonight, "American Exceptionalism," and our guest has been Seymour Martin Lipset. And we thank you very much.
LIPSET: Thank you.


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