January 9, 2007
Seymour Martin Lipset, renowned social scientist, dies
By Lisa Trei
Seymour Martin Lipset, a Hoover Institution senior fellow and former Stanford political science professor who was regarded as one of the most influential social scientists of the late 20th century, died of a stroke Dec. 31, 2006, in Arlington, Va. He was 84.
Plans are pending for memorial service on campus within a few weeks.
Lipset studied the nature of political extremism and how the core American values of equality and achievement keep class conflict in check. He also first explained the connection between economic development and democracy, an insight that earned him attention from journalists, policymakers and academics.
Lipset "really tremendously strengthened the links between sociology and political science at Stanford and the comparative study of democracy," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. "The lineage of CDDRL [Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at the Freeman Spogli Institute] owes a lot to his seminal presence." Diamond said Lipset was instrumental in bringing him to the Hoover Institution in 1985. He also credits the Hoover's former director, Glenn Campbell, for inviting Lipset to join the institution as a senior fellow in 1975.
"He was not a traditional conservative, and he gave Hoover a lot of breadth," Diamond said.
In 2004, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the University of Toronto inaugurated the annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World. "The lecture is named for one of the great democratic scholars and public intellectuals of the 20th century," the NED says on its website. "Seymour Martin Lipset's scholarship on such themes as the conditions for democracy, political parties, voting behavior, extremist movements, ideologies and public opinion constitutes one of the most prolific, insightful and widely read bodies of work on democracy ever produced by a single author." The lecture is published each year in the NED's Journal of Democracy, which Diamond co-edits. In a tribute to Lipset when the series was launched, Diamond said, "During the second half of the 20th century, no one writing about democracy was more cited by other scholars, more often translated into other languages, and more widely read and appreciated not just by legions of professors and students, but by policymakers and civic activists who were struggling to implement democracy."
Journalists also valued Lipset's insights. In 1996, Martin Walker of London's Guardian newspaper wrote that Lipset was "one of America's most useful intellectuals." In a review of American Exceptionalism, Walker wrote, "More than any other figure, with the possible exception of John Kenneth Galbraith, he plausibly explains to us baffled aliens why you Americans are so very odd. He tackles the really interesting questions that seldom seem to occur to the rest of you; why America never developed a serious socialist movement; why you exhibit almost Iranian levels of religiosity; why Canada is so different; and why you so hate turning out to vote but so enjoy joining voluntary organizations."
Lipset was born in Harlem, N.Y, on March 18, 1922, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. In 1943, he graduated from City College of New York, where he was an anti-Stalinist leftist and became national chairman of the Young People's Socialist League. In 1960, he left the Socialist Party and became a centrist, stating his opposition to radicalism and revolution. According to Diamond, Lipset upheld "the bourgeoisie and the middle class as the social foundations of democracy." He was deeply influenced by political theorists such as Aristotle, Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt.
Diamond, who jointly taught a seminar on democracy at Stanford, said Lipset had a laser-like focus. Steve Stedman, a Freeman Spogli Institute senior scholar who was Lipset's research assistant in 1979, recalled an incident when the professor dumped his pipe into a trashcan next to his desk while going over corrections to a draft manuscript. "Pretty soon another RA [research assistant] and I smelled smoke and went looking for the source," Stedman wrote in an e-mail. "As we entered his office we saw flames and smoke pouring out of the trashcan. We grabbed a pitcher of water and doused the fire; all the while Marty continued to go over the corrections of his manuscript."
Lipset's many publications included The Democratic Century (2004); It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (2001); American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (1996); Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada (1990); and Jews and the New American Scene (1996). One of his early books, Political Man (1960), which received the MacIver Prize, sold more than 400,000 copies and was translated into 20 languages. The First New Nation (1962) was a finalist for the National Book Award, and another book, The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America 1790-1970 (1970), won the Gunnar Myrdal Prize.
At the time of his death, Lipset was a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a professor emeritus at George Mason University. From 1975 to 1990, he was Stanford's Caroline S. G. Munro Professor of Political Science and Sociology. He also taught at the University of Toronto, Harvard, Columbia and the University of California-Berkeley. Lipset is the only person to have been president of both the American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association. He also served as the president of the International Society of Political Psychology, the Sociological Research Association, the World Association for Public Opinion Research and the Society for Comparative Research.
Lipset was honored with awards for his scholarship, including the 1993 Marshall Sklare Award for distinction in Jewish studies. He was a member of National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in which he served as vice president for the social sciences. Lipset also was director of the United States Institute of Peace and was active in other national organizations.
Lipset's first wife, Elsie Braun Lipset, died in 1987. He is survived by his second wife, Sydnee Guyer Lipset of Arlington, Va.; three children from his first marriageDavid of St. Paul, Minn., Daniel of Cambridge, Mass., and Cici of Palo Alto; and six grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the National Endowment for Democracy to support the annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture at: National Endowment for Democracy, Attn: Maria Fleetwood, 1025 F Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20004. Donations also may be made to support the Seymour Martin Lipset Library Endowment Fund at the American Political Science Association: Contributions/APSA, 1527 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036.