"Democracy" needs no introduction. And to many of our readers, neither does Seymour Martin Lipset, whose inquiry spans half a century of momentous political and intellectual developments. More than any other name, Lipset's is synonymous with scholarship on democratic governance--its preconditions, challenges, and prospects. Thus we are indeed honored to present this issue of Extensions highlighting Lipset's life-long devotion to the vocation of instructing generations of democratic aspirants around the globe.
We begin the issue with excerpts from three lectures by Lipset, presented in November 1997 for the biennial Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture in Representative Government at the University of Oklahoma. Lipset's first lecture focuses on a subject that has animated his work from the 1950s onward--the conditions for democracy. Here Lipset charts the role of economics, education, religion, and culture on the emergence and maintenance of democracy. Notably, he builds upon the work of Samuel Huntington, whose Rothbaum Lectures formed the basis for an award-winning book, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century.
Lipset's second lecture compares the democratic trajectories of North America and Latin America by applying the factors discussed in the first lecture. Lipset observes the dramatic differences in colonial legacy, religious culture, economic structure, and development in the Americas. These factors highly favored democracy in North America and inhibited it in the Latin South. But Lipset ends with a tempered optimism about democracy in Latin America, noting the convergence of favorable conditions that should finally allow democracy to take root.
In his final lecture Lipset turns from broad social and economic factors to the role of individual leaders. Here he notes that the fortuitous emergence of charismatic leaders at crucial junctures can play a decisive role in the consolidation of fledgling democracies. The exemplar, of course, is George Washington, whose role in solidifying American democratic norms is unappreciated by contemporary scholars, according to Lipset. Lipset shows that Washington consciously and judiciously employed his charismatic stature to build support for the new regime at its most fragile moment. Thus Lipset reminds us that individuals remain "independent variables" in the march of democracy.
Lipset's remarks are followed with articles by distinguished scholars who review his contribution to our understanding of democracy. The first piece, by Larry Diamond and Gary Marks, provides a crisp overview of Lipset's work, especially its focus on the comparative study of democracy around the world. They highlight the prescience of Lipset's Political Man, which has endured remarkably well in the face of rigorous empirical tests and global developments. They conclude that this and other achievements illustrate the power and insight that come from "comparison in the study of society."
Mildred Schwartz turns to Lipset's first work, Agrarian Socialism, his published 1950 dissertation that focused on the remarkable phenomenon of socialist political success in the wheat-growing Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Schwartz shows how Lipset's study of agrarian radicalism inaugurated his life-long inquiry into connections between socialism and democracy. Schwartz's narrative takes elegant turns as she describes the lessons that emerge from this inquiry. Under the right circumstances radical social movements can contribute to democracy; in turn, only democracy can rescue them from oligarchic tendencies.
This observation dovetails with the analysis by Michael Goldfield, who provides a retrospective analysis of Lipset's path-breaking Union Democracy. Goldfield shows how the classic study of the International Typographical Union (ITU) bears all the marks of "vintage Lipset"--a crucial research question, meticulous research, and sweeping theoretical insight. Lipset's analysis of internal democracy in the ITU, as Goldfield shows, wears well after forty years. But Goldfield also nicely summons his own scholarship on unions to critique and update Lipset's work. More democracy operates within unions today than when Lipset wrote Union Democracy, Goldfield notes, owing in part to the kind of left insurgencies that in the past had not been allowed to exist.
The concluding essay by historian John Patrick Diggins traces a constant thread in Lipset's work: American exceptionalism. In a provocative and wide-ranging essay, Diggins anchors Lipset's most recent work, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, in the broader intellectual tradition of which Lipset was a vital part. While Lipset's early career "isolated America" from certain presumptions of European scholarship, Diggins shows how Lipset's latest work illuminates the burdens of American uniqueness. Thus, each of the enduring characteristics of American life--such as individualism, populism, or egalitarianism--presents a double-edge sword. But while lauding Lipset's lifelong effort to "explain America to itself," Diggins implies that Lipset, like the Academic Left he criticizes, still listens too much to the "muses of Europe."
In summary, it seems clear that stunning events around the globe have
helped refocus political science on its fundamental roots in the concern
for democratic government. No living scholar has provided as much insight
in that enterprise as Seymour Martin Lipset. And we are delighted to provide
a distillation of that insight for readers of Extensions.