Seymour Lipset

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Seymour M. Lipset
Seymour Martin Lipset

(1922-03-18)March 18, 1922
DiedDecember 31, 2006(2006-12-31) (aged 84)
Academic background
Alma materColumbia University
Academic work
DisciplinePolitical science, sociology
Sub-disciplinePolitical behaviour, political sociology
School or traditionBehaviourism
Main interestsModernization theory, Cleavage theory
Notable works

Seymour Martin Lipset (/ˈlɪpsɪt/ LIP-sit; March 18, 1922 – December 31, 2006) was an American sociologist and political scientist. His major work was in the fields of political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion, and the sociology of intellectual life. He also wrote extensively about the conditions for democracy in comparative perspective. He was president of both the American Political Science Association (1979–1980) and the American Sociological Association (1992–1993). A socialist in his early life, Lipset later moved to the right, and was considered to be one of the first neoconservatives.[2][1]

At his death in 2006, The Guardian called him "the leading theorist of democracy and American exceptionalism";[2] The New York Times said he was "a pre-eminent sociologist, political scientist and incisive theorist of American uniqueness";[1] and The Washington Post said he was "one of the most influential social scientists of the past half century."[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Lipset was born in Harlem, New York City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants.[4] He grew up in the Bronx among Irish, Italian and Jewish youth. "I was in that atmosphere where there was a lot of political talk," Lipset recalled, "but you never heard of Democrats or Republicans; the question was communists, socialists, Trotskyists, or anarchists. It was all sorts of different left wing groups." From an early age, Seymour was active in the Young People's Socialist League, "an organization of young Trotskyists that he would later head."[5] He graduated from City College of New York, where he was an anti-Stalinist leftist.[4] He received a PhD in sociology from Columbia University in 1949. Before that he taught at the University of Toronto.

Academic career[edit]

Lipset was the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science and Sociology at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and then became the George D. Markham Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. He also taught at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Toronto, and George Mason University where he was the Hazel Professor of Public Policy.

Lipset was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the United States National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.[6][7][8] He was the only person to have been President of both the American Political Science Association (1979–1980) and the American Sociological Association (1992–1993).[1] He also served as the President of the International Society of Political Psychology, the Sociological Research Association, the World Association for Public Opinion Research, the Society for Comparative Research, and the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Society in Vienna.

Lipset received the MacIver Prize for Political Man (1960) and, in 1970, the Gunnar Myrdal Prize for The Politics of Unreason.

In 2001, Lipset was named among the top 100 American intellectuals, as measured by academic citations, in Richard Posner's book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.[9]

Academic research[edit]

"Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy"[edit]

One of Lipset's most cited works is "Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy" (1959),[10] a key work on modernization theory on democratization, and an article that includes the Lipset hypothesis that economic development leads to democracy.

Lipset was one of the first proponents of the "theory of modernization", which states that democracy is the direct result of economic growth, and that "[t]he more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy."[11] Lipset's modernization theory has continued to be a significant factor in academic discussions and research relating to democratic transitions.[12][13] It has been referred to as the "Lipset hypothesis"[14][15] and the "Lipset thesis".[16]

The Lipset hypothesis has been challenged by Guillermo O'Donnell, Adam Przeworski and Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson.

One of the debates as to how exactly how democracy emerges, is between endogenous or exogenous democratization. Endogenous democratization holds the argument, that democratization happens as a result of the countries previous history leading up to that point. So here economic development and expansion of the middle class play a crucial role. A proponent of this viewpoint is Charles Boix and Susan C. Stokes.[17] Exogenous democratization on the other hand argues, that democratization happens as a result of external factors, such as the zeitgeist of pro-democracy political movements seen across the world from the third wave of democratization[18] up until the 1990s. According to Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi, the reason for the correlation between economic wealth and democracy is for the simple reason, that once a country have transitioned to a democratic rule, it have a much better chance of stay democratic if it is wealthy where as poor countries most often fall back into autocratic rule.[19]

Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics[edit]

Political Man (1960) is an influential analysis of the bases of democracy, fascism, communism ("working class authoritarianism"), and other political organizations, across the world, in the interwar period and after World War II. One of the important sections is Chapter 2: "Economic Development and Democracy." Larry Diamond and Gary Marks argue that "Lipset's assertion of a direct relationship between economic development and democracy has been subjected to extensive empirical examination, both quantitative and qualitative, in the past 30 years. And the evidence shows, with striking clarity and consistency, a strong causal relationship between economic development and democracy."[2] In Chapter V, Lipset analyzed "Fascism"—Left, Right, and Center, and explained that the study of the social bases of different modern mass movements suggests that each major social stratum has both democratic and extremist political expressions. He explained the mistakes of identifying extremism as a right wing phenomenon, and Communism with the left wing phenomenon. He underlined that extremist ideologies and groups can be classified and analyzed in the same terms as democratic groups, i.e., right, left, and center.

Political Man was published and republished in several editions, sold more than 400,000 copies and was translated into 20 languages, including: Vietnamese, Bengali, and Serbo-Croatian.[3]

"Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments"[edit]

In this 1967 co-authored work with Stein Rokkan,[20] Lipset introduced critical juncture theory and made a substantial contributions to cleavage theory.

The Democratic Century[edit]

In The Democratic Century (2004), Lipset sought to explain why North America developed stable democracies and Latin America did not. He argued that the reason for this divergence is that the initial patterns of colonization, the subsequent process of economic incorporation of the new colonies, and the wars of independence varied. The divergent histories of Britain and Iberia are seen as creating different cultural legacies that affected the prospects of democracy.[21]

Public affairs[edit]

Lipset left the Socialist Party in 1960 and later described himself as a centrist, deeply influenced by Alexis de Tocqueville, George Washington, Aristotle, and Max Weber.[22] He became active within the Democratic Party's conservative wing, and associated with neoconservatives, without calling himself one.[23][1][24]

Lipset was vice-chair of the board of directors of the United States Institute of Peace,[25] a board member of the Albert Shanker Institute, a member of the US Board of Foreign Scholarships, co-chair of the Committee for Labor Law Reform, co-chair of the Committee for an Effective UNESCO, and consultant to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the American Jewish Committee.

Lipset was a strong supporter of the state of Israel, and was President of the American Professors for Peace in the Middle East, chair of the National B'nai B'rith Hillel Commission and the Faculty Advisory Cabinet of the United Jewish Appeal, and co-chair of the Executive Committee of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. He worked for years on seeking solution for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict[25] as part of his larger project of research on the factors that allow societies to sustain stable and peaceful democracies. His work focused on the way in which high levels of socioeconomic development created the preconditions for democracy (see also Amartya Sen's work), and the consequences of democracy for peace.[26]


Lipset's book The First New Nation was a finalist for the National Book Award. He was also awarded the Townsend Harris and Margaret Byrd Dawson Medals for significant achievement, the Northern Telecom-International Council for Canadian Studies Gold Medal, and the Leon Epstein Prize in Comparative Politics by the American Political Science Association. He received the Marshall Sklare Award for distinction in Jewish studies and, in 1997, he was awarded the Helen Dinnerman Prize by the World Association for Public Opinion Research.

Personal life[edit]

Lipset's first wife, Elsie, died in 1987. She was the mother of his three children, David, Daniel, and Carola[1] ("Cici"). David Lipset is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He had six grandchildren. Lipset was survived by his second wife, Sydnee Guyer (a director of the JCRC),[4] whom he married in 1990.

At age 84, Lipset died as a result of complications following a stroke.[1][22]

Selected works[edit]

  • "The Rural Community and Political Leadership in Saskatchewan." Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 13.3 (1947): 410–428.
  • Agrarian Socialism: The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan, a Study in Political Sociology (1950), ISBN 978-0-520-02056-6 (1972 printing)
  • editor, The Third century : America as a post-industrial society (1979) online
  • The Confidence Gap: Business, Labor, and Government in the Public Mind (1983) online
  • Consensus and Conflict: Essays in Political Sociology (1985) online
  • Unions in transition: entering the second century (1986)
  • editor, Revolution and Counterrevolution: Change and Persistence in Social Structures (1988)
  • Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada (1989)
  • "Liberalism, Conservatism, and Americanism", Ethics & International Affairs vol 3 (1989). online
  • "The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited." American Sociological Review Vol. 59, No. 1: 1-22. (1994) online
  • Jews and the New American Scene with Earl Raab (1995)
  • "Steady Work: An Academic Memoir", in Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 22, 1996
  • American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (1996) online

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Martin, Douglas (January 4, 2007). "Seymour Martin Lipset, Sociologist, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Marks, Gary (January 11, 2007). "Seymour Martin Lipset: Scholar of democracy driven to understand American society". The Guardian.
  3. ^ McGovern, Patrick (January 14, 2010). "The young Lipset on the iron law of oligarchy: a taste of things to come" (PDF). The British Journal of Sociology. 61 (Suppl 1): 29–42. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4446.2009.01283.x. PMID 20092476.
  4. ^ a b c Enskenazi, Joe (January 14, 2007). "Remembering Seymour Lipset, 'most cited' political scientist". Jerusalem Post. JTA. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  5. ^ G., Jesús Velasco (2004). "Seymour Martin Lipset: Life and Work". The Canadian Journal of Sociology. 29 (4): 583–601. doi:10.2307/3654712. JSTOR 3654712.
  6. ^ "Seymour Martin Lipset". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  7. ^ "S. M. Lipset". Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  8. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  9. ^ Posner, Richard (2001). Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00633-1.
  10. ^ Lipset, Seymour Martin. Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. The American Political Science Review, Volume 53, Issue 1 (1959): 69-105.
  11. ^ Lipset, Seymour Martin (March 1959). "Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy". The American Political Science Review. 53 (1): 69–105. doi:10.2307/1951731. JSTOR 1951731. S2CID 53686238.
  12. ^ Diamond, Larry Jay (2002). "Thinking About Hybrid Regimes". Journal of Democracy. 13 (2): 21–35. doi:10.1353/jod.2002.0025. S2CID 154815836.
  13. ^ Zakaria, Fareed (1997). "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy". Foreign Affairs. 76 (6): 22–43. doi:10.2307/20048274. JSTOR 20048274. S2CID 151236500.
  14. ^ Czegledi, Pal (January 5, 2015). "The Lipset Hypothesis in a Property Rights Perspective". SSRN 2573981.
  15. ^ "Harvard Kennedy School" (PDF). Retrieved March 11, 2023.
  16. ^ Korom, Philipp (2019). "The political sociologist Seymour M. Lipset: Remembered in political science, neglected in sociology". European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology. 6 (4): 448–473. doi:10.1080/23254823.2019.1570859. PMC 7099882. PMID 32309461.
  17. ^ Boix, Carles; Stokes, Susan C. (2003). "Endogenous Democratization". World Politics. 55 (4): 517–549. doi:10.1353/wp.2003.0019. JSTOR 25054237. S2CID 18745191.
  18. ^ Democracy's Third Wave
  19. ^ Przeworski, Adam; Limongi, Fernando (1997). "Modernization: Theories and Facts". World Politics. 49 (2): 155–183. doi:10.1353/wp.1997.0004. JSTOR 25053996. S2CID 5981579.
  20. ^ Lipset, Seymour Martin; Rokkan, Stein (1967). "Cleavage structures, party systems, and voter alignments: an introduction". In Lipset, Seymour Martin; Rokkan, Stein (eds.). Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives. The Free Press. pp. 1–64.
  21. ^ Seymour Martin Lipset and Jason Lakin, The Democratic Century. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004, Part II.
  22. ^ a b Sullivan, Patricia (January 4, 2007). "Political Scientist Seymour Lipset, 84; Studied Democracy and U.S. Culture". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  23. ^ See John Richards, "Seymour Lipset" in David E. Smith, ed. (2007). Lipset's Agrarian Socialism: A Re-examination. University of Regina Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-88977-205-2.
  24. ^ Goldberg, Jonah (May 20, 2003). "The Neoconservative Invention". National Review. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  25. ^ a b Spencer, Metta (April 2007). "Seymour Martin Lipset 1922–2006". Peace Magazine. 23 (2): 15. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  26. ^ Spence, Metta. "Lipset's Gift to Peace Workers: On Getting and Keeping Democracy"

Further reading[edit]

  • Falter, Jürgen W. "Radicalization of the middle classes or mobilization of the unpolitical? The theories of Seymour M. Lipset and Reinhard Bendix on the electoral support of the NSDAP in the light of recent research." Social Science Information 20.2 (1981): 389–430.
  • Grajales, Jesus Velasco. "Seymour Martin Lipset: Life and work." The Canadian Journal of Sociology 29.4 (2004): 583–601. online
  • Houtman, Dick. "Lipset and 'working-class' authoritarianism." American Sociologist 34.1 (2003): 85–103. online
  • McGovern, Patrick. "The young Lipset on the iron law of oligarchy: a taste of things to come1." British journal of sociology 61.s1 (2010): 29–42. online
  • Marks, Gary, and Larry Jay Diamond, eds. Reexamining democracy: essays in honor of Seymour Martin Lipset (Sage, 1992).
  • Marks, Gary, and Larry Diamond. "Seymour Martin Lipset and the study of democracy." American Behavioral Scientist 35.4/5 (1992): 352+.
  • Marx, Gary. "Travels with Marty: Seymour Martin Lipset as a Mentor," American Sociologist 37#4 (2006) pp. 76–83. online
  • Miller, Seymour M., and Frank Riessman. "'Working-Class Authoritarianism': A Critique of Lipset." British Journal of Sociology (1961) 15: 263–276. online
  • Smith, David E. ed. Lipset's Agrarian Socialism: A Re-examination (Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy (SIPP) 2007).
  • Wiseman, Nelson. "Reading Prairie Politics: Morton, Lipset, Macpherson." International Journal of Canadian Studies 51 (2015): 7–26.

Resources on Lipset and his research[edit]

External links[edit]

External videos
video icon Presentation by Lipset on American Exceptionalism, April 22, 1996, C-SPAN
video icon Booknotes interview with Lipset on American Exceptionalism, June 23, 1996, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Lipset on It Didn't Happen Here, August 23, 2000, C-SPAN