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AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM by Seymour Martin Lipset

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

A Double-Edged Sword

By Seymour Martin Lipset

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03725-8
Publisher: Norton

 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.