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American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0393316148 ISBN-10: 0393316149

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393316149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393316148
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #639,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“An illuminating new book.” (David Gergen - U.S. News & World Report)

“[A] magisterial attempt to distill a lifetime of learning about America into a persuasive brief . . . [by] the dean of American political sociologists.” (Carlin Romano - Boston Globe)

“Invariably perceptive and revealing.” (The Economist)

About the Author

Seymour Martin Lipset is the Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By T. bailey on October 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
More reviews here (30 pages):
[...]

American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword; book reviews Commonweal September 13, 1996, Pg. 38

There is no dearth of opinions about what ails the United States today. Everyone seems to have a diagnosis as well as a prescription for our reputed moral decline. However, new books by political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset and by legal scholar Ronald Dworkin go beyond merely expounding a set of predetermined conclusions or recommendations and provide readers with analytic tools for use in the assessment of American political culture.

Lipset's title gives a reliable indication of the central thesis of this work, which proceeds in continuity, with a well-developed body of social science literature to which Lipset himself has been a major contributor. The United States is different from other countries because it is founded upon a national creed rather than upon the social bonds of ethnicity and history that normally cement peoples together. Our national sense of self is derived from a broadly shared ideology which includes commitment to liberty, equality, populism, individualism, and antistatism. This consensus does not, of course, eliminate all conflict, but it does constrict considerably the range of mainstream opinion to one or another form of liberalism (in the classical sense of the word). From these same cultural roots stem both faces of U.S. distinctiveness: the laudable (voluntarism, individual initiative, personal responsibility) and lamentable (self-serving behavior, atomism, disregard for the common good).

Lipset takes seriously the adage: "to know only one culture is to know none." Group traits are best highlighted by observing patterns of variation and contrast.
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If everything else about him is forgotten, Lipset, who died in 2006, will surely be remembered for coining the term, "American Exceptionalism". Before I took up social science as a "second language" at Lipset's last academic residence (School of Public Policy, George Mason University) I was an earth scientist - avocationally interested in public policy. The only political and other social scientists whose names appeared at regular intervals in Science Magazine were Lipset, Robert Merton, and Amitai Etzioni.

Lipset had omnivorous curiosity and interests. Among his many memberships and honors, he was the only person to serve as President of both the American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association. In almost every publication Lipset effortlessly tosses out bold and often accurate generalizations that other academics did not mention - either because the relationship didn't occur to them, or because they were afraid to venture conclusions not quantitatively established by "empirical" studies. [Empirical studies are social scientists' term for research that tests hypotheses using statistical proofs.] For example, in his Introduction, Lipset states that the U.S. is the most religious country in Christendom, and the only one where churchgoers adhere to sects. Protestantism has not only influenced opposition to wars, but determined the American style of foreign policy. The U.S. disdain of authority has led to the highest crime rate and the lowest level of voting participation in the developed world, etc.

I found that Lipset's penchant for generalization had to be respected but taken advisedly. This is illustrated by the abovementioned claim that the U.S. had the lowest level of voting participation in the developed world.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Moten Swing on September 19, 2003
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First chapter is quite good on the basics of American Exceptionalism as Lipset sees it. But the rest of the book doesn't hang together very well. As previous reviewer noted, the chapter on intellectuals is quite interesting, and so is the chapter on Jews, but they don't fit in to any overall argument. These chapters were all published in many places over a considerable period of time, and it shows. Not a coherent work, but an interesting first chapter.
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40 of 60 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 1997
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As someone lucky enough to be employed at an American university, I really appreciated Chapter 6: "American Intellectuals-Mostly on the Left, Some Politically Incorrect." On page 188 we read [as a quote] "American academic Marxism is politically irrelevant and marginal and compensates for its political nullity by seeking hegemony within academic institutions" Same page:"As Hayek noted half a century ago, in an analysis that is even more true today, the conservative bourgeoisie control the economy while the campus anti-establishmentarians dominate intellectual life in the humanitites and much of the social sciences..." Lipset also makes the stimulating suggestion that as vulgar Marxism has been discredited in the social sciences it has retreated into the humanities
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
Lipset himself illustrated one of the best premises of the American creed, the idea that through hard work and effort an individual can succeed and reach the heights of his profession. Lipset was a believer in the land of opportunity , and understood the special blessing of American society. It is open to the contribution of immigrants in a way no other society is. It also stresses fundamental values which are not dependent on ethnicity or religion, and is a nation different from others in this way.

Lipset also saw the problematic character of American exceptionalism. He understood that it is a society whose very dynamism leads to enormous social problems. On the whole however he makes in this work a detailed study of a culture a society a country which has given more opportunity to more people than any other on earth.
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