7 January 2007


Seymour Martin Lipset, who has just died at 84, was one of the must-read American intellectuals of the past 50 years. He was a Schactmanite neither-Washington-nor-Moscow leftist in the 1950s and after that a maverick voice of the intelligent democratic left. I got into him through Political Man, published in 1960 but still 20 years later at the core of the political sociology course I studied at Oxford under Steven Lukes and Frank Parkin. The idea of the democratic class struggle came from that book, for me at least. I also loved his American Exceptionalism and other work he did on why there is no socialism in the United States. The left consensus has him down as a neocon, but I don't think he ever really became one in the currently accepted sense of the term. And he was one of the good guys in the way he dealt with people. I never met him but I like this from Theda Skocpol: "Of all the professors I had, he was the most humanly decent, a real mensch." RIP.

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