The First New Nation: The United States in Historical States in Historical and Comparative Perspective

By Seymour Martin Lipset | Go to book overview

Preface

In a real sense, this book pursues two substantive themes with which I have been concerned in previous writings—the problem of what was once known in the Marxist literature as "American exceptionalism" and the conditions for stable democracy.

In undertaking the study of a successful socialist movement in a Canadian province (Agrarian Socialism, 1950), I was initially interested in learning why Canada, seemingly so akin socially to the United States, was able to cast up a large socialist party when the United States could not. Many of the sociological explanations for the weakness of American socialism seemingly also applied to Canada. As the reader of The First New Nation will discover, sections of it still are concerned with the sources of structural variation between the two North American nations. The comparative sections of Social Mobility in Industrial Society (1959, with Reinhard Bendix) were similarly stimulated by an effort to test the thesis that political class consciousness was weak in the United States because the United States had a much higher rate of mass mobility than European nations. The research which sought to specify the extent of mass mobility (crossing the line between the manual working class and the nonmanual middle class) concluded that there were not significant differences between rates of mobility, as judged by these crude indicators, between industrialized Europe and America. (It should be noted, however, because many readers have ignored the caveat, that this book never contended that variations do not exist in rates of elite mobility, particularly among those occupational strata which require high levels of education.) Since the evidence with respect to mass mobility did not sustain the hypothesis, Reinhard Bendix and I turned to an analysis of the factors in American social structure which sustained the impression that mobility was higher in America. My subsequent work on values and the American class system presented here represents an elaboration of this work which I began with Bendix, and I acknowledge my indebtedness to him for helping me formulate my ideas on the subject.

My other two books, Union Democracy (1953, with Martin Trow and

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