Revolution and Counterrevolution: Change and Persistence in Social Structures

By Seymour Lipset Martin | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
Revolution and Counterrevolution: The United States and Canada

I

The strong cultural similarity between English-speaking Canada and the United States has often led citizens of the latter to wonder why the two remain in separate polities. Yet, although these two peoples probably resemble each other more than any other two nations on earth, there are consistent patterns of difference between them. To discover and analyze the factors which perpetuate such differences among nations is one of the more intriguing and difficult tasks in comparative study.

Any effort to specify the values, ethos, or national character of nations confronts the problem that such statements are necessarily made in a comparative context. Thus the assertion that the United States or Canada is a materialistic nation, that it is egalitarian, that its family system is unstable, obviously does not refer to these characteristics in any absolute sense. The statement that a national value system is egalitarian clearly does not imply the absence of severe differences in power, income, wealth, or status. Generally this statement means that from a comparative perspective, nations defined as egalitarian tend to place more emphasis on universalistic criteria in judging others, and tend to de-emphasize the institutionalization of hierarchical differences. The key word here is "comparative." No one suggests that any given complex social structure is in fact egalitarian in any absolute sense. The same may be said about the terms "aristocratic" and "ascriptive" when applied to complex modern societies. No society is

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