Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

One of the Greats

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

One of the Greats

Article excerpt

It can be pretty unnerving to have one of the great American thinkers of the 20th century shamble into your office and flop into a chair for a little afternoon kibitzing. That was a privilege I occasionally enjoyed when Seymour Martin Lipset was a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, and, like a rot of other people, I soon came to delight in the company of this man who seemed like a brilliant, oversized, and unexpected addition to my list of uncles. Marty died this past New Year's Eve at the age of 84, and it's hard to add much to the flood of articles in his honor (including our own item on p. 10 and others at www.usip.org/memorial/lipset). He thought and wrote about many subjects during his long career, but he will be best remembered as the person who, like no other since Tocqueville, showed Americans who they are. In books such as The First New Nation (1963), Marry created so persuasive a portrait of America as an "exceptional" nation that many now take this view for granted. The United States, he wrote, is a nation built upon ideas and values rather than ethnicity or faith, forever negotiating the tension between its egalitarian and its individualistic commitments. …

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