Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double Edged Sword (1996)


From book jacket:

“In this timely new study, one of our major political analysts, Seymour Martin Lipset, explores the deeply held but often inarticulated beliefs that shape America’s society and thought.  Is this country in the throes of a revolution from the right? Is it in decline morally? Is Japan about to replace us as the leading economic power? Why does the United States have the highest crime rate, the most persons per capita in prison? Why is our electoral turnout so low? Why are we the most open, socially mobile society and the most unequally developed nation in income distribution?


Why is America the most religious country in Christendom? What explains our persistently high rate of opposition to wars and, conversely, our propensity for flag waving and expressions of patriotic enthusiasm?  As the 1996 election year begins, Professor Lipset examines the remarkable persistence of an American creed, a double-edged sword that provides both good and bad, offering fresh insights into our culture and it future.


Born out of revolution, the United States has always been considered by analysts from the 19th century to our own day as exceptional, a country uniquely unified by an allegiance to a common set of ideas – individualism, anti-statism, populism, and egalitarianism.


American Exceptionalism explains why socialism has never taken hold in the United States; why labor unions are weak; why, comparatively, expenditures on education have been high while those on welfare have been low; why taxes are lower than in the rest of the industrialized world; why Americans are resistant to quotas and preferences as a way to integrate blacks and other minorities; and why American religion and foreign policy have a moralistic crusading streak.”


From book:

“In Europe, nationality is related to community and history, and thus one cannot become un-English or un-Swedish.  Being an American, however, is an ideological commitment.  It is not a matter of birth.  Those who reject American values are un-American.”


American ideology:

Liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, laissez-faire


vs. (Old World) Hierarchically rooted, aristocratic, statist communitarianism, state-church formation, noblesse oblige