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Thoughts on Why the US and Canada Are So Different


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The obituary in the New York Sun of Seymour Lipset summarizes the life of a far leftist Democrat turned neo-Con (very much my political evolution, coincidentally). He was initially a Socialist/Communist. Eventually, his writings came to focus on the reasons that the US is very inhospitable soil for Socialism of any kind. He also focused on the strong differences between two facially similar countries, the United States and Canada.

In many ways, he followed it the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville in emphasizing the individualistic, and self-directed nature of the American people. Obituary excerpts below:

Seymour Lipset, 84, Dean of Political Sociology

BY STEPHEN MILLER - Staff Reporter of the Sun

January 4, 2007

URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/46067

Seymour Martin Lipset, who died Monday at 84, was among the most important sociologists of his generation and the author or editor of 50 books, many of them concerned with democracy and American exceptionalism.

Combining a clear writing style with an often unfashionable empiricism, Lipset mined the great veins of American social science that ran from Richard Hofstadter back to eminences such as Alexis de Tocqueville — with themes including individualism and the immigrant experience. Lipset's questions were big ones: Why don't Americans vote? Why have American Jews tended to assimilate in the absence of anti-Semitism? And why is there no socialism in America? He provided answers in "It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States" (2000).

This last question and its answer were part of a scholarly concern that stretched back to Lipset's earliest days in the academy, and even to his family, growing up in the Bronx. His father, a typographer, was a Russian immigrant who had been active in Russian trade unions before the revolution. In the 1930s, he applied to return to the Soviet Union but was denied. Some of Lipset's earliest studies were of the International Typographical Union — of which his father was a member — later published in his book "Union Democracy" (1956).

*snip*

After graduation from City College, Lipset in 1943 enrolled as a graduate student in the Columbia University sociology department, where Robert Merton was among his teachers. His dissertation, on the Canadian Social Democratic Party, would become his first book, "Agrarian Socialism" (1950), as well as a touchstone of the rest of his career: Why is Canadian democracy so different from that in America? He would write at length on this topic in books such as "The First New Nation: The U.S. in Historical and Comparative Perspective" (1963) and "Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada" (1989).

*snip*

Lipset attended Townsend Harris High School and got involved in the political discussions of the time. He told an interviewer in 2000, "But you never heard of Democrats or Republicans; the question was communists, socialists, Trotskyists, or anarchists."

*snip*

For what made America the "First New Nation," Lipset stressed certain core values, such as liberty, egalitarianism, and individualism — each of which could produce positive or negative results. In "American Exceptionalism" (1996), he wrote that egalitarianism, for example, could foster initiative and voluntarism, but also "self-serving behavior, atomism, and a disregard for communal good." One former student praised Lipset's "constant search for equilibrium," although such a concern doubtless made him less popular with academic colleagues who took their social models from the more popular revolutionary politics of the 1960s.

His ecumenical dislike of extremism was manifest in a story he told in the 2000 interview about a 1964 encounter in which radical students tried to prevent police from arresting a Trotskyist demonstrator by surrounding the police car. "Nathan Glazer and I got on top of the police car, and we made speeches arguing that when you engage in civil disobedience ina democracy, what can you say to the Ku Klux Klan? Why can't they [also] engage in civil disobedience and violence?"

Edited by jbg
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*snip*

After graduation from City College, Lipset in 1943 enrolled as a graduate student in the Columbia University sociology department, where Robert Merton was among his teachers. His dissertation, on the Canadian Social Democratic Party, would become his first book, "Agrarian Socialism" (1950), as well as a touchstone of the rest of his career: Why is Canadian democracy so different from that in America? He would write at length on this topic in books such as "The First New Nation: The U.S. in Historical and Comparative Perspective" (1963) and "Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada" (1989).

I am interested in those 2 books,I never even knew that there were any books on the subject. Do you know if those books are still in print or should i start looking for them elsewhere.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Canadian democracy is different from US democracy because we in Canada have a parliamentary system with few checks and balances - the party in power with a majority has few checks - the judiciary (unless Harper manages to disable it) and the Governer General, which are both appointees.

The US, on the other hand, has too many checks and balances and is nearly crippled by them.

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The obituary in the New York Sun of Seymore Lipset summarizes the life of a far leftist Democrat turned neo-Con (very much my political evolution, coincidentally). He was initially a Socialist/Communist. Eventually, his writings came to focus on the reasons that the US is very inhospitable soil for Socialism of any kind. He also focused on the strong differences between two facially similar countries, the United States and Canada.

In many ways, he followed it the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville in emphasizing the individualistic, and self-directed nature of the American people. Obituary excerpts below:

Yes, it is too bad as an old man he followed the path of greed as opposed to his former ideals.

As Sociology is NOT about individuals and self direction, it is about social group dynamics roles within that group and the resulting consequences.

Mr. Lipset first explained the connection between economic development and democracy, an insight that earned him immediate attention and made him one of the most-cited political scientists. He also studied the nature of political extremism, how the core American values of equality and achievement keep class conflict in check and what other countries have to teach the United States.

"Those who only know one country, know no country," he wrote. Yet the United States, born from a revolution, differs from other nations that came to democracy by other routes, he said.

Another look at Seymour Lispet

That he should succumb in his 60's to the ideas of money tyranny, because he NOW has lots of it, suggests that greed and power became his motivators to support/justify his personal position, as opposed to truth and group dynamics.

Having said that, bless Seymour, some of his works still stand as non-sell outs to coporatist hegemony

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That he should succumb in his 60's to the ideas of money tyranny, because he NOW has lots of it, suggests that greed and power became his motivators to support/justify his personal position, as opposed to truth and group dynamics.

Having said that, bless Seymour, some of his works still stand as non-sell outs to coporatist hegemony

Maybe he had the brains to figure out that Socialism does not equal realistic thinking, contrary to the views of MSM and academia.

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  • 7 years later...

Yes, it is too bad as an old man he followed the path of greed as opposed to his former ideals.

As Sociology is NOT about individuals and self direction, it is about social group dynamics roles within that group and the resulting consequences.There's a saying, that if you're 20 and not a liberal you have no heart; if you're 50 and a liberal you have no head.

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Maybe he had the brains to figure out that Socialism does not equal realistic thinking, contrary to the views of MSM and academia.

You don't understand the difference between socialism and socially responsible capitalism. Or maybe you really do and are pretending to confuse the two?

None of this makes a lot of sense because the US has at times been more socialist leaning than Canada is at present. Wht the hell is Seymour talking about when he suggests that the US never accepted socialism?

Once again, politically flawed rhetoric.

There's a saying, that if you're 20 and not a liberal you have no heart; if you're 50 and a liberal you have no head.

That's always rang so untrue in that people who attain the age of 60 usually begin to understand social responsibility for the first time in their lives. It's actually quite difficult to find an 80 year old who still follows something like the teabaggers who are so socially confused and irresponsible. This could in part be because they are able to find a social conscience due to not having the necessity of seeing people as a possible profit anymore.

And as for most 20 year olds, they are just beginning to form their opinions and are not to be listened to with any sincerity no matter what side they have chosen since they left their teens.

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Bumping a 7-year-old thread to continue this spat is very LOL.

I was word-searching to find my prior reference to Seymour Lipset's Continental Divide and was redirected to this thread. Thus the new response.
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I was word-searching to find my prior reference to Seymour Lipset's Continental Divide and was redirected to this thread. Thus the new response.

No problem at all, in fact it could be quite worthwhile to point out some of the differences. I've often heard it said that the US came out of revolution while Canada didn't. I'm not so sure though that makes a difference or even 'what' difference it's supposed to make.

I think that most US politics is much too absorbed in racial differences and the reaction to that by the two main parties. In fact, I can't think of a moment in US politics where it isn't a factor. Americans certainly don't want to pay to bring up others and they believe that the system gives them upward mobililty and others should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That's not nearly as evident in Canada. I think that in the US the reason for that attitude is that it's mostly blacks who need to pull themselves up and they don't receive the positive sentiments from those who already have.

To talk to a white American from the deep south and build his/her confidence, will lead to admissions of feelings of discrimination against blacks. It doesn't always happen but it does happen more often than not. Perhaps the confidence building that makes them spill their guts can't happen on a forum such as this. In any case, it's fairly well hidden.

Canada doesn't have that problem but it might be because we don't have many black people. The few we have don't seem to be coming off as a threat. Canada's aboriginal people don't come off as any negligible threat to white people but that could be because of their lesser numbers.

Is there any differences between the US and Canada that this point can't explain? Personally, I don't see the differences in form of government as being much of a distinction. There may be a reluctance on the part of a president to use his power but we've all seen instances where he 'has' used his power and it's caused a huge wave of protests. In Canada it's atken for granted that the P.M. 'will' use his power!

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