martes, 30 de enero de 2007

G.T. Marx: Travels With Marty: Seymour Martin Lipset as a Mentor

_*American Sociologist, forthcoming.

Related articles on careers and the profession are at

Seymour Martin Lipset was Whitmanesque in his amplitude -in physical andsocial stature, in the breadth of his vision, and in his passion for America. He was born in the USA. The virtues, paradoxes and contradictions of America are a key to his persona and work. Reminiscent of his mentor Robert King Merton, Marty wrote, “we are the worst as well as the best …” The good and the bad are closely linked to values “ which make for achievement and independence.” There are no easy answers, which is all the more reason to seek them in a tolerant, tentative and open minded spirit of inquiry.

I first met him in the Fall of 1961 at Berkeley through his fellow Columbia Lazarsfeldians Charles Glock and Hannan Selvin, my teachers in the required 201A-B methods class. I had a strong interest in, and indignation over, what was then called “prejudice” (racism had not yet become fashionable as a concept). I was highly motivated and increasingly self-confident after a successful year of graduate study. The gate to the highway had opened a crack, but it was still a dark and foggy (although not cold) morning and the path could barely be seen.

Ever the comparative thinker and on the prowl for ideas and data, Marty had discovered some long forgotten 1938 American Institute of Public Opinion surveys that had questions on Father Coughlin, the pioneering mass media anti-Semitic radio priest who was eventually silenced by the Church. Marty was extending his interest from left to right wing social movements. With the deep reservoir of exploitable public anger and fear in the depression, had Huey Long not been assassinated, he could have (with the support of demagogues such as Coughlin) been elected President in 1936.

American history might have been very different (e.g., the imagined versions of Sinclair Lewis in It Can’t Happen Here and Philip Roth’s recent The Plot Against America). The dependent variable of an enduring American democracy that intellectually and socially nourished Marty and so many of his distinguished students could well have disappeared to be replaced by a Sorokinian concern with cycles --if scholars of tainted (or any) ethnicity even had the freedom to pursue such questions.

One of my earliest memories is of his coming into the Berkeley Survey ResearchCenter early one morning. While never known for his sartorial splendor, this time he looked more bedraggled than usual. He announced that he was very tired because he had stayed up all night listening to the results of the Swedish election on his short wave radio.

Voluntarily staying up all night to learn the details of an obscure election was noteworthy in the extreme. To a callow 22 year old whose only all-nighters had been compelled by social necessities or being unprepared for a final exam, this example was an introduction to Marty's energy, intellectual curiosity and abiding interest in politics.

Marty provided me with research support, entry into the profession and athesis topic analyzing the Father Coughlin data. (Marx 1962) I provided Marty 1/3 of his article contrasting Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society. (Lipset 196?) Not a bad deal by the standards of 1962. Marcel Mauss instructs us that gifts may serve the needs of the giver as well as the recipient. In this case it is not easy to decide just who is giving and who is receiving, but it is clear to me who got the better of the deal.

As Marty’s research assistant I was in very good company given students who had recently worked with him such as Juan Linz, Jim Coleman, Bob Alford, Bob Blauner and Amitai Etzioni. A few years later several of my fellow graduate students --Art Liebman, Metta Spencer and Ken Walker also worked with him.

He handed me the data in the form of punch cards, told me to take his well attended graduate course on social stratification that met in the evening in Sproul Hall and to write a paper based on the surveys. Once he suggested a particular data run, but other than that left me alone. Whether that represented trust in a budding scholar who was or should be a self directed professional, or his simply being too busy to carefully supervise me I don’t know. Perhaps some of each. I did experience some doubt about what to do, but with the initial whirring of the old IBM counter-sorter and some surprising empirical findings (it wasn’t the lower middle class who was most supportive of Coughlin) the thesis almost seem to write itself.

After completing the MA thesis and studying hard to fail the French and Spanish language tests then required of PhD candidates, my wife Phyllis and I took the opportunity to spend a year traveling the world, before the concrete of work, family and home set. I can still recall my shock in India in reading about the Free Speech Movement in December of 1964 and disappointment about not being there.

The issue divided the campus and the sociology department. Marty was caught in the middle and the issues reflected the early and more mature Marty and all of the enduring tensions between authority/power and participation, the university and society, mass education and elite standards, direct democracy and restraining institutions and freedom and responsibility. Sociology students were very active in the Free Speech Movement. An effort to arrest a colleague sitting at the Congress of Racial Equality table at the corner of Telegraph and Bancroft was the precipitating incident. I had sat at that table the year before distributing information and collecting funds during the visit of James Farmer to campus (I am still sitting there, forever young, in news footage used in the PBS documentary Berkeley in the 60’s).

In the road-not-taken-imaginings that plague those with the leisure to indulge in them, I sometimes wonder if life would have been different had I been in Berkeley sitting at the table that day, rather than scurrying around caves in India looking at ancient Buddhist art. I certainly would have experienced the cross pressures I had learned about from Lazarsfeld via Marty, pressures that Marty know doubt felt but did not discuss.

Another “what if” question can be asked of Marty’s life. What if his father (who according to an account in the New York Sun, January 4, 2007) had not been denied his request to return to the Soviet Union in the 1930s?

With respect to the Free Speech Movement, there was no way to avoid the conflicting emotions the actions of a mass movement for change aroused in a youth righteously indignant over all the 1960s issues who, through his studies, was coming to appreciate the limits of disruption, the importance of institutions and traditions, the complexity, trade offs and unintended consequences that quick-fix ideology never acknowledged and the dangers of demagoguery. The work on Father Coughlin and fine books by Leo Lowenthal (Prophets of Deceit) and by A.M. Lee and E.B. Lee (The Fine Art of Propaganda) reinforced concern with the last topic. As John Lennon was to write a few years later, “Well, you know We all want to change the world…You say you've got a real solution Well, you know We'd all love to see the plan.”

Studying collective behavior and social movements, and society more broadly, might offer some clues as to why the gap between values and reality is often so pronounced, why movements often betrayed their goals and how popular sentiment could be woven into responsive principled institutions that none-the-less took wisdom from the past.

The push from Berkeley’s tensions and the pull from Harvard led to Marty’s departure by the time we returned in the fall of 1965. I didn’t see him for a year, but he was aware of my work on the civil rights movement at the Survey Research Center under Charles Glock. He invited me to apply for an assistant professor position in the Department of Social Relations which I received two months after applying, with no need even of a job talk. He said, “you are the first one I have been able to get hired.” I never knew what he meant and didn’t ask (the first non-Harvard PhD., Berkeley graduate, Jew, survey researcher?) He also nominated me for a Junior Fellowship (a marvelous 3 year post-doc). Since I already had the job offer, not getting the fellowship hardly mattered. However an all expense paid trip to Cambridge and the chance to meet Crane Brinton and other luminaries was a highlight.

Our 1967 move to Cambridge from Berkeley was truly a move to another country with changes in language, wardrobe, cuisine (Julia Childe was a neighbor) and social structure. Once we arrived in Cambridge Marty was hospitable and continued to be professionally supportive --involving me in an ASA project writing a book on sociology for high school students and introducing me to senior colleagues.

Marty was the most work focused and hardest working person I encountered in a variety of elite institutions which attract such types like flypaper. This, along with an inherent shyness and inability to make the small social talk which is about so much more than its content, would not lead you to describe him as personable. Relative to the delicious biting, but also often hurtful, conversational satire of Erving Goffman, Marty was gentle. He did not speak critically of others. Yet in his way he was warm, kind and loyal to those within his circle. Although acutely sensitive to the nuances of upward mobility, he was true to himself. He never adopted the affected style or name changes of some of our more inauthentic Cambridge colleagues who were also upwardly mobile.

Shortly after I returned from a sabbatical in France doing a comparative study of police, Marty and Alex Inkeles left Harvard for Stanford. That move was surprising because they had only recently spearheaded a bitter struggle to create an independent sociology department from the Department of Social Relations.

Later our paths additionally overlapped in Palo Alto and Washington D. C. -overlaps aided by his continual support over four decades. In the last communication I received from him, he suggested I apply for a position in his department at George Mason University where he had gone after his retirement. Having retired myself and modeled aspects of my career after Marty’s, that seemed like a good move. I didn’t get the job, but did get one of those consolation letters that are better than the letters some receive, “…there appear to be other applicants who present a better match for the position. However, since you are a strong candidate, we would like to keep your materials on hand should the situation change.” Sure keep ‘em as long as you like and if you don’t like those I can always send more that might offer a better match.

Marty was very proud and supportive of his students. He must have gone through reams of stationary continuing to write on their behalf over his lifetime. In a reversal, it was very satisfying for me play a role in his receipt of the unconscionably delayed (because of gender politics) ASA Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award. He also is distinguished by being the only sociologist or political scientist to have had PhD students named Gary Marx and Gary Marks. The latter at the University of North Carolina even co-edited a Festschrift, in which no doubt to avoid confusing the reader, I was not invited to participate.

A multitude of empirical indicators establishes Marty's place among the predeminent social scientists of the last half century. Rather than comment on the gift of his substantive work and its impacts (of which I know only a small part) I will briefly mention the gifts, both direct and indirect, Marty offered as a partial role model to this aspiring sociologist. These were formative for many of the 37 moral imperatives I have suggested for aspiring sociologists (The American Sociologist Spring 1997).

1) In the beginning there are the questions. Marty had the vision, courage (chutspa?) and ability to frame big enduring socially and theoretically meaningful questions (across societies and history) pursued throughout his career. He started with empiricalvariation (both what is and isn't or what might have been or might still become). This required historical and comparative international material and following the questions not the method. While emphasizing the middle range, it also made room for broader questions.

In staying with a few questions throughout his life, he reflected one end of a continuum of consistent, against changing, research concerns over a career. His abiding interest in democracy, stratification and America encompassed most of what he did. This offers the advantage of direction, continuity, knowledge accumulation across generations of researchers, the ability to revise and change the answers and ever more material (which when it is as good as Marty’s) means an ever greater contribution. This is a case where more is better.

He shows how important one’s personal situation can be in defining research questions. For example, the atypical persistence of democracy in his father’s printer’s union, being the upwardly mobile child of immigrants and a U.S. citizen in Canada stimulated his intellectual inquiry.

I am grateful to Marty for the gift of curiosity and the model and tools for converting themes in one’s personal life into researchable topics. Many of the topics I have studied such as around the ironies and complexities of social control reflect my personal Janus- (and more) headed experiences with authority. My interest in mass movements similarly reflects ambivalence and awareness of both their promise and their danger.

Marty’s interest in right wing extremism and in issues of Jewish identity and mobility led me to approach my own identity in a new way. Previously, being Jewish in the relatively tolerant, diverse environment of Los Angeles, was not something I thought (or worried) much about. It was subjectively neither liability nor asset (accept in certain social situations involving the opposite sex) and was much less important than my identity as a privileged middle class California male jock boy scout (I couldn‘t be a choir boy). But seeing Marty define the atypicality of the American Jewish experience as a topic for research changed that. In conjunction with what I was learning about anti-Semitism and from Erving Goffman about the presentation of self, the ironies of the American Jewish experience became of great interest and not something simply to be taken for granted. My interest has always been more academic than participatory (eating the fruit of the social construction of knowledge tree does not help sustain pretty illusions, even if it inspires one to analyze them).

However there is a practical side too. I worked a bit with Earl Raab, one of Marty’s co-authors, who also had a real job in San Francisco with the Jewish Community Relations Board. Earl was not only a scholar but he applied his knowledge to help improve inter-group relations. Yet they too serve who only offer data, clarify the issues and analyze. Research could not only aid in understanding, it could be useful. This suggested there was hope for those who out of liberal guilt or self-interest, wanted to be relevant and part of the solution, but who were not temperamentally suited for a life of action. This leads to the next gift.

2) Two cheers for science. Marty shared the Enlightenment faith in a positivist social science that could provide answers and be used for social betterment. Yet he was no mindless empiricist. The questions he raised required attending to the empirical record and cross-observer-analysis and commentary, but they were never fully answered by empirical inquiry, no matter how systematic.

Marty was like a pointillist painter rather than a laboratory scientist. Hejudiciously selected among the wealth of possible empirical details to offer larger understandings and develop arguments -not unlike a trial attorney. This required a polymorphous, pack rat methodology --taking whatever seemed useful from Aristotle to the evening news to the latest case study or quantitative analysis.

He suggested that we apply the logic of the multivariate approach to historical data in the form of thought-experiments, trying to account for differences by identifying key variables that separate otherwise equivalent cases. While we can’t (and shouldn’t pretend to) ever match the precision of physical science, we can benefit from aspects of its logic. The left’s emphasis on structure and the right’s on culture as explanations offered a false choice.

The integrative and synthetic total goes beyond the individual components chosen for inclusion. Given the sweep of his questions, the limits of our methods, subjectivity in method and fact selection and the complexity and dynamics of causation in historical events, such grand pictures are always subject to debate. Much of Marty’s work will endure because of the breadth and timelessness of the questions and answers which are so clearly expressed and organized around clear arguments (e.g., the link between democracy and economic development and the importance of a large middle class and a vigorous associational life). Some of the writing reads like a conversation with the author.

Mannheim's sociology of knowledge paradox can be noted, but not escaped. Yet standards of evidence and logic, however imperfect, are needed to take us beyond conclusions based only on social location, tradition, power or passion. Marty’s approach helped to order the empirical cacophony, provoked thought, blazed trails and inspired a vast amount of research.

3) Multiple roles in their appropriate places. Related to the above point, Marty was acutely aware of the difference and tensions (but also the links) between scholarship and activism and of the legitimacy and importance of scholarship for those who desire change. This made it easier to deal with the pleasures of reading and thinking about big issues, as against the internal and external pressure of being on the barricades. I have written about this tension in an edited book on muckraking sociology and an article on dirty data.

4) What makes Marty run? Lipset had an insatiable curiosity, and unbounded enthusiasm for understanding politics and social life and a bigger-than-life (or a big as it gets) need for achievement and capacity for hard work. In spite of his religion, his productivity gives new meaning to the Protestant Ethic. Being around someone so prolific, who also (in the days before the internet) made sure through sending out a large numbers of reprints that others kept up with his work set a standard to aspire to. While some residual norms of an aristocratic professoriate remained, one needed aggressive street hustle as well.

5) The virtues of talk. Marty had a hot, Talmudic, New York gift for animated, energized, erudite, discursive, free associational conversation, if often in the form of an encyclopedic monologue or a self-interrogatory soliloquy. This style informed and dazzled listeners, especially the youthful student more accustomed to a laidback cool Southern California conversational style. I now take it as a complement that many people assume I grew up in New York.

Greek tragedy reminds us that strengths can sometimes be weaknesses, that what helps can also hinder, depending on the context and point of view. Maximizing productivity and an intense need to succeed can lead to rushing into print too quickly, repetition and cutting corners and can make it hard to have a well rounded life. An instrumental orientation to others (even when there is ample reciprocity and generosity as in Marty’s case) will not please everyone. The admirable focus on a topic over a lifetime can lead the jealous to say, “there is nothing new here” or “yes, it’s a good book, it should be it’s the third time it has been written”.

In stating above that Marty was a partial role model above, I meant that in several senses. First he was partial in being so very supportive. There are usually a lot of good candidates and scholars and beyond a certain achievement level, it is difficult to rank applicants and personal and network factors matter in selection. In such situations the prestige of the letter writer takes on added significance. In On the Waterfront, Eva Marie Saint asks priest Karl Malden to pray for boxer Marlon Brando. The priest says, “ok, but it will help if he can punch.” In the same way for academics, it helps to have sponsors with punch.

Marty was also a partial role model in being one of several mentors and in a few ways helping me define what I did not want to do. It would not be accurate to say that he was an anti-role model. Rather Marty was who he was and what was appropriate for him would not necessarily be for others. I did not want to work as hard or single mindedly as he did on social research. Life was too short and there was too much else to do. The idea of the Renaissance person has always held great appeal, even though in our age of specialization it is hard to be more than a dilettante. Nor did I want to stay with a single topic or two. My interests changed markedly over 45 years, even if there were connective ideas around democracy and the decent society.

I lacked Marty’s power as a monologuist, but apart from that, while I thrive on talk, I much prefer dialogue (and am often even a little hesitant to show my aces until I really have to). It is not only polite to listen and to draw out the other in a conversation, but you save energy and are likely to learn more as well. In that sense being a good listener can be very instrumental.

Marty emphasized the positive and distinctive aspects of American society. For many analysts however, the failure to fulfill the American promise for all groups and to more adequately limit corporate power calls for greater emphasis on what is wrong, rather than what is right. Some colleagues have been critical of the mature Lipset for the failure to more directly analyze our myriad problems linked to social stratification. In creating the good society and being in touch with reality, it is of course vital to think in comparative empirical terms. Yet it is not enough to look good in relative terms or to explain away undesirable outcomes as necessarily inherent in the system. Societies are dynamic. The water glass must be viewed from both perspectives. Given the links between power, resosurces and culture, the case for emphasizing the glass’s emptiness is clear.

The work of our stars is particularly appropriate for critical analysis, lest their luminosity blind us to the partial truths and limitations of even the best work. But some of the criticism of Marty is misplaced. He was wrongly attacked because of his affiliation with the Hoover Institute, a place a majority of sociologists would probably not donate funds to. Yet such criticism not only ignores the importance of dialogue with those we disagree with and the potential of conversion, it represents guilt by association. The emphasis must be on critically assessing an individual’s ideas, not who they have lunch with. Marty seemed bemused by the ideological labels others applied to him and I think took pleasure in being hard to classify relative to many neo-conservatives. His beliefs, like the empirical world he sought to understand, could not easily be reduced to such stereotypes.

During those golden bear years of the 1960s at Berkeley I had the good fortune to learn from many scholars --Erving Goffman, Neil Smelser and Charles Glock in particular. But also Herbert Blumer, Kingsley Davis, John Clausen, Nathan Glazer and Reinhard Bendix and earlier at UCLA from Ralph Turner, Don Cressey, Mel Seeman and Melville Dalton. Of course there were mentors at a distance such as Robert Merton, David Riesman, Lew Coser, Howie Becker and Herb Gans. Disentangling influences, whether intended or unintended is hopeless, especially after more than four decades. Yet Marty was a powerful beacon illuminating pathways to a career.

With his death and the recent passing of other giants such as Merton, Coser, Riesman and Williams, we have lost central foundational figures in sociology of the last half of the 20th century. Given the explosion of knowledge and technique and the fragmentation of sociology and the social sciences in recent decades, it is unlikely that we will see such a towering cohort again.

Professor Lipset’s awareness of the fragility of democracy was a driving force in his lifetime effort to understand its social requisites. From him I learned that a naïve leftist faith in the people was not supportable. But neither was an equivalent rightist faith in elites. As Yeats wrote, the government and the church might be the mob howling at the door as well. The smart money had to be on ideas and structures that could moderate the ever present tendencies toward violent political conflict and the tendency of power and privilege to corrupt. Central to this were procedures involving transparency and accountability, the sharing of power and negotiation, and on influence via both value socialization/education and interest. The dynamic and complex nature of social situations and the legitimate claims of different groups (holding apart the eternally problematic questions involving definitions of legitimacy) must be acknowledged.

My career focus on issues of civil liberties, civil rights and social control was one strand of Marty’s broader democracy project. Such concerns relate to the suspicion of the state (and authority more broadly) and the paradoxical tilt toward individual/achievement and inequality connected to America’s origins that Marty stressed. Pluralism and the public-private distinctions, however hazy and imperfect, represent brilliant partial solutions to enduring issues of modern society. The sanctity of De Tocquevillian civil society and private life borders in the face of the challenges (now so greatly abetted by technology) whether from government, the commercial or fundamentalist sectors is more vital than ever. My gratitude is unbounded for the substantive and methodological inspiration Seymour Martin Lipset provided.

Lipset, S.M. 1964, “Coughlinites, McCarthyites and Birchers: Radical Rightists of Three Generations” in D. Bell (ed.) The Radical Right. Doubleday: New York:

Marx, G.T. 1962, The Social Basis of the Support of a Depression Era Extremist: Father Coughlin. Berkeley: Survey Research Center, Monograph 7.

jueves, 11 de enero de 2007

Still the Exceptional Nation? By Seymour Martin Lipset

Reprinted from the Winter 2000 Wilson Quarterly

At the dawn of a new century, the United States finds itself in a position of surprising dominance around the world. It has been a triumph of ideas and values perhaps even more than of power, and the victory has critics worrying about the homogenizing effects on the world. But what, a noted scholar asks, about the effects on America?

by Seymour Martin Lipset

Was Karl Marx right? More than 100 years ago, he declared in Capital that "the country that is the most developed shows to the less developed the image of their future," and his early followers had little doubt that the United States was that most developed harbinger country. "Americans will be the first to usher in a Socialist republic," declared the German Social Democrat August Bebel in 1907--even though the American Socialist Party was faring miserably at the polls while his own party held many seats in the Reichstag. Only after the Russian Revolution in 1917 did the Left and its liberal sympathizers begin to look elsewhere for a vision of the future. Now Europe set the standard and America followed--all too sluggishly, in the minds of many.

How could the world's most advanced capitalist society also be the most impervious to the socialist idea? Even the Great Depression failed to alter its course--America's minuscule Socialist and Communist parties emerged from the 1930s with even less support than they had enjoyed at the beginning of the decade. The American experience cast doubt on the inner logic of historical materialism, the essential Marxist doctrine which holds that the shape of a nation's culture and politics is determined by underlying economic and technological forces. The question engaged the attention of many socialists, as well as Lenin and Trotsky; Stalin attended a special commission of the Communist International on "the American Question."

What was a source of perplexity to some was, of course, a source of pride to others. To scholars, it was a phenomenon in need of explanation. Out of this puzzlement came the rebirth of the idea of "American exceptionalism," a concept first developed by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835-40). The young Frenchman wrote that the United States, the lone successful democracy of his time, differed from all the European nations in lacking a feudal past and in being more socially egalitarian, more meritocratic, more individualistic, more rights-oriented, and more religious. These American tendencies were reinforced by the country's religious commitment to the "nonconformist," largely congregationally organized Protestant sects, which emphasized the individual's personal relationship with God, a relationship that was not mediated by state-supported, hierarchically organized churches of the kind that prevailed in Europe.

In 19th-century America, the ideology of the American Revolution was transformed into an all-encompassing liberalism stressing liberty, antistatism, and individualism. In Europe, a dominant conservativism was wedded to the state--it was conservatives such as Britain's Benjamin Disraeli, for example, who invented the welfare state--and it naturally gave birth to state-centered opposition, social democracy. Because its liberal ideology stifled the emergence of a state-centered opposition, the United States became an anomaly.

Today, however, the United States once again finds itself the apparent image of the future. Not only is it the world's sole superpower and its economic colossus, but it seems to be pointing the way toward the political future. The American political system, long considered an aberration because its two main parties embrace liberal capitalism, now looks like the model for the
developed world.

Nothing symbolizes this change more dramatically than the political pep rally cum summit meeting that brought four social democratic heads of government to Washington last April under the auspices of America's centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Britain's Tony Blair, Germany's Gerhard Schršder, the Netherlands' Wim Kok, and Italy's Massimo D'Alema did not come to press the cause of democratic socialism on their backward cousins across the Atlantic. They wanted to join with Democrat Bill Clinton in affirming what they called the Third Way. And they have done so more than once, meeting most recently in Florence last November, where they were joined by Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso. These putative social democratic leaders, as Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne notes, "accept capitalism as a given, but promise to do something about its inequalities and uncertainties. They talk not of 'socialism' but of 'community,' not of 'collectivism' but of 'solidarity.'" They sound, in other words, very much like America's New Democrats.

All of this suggests that Marx may have been right: the development of an economically and technologically advanced society follows a certain logic, and the United States shows where that logic leads--even if it is not to socialism. But if this is true, will it make sense any longer to speak of American exceptionalism? Will the political cultures of other advanced societies increasingly converge with that of the United States?

The change in the character of Europe's political parties largely reflects the remaking of Europe's economic and class structures along American lines. The European emphasis on stŠnde, or fixed, explicitly hierarchical social classes rooted in a feudal and monarchical past, is increasingly a thing of the past. Growing economic productivity is opening access to everything from clothes, cars, and other consumer goods to advanced schooling, powerfully muting the "lifestyle" differences, including accents and dress, that traditionally separated Europe's social classes. The new economic order has been accompanied by demographic shifts, notably a drastic decline in birthrates and an extension of life spans, that have confronted all the developed nations with a common dilemma: raise taxes significantly to pay for more social security, health care, welfare, and other expensive government services, or find ways to cut spending.

The United States has led the economic transformation, shifting sharply away from the old industrial economy built on manual labor, a process that was especially agonizing during the 1970s and '80s. The old economy of General Motors, U.S. Steel, and Standard Oil has given way to the economy of Microsoft, Citigroup--and McDonald's. The proportion of workers employed in manufacturing dropped from 26 percent in 1960 to 16 percent in 1996. In the United Kingdom, manufacturing employment declined from 36 percent of the total to 19 percent, a pattern that prevails from Sweden (with a drop from 32 to 19 percent) to Australia (from 26 to 13.5 percent).

The Old World societies are also following the American lead away from class awareness and organization. Union membership, for example, is declining almost everywhere. Between 1985 and 1995, the proportion of the American labor force carrying a union card fell by 21 percent. Today, only 14 percent of all employed Americans--and only 10 percent of those in the private sector--belong to unions. The proportional losses in France and Britain have been even greater, 37 percent and 28 percent, respectively. In Germany, the decline is a more modest 18 percent.

During the post-World War II era, the distribution of income and occupational skills in Europe has reshaped itself to fit American contours. It has changed from something best illustrated by a pyramidal shape, enlarging toward the bottom, to one better illustrated by a diamond, widest in the middle. The traditional working class, in other words, is shrinking. The middle class is growing, creating solidly bourgeois societies in Europe. Political parties on the left now have little choice but to appeal more to the growing middle strata than to their traditional constituencies, industrial workers and the poor. Call it what you will--"postindustrial society," "postmaterialism," or the "scientific-technological revolution"--the changing cultures of the emerging societies closely fit the Marxian causal model. The political and cultural "superstructures" are determined, as sociologist Daniel Bell has noted, by the technological structures and the distribution of economic classes.

Many of the trends that Marx anticipated, especially a steady increase in the size of the industrial proletariat, have not occurred. Throughout the industrialized world, job growth is concentrated in the technological and service occupations. College enrollments have swelled, and the degree-bearing population has grown enormously. Alain Touraine, a leading French sociologist and leftist intellectual, writes: "If property was the criterion of membership in the former dominant class, the new dominant class is defined by knowledge and a certain level of education."

With their roots in the university and the scientific and technological worlds, and with a heavy representation in the public sector, the professions, and the industries spawned by computers, the new workers have developed their own distinctive values. Political scientist Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan, pointing as well to the influence of a half-century of affluence, argues that these changes have spawned a new set of "postmaterialist" values. An affluent, better-educated citizenry has shifted its political attention away from bread-and-butter economic issues to new concerns: the environment, health, the quality of education, the culture, equality for women and minorities, the extension of democratization and freedom at home and abroad, and last, but far from least, the definition of a more permissive (and highly controversial) morality.

The United States has also been in the forefront of the postmaterialist new politics, quickly exporting the latest concerns of Berkeley, Madison, and other university towns to Paris and Berlin. It gave birth to all the major successful modern movements for egalitarian social change and for improving the quality of life--feminism, environmentalism, civil rights for minorities, and gay rights--just as it did the democratic revolutions of the 19th century. Writing in 1971, as the new politics was beginning to emerge, the French political analyst Jean-Franois Revel observed in Without Marx or Jesus that the "revolutionary stirrings have had their origin in the United States." The Continent's "dissenters . . . are the disciples of the American movements." Many political analysts here and abroad still do not fully appreciate the extent to which the Left's new course, its centrist "Third Way," is also the product of common developments throughout the economically advanced democracies rather than events or leaders peculiar to each country.

And the collapse of communism, though a heavy blow to the socialist idea, was not the decisive factor. The earliest signs of change came well before anyone dreamed that the Berlin Wall would not survive the millennium. During the 1980s, the Labor parties of Australia and New Zealand cut income taxes, pursued economic deregulation, and privatized important industries. In 1983, the Australian party entered into an accord with the trade unions that resulted, as then-prime minister Robert Hawke emphasized, in a reduction in workers' real wages of at least one percent in each of the eight years that he was head of the government. Hawke declared in 1989 that "the move in the share of the national income from wages toward profits . . . has enabled us to grow."

The New Zealand story is similar. After returning to power under Prime Minister David Lange in 1984, the Labor Party followed what has been described as the most Thatcherite policy among Western governments, including the government of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher itself. It ended "the tradition of taxation according to ability to pay," dismantled the welfare state, and privatized many state enterprises. Lange, complained one critic, believed that "social democrats must accept the existence of economic inequality because it is the engine which drives the economy."

But the pivotal event in this late-20th century political transition was the British election of 1997 (on May Day, ironically), which the Labor Party won by an overwhelming margin after it had abandoned its historic emphasis on public ownership and class politics. Tony Blair's victory marked the end of a century of socialist efforts to eliminate private ownership of the economy in Europe. As a London investment banker observed, "We have got fundamentally two parties now far more like the Democrats and Republicans, instead of socialists and capitalists."

Blair has deliberately followed the free-market, smaller-government policies of President Clinton. It was Blair, then Britain's opposition leader, who in 1995 first uttered the words, "The era of big government is over," which became the sentence of the decade when Clinton repeated them a few months later. Blair's "New Labor" no longer automatically takes the side of trade unions. Organized labor, he emphasizes, must cooperate "with management to make sure British industry is competitive." Blair promised in a 1997 interview that his administration would "leave British law the most restrictive on trade unionism in the Western world."

One of Blair's first actions after taking office was to shift authority over monetary policy and interest rates from the Treasury to the Bank of England, thereby reducing the power of the party controlling the government to affect the economy. Another initiative, launched after his first postelection meeting with Bill Clinton, was a welfare reform designed to sharply reduce the number of Britons on the dole by pressing single mothers to take paying jobs. Blair promised to "be tough on the long-term unemployed who refuse jobs." In Parliament, he declared that "for millions, the welfare state denies rather than provides opportunity." Not surprisingly, the Iron Lady found much to approve of in Blair's New Labor. "Britain will be safe in the hands of Mr. Blair," Baroness Thatcher declared.

At his jubilant meeting with Clinton, held barely a month after Labor's triumph in the British elections, Blair noted that both prefer "reason to doctrine" and are "indifferent to ideology." Clinton and Blair agreed that the "progressive parties of today are the parties of fiscal responsibility and prudence." The two leaders called for partnership with business to create jobs, replacing the "old battles between state and market."

The story is much the same among left parties outside the English-speaking world. The Swedish Social Democrats, who held office with only two interludes out of power (1976-82 and 1991-98) from the early 1930s on, have also reversed course. The Social Democratic finance minister during most of the 1980s, Kjell-Olof Feldt, sharply reduced the progressivity of his country's tax system, and emphasized the necessity of "accepting private ownership, the profit motive, and differences of income and wealth." Feldt wrote: "The market economy's facility for change and development and therefore economic growth has done more to eliminate poverty" and "the exploitation of the working class" than any political intervention in the market's system of distribution.

Across the Oeresund, the Danish Social Democratic government has also been speaking in terms that no American Republican could reject. In Spain, before he left office in 1996, Socialist prime minister Felipe Gonzalez converted his party--which was Marxist in its initial post-Franco phase--to support of privatization, the free market, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Echoing Winston Churchill, Gonzalez argued that a competitive free-market economy is marked by greed, corruption, and the exploitation of the weak by the strong--but is also "the least-bad economic system in existence." In Portugal, the constitution of 1976, adopted after the Socialist-led democratic revolution that overthrew Antonio Salazar's long dictatorship, proclaimed that the large number of state-owned companies were "irreversible conquests of the working classes." But the Socialist government elected in January 1996 has enthusiastically pursued privatization and other market-oriented policies.

Germany is home to the first major Marxist party in the world, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), founded in 1875. The party rejected Marxism in the late 1950s but remained socialist. Yet as early as 1976, Social Democratic chancellor Helmut Schmidt was arguing that the interests of workers required expanding profits. "The profits of enterprises today," he declared, "are the investments of tomorrow, and the investments of tomorrow are the employment of the day after."

The chancellor elected in 1998, Gerhard Schröder, continues in this tradition. He sees the SPD as part of a "New Middle" rather than the Left. John Vinocur of the International Herald-Tribune notes that the New Middle "is a place where words like 'risk,' 'entrepreneurial spirit,' and 'flexible labor markets' coincide with expressions of allegiance to social justice and fair income distribution." Schršder's first finance minister, Oskar Lafontaine, clung to more traditional SPD positions and soon found himself looking for work.

Schršder has promised to improve the German economy, reducing its 10 percent unemployment rate by lowering "prohibitive labor costs" imposed by union contracts and "providing incentives for new capital investment." He noted in the campaign that the SPD is "breaking with . . . statist social democratic attitudes . . . we've understood that the omnipotent and interventionist state doesn't have its place in the current circumstances." Thus far, however, he has failed to improve the economy.

The editors of the Economist, noting a few years ago that in most Western countries "the left keeps on moving right," summed up the situation elsewhere in Europe: "In Central Europe, ex-Communists running Poland and Hungary . . . have been boldly trying to reinvent their states on a basis of free markets and respect for private property. The shift of gravity within the left-wing parties in the south has been no less striking. In Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece the left has moved sharply to the right."

There are two interesting European exceptions to the retreat from socialism. One is Norway, whose abundant North Sea oil revenues make it easy to underwrite an expansive welfare state. The other is France. The French Left operates in a society where dirigisme, the concept of a strong directing state, has been as powerful a cultural organizing principle as antistatism has been in the United States--producing a French "uniqueness" that may be the counterpoint to American exceptionalism.

France is that rare country where a solid majority of citizens still tell pollsters that the word bureaucrat has a positive connotation, and that they would like their children to work for the government. The Right and Left both approve of a strong state, a tradition going back to the monarchy, the empire, and the Revolution. While the Socialists, who resumed power following France's 1997 parliamentary elections, have instituted some modest market-oriented reforms, they are stuck in a curious position. As journalist Roger Cohen observes, "The Gaullist attachment to the state and rejection of market reform [has] encouraged the Socialists to keep further to the left, to distinguish themselves." At the Third Way summit in Florence last November, French prime minister Lionel Jospin pointedly turned his back when Clinton spoke, facing what the New York Times described as a "somewhat bemused" Gerhard Schr¨der.

Curiously, the country most often cited as a model by European social democrats is the Netherlands, once considered a model nanny state. With an unemployment rate of about three percent, far below those of the major Continental economies (and a point below the U.S. rate), and rapid economic growth, the Dutch under a government headed by a former union leader, Wim Kok of the Labor Party, have accepted wholesale changes. Unemployment benefits have been cut, while the rules for sick and disability pay have been tightened. Rules for hiring and firing and for opening new businesses have been eased. Social security taxes have been cut. In a "social pact" comparable to the Australian accord, the unions, then led by Kok, agreed to limit wage increases to two percent per year, in part on the premise that more jobs would be created. One government official says that "the Dutch miracle . . . is that our labor unions could be convinced to rally around a free market economy."

The great reversal that has put the politically "backward" United States at the head of the movement toward a more politically "progressive" future is all the more remarkable for having occurred in the space of only a few years. The Dutch scholar Anton Zijderveld predicts in The Waning of the Welfare State (1999) "that most post-welfare state countries in Europe will become more 'American' in their social policies . . . and morality."

The United States clearly is no longer as exceptional politically as it once was. Its political life--dominated by two procapitalist political parties and defined by traditional, moralistic, sectarian religion, classical liberalism (laissez faire), and environmentalist and other postmaterialist tendencies--is setting a model for other developed countries. The convergence has even stripped the United States of its past monopoly on populist politics, the traditional outlet of the discontented and dispossessed in a country without a working-class political party. The latest example is Austria, where parliamentary elections last October catapulted Jorg Haider's far-right Freedom Party into a new prominence.

Yet for all that, the United States remains exceptional in other important ways. It is still an outlier at one end of many international indicators of behavior and values. It is still much less statist and welfare oriented, and its governments (federal and state) tax and spend much less in proportionate terms than European governments. It is the most religious country in Christendom, the only one still strongly influenced by the moralistic and individualistic ethos of Protestant sectarianism. It has higher rates of mobility into elite positions than any other nation. It combines exceptional levels of productivity, income, and wealth with exceptionally low levels of taxation and social spending, and equally exceptional levels of income inequality and poverty.

The United States remains well ahead of other large developed countries in per capita income, retaining the lead it has held since the second half of the 19th century. In 1997, U.S. per capita income (measured in terms of purchasing power parity) was $28,740. Switzerland was the only developed country to come close, at $26,320, while Norway ($23,940), Japan ($23,400), and Denmark ($22,740) followed. At the same time, the United States boasts the lowest rate of unemployment in the developed world, about four percent, while Europe has some 20 million out of work, or more than 10 percent of the labor force. Poverty, currently the condition of 13.7 percent of Americans, is more widespread than in Europe, though rates are dropping. (Among African Americans, the poverty rate dropped to 29 percent in 1995, passing below 30 percent for the first time in the nation's history. Today it stands at 28.4 percent.)

The United States is the only Western country in which government extracts less than 30 percent of the gross domestic product in taxes--it took 28.5 percent in 1996. Spending on social welfare is correspondingly low. One has to go outside the Western world to find societies with a smaller state. The Japanese tax take was a tenth of a percent lower, but among the remaining member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only Turkey (25.4 percent), South Korea (23.2 percent), and Mexico (16.3 percent) have lower taxation levels.

American exceptionalism is distinctly double-edged. The United States is not as egalitarian in economic terms as the rest of the developed world. It has the highest proportion of nonvoters in national elections, as well the highest rates of violent crime and the biggest prison population (in per capita terms). Thanks to its meritocratic orientation, it is among the leaders in the unequal distribution of income. Gauged by the Gini coefficient, the social scientist's standard measure of income inequality, the U.S. score of 37.5 is almost 10 percent higher than that of the next closest country (Britain) among the Western democracies, and far above Sweden's 22.2. To put it in simpler terms, the richest 20 percent of Americans have incomes about nine times greater than the poorest 20 percent, while in Japan and Germany the affluent enjoy incomes only four and six times greater, respectively.

Yet because individualism and meritocratic ideals are so deeply ingrained in them, Americans are much less troubled by such differences than Europeans. According to a 1990 study, Americans are more likely to believe that there should be "greater incentives for individual effort," rather than that "incomes should be made more equal." Proportionately fewer Americans (56 percent) agree that "income differences are too large," as compared with Europeans (whose positive responses range from 66 to 86 percent). In a survey reported in 1995, people in six countries were asked: "How would you prefer to be paid--on a fixed salary . . . or mostly on an incentive basis which will allow you to earn more if you accomplished a lot, but may result in less earnings if you don't accomplish enough?" A majority of Americans (53 percent) opted for the incentive plan; the survey's British, French, Spanish, and German respondents chose a fixed salary by margins ranging from 65 to 72 percent.

A 1996 survey shows that a policy that reduces income disparities is supported by less than one-third (28 percent) of Americans, while positive responses elsewhere range from 42 percent in Austria to 82 percent in Italy. The British fall in the middle at 63 percent.

Americans are more likely than Europeans to agree that "large income differences are needed for the country's prosperity." Nearly one-third of Americans surveyed in 1987 justify inequality this way, as compared with an average of 23 percent among seven European countries (Great Britain, Austria, West Germany, Italy, Hungary, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). A 1992 review of American public opinion data over 50 years reports: "Surveys since the 1930s have shown that the explicit idea of income redistributing elicits very limited enthusiasm among the American public. . . . Redistributive fervor was not much apparent even in [the] depression era. Most Americans appear content with the distributional effects of private markets."

The historian Richard Hofstadter wrote that the 1930s introduced a "social democratic tinge" into the United States for the first time in its history. The Great Depression brought a strong emphasis on planning, on the welfare state, on the role of the government as a major regulatory actor, and even on redistribution of income. The great crisis challenged the historic American national commitment to the assumptions of classical liberalism and laissez faire, spawning, among other things, New Deal-inspired policies and a growth in trade union strength. These trends, however, have gradually inverted in the reasonably prosperous half-century since the end of World War II. The tinge--which never approached the full flush of Europe--has faded.

Despite the European Left's embrace of the free market, European governments are still, by American standards, very deeply involved in the economy and society. The differences stem in part from historical identities and values, in part from institutions that have been established over the last century. Once in place, government policies are defended by those who benefit from them, even as they continue to shape expectations about what government can do. The major European countries provided important social services long before the United States, which did not enact pension, unemployment, or industrial accident insurance until the 1930s. It is the only developed nation that does not have a government-supported, comprehensive medical system, and it is one of the few that do not provide child support to all families.

Today, Americans are still more opposed than Europeans to government involvement in economic affairs, whether through wage and price controls, publicly funded job creation, or the length of the work week. Nor are they favorably disposed toward government regulation in other realms, such as seat belt laws. Only 23 percent of Americans believe it is government's responsibility "to take care of very poor people who can't take care of themselves," according to a 1998 study by the late public opinion expert Everett Carll Ladd. They are less disposed than Europeans to believe that the state is obligated to supply a job for everyone who wants one, to provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed, or to guarantee a basic income.

The value differences between the United States and Europe are also reflected in attitudes toward social mobility and personal achievement. Americans are more likely than Europeans to see personal effort, hard work, ambition, education, and ability as more important for getting ahead in life than social background. Confronted with the proposition that "what you achieve depends largely on your family background" in a 1990 survey, only 31 percent of Americans agreed, compared with 53 percent of the British, 51 percent of the Austrians, and 63 percent of the Italians. Asked to choose between hard work and "luck and connections" as the most likely route to a better life, 44 percent of Americans pointed to hard work. Only 24 percent of the most like-minded European group, the British, agreed.

The American commitment to meritocracy is also reflected in the fact that Americans are more disposed than Europeans to favor increased spending on education. (And Americans tend to oppose offering help as a "handout" in the form of outright government grants to students, which Europeans back, preferring instead student loans.) Given that education is seen as the key to upward mobility, it is not surprising that the United States has spent proportionally much more public money on education than Europe, while Europe has devoted much more to welfare. The United States has led the world in providing the kinds of general education needed to get ahead. Since the early 19th century, it has been first in the proportion of citizens graduating from public elementary school, then high school, and more recently in the percentages attending college and receiving postgraduate training.

The other developed countries are now rapidly closing the education gap, however. College entry rates increased by more than 25 percent in 16 OECD countries between 1990 and '96, while the rate in the United States remained about the same. This change and others in education suggest that American-style individualism and ambition have spread to the point where the United States cannot be considered exceptional in these respects.

Does it still make sense to speak of the United States as the exceptional nation? As social democratic parties the world over shift toward the free market, the differences between the United States and other Western democracies may continue to narrow. Yet deeply rooted institutions and values do not easily lose their influence. The Western democracies may now all fit the liberal mold, but liberalism, too, has its divides. Europe still tends toward the economically egalitarian side, with a penchant for active government; Americans prefer a competitive, individualist society with equality of opportunity and effective but weak government.

There is no reason, moreover, to believe that we have seen the end of change--much less the "end of history." For all its rewards, the free market is not a source of great inspiration. Capitalism does not pledge to eliminate poverty, racism, sexism, pollution, or war. It does not even promise great material rewards to all. Neoconservative thinker Irving Kristol echoes a long line of capitalism's defenders when he allows that it offers "the least romantic conception of a public order that the human mind has ever conceived."

It is hard to believe that the West's now-contented young will not some day hunger again for the "exalted notions" that Aristotle described more than 2,000 years ago. Yet when they do, America will still have an ideological vision, the individualist, achievement-oriented American Creed, with which to motivate its young to challenge reality. The evolving social vision of Europe will necessarily hearken back to the very different ideals of the French Revolution and social democracy.

One does not have to peer far into the future to see that the contest between the forces of change and the defenders of the status quo is not over. In the formerly communist countries of Europe, left and liberal advocates of the free market and democracy confront conservative defenders of the power of state bureaucracies. Elsewhere in Europe, Green parties press the cause of environmentalism and other postmaterialist concerns. And nobody can predict what forces may be put into play by future events, from economic crisis to the rise of China. New movements and ideologies will appear and old ones will be revived. Economic hardship may bolster communitarian efforts to relegitimate the state's role in attacking social, sexual, and racial inequalities.

Even looking only at what is already in view, the United States still stands out. For instance, in every one of the 13 richest countries in the European Union, Green parties are represented in the national parliament or the country's delegation to the European Parliament. Greens have recently participated in ruling government coalitions in Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, and Italy. Only the United States lacks even a minimally effective Green party. One of the great puzzles of the 20th century was posed by the title of German sociologist Werner Sombart's 1906 book, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? The puzzle of the next century may be, Why is there no Green party in the United States?