S. M. Lipset & democracy’s fragility



If Seymour Martin Lipset had lived, he would have celebrated his 95th birthday on 18 March. Today, his prolific scholarship remains as timely and influential as when he was an actively engaged author, notes Mildred A. Schwartz, professor emerita at the University of Illinois at Chicago and visiting scholar at New York University. Google Scholar reports 13,808 citations between 2012 and the beginning of 2017. All of Lipset’s papers have been collected at the Library of Congress and soon will be available to researchers. One cannot think of other contemporary social scientists of his caliber who remain as relevant, she writes for Oxford University’s OUP blog:

Two years before Lipset’s passing, the Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture called ‘Democracy in the World’ was jointly inaugurated by the National Endowment for Democracy and the Munk School of Public Affairs at the University of Toronto. The annual lecture…is subsequently published in the Journal of Democracy. The 13 lectures delivered thus far reflect and extend Lipset’s concerns with the conditions needed for the emergence and sustaining of democracy, and do so by moving outside the Anglo-American and Eurocentric world to Russia, China, Latin America, and the Arab world (e.g., Pierre Hassner’s “Russia’s Transition to Autocracy” (2007), Abdou Filali-Ansary’s “The Languages of the Arab Revolution,” (2012), and [Andrew] J. Nathan’s “The Puzzle of the Chinese Middle Class.” (2016).

In all the discussions of the difficulty of establishing democratic governance and its fragility in newly democratized states, there had been little concern with anti-democratic drifts. But new fears have arisen, as nationalist movements opposed to immigrants and globalization have grown in these countries, she adds:

Larry Diamond, writing shortly before the outcome of the 2016 US election, discerned the growing decline in support for pluralism and democratic procedures. …Not only has Lipset been called on to explain current challenges to democracy, but his past writing has also been invoked to understand why particular population groups have been mobilized to support those challenges. …Lipset’s work on political parties and social stratification are additional areas that continue to provoke new questions and new research. Bornschier (2009) reviews work on the continuing relevance of the concept of cleavage to party formation in both old and new democracies. 


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