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Remembering Professor Emeritus Seymour Martin Lipset

By Daniel Walsch

Seymour Martin Lipset
Seymour Martin Lipset

Seymour Martin Lipset, Eminent Scholar and Virginia E. Hazel and John T. Hazel Jr. Professor Emeritus of Public Policy since 2004 and one of the most respected and acclaimed social scientists in the United States, died Dec. 31 at Virginia Hospital Center of complications from a stroke. He was 84.

“Marty Lipset was a larger-than-life figure. His name is known to virtually everyone who went to college at any time during the past 50 years,” says Kingsley Haynes, dean of Mason’s School of Public Policy. “We at George Mason, where Marty spent the last years of his academic career, were indeed privileged, as he was one of our school’s founding faculty members. He was both a true gentleman and a great scholar. Much of what we have accomplished at the School of Public Policy is due to Marty. Even now, his influence remains with us every day.”

Lipset came to Mason in 1990 as the Hazel Professor of Public Policy. Among scholars throughout the United States, his appointment was considered by many to be a major coup. Mason’s then Institute of Public Policy was in its infancy and had not yet established itself as one of the university’s major research engines and an academic entity held in high regard. Lipset’s appointment gave the school immense credibility and helped set the tone that it was a scholarly force to be reckoned with.

Lipset, who lived in Arlington, Va., first gained prominence as a result of his theory that there is a connection between economic development and democracy. He also studied the nature of political extremism, how the core American values of equality and achievement keep class conflict in check, and the lessons other countries have for the United States. His major work was in political sociology, trade union organizations, social stratification, public opinion, the sociology of intellectual life, and the conditions for democracy in comparative perspective.

Before joining Mason, Lipset taught at Stanford University and Harvard University. At the time of his death, he was also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He was the author of numerous books.

Lipset had been elected to a number of honorific societies throughout the world, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Education, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the only person to have served as president of both the American Sociological Association (1992–93) and the American Political Science Association (1979–80). In 2000, President Bill Clinton nominated Lipset to serve as a member of the United States Institute of Peace. He later became the group’s president.

On Jan. 31, the George Mason Board of Visitors passed a memorial resolution honoring Lipset’s achievements. His wife, Sidnee, attended the presentation by President Alan Merten, Dean Kingsley Haynes, and the Board of Visitors. To read the memorial resolution please click here.

The National Endowment for Democracy, George Mason University School of Public Policy, and The School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University will hold a memorial tribute honoring the life and work of Seymour Martin Lipset on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at the Kenney Auditorium, Nitze Building in DC. RSVP by February 26 to rsvp@ned.org or 202-378-9690.

The family suggests that anyone wishing to make contributions in Lipset’s memory should contact either the National Endowment for Democracy’s Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World or the American Political Science Association’s Seymour Martin Lipset Library. Both are located in Washington, D.C.

This article appeared in a slightly different version in the Daily Gazette on Jan. 5.

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