Yesterday I learned that my book, Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada, has been awarded an Honorable Mention for the 2020 Seymour Martin Lipset Best Book Award competition of the American Political Science Association’s Canadian Politics Section.
It is both ironic and fitting that my book should win an award named after Lipset. Ironic because much of the book consists of a sustained critique of his work, but fitting because of how intertwined we are both academically and intellectually. Academically, I am literally his “academic grandson,” as Lipset was dissertation chair for my own dissertation chair, Kim Voss. And intellectually, much as I disagree fundamentally with Lipset in so many ways, there are few social scientists whose research agendas intersect as closely with mine. Not only in terms of his work comparing the U.S. and Canada, but more broadly his work on class formation, party-class relations, and political identities, which can only be called foundational.
We also share a common political history on the anti-Stalinist Left, although Lipset ventured quite far from where he began. He was famously part of the group that came to be known as the “New York Intellectuals,” which counted among them not only Lipset, but other prominent mid-century figures like the Irvings Howe and Kristol, Daniel Bell, Hannah Arendt, Nathan Glazer, Susan Sontag, Philip Selznick, Sidney Hook, and others. Lipset along with many of them cut his political teeth in the Trotskyist-influenced Young People’s Socialist League, famously engaging in wide-ranging political debates in the alcoves of the City College of New York’s lunch room.
Like most of the New York Intellectuals, Lipset veered fairly far to the right in later years, although not as far as some of his erstwhile comrades. In this regard, as with our analytical approaches, Lipset and I diverged. Still, I would contend that his Trotskyist political training stayed with him for much of his life, deeply influencing the types of questions he sought to answer, and fueling his lifelong curiosity with the intersection of class and politics.
While I think he had the wrong answers, I will say that he certainly asked the right questions. For that, I remain in his debt.