Canada and the U.S.: What Makes Us Different? A Response to Seymour Martin Lipset
éd., Unions in Transition: Entering the Second Century (San Francisco: ILS Press 1986). EVER SINCE THE 1950 publication of Agrarian Socialism: The Co-operative Commonwealth in Saskatchewan, Lipset has maintained a lively interest in things Canadian, particularly focusing on a comparative understanding of why agrarian and social democratic third parties flourished in Canada while they expired in the United States. In recent years, as reflected in the three volumes examined here, Lipset has
... e, Lipset has striven toward a more complete comparative study of the two societies, trying to assess their similarities as well as those things which make them distinctive. Not surprisingly, Lipset continues to subject us to the usual functionalist menu of consequence posing as cause and becoming again cause and consequence-the usual series of tautologies and words about words about words that those of us in sociology graduate programs had to plough through in efforts to emerge from North American functkxialism reasonably intellectually unscathed. Lipset's thesis is simplistic: the basic organizing principles in Canada and the United States led to variations in behaviour, institutions and values which in turn reflect those basic organizing principles. And so description -often useful and perceptive description -becomes analysis, and characterization becomes explanation. Having described something -in this case, the things that distinguish Canada and the United States, often in eloquent and incisive prose -should not be a comfort to those who search for social scientific explanations. But too often much of social J.F. Conway, "Canada and the U.S.: What Makes Us Different? A Response to Seymour Martin Lipset," Labour!Le Travail, 28 (Fall 1991), 311-21. LABOUR/LE TRAVAIL science, especially functionalist social science, remains descriptions of descriptions, and summaries of those descriptions. Do not get me wrong. I am neither rejecting Lipset's central insistence on the importance of cultural elements, in this case elements of political culture, as key analytical and causal factors in explaining and predicting human social behaviour. Nor am I positing some mechanical structural approach. But I am saying that a wise approach to social scientific analysis combines the two viewpoints judiciously, always taking care to address the chicken-egg problem. No one can deny that a received and established political culture is both cause and consequence. Thus one can say, with some surety, that this or that political behaviour derives from a certain political culture. But political culture is both cause and consequence. Therefore to understand how a particular political culture is itself a consequence of prior social, political and economic developments seems to me rather important Surely we know the world better when we come to know the cause of the cause. But I will not subject you to a long lesson on the theoretical failures of functionalism. Rather, with these comments in mind, let me address myself to Lipset's latest pronouncements.