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Abstract disponibile solo in lingua inglese
The essay opens with a reconstruction of the historical origins of the idea of American "exceptionalism", and of one of the main problems connected thereto – that of the non-formation in the United States of class-consciousness, and hence of a vital Socialist movement. The author goes on to examine the political-institutional and sociological variables which characterise the United States and make them different from all other developed Western countries: he concludes that the United States represent the only complete democratic and bourgeois society, devoid of any post-feudal residues, and a liberal one too (using "liberal" in its most classical, nineteenth-century sense). Lipset subsequently analyses Americanism as an ideology together with its relationship with religion as it was practiced and interpreted by the dissidend Protestant sects. It is also through religion and the voluntariness thereof that he explains the extent and diffusion, unprecedented anywhere in the world, of the phenomenon of private philanthropism. Finally, consideration is given to some of the negative aspects of American society, such as the high rates of crime, divorce and teenager pregnancy. The author's thesis is that the very components – individualism, religious devotion, egalitarianism, the emphasis on success – that are at the base of the positive aspects of American society also explain the less savoury sides thereof. After making a comparison with Canada, which further highlights the uniqueness of the United States as a nation defined not by history but by ideology, Lipset concludes that, although the more European countries are modernised, the more they are "Americanised" and will be even more so in the future, it is at the moment impossible not to consider the United States essentially different from other Western democracies.