Continental Divide Of Canadian And American Cultures History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Seymour M. Lipset’s book Continental Divide (1990) contains his analysis of how Canadian and American societies differ from one another in terms of values, ideologies, and social institutions. For purposes of this essay, I reviewed and analyzed Seymour M. Lipset’s book Continental Divide (1990) which contains his analysis of how Canadian and American societies differ from one another in terms of values, ideologies, and social institutions. Seymour Martin Lipset’s highly acclaimed work explores the distinctive character of American and Canadian values and institutions. Lipset draws material from a number of sources: historical accounts, critical interpretations of art, aggregate statistics and survey data, as well as studies of law, religion and government. Drawing a vivid portrait of the two countries, Continental Divide represents some of the best comparative social and political research available.
In the contemporary society characterized by free trade, modernization and massive influences from globalization, there still are major historical and parallel developments in the cultures of two countries that occupy the northern part of the Northern American continent. This factor provides the basis on which Lipset uses to draw indispensable and valuable comparisons of the cultures in the two countries. Additionally, it enabled him to identify the reasons that explain the existence of cultural gaps between the geographical and historical partners. The cultures of the two societies can be differentiated based on organizational principles. For instance, Canada has been and is still known to be a society characterized by elitist, statist, class-aware, law-abiding and group-oriented individuals as compared to the United States (Lipset, 1990). Lipset uses cultural, political, and social institutions to analyse and discuss the differences in cultures between the two nations. The sources used to draw references and illuminate similarities and differences include but are not limited to trade unions, social stratification, religion, law, multiculturalism and social deviance. In order to support his arguments that indeed there are major similarities in cultural differences among the two nations, Lipset draws references from diverse secondary sources that include public opinion polls, census data, and literary criticisms to bring illustrations in the manner in which such differences in cultures and organizational principles are portrayed. The differences are also seen in the patterns of intellectual thoughts, mass attitudes, behaviour and institutional arrangements.
For many years, tensions have existed in the field of political science with respect to the roles of comparative studies against single country studies. In his book, Continental Divide, Lipset Martin Seymour tries to establish a systematic comparison of Canada and the United States. Notably, he postulates that a comparative perspective is the most efficient and effective way to study a country where an individual belongs. Actually, the entire book is an interpretative essay that is based on the foundations of existing research findings and data obtained from the views of the public. The data is used to describe the sources and the nature of the existing differences and cultural diversities and for this reason; he establishes the reasons that have led to the differing paths of cultural developments between Canada and the United States despite them being close neighbours.
Lipset is quick to argue that even though the cultures between the Canadian and American societies may show outward similarities (English Canadians, fashion, mode of living, urban structure), the foundations of the Canadian and American societies are very different (Lipset, 1990). Admittedly, both countries existed because of the American Revolution but unequivocally their cultures followed dissimilar paths to develop to what they are currently. For instance, the American culture upheld the values put forward by the American Revolution such as ‘liberty, life, and pursuit of happiness’ whereas the Canadian society affirmed to the counter-revolutionary values based on ‘peace, order, and good governance (Lipset, 1990). This confirms that the Canadian society defined itself by following the opposite direction as compared to the United States. The American Revolution and the war on independence permanently marked the rebellious grounds of the American character while it gave the Canadians a counter revolutionary character. Even though two centuries have passed since the American Revolution in addition to the coming and going of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the cultures of the two countries are still defined by patterns put forward by their founders.
Socially, the Canadian society accepted those individuals who opposed the American Revolution, and instead preferred the values afforded by the monarchical system of governance. Since the Revolution, 200 years ago, both the Canadian and American societies have undergone several changes in terms of cultural development. Nevertheless, the societies in both countries have not converged in terms of culture despite the changes brought about by the changing environment and chances are unlikely that they will do so. Interestingly, I wonder how is possible that the breakup of Canada from America did not change the ability of English Canadians to restore the disparities that exist amongst themselves in relation to the Americans. This possibility is a difficult task to explain using the ideologies present in the current system (Bush, 1991).
The main objective of using Lipset’s Continental Divide is to enable students and other individuals who are interested in the study of American politics to understand the reasons why there are differences in the American and Canadian cultures despite the two societies having similar roots of origin. Indeed, Lipset not only follows a systematic way to establish comparisons between the two cultures but also uses an eminently clear perspective to explain the factors that lead to the existence of diverse practices, values, and institutions in the two countries. This criterion of establishing differences between the two countries as opposed to using a single-country study enables him to make easier and transparent comparisons of cultures in the two countries (Spencer, 1992).
Politically, Lipset uses foundations from his earlier work, The First New Nation and other literary materials that explain the lack of socialism in the American Culture to trace the roots of the origins of the American political culture back to the eighteenth century. According to his findings, it is evident that the political culture of the Americans is not static but rather modifies itself by embracing values brought about by social and economic interventionism. This includes the perspectives of rights groups and the New Deal of entitlements in recent decades. Despite the existence of such significant changes, Lipset asserts that political changes can be seen in varying electoral and constitutional systems that have formed the basis for protests and consensual politics in each respective country (Lipset, 1990).
Culturally, the past Canadian Heritage is still evident in the contemporary society. This can be still in the collective and group-oriented nature of the American society rather than following the classical, liberal, and individualistic nature that is predominant in the American culture (Bush, 1991).
Limitations of the Study
According to Brym and Lie (2009), Continental Divide fails in some instances despite giving explanations and valid illustrations of how the Canadian society differs from the American society. Lipset’s visions seem to be focused in explaining how Canada has been and how it will always be in terms of a highly centralized country that gives attention to the realization of the social vision of peace and harmony. Matthews (1991) argues that the comparison of the cultural societies in the two countries fails to give enough details of the importance of the Quebec society in Canada despite its linkage to the American continent. The study does not give credit to the fact that students in both the United States and Canadian systems would have benefit a lot if Lipset’s study included evidences to show that Canada is not a nation build on one dimension perspectives and that it has more that the limited English-Canadian version (Matthews, 1991). Furthermore, Lipset’s comparison of the two societies presents the text to seem like a family squabble if viewed from the perspective of the outsiders such as European audiences. In Continental Divide, Canada is portrayed as being a variation based on an American theme invested with French origins. Canada is described in a way that to suggest that it is a by-product of the American Revolution because no outside references are mentioned apart from the few instances of immigration.
Ideologically, Lipset’s arguments do not include accounts of the interactions that occurred between the two countries, a factor that leaves little room for the explanation of how foreign policies should be treated. Sadly, the Lipset’s book does neither mention attempts by the Quebec’s Lobby in Washington nor does it give detailed accounts of instances when Canada attempted to defend its values against those put forward by the United States (Marien 1991). I feel that Lipset should have used an approach that extends to explain ways of dealing with Canadian antagonisms towards the United States’ exceptionalism. Alternatively, it fails to explain ways in which French Canadian’s and French-English interactions have contributed in shaping the social structures and cultural values of the Canadian society although he uses data from these groups to draw differences and disparities in cultures between the two countries. This can evidenced when Lipset compared the privatized health care system of the United States to compare Canadian nationalized health care system. During this comparison, Lipset readily accepted that the elite and public opinions are linked to the Canadian flight of loyalists during the American Revolution.
Lipset’s Continental Divide succeeds excellently in illustrating the ways in which Canadian Cultures differ from the American culture. Generally, the text is well organized, persuasive, and impressive coupled with supporting data and evidence that superbly explains the Canadian society. It provides an excellent starting point to be used by interested students in the study of Canadian and American cultures. Admittedly, both countries existed because of the American Revolution but unequivocally their cultures followed dissimilar paths to develop to what they are currently. Despite, few limitations that have cited in the analysis of the text, Lipset succeeds in presenting a detailed study of institutional differences and cultural contrasts between the Canadian identity and American ideologies (Wilson, n.d).
Undeniably, Lipset not only follows a methodical way to establish comparisons between the two cultures but also uses an eminently clear perspective to explain the factors that lead to the existence of diverse practices, values, and institutions in the two countries. He gives detailed and structuralist accounts of the American-Canadian differences and the values that have contributed to the convergence of the Canadian and American Societies. Indeed, the cross-national differences and comparisons of comparisons in culture have proved that cultural differences still exist between the Canadian and American society despite the countries being close neighbours.
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