About Lawrence Mead
Lawrence M. Mead is
Professor of Politics and Public Policy at New York
University and author of the new book, Burdens of
Freedom: Cultural Difference and American Power. He
has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Princeton, and the
University of Wisconsin. He has also been a visiting fellow
at Princeton and at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
Mead is a frequent media guest who has appeared on major
radio and television programs nationwide. He and his work
have appeared in influential publications such as The
New York Times, The Washington Post, and The
Economist. He is an expert on the problems of poverty
and welfare in the United States. Among academics, he was
the principal exponent of work requirements in welfare, the
approach that now dominates national policy. He is also a
leading scholar of the politics and implementation of
welfare reform programs. He has written nine books and more
than a hundred other publications on these subjects. These
works have helped shape welfare reform in the United States
and abroad. Mead has consulted with federal, state, and
local governments in this country and with several foreign
countries. He testifies regularly to Congress on poverty,
welfare, and social policy, and he often comments on these
subjects in the media. He is a native of Huntington, New
York, and a graduate of Amherst College. He received his
Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University.
Burdens of Freedom
Cultural Difference and American Power
By Lawrence M. Mead
Washington, DC—America stands at a cultural crossroads that
will define its national character and determine its
future. The great fact about today’s world is cultural
difference. Americans have long thought that they are no
different from other people, only freer and more fortunate.
They pride themselves on living independent lives in which
they work out their personal destiny. They wish that
everyone had these opportunities. But that individualist
style of life is far less universal than most people think,
and today it has come into question both at home and
abroad. To recognize and address that huge reality is the
great challenge of our time.
In BURDENS OF FREEDOM: Cultural Difference and American
Power (Encounter Books, April 23, 2019), noted New York
University professor Lawrence Mead contends that the chief
threat to American leadership is no longer foreign rivals
like China but the decay of individualism within our own
society. He argues that the United States is an
individualist society where most people seek to realize
personal goals and values out in the world. This unusual,
inner-driven culture was the chief reason why first Europe,
then Britain, and finally America came to lead the world.
But today, our deepest problems derive from groups and
nations that reflect the more passive, deferential
temperament of the non-West.
BURDENS OF FREEDOM maintains that: “All of
America’s toughest tests today involve groups or nations
that, on average, are not individualist, but more cautious
and collective-minded. At home, individualism is fading
among low-income Americans, who are less able than they once
were to take responsibility for themselves. Immigrants,
too, are much less individualist today than they were a
century ago, because they chiefly come from Asia or Latin
America rather than Europe. That is, they tend to defer to
the setting around them rather than asserting themselves and
seeking change. Abroad, America must deal with poor
countries much worse governed than we are. These countries
require support but also guidance. We also face Asian
challengers for world leadership, particularly mainland
China, which again are not individualist. In all these
struggles, cultural difference is the great reality.”
The great divide is between the individualist West, for
which life is a project, and the rest of the world, in which
most people seek to survive rather than achieve. This
difference, although clear in research on world cultures,
has been ignored in virtually all previous scholarship on
American power and public policy, both at home and abroad.
Lawrence Mead argues that fear of racism has long suppressed
discussion of these differences. Our establishment insists
that all Americans of whatever background arethe same.
But ever since his election campaign in 2016, President
Trump has flouted that taboo. He often disparages
minorities and immigrants in flagrant terms, inciting
charges of racism. The defenders of sameness call him
racist. But whether he is or not, he has made it clear that
group and national differences in culture must be faced
rather than denied.
In contrast to either Trump or his critics, BURDENS OF
FREEDOM questions both sameness and racism. Culture
connotes what people think life is about, what we strive to
do or be. Differences in culture are too important to
ignore, but neither are they racial in any physical sense.
Rather, they arise from differences in attitudes and ways of
life. Most Americans descend from the strongly
individualist ethos of Europe, but minorities and most
recent immigrants reflect the more cautious,
collective-minded, and deferential societies of other parts
of the world. Research on world cultures and from other
sources shows that these differences are large and
important. They enrich our culture, but they greatly
complicate integrating our society at home and maintaining
American primacy abroad.
BURDENS OF FREEDOM is the first book to recognize
how the West’s unique individualist culture set it apart.
It casts new light on America’s greatest struggles. It
re-evaluates the entire Western tradition, which took
individualism for granted. How to respond to cultural
difference is the greatest test of our times. In order for
American world leadership to endure, a cultural battle
to reaffirm an individualist America must first be fought
To arrange an interview with Burdens
of Freedom author Lawrence Mead, please contact
Stephen Manfredi at 202.222.8028 or smanfredi@ManfrediStrategyGroup.com.
10 Interview Questions
for Burdens of Freedom Author Lawrence M. Mead
To Learn More About Burdens of Freedom, visit www.EncounterBooks.com
did you write BURDENS OF FREEDOM: Cultural Difference
and American Power?
“individualism” in the American context. What created
America’s distinctive individualist culture?
distinguishes America and the West’s more individualist
societies from a majority of non-Western cultures around the
do you argue that the chief threat to American leadership is
no longer foreign rivals like China but the decay of
individualism within our own society? What is causing the
deterioration of American individualism? When did it begin?
do you believe individualism is fading among low-income
Americans? What makes these Americans different and less
able to thrive despite our national wealth? Why do you
argue that today’s immigrants to America are less
individualistic than they were a century ago? How are these
trends changing America?
contend that the great divide today is between the
individualist West and the rest of the world, but a fear of
“racism” has long suppressed dialogue about these
differences. Why does our establishment insist that
Americans of every background are the same? Why do we say
that America is a multicultural society but to discuss
cultural difference is forbidden? What impact has President
Trump had on this dialogue?
7. In BURDENS
OF FREEDOM, you challenge both sameness and racism.
Please explain. Are cultural differences related to race?
Can individuals from any cultural background assimilate into
American society and thrive by adopting our nation’s
uniquely individualist traits? Is the American “melting
pot” broken? Does that ideal lead to a less individualist
culture when more collective-minded immigrants come to
America? Should America change its immigration policies to
protect its individualist culture?
contend that we face challengers for world leadership, like
China, that are more collective-minded. What impact is this
having on America and its culture? With the end of the Cold
War, many argued that democratic capitalism had triumphed.
claim that American and Western power was created by wealth
and access to material resources. Why do you consider
cultural differences between the West and non-Western
societies to be more decisive? How can nations with more
collectivist tendencies adopt the West’s individualist
characteristics? How should America approach non-Western
international competitors and poorer nations with failed
governments that don’t share our culture?
argue that in order for American world leadership to endure,
a cultural battle to reaffirm an individualist
America must first be fought and won. What can be done to
stop the decay of individualism within our own society?
What practical steps can individuals take to promote
America’s individualist culture?