The Center for Immigration Studies hosted a panel discussion entitled, "The Cultural Impact of Immigration". The conversation began with a discussion of NYU Professor Lawrence Mead's book, "Burdens of Freedom: Cultural Difference and American Power." He was joined on the panel by Ramesh Ponnuru, editor of National Review, and Peter Skerry, a professor of political science at Boston College.
Culture is often dismissed entirely from debates on immigration, but this panel faces it head-on. With more than 47 million immigrants now living in the country, more than triple what it was as recently as 1980, the need to think about this topic is more important than ever.
Mead argued that many immigrants struggle to adopt to America’s individualistic and "inner-driven" culture, which is the key to success for the individual as well as for society. He argued that a large number of today’s immigrants come from collective societies that tend to create passive, conformist citizens who are more deferential to authority than Americans. This leads Mead to support a reduction in immigration and a larger investment in assimilation efforts. Ramesh Ponnuru, editor of National Review, Peter Skerry, a professor of political science at Boston College, and Steven Camarota, the Center’s director of research, pushed back on some of Mead’s arguments despite agreeing on the need for less immigration and more assimilation.
The cultural dimension of U.S. immigration policy is often disregarded, but Ponnuru reminded the audience that culture is an important topic. He said, “My chief concern is that the country have cultural cohesion, not to say conformity, but that we are all fellow citizens who have common interests and that we can deliberate about those common interests together which helps if we all, or almost all, speak the same language and have a shared sense of belonging…” Skerry highlighted the importance of culture in public policy debates and lamented that it never gets addressed in a serious or thoughtful way. He argues that Mead paints with too broad a brush and that American individualistic values have changed and been pushed to excess, corroding our institutions. He too talked about assimilation saying, “We do not spend much time or effort to try to assimilate immigrants to our norms partly because we cannot agree on what those norms are.”
Larry M. Mead is Professor of Politics and Public Policy at New York University. His previous books helped define the thinking behind the welfare reform of the 1990s, which required many recipients to work as a condition of aid. His most recent book, "Burdens of Freedom: Cultural Difference and American Power", presents a "new and radical interpretation of America and its challenges" and deals with the difficulty that many of today's immigrants have in adopting America's individualistic and "inner-driven" culture.
Ramesh Ponnuru is editor of National Review, where he has covered national politics and policy for more than 25 years. He is also a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, which syndicates his articles in newspapers across the nation. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and serves as a contributing editor to National Affairs, a quarterly journal of conservative ideas.
Peter Skerry is professor of political science at Boston College and a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He is also a contributing editor at American Purpose and a member of the editorial board of the journal Society. He was previously a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is author of “Counting on the Census: Race, Group Identity, and the Evasion of Politics” (Brookings) and “Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority” (Free Press/Harvard University Press), which was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Steven A. Camarota, the Center's director of research, moderated the panel.
Date and Location:
October 6, 2022
Larry M. Mead Statement
Ramesh Ponnuru Statement
Peter Skerry Statement
Larry M. Mead Rebuttal and Further Discussion