Americans Believe “Individuals Are Responsible for their Own Success”

BrooksDavid.jpg   David Brooks.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT commentary cited below.


David Brooks wrote some useful reflections on some of the work of sociologist Seymour Martin Lipsett, who died on New Year’s Eve at the end of 2006:


Lipset was relentlessly empirical, and rested his conclusions on data as well as history and philosophy. He found that Americans have for centuries embraced individualistic, meritocratic, antistatist values, even at times when income inequality was greater than it is today.

Large majorities of Americans have always believed that individuals are responsible for their own success, Lipset reported, while people in other countries are much more likely to point to forces beyond individual control. Sixty-five percent of Americans believe hard work is the key to success; only 12 percent think luck plays a major role.

In his “American Exceptionalism” (1996), Lipset pointed out that 78 percent of Americans endorse the view that “the strength of this country today is mostly based on the success of American business.” Fewer than a third of all Americans believe the state has a responsibility to reduce income disparities, compared with 82 percent of Italians. Over 70 percent of Americans believe “individuals should take more responsibility for providing for themselves” whereas most Japanese believe “the state should take more responsibility to ensure everyone is provided for.”

America, he concluded, is an outlier, an exceptional nation.


For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS.  "The American Way of Equality."  The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., January 14, 2007):  12.


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