The United States seems to be on the verge of some kind of Judgement Day. Extreme partisanship, a past (and future?) president facing seemingly endless indictments and legal entanglements, a profound loss of trust in institutions and leaders, citizens who tell pollsters that their country is heading in the wrong direction and they fear the future—despite objective economic conditions that are better than almost anywhere else. What’s wrong? Why the deep unhappiness, even depression? Is the American dream becoming a nightmare?
Sometimes the best insights come from the outside. Our guest on New Thinking for a New World is an inside outsider with almost unique insight into how the United States works. Lars Trägårdh is a Swedish historian who has lived in the United States on and off for decades and has spent much of that time observing and thinking about the social contract between Americans and their government. Today he’s a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, but continues to spend considerable time traveling across the United States.
Listen as he does a deep dive into the social and political challenges confronting America.
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ABOUT OUR GUEST
Lars Trägårdh is a historian who has mostly lived in the US since 1970, while maintaining his personal and professional ties to Sweden. After many years as an entrepreneur and businessman, he returned to academic studies in 1986. He received his Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley in 1993 after conducting research for several years in Germany and Sweden. He then took a position teaching Modern European history at Barnard College, Columbia University, where he remained for ten years.
During his years in the US, he also conducted a research project that resulted in a celebrated book, Är svensken människa? Gemenskap och oberoende i det moderna Sverige, co-written with Henrik Berggren (2006, revised and extended edition 2015) that subsequently appeared in a German translation in 2016 and most recently in English as The Swedish Theory of Love: Individualism and Social Trust in Modern Sweden, University of Washington Press, 2022.
In 2010 he returned to Sweden where he now serves as a professor of history at Uppsala University. He currently heads a major research project on social trust works that involves a large quantitative survey measuring variation and change in level of social trust and confidence in institutions in local communities across Sweden. Aside from his academic research and writing, he has established a role as a public commentator on Swedish and American politics and society, publishing regularly in Swedish and international media and appearing frequently on Swedish radio and TV. Between 2011 and 2013 he was an independent member of the Commission on the Future of Sweden, headed by the then prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.