Council Fellow Walter Russell Mead Wins World’s Top Prize in Foreign Policy Writing, the Lionel Gelber Prize for 2002

January 15, 2003 10:28 am (EST)

News Releases

January 15, 2003 - Walter Russell Mead has won the Lionel Gelber Prize for outstanding writing on international affairs for his book Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (Knopf, 2001). The book examines American foreign policy over the past two centuries.

More From Our Experts

The winner was announced today by Patricia S. Rubin, Chair of the Lionel Gelber Prize Board, in partnership with Janice Gross Stein, Director of the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, and Moises Naim, Editor of Foreign Policy magazine in Washington. The Economist has called the Lionel Gelber Prize, which has a cash value of $30,000 Canadian, “the world’s most important award for non-fiction.”

More on:

Council on Foreign Relations Books

U.S. Foreign Policy

United States

“I’m flattered, astounded and thrilled,” Mead said upon hearing he had won the award. “The Lionel Gelber Prize is looked at as the Mount Everest of foreign policy writing.”

Special Providence opens with a simple declaration: “This is a book about how and why American foreign policy works.” Mead’s provocative conclusion - which he calls “optimistic” if not “triumphal” - is that far from being amateurish and stumbling, American foreign policy has succeeded astonishingly well over two centuries. The United States was dealt a good hand, Mead concedes, but she has played her cards exceptionally well.

Mead attributes this success to four schools of thought, named after four American statesmen: the Hamiltonian (protection of commerce), Jeffersonian (maintenance of a democratic system), Jacksonian (populist values, military strength), and Wilsonian (moral principle). The title of Mead’s book comes from a remark usually attributed to Otto von Bismarck, who is alleged to have said, “God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America.”

More From Our Experts

“The strength of Mr. Mead’s clear, jargon-free analysis is that he is so even-handed in his description of all four schools, whose members are often vitriolic in denouncing each other,” says Max Boot in the Wall Street Journal. “His view is that the four factions limit one another’s excesses and that the interaction among them produces a wiser policy than any of them could on its own. Looking at the long record of U.S. foreign policy, it is hard to disagree.”

“Mead is a clear and original thinker and an engaging writer, and these pages are filled with striking insights and pithy formulations,” says Aaron L. Friedberg, of Princeton University, in the New York Times.

More on:

Council on Foreign Relations Books

U.S. Foreign Policy

United States

In a review in the Los Angeles Times, David Rieff says Mead’s book “is an impassioned effort to debunk the view of such American Bismarckians as Henry Kissinger, who once wrote that ‘America’s journey through international relations has been a triumph of faith over experience’.”

Mead is a regular contributor on international affairs to the Los Angeles Times and contributes articles and essays to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Esquire, and Worth.

He is an honors graduate of Groton and Yale, where he received prizes for history, debating and the translation of New Testament Greek.

A reception to honour the winner will be held in Toronto on January 29 at the Munk Centre for International Studies, at the University of Toronto at 5:30 p.m. Mead will deliver a brief lecture on the relevance of his book to current world issues.

The other distinguished finalists for the 2002 Lionel Gelber Prize:

Paul Blustein: The Chastening: Inside the Crisis that Rocked the Global Financial System and Humbled the IMF (PublicAffairs).

Joseph S. Nye Jr.: The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone (Oxford University Press).

Samantha Power: ’A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books).

Raja Shehadeh: Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine (Steerforth Press).

The Lionel Gelber Prize was established in 1990 by Canadian diplomat Lionel Gelber. “His two passionate interests were America as a superpower and the Middle East, a wonderful fit with this year’s winner,” said Gelber’s niece Patricia Rubin. Last year’s Lionel Gelber Prize winner was Britain’s Lord Robert Skidelsky for his epochal work John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain 1937-1946.


Top Stories on CFR

Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines

Vaccines are a major public health success story, but the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the many challenges involved in getting a vaccine to everyone who needs it.


The United States’ alliance with Japan is the centerpiece of U.S. security in Asia, but new demographic challenges from within Japan raise concerns about the future of the region.

Middle East and North Africa

If Westerners are shocked at political developments in Tunisia, it’s because they described it as a straightforward success for too long.