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The American Dream


The idea of the American Dream is evoked so often, from so many quarters, I decided I was no longer sure we all agreed on just what the dream is.

From Wikipedia, quoting James Truslow Adams:

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Adams is credited with coining the phrase in 1931. During the Great Depression.

The American Dream is for each to make his slice of the pie bigger and tastier through his own industry. It is an assertion that if each is left to follow his dreams, each and every one of us will be made richer in every sense. The American Dream is a repudiation of class and caste. It is an echo of the human yearning for creative fulfillment.

The American Dream cannot be transferred. It must be built by each person, according to each want and capacity. The American Dream does not tear down those who have achieved. Yet, its pursuit creates a rising tide that improves the lot of all. Even the idle, the incapable, and the predatory, will benefit in a society aligned with the American Dream.

It is thus honest, expansive, cooperative, and magnanimous. The American Dream is limited only by our will to follow it. Material measures are merely shorthand. Human endeavour is not rooted in attainment, but in striving.

Any who feel the American Dream is beyond their reach have been hoodwinked. Perhaps by the lazy, hoping for dismal companionship. Or by the predators, who pervert the dream, offering accomplishment without effort.

Effort is implicit in the American Dream. It is to find meaningful work, and to enjoy just rewards. Those rewards can take the form of physical comforts and luxuries, or in the wonder of learning, or in the satisfaction of creating a greater endowment upon which future generations can build their own dreams. Each earns the particular fruit that suits his palate. And, so long as the fruit is earned and not stolen, he deserves all he can attain.

This is my American Dream. I am an originalist; the dream has not changed. Nor has human nature. Beware a charlatan offering fulfillment at some other fellow’s expense. He may be a dreamer who lost his way. Correct him, or tell him to move along. But be wary, too, against those who are simply devils, tempting with poisoned fruit.

To honor our endowment requires us to pass it along untainted. In the same way we abhor pollution of our majestic mountains and fruited plains, we must not poison the philosophic landscape. The only way to preserve the American Dream is to follow it.