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American Dream

Posted by ESC on June 06, 2003

In Reply to: American Dream (proofed- read this one) posted by Word Camel on June 06, 2003

: : : : Is there a consensus on the meaning of American dream? What do most people think it means?

: : : Like most expressions of this kind it means exactly what the politician who utters it says it means but, in truth, it is meaningless jingoism.

: : What it actually means is the ability for one generation - especially of immigrants - to rise within society to be significantly better off than the last in terms of education, opportunity and prosperity. It is sometimes confused with home ownership, which has been its most potent symbol since the housing boom after second world war. I couldn't find the origin of the term but I'd be very interested to know.

: : I must disagree the our cantankerous friend above however, when he says dismisses it as mindless jingoism. Though the term is certainly abused by politicians, near and far, and American society is not perfect by any means, I think the aspiration for a better life for oneself and ones children is far more progressive in a universal sense than the deference and cronieism typical of societies which make a virtue of knowing ones place.

I take issue with the idea that the American dream is "meaningless jingoism."

Before I looked this up, I gave some thought about what the expression means to me. Most Americans have the opportunity for achievement (and happiness) through their own hard work. We've all got a shot at the good life.

One reference has a long section on the phrase. It part it says:

AMERICAN DREAM - "the ideal of freedom and opportunity that motivated the Founding Fathers; the spiritual strength of the nation.In 1893 Katherine Lee Bates wrote in 'America the Beautiful of a 'patriot dream that sees beyond the years.' In 1960 the poet Archibald MacLeish, debating 'national purpose,' said: 'There are those, I know, who will reply that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right, It is. It is the American dream.' The American Dream, to some, stresses opportunity. The phrase defies definition as much as it invites discussion. As a force behind government philosophy, it seems to be interpreted by most users as a combination of freedom and opportunity with growing overtones of social justice." From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).