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American Dream

Posted by Barney on June 07, 2003

In Reply to: American Dream posted by Bob on June 07, 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).

: : : : If you travel in the Middle East, you will often hear variations on the theme: "Americans get out! Go home! (And take me with you.)"

: : : I am an American of 65 years and I go with "meaningless jingoism." or perhaps just "jingoism" would be better as it implies "yea, horray, OK..".

: : I am sorry you feel that way.

: "Jingoism" is not accurate. Granted, the current government in Washington is jingoistic, but this "let's go beat up a small nation to get re-elected" is relatively recent. The phrase American Dream is older, and speaks to the ideals of freedom, empowerment, and
: unlimited possibility. Of course, this could be, and often was, an illusion. The immigrant's dream. Contrary to myth, the majority of European immigrants to America in the great wave of 1880-1915 did NOT intend to stay. They wanted to make some money and return home in a few years. But they did make money, advance, buy homes, send their kids to school (to become "Americanized") and in general, get seduced by the American Dream. Our idealized, non-cynical view of ourselves is currently being tarnished by our moron President, but the national bullying is only temporary. We hope.

I'm not well know for being cantankerous but from the comments above it would appear that I'm entering a new phase in my life.