The American Dream: A Rant by Creighton Harrington

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By: Creighton Harrington

Hey everyone! I’m baaaack! Good to see you again! Sorry I’ve been gone for so long. Writing are hard. Anyway, here is a quick rant:

What can be more politicized than this concept of “the American dream?” How many of us have heard it in one form or another? How many of us have been told that it was ours for the taking; that is was America’s greatest truth? Or Her biggest lie?

What does it mean? Ask 100 people and you’ll get 100 different answers. It is the promise of opportunity, some may say, or the promise of wealth. It means two cars in every garage and a white, picket fence. It’s the thought that if you work hard enough, you can do whatever your heart desires. It is the last point to which I most strongly identify.

In the wake of the economic downturn of 2008, we heard talk that the American dream was dead. This is actually a newer attack. Before this, the concept of the American dream was attacked by those who viewed it as a romanticization of wealth and materialism. The ultra-rich became the avatars of the American dream and to it they brought with them the envy which has always followed men of wealth. One need only listen to a literary critic discuss the meaning of novels like The Great Gatsby to hear vocalized the thoughts of many in the American 20th century. Was being rich really the path to happiness? Should we be so attached to the concept of material success? “Money isn’t everything,” they’d say, and “the American dream may not be as attractive as we have been told.”

I heard a different message after the collapse of the housing bubble. The American dream was no longer attacked as a disguise for greed or rejection of the sentimental. Indeed, it is such a description of the American dream to which current critics believe. They don’t attack the American dream because they feel it values wealth above all, but because they believe they cannot have it.

We are now told that if you work hard enough, you won’t accomplish wonders, but will be stuck in the same dead end job, the same debt, and the same relative poverty for the rest of your life. Advancement is no longer based upon merit. The system, they say, is rigged to protect those “too big to fail.” The American dream is dead.

They may be right, but not for the reasons which they believe.

The American dream was never about success, it was about opportunity. To this point I think many will agree. Yet, this idea of opportunity should be nuanced. It was not the opportunity brought forth by a bustling economy or growth in GDP. It was not the opportunity of millions of jobs with not enough people to fill them.

It was the opportunity provided by a free society.

We have forgotten what made America great. It was never that she was an economic powerhouse. This was merely an effect. What made her great was that she was built on the idea of freedom; the freedom to which such economic conditions are a result.

In America, the end was not given to you from birth. Even before the 20th century when millions of immigrants came to America searching for opportunity, this idea of the American dream existed in all but name. You were no longer the servant to a head of state or oligarchy. The Declaration of Independence read, “All men are created equal.” Not equal in material wealth, not equal in societal blessing, but equal in rights. Every man became a king and, thus, no one was. The God-given right of choice was returned to you. You could choose what you wanted to do with your life and, should you not like the options presented to you, then you could go out and make new options a reality.

To be frank, I think that most cries of the American dream being dead are really cries of laziness and entitlement. Nevertheless, if the critics are right, it is not because freedom has failed, but because they have failed. They…we…have allowed America to become the very thing that millions ran from in the early 20th century. We have destroyed the foundation of Her greatness because we have lost sight of what made Her great. We have listened to the snake oil merchants promise us a society of security if only we grant them the privilege of being our guardians from ourselves.

Perhaps they were well-intentioned. Perhaps the early economic planners believed they were doing good. We must have someone to protect the little man from the falsity and deceptiveness of those who only want their money. We must codify economic rules, arbitrarily defined, because unfettered freedom will result in the possibility of a foolish choice. We don’t want to take all of your freedom to choose, to interact with each other voluntarily, but only some of it, and in the end you’ll thank us because we know what is best. Indeed, the experts have told us so.

If any well-intentioned beliefs still exist, then they are purely the beliefs of the naive. Government control isn’t to society’s benefit, it is to one groups’ benefit at the expense of another’s. Regulatory apparati are the political means to an economic end for those cunning enough to recognize that guns are better for the bottom line than quality.

Yes, the American dream may indeed be dead. But it died long, long ago when we forgot who we were. It came in the night wearing the cloak of material promise and security and if we are ever to get it back, then we must understand what it meant in the first place. Then, maybe, we can move forward with getting rid of government altogether.

Now THAT is the dream.

Creighton Harrington is 26-year-old libertarian who writes for WAL occasionally and yells on podcasts uncontrollably.