The American Dream




Goodness, much has been written about the American Dream. This phenomenon that affects us all to a greater extent, the U.S.-born citizens with their hopes for the future, a positive attitude, and we first generation immigrants, on everyday life, but also in our deep faith in the future.

Spending most of my time between the French world and the American universe through my work, my family, my culture, I would say, that did I hear about it. "Bullshit," "jokes", some claiming that "Americans themselves do not believe in this term, the American dream is long dead," most showing me analyzes and arguments to move our dream to a single capitalist propaganda. But what happens really ? Is this dream dead ?, has it actually existed ? To see thing a little more clearly, it’s necessary to focus on the origin of the "American Dream".

Because whether some people like it or not, the American dream is not just a capitalist invention to attract people to be lulled by hope! And yes, this American Dream is now the very foundation of America, at its sources, on the initial project of the founding fathers.

"How is that possible? ". Yes keep in mind one of the original texts, the Bill of Right, our "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”, who by the way is earlier than your version but I guess this is another story. The preamble of our social contract begins this way:



We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”



What is important in this text is that it differs profoundly from your "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" on a principle that is fundamental for us. If we agree on the life and liberty, the US text adds a concept that is unique to our culture: The pursuit of happiness, and here we go the seed that will germinate the idea of ​​the American dream was planted. To understand this concept you must take into account the spirit of the same founding fathers. Contrary to what many Europeans think, French first, our founding fathers, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, who met in the fall of 1776 to agree on a constitution, went deep into their expectations of their times but also those of the future. They had lived repression in Europe, religious intolerance, but they were especially aware of the stormy history of intolerance in European countries until their time. The founding fathers were mostly great scholars, great spirits for their time. They knew that their continent was not just a dream of gold and silver but much more, starting with Thomas Paine, landed in 1774 penniless in New England, was full of optimism and possibility to seek happiness. Because it’s really more an opportunity to start all over again, this is the foundation of the American Dream. The monetary or at least the standard of living only applied at the end of the Second World War when the Americans had a higher standard of living than Europe, twice the level.


If a certain ease of our system makes this dream possible, it does not fully explain its spread so widely as now. This expansion or rather diffusion as I often like to remind it, comes from the true nature of our country. The US has always been a Métis nation from the start, a safe haven where immigration from different cultures and backgrounds keep succeeding. Primarily because the American dream is for all the world, it’s general and so personal because everyone has his own vision of happiness. This can be money, religious or otherwise. Generations come and go, cultures mix, and all take over the concept, that is its strength.


The search for happiness is a key principle for us. Many times in our history, it was reminded to us. It was reminded to us in the 30s by Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression, when many Americans being unemployed were deprived of their quest for happiness. Each social protest, the minorities, the protesters claim that they don’t want to end the system like in Europe in May of 1968, but throw into highlight their exclusion from the American dream, the impossibility to pursue happiness. This was particularly true of black in the 60s.

Black you say, let’s talk about the minorities because as I frequently hear in France, "The American Dream is fine, but it doesn’t speak about the minorities, the millions of poor ..". And the excluded people it’s true that there has been some, but I think it’s necessary to return once again to the founding fathers to explain some of these excluded. As soon as the constitution is signed, there were excluded people because being a free man meant at the time to be white and a landlord, to be rich. For those who welcome this American mentality I answer them that this spirit prevailed as well in Europe, particularly in England where being white and  a landlord was a major condition for the right to vote in parliament. So of course this does not excuse the exclusion that resulted, but all its great minds that were the founding fathers, were nevertheless men of their time, full of prejudices, beliefs, their wrong too.

Were excluded from the very beginning, the poor, women, Indians and black slaves. But if America was tarnished with its exclusions, its history would once again prove the fundamental attachment and unequivocally of its people to its values, its draft constitution. Because each time the excluded people have only asked for one thing: that America is to be faithful to its principles and meets its initial project! These minorities have with their protests demanded to have the right to life, liberty and especially the right to the pursuit of happiness. This was the case of the poor who had the right to vote, blacks in 1868, women in 1920 and then ends with the Indians in 1924. Sure it was perhaps not entirely effective, or become part of everyday life, but the time has not come to end this constitution, the generations have invented amendments, texts to add to the initial project with the evolution of the values of the American culture, particularly to expand the American dream to the categories of the population that were excluded. In short it will be less and less possible to be excluded on the land of Jefferson. Of course you ask me if that dream is still alive today? Why so many poor, excluded in America?


Now here is a very important point about America, the project of the founding fathers, and the very institutions of the USA, if they have to protect and build prosperity for its own people, have not the mission to protect the people against poverty. Indeed, the main purpose for immigrants just off the boat from Europe over the centuries was much less to receive aid from the state than to be able to conquer their own dreams on their own, and the state was more than tolerant to enable them to achieve their business. The many generations of immigrants arriving in the US didn’t want to find a strong government, those who were fleeing precisely because of intolerance and poverty problems. Capitalism and individualism made in USA suited them. Then of course the various crises that suffered the USA decreased more this wild capitalism but the individualistic side remained forever. Already, I hear many French saying "Selfish," "I told you so, it's every man for himself." In fact it’s a bit more complicated than that. Individualism in the US does not mean so much a desire to crush his neighbor than to be the definition of freedom across the Atlantic. To sum up this thought, one of the founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton stated:


"Inequality will exist as long as liberty exists. It unavoidably results from that very liberty itself. "


This principle is almost against the French republican model. One where the individual is taken as such, regardless of gender, age and religion, the freedom to be free and equal before the law. In the US, we recognize individuals as equal but freedom is achieved with self-realization, our values. We are free because we are ourselves, we are free thanks to our difference from the other but united by the project of our constitution. There isn’t really a model because it depends on each individual, there are many models. Then of course you say it doesn’t excuse poverty, but no democracy, no currently system  is perfect and America has never prided itself on wanting to be such a model. Of course it can claims to be a model of wealth, political stability, immigration, and we must admit that if it’s not perfect, it has managed to keep much of its claims. Besides the founding fathers themselves were not looking for perfection, unlike other ideologies that are thought to achieve results but have each disappeared into oblivion.


The speech of Benjamin Franklin during the vote of the constitution points in this direction:


« I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve (…) For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects (…) I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such (…) I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an Assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me (…) to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does (…). I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. »


That’s why I conclude with a positive affirmation that the American dream is still possible, as long as you know what is your dream. Today its persistence comes from the universality to feel free and safe, to not be afraid to practice their religion. To live a normal life, while certainly not perfect, but to offer to his wife and children what they need. The American dream still persists today and has expanded over the centuries because unlike ideologies, it’s relevant to the average guy and especially the excluded people, poor, minorities around the world, it’s outward looking and not just to citizens of the United States of America. This is the American dream that somewhere on our planet, a continent doesn’t give a life insurance but a possibility to live his or her life as they choose, without any obstacle to what is most dear to its people, freedom.