Now and then one hears or reads reference to “the American Dream,” as if there were just one such thing.
What is uniquely American is just that Americans are supposed to be free to dream their own dreams, pursue their own happiness as they understand it.
Very loosely, the American dream refers to a certain measure of prosperity, including home and vehicle ownership, along with what makes this possible — a decent line of work.
These are broadly enough definable so they do not amount to a one-size-fits-all idea for one to have to buy into. Just like happiness, to the pursuit of which all human beings have a right (as per the Declaration of Independence), the American dream can vary enormously from person to person.
When I first came to the United States of America, I was 17 1/2 and was very involved in learning about America. I did this even before arriving here, mostly by reading novels by the likes of Zane Gray, Erle Stanley Garner, Mark Twain, and others.
Thinking back on it, I cannot identify any one thing these novels agreed on that would qualify as the American dream. Certainly nothing specific, nothing concrete. At most they conveyed the notion that, in America, men and women prize their liberty and prefer taking on the job of governing their own lives as they see fit.
It seemed to me back then that Americans stood out by not concerning themselves with following the herd, with doing routinely what their neighbors did, with reaching some kind of standard of life considered to be the average or mean.
They had their own standards of success, or at least they projected this as Americans. And that is one main reason I set my eyes on coming to live here. The envy-driven concern about equality just seemed absent here, while it dominated the countries under the thumb of the Soviets, for example.
Sadly much of this has changed.
Now, talk of the American dream tends to imply wanting everyone to be equally well off. If some have it very good, well, then it’s unjust that others don’t. Never mind setting out on one’s own path, as an artist, engineer, banker, architect, soldier or whatever. That would be the old version of the American dream, at least as I understood it.
Truth be told, myself and others who came here from abroad, didn’t worry much about some American dream — not if it had anything to do with some one-size-fits-all blueprint to be implemented in one’s life. No, it was mostly all about doing what one wants to do, pursuing one’s personal dream, one’s own, if you will, American dream.
And respecting the rights of others do likewise.
Of course America didn’t quite live up to this more sensible rendition of “the dream” since many were still disenfranchised, even oppressed, who lived here. But comparatively speaking America made plenty of room for the pursuit of one’s dream and still does, judging by how many millions across the globe want to come here to live and work even in the midst of difficult economic times.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: TMachan@link.freedom.com