What is the American Dream? There are many definitions ranging from individual success to national hopes for justice and equality. Most people come to these shores in pursuit of some version of the American Dream. James Truslow Adams, who coined the phrase, wrote:
[The American Dream is] that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. [The Epic of America, 1931]
But we cannot ignore many American Nightmares. The slaughter of natives, enslavement of African Americans, exploitation of immigrants, indifference to the poor, hostility towards workers’ organizations, subordination of women, consumerist glut, environmental destruction, and imperialist aggression – were these aided and abetted by some interpretations of the Dream? Can faulty dreams lead to personal or ethnic despair and even crime when individual or group expectations are more than reality will allow?
Affiliated with Penn State Behrend, the Institute on the American Dream explores the bright and the dark sides of the Dream so that ways forward can be discussed. From where did the Dream come? Does it work today? Who wins and who loses? Is it a way to hold American society together and also celebrate multi-culturalism? What are the international implications?
Charles Brock, Director
The Institute on the American Dream
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
4951 College Drive
Erie, PA 16563