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What is the American Dream?

This nation of ours is unique. You may not realize it and most of us surely take it for granted. We may complain about the economy but just try explaining the Price Club to a Russian or a Cuban or a Nigerian! We may complain about our government or our President but in how many other countries is the press free to report the leaders indiscretions. We have so much and yet we complain so much... actually I think it is the ability to complain that makes America great. It is the freedom to dissent, to rail against the incumbent powers. This freedom to disagree is what makes us so special and it is this very freedom that is the very essence of America. What is the American dream? Surely it is different for everyone. For some it is wealth and power. For others it is religious freedom and justice. For others it may be a roof over their heads. How has this nation been able to provide these things... we shall see.

I. The American Dream

A. Values and Ideals - What are values and ideals. They are things we stand for, things we feel are right and correct. In America our values and ideals are:

1. justice

2. liberty

3. fairness

4. democracy

5. equality

B. Why is understanding what the American dream is important?

1. We vote and influence government via democracy and we should know what this nation is supposed to be about before we make these serious decisions.

2. Policies should be consistent with stated ideals

3. We have a responsibility to the nation and the world because our unique status as an economic and military superpower.

C. How has the dream, our ideological roots, been created?

1. Mores (the values of a society) and culture developed over time. Our values have been shaped by our forefathers (and our foremothers!). Our history and the legacy of those that come before have created our culture.

2. Religion teaches values and influences us.

3. Enlightenment thinkers from the 1600's like John Locke, Montesquieau, Rousseau and Voltaire have had a great impact on our government and our political philosophy.

a. How were the ideas expressed by the enlightenment put to use in the America?

  • John Locke - Declaration of Independence

    -Natural rights, consent of the governed

    -Life, liberty and property (Later changed to "pursuit of happiness" by Jefferson.)

    -Right to Rebel

  • Voltaire - 1st Amendment

    -Freedom of Speech - "I may disagree with what you say but I will defend till death your right to say it!"

  • Montesquieau - Constitution

    -Separation of powers, checks and balances

    -Divided government into three branches 

  • Machiavelli and Hobbes

    -Endorsed a strong government.

    -Became part of the basis of federalism.

 4. Revolutionary ideas like those of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine created a nation out of rebellion. Dissent is the very basis of this nation, it is our heritage.

5. Immigrants have stocked this great nation. We are a nation of immigrants. We come from every continent and every nation. Immigrants come here for economic opportunity, religious freedom and to seek justice. These are our values because we are all the children of immigrants.

D. Mayflower Compact - 1620

1. The Pilgrims wrote out their laws and created their government before they ever set foot in America so that the society would have a basis in law. This written "compact" was the foundation of their society.

2. This was a written "social contract."

3. It illustrates the idea of consent of the governed because it was created by the governed. They all consented (agreed) to give up absolute and abject freedom in exchange for rule of law.

E. John Locke - English Enlightenment Thinker (1600's)

1. John Locke wrote in the 1600's about the nature of government. He wrote:

"In a state of nature all men are free and equal."

"In a state of nature no man ought to harm another."

"Man acquires property through the products of his labor"

"In order to remedy inconveinces (problems) resulting from a state of nature ... men enter into contract, thereby creating a civil society... to defend the natural rights of men."

If a government violates the social contract... it rebels against the people, and the people have the right to dissolve the government."

2. This meant that government was created by the people and that people gave up absolute freedom in exchange for safety against problems. We call this concept "consent of the governed." Consent is given by what is referred to as a "social contract."

3. This also says that if the government violates the social contract the citizens have the right to remove the government because it was the citizens that created the government. We call this notion the "right to rebel."

4. These three concepts are the basic philosophical foundations of this nation.


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