Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Post-Mortem on the American Dream

F.A. Hayek, from his essay "The Intellectuals and Socialism" (which reads oddly similar to Thomas Sowell's "Intellectuals and Society"):

Speculations about the possible entire reconstruction of society give the intellectual a fare much more to his taste than the more practical and short-run considerations of those who aim at a piecemeal improvement of the existing order. In particular, socialist thought owes its appeal to the young largely to its visionary character; the very courage to indulge in Utopian thought is in this respect a source of strength to the socialists which traditional liberalism sadly lacks. This difference operates in favor of socialism, not only because speculation about general principles provides an opportunity for the play of the imagination of those who are unencumbered by much knowledge of the facts of present-day life, but also because it satisfies a legitimate desire for the understanding of the rational basis of any social order and gives scope for the exercise of that constructive urge for which liberalism, after it had won its great victories, left few outlets. The intellectual, by his whole disposition, is uninterested in technical details or practical difficulties. What appeal to him are the broad visions, the spacious comprehension of the social order as a whole which a planned system promises.

Perhaps Hayek here overlooks the visionary appeal of the American Dream, which drew masses of disaffected and suffering people from around the world to these shores to make their fortunes and to enjoy the fruits of liberty. The question arises: Is the American Dream the utopian, but nearly realizable, essence of free market capitalism?

The reason I ask is because if the American Dream is a rival to the millenarian vision of socialism, then it may explain why the socialists seek to crush it, in word and deed. The numerous articles by the leftist pseudo-mainstream press, of the ilk of Time and of CNN, triumphally declaring the American Dream "dead," in conjunction with policies that make it self-defeating to pursue wealth, seem to target the upwardly mobile middle class.

When people are rewarded not for merit or hard work, but by such tangentials as gender, race, or class, then the American Dream is effectively dead. The accumulation of wealth in a debauched capitalist system indeed becomes a "gamble and a lottery," as Keynes put it, and the system takes on the Rawlsian indictment that life under capitalism boils down to a matter of "luck."

When such fatalist sentiments abound, the middle class goes from the Alinskyite characterization of the "Have-a-Little-Want-A-Little-Mores" to beggars at the feet of politicians, seeking refuge from the capricious storm of economic life. Is Obama intentionally crushing the American Dream as a prelude to removing all competitors to socialism as the visionary pinnacle of the human story, the real "end of history" as we know it?

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