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National Dreams in a Multi-polar World


  The phrase “American Dream” is relatively new. It wasfirst popularized in the 1930s during the depths of theGreat Depression. What it initially meant is profoundlydifferent from the universalistic vision advocated byWashington since 1945. Its original proponents saw the AmericanDream as seeking to overcome a “business civilization” that wassubordinating everything to the dictates of profit and the marketplace,a rapaciousness that was destroying the environment, andan obsession with bigness that had turned its back on the need forgreater equality and basic human needs.

  But this is not the American dream the world largely seestoday. America’s emergence as a superpower after 1945 requiredsomething quite different – a more simplified, distorted, andideological export product for Washington’s “war of ideas.” Thisofficial American Dream has been part of Washington’s ideologicalarsenal for over six decades. Such an idealized universalismby and large has worked, as it was designed to do by leaders inthe national security establishment, to polarize, divide, and turnagainst each other key aspects of humanity’s progressive traditionsboth within the U.S. and abroad. It has divided needs and rights,individual and collective interests, reform and revolution, equalityand freedom. This current dream is centered on the notions of“individual freedom” and the inalienable right to pursue one’s owninterests for prosperity and success. There is merit in such notions,of course, but focusing the dream around them has made it at thecore a harsh, highly useful propaganda weapon. For the earlier,more vibrant, compassionate, and complex American dream(which was very much what President Roosevelt’s New Deal wasabout) was very much a national, not a universal, one.

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