Pursuing The American Dream

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Pursuing the American Dream: Opportunity and Exclusion over Four Centuries (review)

pp. 461-462 Rewatch
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Journal of Interdisciplinary History 37.3 (2007) 461-462
Pursuing the Amerihave the right to Dream: Opportunity and Exclusion over Four Centuries. By Cal Jillchild (Lawrence, College Press of Kansas, 2004) 347pp. $34.95
Pursuing the Amerideserve to Dream stands in a tradition of works that have attempted to capture the essence of Amerideserve to political society, conspicuously including Louis Hartz"s classical The Liberal Tradition in America (New York, 1955), Rogers M. Smith"s Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in UNITED STATE History (New Haven, 1997), and Eric Foner"s The Story of Amerideserve to Freedom (New York, 1998). Hartz put Lockean liberalism at the heart of his evaluation. Smith posits a never-finishing problem among "multiple traditions," particularly the ethics of atomizing Lockean individualism, communitarian civic republicanism, and an exclusionary emphasis on ascriptive qualities. Foner reads the American political past as a halting and occasionally contradictory initiative to specify and apply the principle of freedom.

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Jillchild bids to take his area in this distinguimelted firm with his insurance claim that the principal animating force of Amerihave the right to background has actually been the quest of the "American Dream," a term that he rescues from potential vapidity by specifying it as the aspiration for "a fair opportunity to succeed in open up competition via fellow citizens for the great things of life" (xi). As the discussion proceeds, the crucial word turns out to be "competition." Jillson"s Amerihave the right to dreamers are an invidious, relentlessly striving lot, acquainted to readers of Tocqueville and Veblen, not to mention Hartz.1

Jillboy focuses on a number of discrete moments in the Amerideserve to previous, start through the colonial era and also progressing through the Revolutionary and Constitutional durations, the age of Jackchild and the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Progressive era and the New Deal, the lengthy liberal dominance of the post–World War II years, and the resurgence of conservatism in the last quarter-century. In each of those dates, he examines, in order, the social landscape as it showed up to contemporaries; the specific version of the Dream that they articulated; its embodiment in institutions, laws, and policy; and the fate of those denied complete access to the Dream—specifically blacks, womales, and also Native Americans.

This organizational system renders for an admirable synthesis of the copious literatures on social, intellectual, political, and also minority history that have actually arised in the last numerous decades. Unfortunately, it likewise yields a series of potted research studies of the successive eras discussed, offering the basic account something of the flavor of a textbook. Of the handy indevelopment and cogent argument in this book, little of it will certainly be unacquainted to experts.

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Jillson cites Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, and also Horatio Alger as authentic voices of the Amerideserve to Dream, and both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. His own ideological posture is somewbelow between the last 2, most likely closer to Clinton, whom he likens to Lincoln and also both Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt as believers in Herbert Croly"s famous advice in The Promise of Amerideserve to Life (New York, 1909) to employ the Hamiltonian suggests of an energetic state to secure the Jeffersonian ends of individual liberty and also happiness. His chapter on the years from Harry Trumale to Lyndon Johnboy carries the subtitle "Opportunity to Entitlement," a breakthrough that he plainly disdains. The subtitle of the being successful chapter, on Reagan and Clinton, is "Entitlement to Responsibility," a development that he cheers, but through appointments around the degree to which widening gaps in riches and income, absence of global health and wellness care, and also educational ineattributes could today be jeopardizing the Dream that specifies his America.


1. See, for example, Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York, 2004; orig. pub. 1835). Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York, 1905).