National Public Radio has been running a series on the American Dream, its origins and declining public belief in what reporter and host Ari Shapiro describes as ‘a crucial thread in this country’s tapestry.’ The term for this vision of the future as always being more prosperous and brighter than the present (another fine example of linear-history thinking as opposed to the more traditional cyclical-history thinking) was coined by Northern author James Truslow Adams in 1931. As Adams wrote, ‘The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone….’ Despite the fact that it is a recent term, created just 81 years ago, the roots of the concept can be traced back deep into the mentality of the New England settlers and their descendants who spread out across the Deep North. We should note the emphasis on the future as always being better than the past or present and the focus on material gain. Notice too that this perspective is an admitted ‘dream’ rather than anything based on reality or what we know to be true about the natural world. This perspective is entirely alien to the traditional Southern worldview, as noted by author and linguistic MacDonald King Aston in his indispensable Yankee Babylon: American Dream, American Nightmare:
The American Dream evolved from the Enlightenment’s pagan core belief in the inexorable march of infinite progress: the world could and should be different than what it is or was.
…It is not possible to fully understand the modern American Dream (or what it means to even be an American) without tracing it back to the Puritans’ City upon a Hill, without which the subsequent pieces of that dream are not found.
For much more on this subject see episode number 19 of the Golden Circle podcast where the above article by Shapiro, Adam’s concept of the American Dream and the writing of Aston on the subject are all discussed.