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The Promise of an American Life ~ Revisited


By Henry H. Goldman

 

In 1911 Herbert Croly asked the question, “What is the promise of American life?”   His response to his own question was to quote from a contemporary, Emil Reich, who said that “. . . American are filled with such an implicit and absolute confidence in their Union and in their future success that any remark other than laudatory is unacceptable to the majority of them.”  Croly continues, offering the following remarks about the future of the United States: “The faith of Americans in their own country is religious, if not in its intensity, at any rate in its almost absolute and universal authority. . . . It pervades the air we breathe.”

I would suggest that that which was applicable to our nation in 1911, has long since passed away.  Now, we are more likely to hear statements that, without knowing, contradict almost everything that Croly saw good in our country.  The media has taken on the position that most Americans are disgusted with the “American Dream,” some arguing that the “Dream” has never existed, and never will.

Some years ago, while teaching an evening class on American History at a local community college, that there were two middle-aged women who just happened to sit next to each other, by chance.  The younger of the two, I learned, was from the former Soviet country of Georgia, the other was from Poland.  Both women had arrived in the United States unable to speak English and with about $100, in cash.  The Georgian lady was single, the Polish women came to the United States with her husband..  Both had learned the language, had taken employment and should have been well on their way to enjoying the “American Dream.”  But, it seemed, that was not the case.  While the lady from Poland and her husband had achieved all that they had expected, large two story house, four-car garage, two sons in college, etc., the other had not.  She claimed that the “Dream” was false and probably had never been true.

Her remarks reminded me that Croly, had written a paraphrase of Horace Greely, who in the middle of the 19th century had encouraged people to, “to west, young man, go west,” would now (1911), say “go west, young man and drown yourself in the Pacific Ocean.”  At least one of those women would certainly agree with the first and the other with the second.

And so, we return to Croly who as the question, “What is the promise of American Life?”  In order to answer that question, one must read all the way through until one reaches the final chapter.  That chapter, “The Individual and the National Purpose,” finally answers the question:

“In the course of this discussion, it has been taken for granted that the American people under a competent and respectful leadership could deliberately plan a policy of individual and social improvement and that with the means at their collective disposal they could make headway towards it realization.”  But, he continues, what might happen if that was no longer true?  “ . . .  The principle of democracy is virtue, and when we consider the condition of contemporary democracies, the saying may seem to be more ominous than flattering.” 

I believe that if Herbert Croly was alive today, he might just want to “go west . . . . and drown in the Pacific Ocean.”  I have not heard such objections to the goals and objections of the American Dream as I have during the current political ads, leading up to this year’s mid-term elections.  Perhaps "the Dream" has vanished, perhaps the United States has run its course, and perhaps “Democracy” is no longer the answer.  Ms. Megan Kelley, on Fox News, has interviewed several advocates calling for the end of this nation, suggesting that our country no longer represents the people, and that now is the time for the people to demand a change. 

The question however must be:  A change to what?  Is there really a better way? 

What do you think?


Henry H. Goldman is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is the Managing Director of the Goldman Nelson Group.  Henry got his Masters Degree at the University of Iowa and did his Doctoral Studies at the University of Southern California.  He is a Certified Professional Consultant to Management (CPCM); and has published numerous articles in trade journals and was Associate Editor of Taking Stock: A Survey on the Practice and Future of Change Management (Berlin, Germany).  He is a member of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD); Association of Professional Consultants (APC) and the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC). Henry has consulted and/or offered training in South Africa, Tanzania, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Barbados, Georgia, Kosovo, Tajikistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and of course North America. He has also taught at Baker University: Lee’s Summit, MO, 2008, Adjunct Professor of International Business; National Graduate School: Falmouth, MA, 2004-2008, Adjunct Professor of Quality Management; California State University: Fullerton, 2005-2006, Lecturer on Taxation; University of California: Berkeley, 2002, Adjunct Professor of Management; University of Macau (China), Adjunct Professor of Management, 2001-2003.


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