Responses to Noam Chomsky’s “Requiem for the American Dream” and the Arguments Therein


This paper discusses certain arguments put forth by the documentary “Requiem for the American Dream,” and places them in an analytical light. Often, liberal democracy is placed under scrutiny due to the ease of which groups of one or many may seek to commandeer various facets of it. By design, liberal democracy offers itself to the control of those who would seek to infiltrate it. This nature of the democratic system has been labeled by many as a design flaw and has led to widespread criticism of its very existence. This paper seeks to analyze these claims, as well as notions that the ruling class of such a democratic system and the factions controlling industry and finance organizations ought to be regulated to a greater degree, if not removed from power altogether.

In “Requiem for the American Dream,” Noam Chomsky compiles a list of ten principles he believes to be driving forces behind in inequality in the United States, leading to the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of few. As Chomsky seeks to personify feelings of unrest felt throughout the world, centralized around disenfranchisement and loss of the commonly held faith in liberal institutions, the documentary examines institutions once praised as the standard of a free society, “for the people, by the people.” Under such disenfranchisement, in recent history, the belief has been spread that democracy and concepts of individual freedom have failed to live up to their expectation of providing a free society or offering the opportunity to achieve equality within said society. Private interests, seen as rapists of the democratic system by Chomsky, have played a disproportionate role in shaping the American system of governance, and continue to be the entity most commonly cited, should you ask a young protestor or “99%’er” what, precisely, they seek to upend. “Requiem for the American Dream” strikes many points and explains in great detail the history driving negative feelings toward liberal institutions, and what can be expected moving forward from where we find ourselves, living amongst them today.

Chomsky’s first of ten principles which lead to the concentration of wealth and power in the hand of the elite is the reduction of democracy. He refers to the perpetuating periods of “progression and regression” throughout history in terms of more and less freedom and democracy; a tug of war between the lower and working classes, and the elites, fighting a never-ending battle for greater control and wealth. Aristotle discusses this “tug of war” in his work “Politics,” in which he proposes what would today be labeled a welfare state; a system of governance, or facet thereof, which would care for the marginalized, or impoverished. The reason for this is, in Aristotle’s view, if there was a system of democracy that enfranchised the greatly poor, they would rally and demand the confiscation of wealth from the elite, leading to near-total destruction of the state, and perpetrating great injustice. Aristotle theorizes that democracy yields the masses to vote according to their own personal interest, or in the interest of their class, and not necessarily in the interest of the state or society; this leads him to assert that while he sees democracy to be the system superior to other methods of governance, restraints must be placed upon its participants and upon referenda, so the interests of the state and society may be held to a higher regard than the interests of the mob. These fears are echoed in James Madison’s “Federalist No. 10” when he foretells society’s descent into factions, all advocating only in their best interests, to the detriment of other groups. “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire,” Madison writes. Federalist No. 10 offers two solutions to the descent into factions: First, the curtailing of democracy, or second, instill in all people the same beliefs and end goals, so they all may work toward a common purpose. Both of these solutions, Madison believed, were detrimental to man’s freedom, but without either, would signify the eventual die-off of a democratic system. These two works by Madison and Aristotle echo each other: both men express fearfulness of the potential for abuse of democratic institutions, whether it be by the lower and working classes, or by the economic and political elites, yet both proffer that there has been no greater system other than democracy, that has been witnessed thus far in human history.

In an era of widely accepted income inequality and the widely perceived hoarding of money by the elite, we find ourselves in a case study of the very environment Aristotle and Madison had forewarned. Living in a time of the political elite blaming the lower classes’ suffering upon the very wealthy, and advocating a “wealth tax,” which is nothing short of a near confiscatory fee of the money accumulated by the opulent as a means for reversing the effects being felt by a somewhat stagnant economy, there cannot be a greater personification for the unjust nature of mob rule in a democracy. This environment can invigorate people on both sides of the ideological aisle of income inequality and the so-called “one percent.” In these times of division, the questioning of the very same liberal institutions which birthed this outcome becomes not only easy but inevitable. Such a climate forges a society in which equality is not only out of reach, and civil unrest is not only on the horizon, but rather makes obtainment of equality an impossibility, and violence an inevitability.

Liberal and democratic societies are long past due for a great reset – that is, a challenging of the normative nature of democracy, and upheaval of long-standing institutions which had once succeeded in the mandating of regulations but now fail to do so. Calls have been made for corporate groups and banking firms labeled “too big to fail” to be eradicated, but in an era in which policy is designed by, and regulatory commissions are steered by these same entities, standardized methods for their regulation will do nothing other than play out a great “dog and pony show” for the people demanding change and will have no great outcome other than the same or a similar situation now being endured. Financial crashes are remedied by the same men who created the environment which forced them into unavoidability, pushing economics into the same spiral, to be repeated indefinitely. It is easy to point to the financial institutions and blame them for incidents such as the 2008 housing crisis, concentrations of wealth and power, and income inequality, but, in essence, that makes the same amount of sense as placing a gun in the hands of a child, and then blaming the child when somebody is killed due to a negligent discharge. It is easier still to point to the political elite who continue to place ultimate ruling authority in the hands of the greedy, and unelected, resulting in unsurprising chaos. Truly, the chaos sending shockwaves in every direction emerges out of sheer laziness of the voter, and apathy of the working class, meant to be the backbone of a democratic society, that the institutions have been infiltrated, and the democratic system has been ravaged. It is the duly elected rulers – the ones who have been “serving” in congress for the past three decades, and the families in possession of political dynasties, – who have empowered these same greedy elites to treat the market economy like their own personal playground, and continue to turn a blind eye to their callous behavior, while simultaneously calling for their demise only in election years, and brutalizing the taxpayer with needless expenditures, driving up the national debt, and demanding the working class foot the bill for their pay raises.

In “Requiem for the American Dream,” Chomsky asserts that the rulers of a democratic society ought to be held responsible for the collapse of a said democratic society, failing to recognize that these men and women voted into office to destroy the system was just that: voted into office. If the citizen has an interest in reversing the course that liberal institutions have led us down, greater steps ought to be taken by the citizenry to increase the nation’s pathetically low voter turnout, thereby invigorating the liberal institution to change course, as was its design. Should voting be regarded as so futile that the society sees it as a waste of time to take part, violence must be perpetrated against the ruling class, for what historically leads to insurrection and rebellion more so than a populous with a belief that their voices are not being heard?

To blame liberal and democratic institutions for their misuse, or for the unequal representations of some rather than others would equate to the criticism of a once blank canvass because someone had scribbled a symbol of hate upon it in pencil. No other system exults the individual in the way that voter freedom and liberal institutions do; by their own nature of existence, they lend themselves to a certain dynamic existence which can either be jeered at or commandeered. Commandeering them will lead to far more favorable results than will their vilification.


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07 July 2022
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