Film review: Requiem for the American Dream (2015)

Thanks to reader Norm, I was made aware of this short (73-minute) documentary that consists essentially of Noam Chomsky giving a tutorial explaining the roots of the rapidly growing inequality in the US and the world, with a backdrop of newsreel footage and animation illustrating his points as he goes along. The way I describe it sounds boring but in reality it is intensely absorbing since Chomsky is as lucid as ever.

The American dream whose death Chomsky describes is the belief among people that however bad things may seem at the present, there is hope that they will get better and that children, if they work hard, will have a better life than their parents. This dream sustained families through the worst parts of the Great Depression but started unraveling in the 1970s and its demise has accelerated in recent years.

The film starts by Chomsky saying that right from the beginning of the American nation, elites have hated democracy because it puts power in the hands of people and thus threatens their own power and hence the goal has always been to weaken democracy and deprive people of that power so that the wealthy could hold on to, and increase, their wealth. This was true even of those who are held up as ardent advocates of democracy, such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

The documentary is split up into ten chapters that describe the ten principles of concentration of wealth and power that the wealthy have used to perpetuate their dominance.

  1. Reduce democracy
  2. Shape ideology
  3. Redesign the economy
  4. Shift the burden
  5. Attack solidarity
  6. Run the regulators
  7. Engineer elections
  8. Keep the rabble in line
  9. Manufacture consent
  10. Marginalize the population

At the very end he addresses the essential question of what needs to be done. As he points out, the elites will never, ever, voluntarily give up their hold on power or wealth. The only way things have improved for ordinary people is if they have organized and demanded their rights, and this can be seen in the history of the labor, suffragist, and civil rights movements. It is only when the elites are frightened by the specter of mass revolt and violence in the streets that threatens to take power completely away from them that they relinquish at least some of their control and redistribute at least some of the wealth

This is essentially the Bernie Sanders message that the neoliberals like to pour scorn on. Sanders says that he wants to create the conditions for a mass revolution because that is the way that you win major battles. Those neoliberals like Hillary Clinton and her supporters who dismiss him as being unrealistic, and instead and propose incremental solutions because they are supposedly more realistic and attainable, are playing right into the hands of the oligarchy who know exactly how to deflect such modest requests.

Here’s the trailer for the documentary.

Chomsky is truly a force of nature. At age 87, he retains the ideals and clear thinking that made him famous when he emerged as an anti-war activist during the Vietnam war.


  1. jaxkayaker says

    Saying that Hillary Clinton & her fellow travelers are playing into the hands of the oligarchy implies that she & they are unwitting dupes, rather than willing collaborators. The latter is far more likely.

  2. raven says

    As he points out, the elites will never, ever, voluntarily give up their hold on power or wealth.

    This is a reliable principle and important. In a field where generalities aren’t common, this one works.

  3. raven says

    Sanders says that he wants to create the conditions for a mass revolution because that is the way that you win major battles.

    It’s not that simple. Revolutions, especially if they are violent, usually ultimately fail.

    Look at the French revolution. The Bolshevik revolution. Closer to today, the demise of the USSR or the Arab spring of Egypt and Libya. They often just replace on group of thugs and elites with another.

    I’d maintain that lasting change is evolutionary and more or less peaceful. An example would be Roosevelt and the New Deal. Point 11. of Chomsky should be, Watch out that your revolution doesn’t get hijacked or coopted.

  4. hyphenman says

    A few weeks ago I read the biography “Noam Chomsky A Life Of Dissent” By Robert Barsky in which Chomsky speaks at length about the Spanish Civil War in general and about George Orwell’s experiences and observations in that war as told in “Homage To Catalonia.”

    I went back to re-read the book and was taken by how Chapter 5, which deals more with the meta of the war, dovetails into our present political balance heading into the November elections. Orwell writes of Franco, the Communists and the Anarchists, but I could see flashes of Trump, Clinton and Sanders in his words. Eighty years later, Orwell is still most relevant.

  5. Nick Gotts says


    As I understand what Sanders said, he wants to create the conditions in which a mass revolution looks feasible, thus scaring real concessions from the elite -- not an actual revolution.

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