Document Type : Research Paper
THE VIRTUES AND VICES OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
STEVEN F. MESSNER & RICHARD ROSENFELD
TRANSLATED BY: ALI MOUSANEJAD
. In their text crime and the American Dream, M essner and Rosenfel attempt to address an
often neglected component of Merton’teory of “ social structure and anomy” , namely why the united
stares has such a high rate of crime. Messner and Rosenfel present an “institutional anomic” theory,
which address the issue of anomic at the societal level. Like Merton,Messner and Rosenfeld seek to
explain the excessively high rate of crime in the united states. They accomplish this goal by pointing to
the “American Dream”. Messner and Rosenfeld draw heavily from Merton’s anomie theory, asserting
that the high rate of crime in the united states stems partly from the fact that our society encourages
everyone to pursue the goal of monetary success but places little value on the legitimate means for
achieving that success. In other words, the legitimate, culturally accepted norms are sacrified for the
goal itself, which becomes larger than life.
However, Messner and osenfeld also extend Merton’s theory. Primarily,they maintain that the cultural
emphasis on monetary success parallels the notion that the economy pervades and dominates every
other institution in America, including the family, education, and polity. They argue that the dominance
of the economy interferes with the proper functioning of these institutions to such a great extent that
they can no longer effectively and adequately socialize individuals or even sanctions deviant behavior.
Messner and Rosenfel argue that if other aspects of American life were emphasized over material
success, the United States might not have such a high crime rate. They point to the mixed economies of
wester Europe and Japan as examples of societies tha ensue that a level of economic well-being is not
completely dependent upon economic performance, as it is in the Unites States.
Although their “ institutional anomie” theory is still undergoing empirical testing, their theory provides
important consideration of societal differences in crime rates. Additionally. Their approach forces
Americans to answer some tough questions about the core values that underline the American Dream.
In other words, maybe we should ask whether this emphasis placed on monetary success ( seemingly, by
any means necessary ) is something we really want for our society.
Crime, Americam Dream, Institutional Anomie, Institutiona Balance Of power.