34 pages 1 hour read

Noam Chomsky

Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power by linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky evaluates the rise of income inequality in the US over the last 40 years. It argues that the main consequence of neoliberalism, which has increased since the 1970s, is a dramatic concentration of wealth and power to the elite—at the expense of the lower and middle classes. Chomsky observes how rapid financialization since the 1940s, as banks and other institutions prioritize the “plutocracy” over the general population as their main clientele, shifted power to the wealthy. With the rising cost of running electoral campaigns and a broadening of corporate rights in the US, the extremely wealthy gained the means to affect political decisions for personal benefit and undermined the core principle of democracy.

First published in 2017 by Seven Stories Press, Requiem for the American Dream was a textual adaptation of the 2015 documentary by the same name, which was edited and directed by Peter Hutchinson, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott.

This summary refers to the 2017 eBook version of the work.


Requiem for the American Dream presents 10 thematic principles that reveal how US elites deliberately undermine democratic processes to maximize their power and control over the people. Each principle contains smaller thematic categories, and the title of each principle and subcategory prefaces its content. At the end of each principle is a collection of various excerpts from relevant outside sources, all of which Chomsky cites and analyzes in the body of the principle.

Chomsky opens with a Preface (“A Note on the American Dream”), which examines today’s socioeconomic conditions and compares them with those of the Great Depression. Next, the Introduction offers a definition of democracy and evaluates the US system against it. Principle 1 (“Reduce Democracy”) demonstrates how corporations and elites uphold the Madisonian principle of governance, which dictates that a small, “enlightened” group of elites should control society and design policy as they see fit to prevent uncontrolled democracy. In Principle 2 (“Shape Ideology”), Chomsky reveals how corporations reacted strongly to the social gains of the 1960s and responded by ideologically repressing democratic processes through a coordinated attack beginning in the 1970s. Principle 3 (“Redesign the Economy”) supports the ideas of the previous principle and explores how businesses maximize their power through two economic strategies: financialization and offshoring.

In Principle 4 (“Shift the Burden”), Chomsky argues that businesses shifted their target audience from the domestic market to the global “plutonomy,” effectively shifting the burden of upholding society onto the people. Principle 5 (“Attack Solidarity”) points out that corporations focus on short-term goals to maximize profit, which often results in irresponsible decisions that are profoundly selfish and undemocratic. This challenges the very concept of solidarity, which Chomsky defines as the altruistic care of others—and a core value for a healthy society. In Principle 6 (“Run the Regulators”), Chomsky details how corporations buy regulators to ensure that policy or law supports corporate rights. Principle 7 (“Engineer Elections”) expands on this idea by highlighting how deeply corporations can influence elections and policy—often at the expense of the people—and how this erodes US democracy.

In Principle 8 (“Keep the Rabble in Line”), Chomsky emphasizes how corporations attack organized labor, such as unions, to protect corporate rights. By exercising control over the media and education, businesses attempt to erase class consciousness in the general population. Principle 9 (“Manufacture Consent”) explains the reasoning behind the coordinated attack on organized labor. Chomsky points out that in democratic societies, the people naturally hold the power, so the minority elite must maintain control by finding ways to manufacture consent—as they do by deterring people from coming together and instead encouraging mindless consumption. The author closes with Principle 10 (“Marginalize the Population”), which observes how US businesses and politicians mobilize hate and fear to successfully turn groups of people against one another—even when their interests align. Chomsky ends by noting that because governments and corporate interests now have the power to destroy humanity (via nuclear weapons and the economically protected instruments of climate change), our survival as a species depends on people coming together and fighting for a better social system.