In Crime and the American Dream, the renowned American researchers and criminologists Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld pay particular attention to the monetary success that people seek to achieve. An excessive emphasis on money and other benefits contributes to high rate of violent crimes in the country. Both scholars examine this issue with a focus on the anomie theory implying the lack of established social and ethical standards. The current paper seeks to review Crime and the American Dream and highlight the fact that the abundance of criminal acts still persists in the USA despite the fact that the country is well-known for granting privileges, protecting individuality, and promoting liberty.
Crime and the American Dream is a concise and interesting book reflecting the cause and nature of offenses occurred in the USA. In their study, the authors associate the concept of a crime with the American Dream. This association, in turn, may significantly change the way the public views criminal acts nowadays. Further, researchers also highlight current conditions that citizens face as well as cultural values that produce institutional anomie, thus leading to high rate of offenses. Although the US culture affects the rate of violent offenses, scholars offer an alternative way of thinking about crimes. Messner and Rosenfeld deeply analyze the anomie theory and other criminological theories while seeking to explain high crime rate in the USA.
Criminologists integrate different types of data in order to provide a clear, concise, and unique discussion of offenses, which commission is associated with the American Dream ideal that distorts the values of citizens. Most of them seek for materialistic gains and focus mainly on the financial success, thus confusing the pursuit of happy life with the acquisition of material wealth. In order to realize the American Dream, people often resort to illegal actions and break the law without considering the consequences. These aspects create the culture that exalts material wealth over the legitimacy of actions aimed at achieving the set goals, therefore producing the anomic imbalance in the society. Unfortunately, while pursuing the American Dream, individuals do not take into consideration legal and moral restrictions.
People’s privileged status triggers the criminal activity. Most of the offenses are carried out in the USA due to the highly prized conditions, which Americans value and seek to fulfill throughout their lives (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2012). As the core establishments focus mostly on the economic aspects, the authors are right when they say that the American Dream is a financial ideal; and in order for this dream to become true, individuals often resort to dubious and deviant actions. The issues of family, politics, and education engrain deeply in the modern US society. If individuals neglect their values and continue to focus primarily on the economic imperatives, they will ruin the country structurally.
The American Dream ideal is an integral part of American culture. The researchers want to redirect readers’ attention from the desired to the factual things. Today, this ideal is associated mainly with financial success, not the moral satisfaction. The authors also provide valuable advice as how to change the situation for better. In order to diminish crime rate, the US officials are required to develop comprehensive policies with the focus on strong social structure that will decrease the anomic tendencies (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2012). One may agree that only the socio-economic and political changes will revitalize the society and core institutions by making them stronger. In this case, the main aim is to unite goals set by American families and educational system. Only the collaborative and productive work will help citizens to overcome economic burden placed on them.
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Although the reforms urge people to rethink the ideals, the crime problem cannot be resolved only within the criminal justice system. First of all, it is crucial to restructure and strengthen core establishments. Messner and Rosenfeld (2012) blame the culture for causing crimes in the society. They see the solution in reviewing personal and financial values that guide Americans towards success. It is importan that the authors point out to the necessity of reconsidering the concept of success and revitalizing the society and culture so that the integrated familial, communal principles and holistic values become of high priority for them.
The way Messner and Rosenfeld discuss the issue of materialism in the contemporary United States is effective. They claim that for most of the citizens, success, and prosperity are measured only by social status and money. These aspects are deeply examined within the educational, familial, and political systems. Despite the interdependence of these institutions, the researchers grant the economy a leading place within this context. A person can benefit from numerous advantages offered by core institutions only through the wealth. The authors objectively draw a parallel between rich and poor people. Low-income families are not always able to access necessary services or acquire goods. Therefore, some of them are forced to resort to illicit or questionable activities. Not only the economic factors, but the traditional norms directly affect the rate of criminality. For example, Messner and Rosenfeld believe that a woman commits fewer crimes if compared to her male counterpart as she has been traditionally associated with the family affairs including housework and parenting. Therefore, in most cases, men and women act differently. The majority of females prefer not to engage in activities that may negatively affect lives of their dependents.
While some experts hypothesize that the possession of firearms among different people is a factor contributing to the violence, Messner and Rosenfeld suggest that the high rate of criminality is the result of current social and cultural conditions. The country is organized for criminal acts at all social levels (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2012). The USA is among the wealthy and industrialized nations with a high robbery and homicide rates. Therefore, the officials significantly rely on imprisonment as a deterrent to criminal acts. While discussing social structure and culture in their study, Messner and Rosenfeld refer to Merton’s theory of anomie according to which the main cause of a crime is a conflict between values in the society and human capabilities to achieve them by the established laws. This contradiction leads to the fact that a person may fail to get a certain value, and, in this case, he/she starts to deny rules and break the law in order to realize the set goals by all possible means. The researchers’ reference to Merton’s theory is likely to be valuable as it gives a powerful impetus to the use of the anomie phenomenon while explaining the causes of crimes. Today, individuals are concerned with the economic benefits of their activities, thus devaluating the non-economic, social institutions focusing on religion, family, and education aimed at securing the communities in the contemporary society. Overemphasis on the material values also triggers criminality.
Messner and Rosenfeld share Merton’s view regarding the disproportionate focus on material goals. Moreover, the contradictions in the dominant system hinder the application of the most efficient means of gaining financial rewards (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2012). While the criminologists have similar views in some aspects, the impact of social structure on the level of anomie sharply discussed by Messner and Rosenfeld originates from Merton’s vision. It is significant that the researchers believe the expansion of economic opportunities will not lessen the social instability in the communities. It only produces pressure as people mainly use illegal methods to gain financial benefits. Due to the intensified social concern with material success, the level of anomie will gradually increase over time, and people will ignore any social or ethical standards (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2012). One may share criminologists’ view that even if structural obstacles are eliminated in order to benefit from opportunities legally, it will not substantially reduce the crime rate.
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Naturally, Messner and Rosenfeld provide a comprehensive analysis concerning the criminogenic impact of social institutions on modern society. Referring to the Marxist theory, the authors consider that that the cultural propensity to financial rewards is so pervasive that the major social institutions such as family, education, and government lose their ability to regulate human behavior in a proper manner. Nowadays, these institutions do not promote the socio-economic targets but maintain the human desire in reaching the financial prosperity including the American Dream. Many people wrongly believe that education is required for professional achievements and economic rewards. Unfortunately, only a few individuals regard it as vital for personal and moral development.
To summarize, Crime and the American Dream is a perfect account for those, who want to understand the specifics of criminality in the modern United States. The book attracts readers with superfluous, accurate, and insightful information. Although the account lacks statistical research, it challenges criminological thoughts. Crime and the American Dream deeply examines the cultural aspects of the contemporary society and its association with crimes. The approach chosen by Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld focuses on dealing with offenses only after the identification of their main causes. If individuals continue to pay particular attention to money and financial rewards, high rate of violent crimes in the country will persist.