For centuries, visitors to the United States have been struck by the boundless optimism of its people. Recent research bears out the stereotype, confirming that Americans really are more hopeful about the future than their peers in other wealthy nations. But it also suggests that American optimism may now be waning in the face of contemporary political and economic challenges.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a French observer of American life at the beginning of the 19th century, observed that the Americans of his day “have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man ... They all consider society as a body in a state of improvement.” Political and social observers have echoed this sentiment for centuries, enshrining optimism as an essential feature of not just the abstract ‘American Dream,’ but also of the social and economic institutions of American civil society.