Robert Christopher Lasch — was an American historian , moralist , and social critic who was a history professor at the University of Rochester. Lasch sought to use history as a tool to awaken American society to the pervasiveness with which major institutions, public and private, were eroding the competence and independence of families and communities. He strove to create a historically informed social criticism that could teach Americans how to deal with rampant consumerism, proletarianization, and what he famously labeled the "culture of narcissism". Lasch was always a critic of modern liberalism and a historian of liberalism's discontents, but over time his political perspective evolved dramatically. In the s, he was a neo-Marxist and acerbic critic of Cold War liberalism.
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Robert Christopher Lasch — was an American historian , moralist , and social critic who was a history professor at the University of Rochester. Lasch sought to use history as a tool to awaken American society to the pervasiveness with which major institutions, public and private, were eroding the competence and independence of families and communities.
He strove to create a historically informed social criticism that could teach Americans how to deal with rampant consumerism, proletarianization, and what he famously labeled the "culture of narcissism". Lasch was always a critic of modern liberalism and a historian of liberalism's discontents, but over time his political perspective evolved dramatically.
In the s, he was a neo-Marxist and acerbic critic of Cold War liberalism. During the s, he supported certain aspects of cultural conservatism with a left-leaning critique of capitalism, and drew on Freud -influenced critical theory to diagnose the ongoing deterioration that he perceived in American culture and politics.
His writings are sometimes denounced by feminists  and hailed by conservatives  for his apparent defense of the traditional [ clarification needed ] family. He eventually concluded that an often unspoken but pervasive faith in "Progress" tended to make Americans resistant to many of his arguments. In his last major works he explored this theme in depth, suggesting that Americans had much to learn from the suppressed and misunderstood populist and artisan movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Born on June 1, , in Omaha , Nebraska , Christopher Lasch came from a highly political family rooted in the left. Louis he won a Pulitzer prize for editorials criticizing the Vietnam War. Lasch was active in the arts and letters early, publishing a neighborhood newspaper while in grade school, and writing the fully orchestrated "Rumpelstiltskin, Opera in D Major" at the age of thirteen.
He taught at the University of Iowa and then was a professor of history at the University of Rochester from until his death from cancer in Lasch also took a conspicuous public role. Russell Jacoby acknowledged this in writing that "I do not think any other historian of his generation moved as forcefully into the public arena". During the s, Lasch identified himself as a socialist, but one who found influence not just in the writers of the time such as C.
Wright Mills but also in earlier independent voices such as Dwight Macdonald. At this point Lasch began to formulate what would become his signature style of social critique: a syncretic synthesis of Sigmund Freud and the strand of socially conservative thinking that remained deeply suspicious of capitalism and its effects on traditional institutions. After seemingly successful cancer surgery in , Lasch was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in Upon learning that it was unlikely to significantly prolong his life, he refused chemotherapy, observing that it would rob him of the energy he needed to continue writing and teaching.
To one persistent specialist, he wrote: "I despise the cowardly clinging to life, purely for the sake of life, that seems so deeply ingrained in the American temperament. Lasch's earliest argument, anticipated partly by Hofstadter's concern with the cycles of fragmentation among radical movements in the United States, was that American radicalism had at some point in the past become socially untenable.
Members of "the Left " had abandoned their former commitments to economic justice and suspicion of power, to assume professionalized roles and to support commoditized lifestyles which hollowed out communities' self-sustaining ethics.
His first major book, The New Radicalism in America: The Intellectual as a Social Type , published in with a promotional blurb from Hofstadter , expressed those ideas in the form of a bracing critique of twentieth-century liberalism's efforts to accrue power and restructure society, while failing to follow up on the promise of the New Deal. His basic thesis about the family, which he first expressed in and explored for the rest of his career, was:.
When government was centralized and politics became national in scope, as they had to be to cope with the energies let loose by industrialism, and when public life became faceless and anonymous and society an amorphous democratic mass, the old system of paternalism in the home and out of it collapsed, even when its semblance survived intact.
The patriarch, though he might still preside in splendor at the head of his board, had come to resemble an emissary from a government which had been silently overthrown. The mere theoretical recognition of his authority by his family could not alter the fact that the government which was the source of all his ambassadorial powers had ceased to exist. Lasch's most famous work, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations , sought to relate the hegemony of modern-day capitalism to an encroachment of a "therapeutic" mindset into social and family life similar to that already theorized by Philip Rieff.
Lasch posited that social developments in the 20th century e. He claimed, further, that this personality type conformed to structural changes in the world of work e.
With those developments, he charged, inevitably there arose a certain therapeutic sensibility and thus dependence that, inadvertently or not, undermined older notions of self-help and individual initiative.
By the s even pleas for "individualism" were desperate and essentially ineffectual cries which expressed a deeper lack of meaningful individuality. Most explicitly in The True and Only Heaven , Lasch developed a critique of social change among the middle classes in the US, explaining and seeking to counteract the fall of elements of " populism ". He sought to rehabilitate this populist or producerist alternative tradition: "The tradition I am talking about It is very radically democratic and in that sense it clearly belongs on the Left.
But on the other hand it has a good deal more respect for tradition than is common on the Left, and for religion too. By the s, Lasch had poured scorn on the whole spectrum of contemporary mainstream American political thought, angering liberals with attacks on progressivism and feminism. He wrote that. A feminist movement that respected the achievements of women in the past would not disparage housework, motherhood or unpaid civic and neighborly services.
It would not make a paycheck the only symbol of accomplishment. It would insist that people need self-respecting honorable callings, not glamorous careers that carry high salaries but take them away from their families. Journalist Susan Faludi dubbed him explicitly anti-feminist for his criticism of the abortion rights movement and opposition to divorce. Lasch was not generally sympathetic to the cause of what was then known as the New Right , particularly those elements of libertarianism most evident in its platform; he detested the encroachment of the capitalist marketplace into all aspects of American life.
Lasch rejected the dominant political constellation that emerged in the wake of the New Deal in which economic centralization and social tolerance formed the foundations of American liberal ideals, while also rebuking the diametrically opposed synthetic conservative ideology fashioned by William F. Buckley Jr. Lasch also was surprisingly critical and at times dismissive toward his closest contemporary kin in social philosophy, communitarianism as elaborated by Amitai Etzioni. Only populism satisfied Lasch's criteria of economic justice not necessarily equality, but minimizing class-based difference , participatory democracy, strong social cohesion and moral rigor; yet populism had made major mistakes during the New Deal and increasingly been co-opted by its enemies and ignored by its friends.
For instance, he praised the early work and thought of Martin Luther King as exemplary of American populism; yet in Lasch's view, King fell short of this radical vision by embracing in the last few years of his life an essentially bureaucratic solution to ongoing racial stratification.
He explained in one of his books The Minimal Self ,  "it goes without saying that sexual equality in itself remains an eminently desirable objective In Women and the Common Life ,  Lasch clarified that urging women to abandon the household and forcing them into a position of economic dependence, in the workplace, pointing out the importance of professional careers does not entail liberation, as long as these careers are governed by the requirements of corporate economy.
In his last months, he worked closely with his daughter Elisabeth to complete The Revolt of the Elites: And the Betrayal of Democracy , published in , in which he "excoriated the new meritocratic class, a group that had achieved success through the upward-mobility of education and career and that increasingly came to be defined by rootlessness, cosmopolitanism, a thin sense of obligation, and diminishing reservoirs of patriotism ," and "argued that this new class 'retained many of the vices of aristocracy without its virtues,' lacking the sense of 'reciprocal obligation' that had been a feature of the old order.
Christopher Lasch analyzes  the widening gap between the top and bottom of the social composition in the United States. According to Lasch, the new elites, i. In this, they oppose the old bourgeoisie of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which was constrained by its spatial stability to a minimum of rooting and civic obligations. Globalization, according to the historian, has turned elites into tourists in their own countries.
The de-nationalization of society tends to produce a class who see themselves as "world citizens, but without accepting Their ties to an international culture of work, leisure, information - make many of them deeply indifferent to the prospect of national decline. Instead of financing public services and the public treasury, new elites are investing their money in improving their voluntary ghettos: private schools in their residential neighborhoods, private police, garbage collection systems.
They have "withdrawn from common life". Composed of those who control the international flows of capital and information, who preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher education, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus fix the terms of public debate. So, the political debate is limited mainly to the dominant classes and political ideologies lose all contact with the concerns of the ordinary citizen. The result of this is that no one has a likely solution to these problems and that there are furious ideological battles on related issues.
However, they remain protected from the problems affecting the working classes: the decline of industrial activity, the resulting loss of employment, the decline of the middle class, increasing the number of the poor, the rising crime rate, growing drug trafficking, the urban crisis. In addition, he finalized his intentions for the essays to be included in Women and the Common Life: Love, Marriage, and Feminism , which was published, with his daughter's introduction, in From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
American historian. Omaha , Nebraska , US. Pittsford , New York , US. Nell Commager m. Harvard University Columbia University. University of Iowa University of Rochester. Kevin Mattson  David F. Thomas R. Cole Patrick Deneen Charles Taylor. Journal of Southern History. August Political Science Quarterly. The Atlantic. November December Civil War History. New Politics. March The Hastings Center Report.
June February New York Times Book Review. Spring Summer Fall Winter Summer—Fall New Left Review. I September—October Harper's Magazine. October Theory and Society.
The Book of Self-Love
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La cultura del narcisismo