Christopher Lasch and the Role of the Social Critic

LaschMichael J. Kramer at The Point:

The Culture of Narcissism solidified Lasch’s reputation as a leading anti-modernist critic of an America that seemed to have lost its balance as it rollerskated into oblivion. Mistrusting America’s affluence and growing technological achievements, Lasch even critiqued the anti-authoritarian liberation struggles of the 1960s, which belonged for him to the same modernist cult of progress that, failing to recognize necessary limits, would destroy all in its path. The counterculture’s myth of exaggerated self-realization was but the flipside of the retreat into basic self-preservation. Detached by state and market from connections to a more sustaining sense of purpose or obligation, Americans inhabited a culture that left them rootless.

But Lasch should not be remembered merely as a grumbling reactionary. What he feared was “liberation,” not “modernity”—dismissing anti-modernist nostalgia as the fantasy of progress in reverse. For most of his life (he died of cancer in 1994), he remained committed to a more egalitarian society and clung to the hope that change might still occur. As he said toward the end of a career that had turned, beginning with Narcissism, increasingly dark and pessimistic: he still had faith even though he lacked optimism. It was a statement that flummoxed many interviewers, but it is key to understanding Lasch’s complex vision of American culture—and of the role of the social critic within it.

more here.