George Scialabba at Boston Review:
Vivian Gornick’s review of The Americanization of Narcissism is written with her usual cogency, verve, and elegance. But I think she and the book’s author, Elizabeth Lunbeck, are mistaken about the motivation and import of Christopher Lasch’s views on the “underlying character structure” of late twentieth-century America.
Lasch was fundamentally a critic of mass society. He located the pivot of modern psychic development in the rise of mass production, with its concomitant deskilling of workers, destruction of economic independence, change in relations of authority from personal to abstract, and professionalization of education, management, mental health, social welfare, etc. The result of those epochal changes was a drastic change in the socialization of children. Individuation largely consists of the gradual reduction in scale of infantile fantasies of omnipotence and helplessness, accompanied by the child's modest but growing sense of mastery, continually measured against its human and material surroundings. Formerly, the presence of potent but fallible individuals, economically self-sufficient, with final legal and moral authority over their children's upbringing, provided one kind of template for the growing child's psychic development.