George Scialabba at The Baffler:
If irony alerts had been invented before 1977, they might have saved Christopher Lasch a lot of grief. The title of his controversial book Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged misled many of his critics. Lasch was widely taken to mean that a haven is what the family used to be before it was besieged by feminism and sexual liberation. Feminists retorted that this was a nostalgic fiction: the traditional family had never been any such idyll, especially for women. Lasch could only be an apologist for patriarchy, misappropriating psychoanalytic theory in a reactionary effort to restore male authority. Reviewing Lasch’s final, posthumous collection, Women and the Common Life, the usually astute Ellen Willis took him to task for his “fail[ure] to take patriarchy seriously” and his “adamant denial of any redeeming social value in modern liberalism.” No doubt this had the long-suffering Lasch growling in his grave.
Haven in a Heartless World is a densely argued book, and Lasch himself was not certain what his arguments implied, practically. (He died in his prime, at sixty-one, before he could spell out the programmatic implications of his far-reaching critique of modernity.) But far from idealizing the nuclear family, Lasch portrayed it as a doomed adaptation to industrial development. The transition from household production to mass production inaugurated a new world—a heartless world, to which the ideology of the family as a domestic sanctuary, a haven, was one response. The premodern, preindustrial family was besieged (and vanquished) by market forces; the modern family is besieged by the “helping” (which has turned out to mean “controlling”) professions.