Monday, November 02, 2015

Christopher Lasch - the last social critic? 1



I could never work out whether Christopher Lasch was a left-wing thinker who sounded right wing, or a right-wing thinker who sounded left wing.

But he was certainly a social critic. In the 19th century social criticism was a recognised literary form and writing it was close to a profession - think Ruskin, Carlyle and Matthew Arnold.

Today the concept hardly exists. The right believes the market can do no wrong and the left is terrified of being elitist. The result is that whatever exists is held to be good.

Lasch has been largely forgotten since his death in 1994, but his The Culture of Narcissism had quite a vogue in its day.

Reviewing a biography of Lasch, Alan Wolfe sets out the intriguing contradictions in his thought:
Lasch was controversial when he lived, and he remains subject to strong and divided opinion long after his death. The fact that he combined a respect for Freud with a love of the Puritans is the least of it. He became a radical just as a new radicalism in America was about to be born, but he would always have an ambivalent relationship with the younger leftists who came after him. 
His populistic sensibilities became stronger over time, but so did his ties to the elite worlds of academia and opinion journalism. His appreciation for the common man was married to a disdain for mass culture. Lasch was a pioneer historian of the family, but feminists hated—that is not too strong a term—his nostalgia for the nuclear one.
Anyway, this is the first of two parts of an interview Lasch recorded in 1991. You can watch part 2 on this blog.

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