CLOSE WINDOW


Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979 (282 pp.). Long before other social critics complained about "me-ism" in modern America, or the so-called radical individualism that threatens the greater good, Lasch was exposing similar conditions, but at a much deeper level. It is not really appropriate, in fact, to group Lasch’s version of "narcissism" with the selfishness others see as characteristic of Western liberal society, because his view is, first of all, more of a psychological treatise and, secondly, it is a more penetrating indictment of modern culture. From this book alone – and he left an extensive legacy, including the 1995 bestseller The Revolt of the Elites – one can see why Lasch is both praised and condemned by all positions along the political and social spectrums. He criticizes, for example, the devaluation of the liberal arts, the growth of consumerism, television and our celebrity-starved culture, and our misplaced dependence on technology, all of which cater to a liberal bias. At the same time, Lasch’s rants against therapy, the collapse of authority and responsibility, multiculturalism, aspects of feminism, and the welfare state are often appropriated by more conservative thinkers. He condemns so much, and he’s such a curmudgeon, that one wonders what he does approve of or what kind of society he wants to live in. Well, he extols the "comforts of love, work, and family life," but says society devalues such small accomplishments: "We demand too much of life, too little from ourselves." This study foreshadows a lot, but some readers will likely get bogged down in its heavy-handed psychoanalysis of American culture.


CLOSE WINDOW