“A Whole World of Heroes;” Christopher Lasch on Democracy

“A Whole World of Heroes;” Christopher Lasch on Democracy

The history of modem society, from one point of view,” Christopher Lasch observed in Haven in a Heartless World, “is the assertion of social control over activities once left to individuals and their families.” This, at any rate, is the point of view from which Lasch constructed his ambitious and provocative critique of American society. From another point of view, of course, modernity is identified with, even defined by, the rise of individualism: economic, political, and ethical. The latter perspective is the once and probably still dominant ideology of progress: of history as the story of freedom, as a narrative of individual emancipation from the trammels of communal prescription and superstition.

Whether these two points of view are antagonistic or complementary is not clear, to me at least. It may be that individual freedom and social control have, in different areas or aspects of experience, simply grown up side by side; or that they are intimately and paradoxically (that is to say, dia- lectically) related. Typically the left has endorsed and the right opposed individualism in the progressive or Enlightenment sense, which denotes the lessened authority of traditional beliefs and practices. But what are the political implications of nontraditionalist antimodernism—Lasch’s brand?

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels