Know Your Enemy: Christopher Lasch’s Critique of Progress, with Chris Lehmann

Know Your Enemy: Christopher Lasch’s Critique of Progress, with Chris Lehmann

What exactly did Christopher Lasch want?

Christopher Lasch in 1977 (Alan Klein/Campus Times)

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe to, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

Christopher Lasch, the late historian and social critic, can be difficult to pin down. Despite writing with startling clarity and verve, Lasch frustrates his readers’ longing for clean partisan taxonomies and explicit programmatic statements. Taken up in recent years by Steve Bannon and post-liberal populists, he was, in life, a man of the left who never ceased interrogating his own side’s pathologies and historical blind spots—often using Marxism, psychoanalysis, and a rich, idiosyncratic historiography of the American scene to do so. As George Scialabba once put it, Virtually every political and cultural tendency in recent American history has smarted under Lasch’s criticism.And even his most devoted readers have been left asking—“plaintively or exasperatedly, Scialabba wrote—what exactly does Christopher Lasch want?

For editor and writer Chris Lehmann, Lasch was more than an admired intellectual iconoclast and gadfly; he was a treasured teacher and mentor who was nonetheless difficult to get to know well. In this conversation, Lehmann finds fault with tendentious readings of Lasch’s work by his most ardent fans and virulent enemies alike. To unearth the powerful critique running through Lasch’s oeuvre, Matt and Sam spend most of this episode discussing his late-career opus The True and Only Heaven. Along the way, Lasch’s insights frustrate and illuminate in equal measure, inspiring new variations on classic Know Your Enemy themes: the relationship between particularity and solidarity, tradition and hierarchy, egalitarianism and expertise, and religion and political virtue.

Sources and further reading:

Chris Lehmann, Pilgrim’s Progress, BookForum 

Chris Lehmann, The Betrayal of Democracy, The Baffler

George Scialabba, A Whole World of Heroes: Christopher Lasch on Democracy, Dissent (1995)

Patrick Deneen, Christopher Lasch and the Limits of Hope, First Things

Matthew Sitman, Whither the Religious Left? The New Republic

Eric Miller, Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch, Wm B Eerdmans

Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics, Norton (1991)

The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations, Norton (1978)

The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times, Norton (1984)


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