Know Your Enemy

Christopher Lasch's Critique of Progress (w/ Chris Lehmann)

Episode Summary

Matt and Sam are joined by writer and editor Chris Lehmann to discuss the life and work of Christopher Lasch.

Episode Notes

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 blindspots — 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,” writes Scialabba — what exactly does Christopher Lasch want?

For our guest, 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 our 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, we 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 KYE themes: the relationship between particularity and solidarity, tradition and hierarchy, egalitarianism and expertise, and religion and political virtue. Come along for the ride! 


Further Reading

Chris Lehmann, "Pilgrim's Progress," BookForum, Summer 2010.

Chris Lehmann, "The Betrayal of Democracy," The Baffler, March, 13, 2017.

George Scialabba, "A Whole World of Heroes: Christopher Lasch on Democracy," Dissent, 1995. 

Patrick Deneen, "Christopher Lasch and the Limits of Hope," First Things, Dec 2004.

Matthew Sitman, "Whither the Religious Left?" The New Republic, April 15, 2021. 

Eric Miller, Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch, Wm B Eerdmans, 2010. 

Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics, Norton, 1991. 

Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations, Norton, 1978.

Lasch, The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times, Norton, 1984.