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Narcissism’s Enemies: God, Work, Family (Prophets of Narcissism: Christopher Lasch, 1979, (lecture)

Uploaded 12/31/2020, approx. 46 minute read

Happy almost new year. The series Prophets of Narcissism discusses intellectuals who were not psychologists and yet identified and foresaw the oncoming onslaught, tsunami, tidal wave, pandemic of narcissism. This is exclusively for the Outreach Program of CIAPS, Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies, in the psychology track.

So there will be three lectures, and this is the first one of them.

And here I focus on Christopher Lasch.

Prophets of Narcissism, the first one, was Christopher Lasch in 1974.

It is safe to define narcissism as a shift of emphasis from substance, essence, to appearance, and to spectacle.

Remember Guy Debord's book Society of the Spectacle, which I had mentioned in previous lectures? He was also among those who had identified the oncoming wave of narcissism, and he will be discussed in the third lecture.


But to shift from essence and substance to appearance, to spectacle, to how you are seen, to relative positioning, to do so, especially today via social media, that means to render narcissism an organizing principle.

Organizing principle of the entirety of our civilization, and fields which seem immune to the vagaries of the human psyche, are actually today subject to narcissism.

Consider, for example, physics. In physics, there was a transition from essentialist, largely deterministic theories, like Newton's theory, to descriptive functionalist theories, like quantum mechanics. And it was a shift from the substantial to the apparent and the abstract.

Quantum mechanics is nothing meaningful to say about this substance and essence of reality. In our wonder, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics elevated the observer, the individual, to the status of the creator of worlds, or at least of experimental results.

So it was an narcissistic interpretation of physics, an narcissistic act. Placing the observer, the individual, at the center of the universe, we went back thousands of years to when Earth and people on Earth were at the center of the universe.

The rising tide of narcissism is compensatory. As social institutions crumble, anything from the family to the nation state, as role models are exposed and dethroned as gatekeepers, like, I don't know, editors, are decried and derided, expertise hated and shunned, narratives unravel, communities dissipate, people find themselves in the throes of disintermediated atomization, disorientation and dislocation within increasingly anomic societies.

Existential loneliness in a senseless universe conflicts with a primordial, atavistic need to be seen and another need is to belong.

We all struggle to be noticed at any cost to ourselves and to others because the gaze of others affirms our very quiddity and guarantees our very survival.

To not be noticed, to be shunned, to be marginalized, to not be seen, is to die.


I want to quote from Christopher Lasch's seminal book in 1974, a book that was titled The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. It was published in 1979. I'm sorry.

He wrote, the new narcissist is haunted not by guilt, but by anxiety. He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others, but to find a meaning in life. Liberated from the superstitions of the past, this kind of narcissist doubts even the reality of his own existence.

Superficially relaxed and tolerant, he finds little use for dogmas of racial and ethnic purity, but at the same time this kind of narcissist forfeits the security of group loyalties and regards everyone as a rival for the favors conferred by a paternalistic state.

His sexual attitudes are permissive rather than puritanical, even though his emancipation from ancient taboos brings him no sexual peace. Fiercely competitive in his demand for approval and acclaim, these narcissists distrust competition because he associates it unconsciously with an unbridled urge to destroy it.

Hence, this new narcissist repudiates the competitive ideologies that flourished at the earlier stage of capitalist development. He distrusts even their limited expression in sports and games.

This new narcissist extorns cooperation and teamwork while harboring deeply antisocial impulses. He praises respect for rules and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to himself. Acquisitive in the sense that his cravings have no limits.

This new narcissist does not accumulate goods and provisions against the future in the manner of the acquisitive individualist of the 19th century political economy, but instead he demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire.

Christopher Lach, The Culture of Narcissism, 1979.

Compare this to an excerpt from another book by Jose Ortega y Gassette, The Revolt of the Masses, 1932.

A characteristic of our times is the predominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the mass and the vulgar.

Thus, in intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable.

As I propose, most of our public intellectuals, if not all of them.

Can science be passionate?

This question seems to sum up the life of Christopher Lach. erstwhile a historian of culture later transmogrified into a thus prophet of doom and consolation, a latter-day Jeremiah.

Given by his prolific and eloquent output, the answer is no, a resounding no.

The problem is that there is no single Lach.

This chronicler of culture, he did so mainly by chronicling his inner turmoil, conflicting ideas and ideologies, emotional upheavals and intellectual vicissitudes.

His work was an autobiography in this sense of courageous self-documentation.

Mr. Lach actually epitomized Nazism. He was the quintessential Nazism, the better position to criticize the phenomenon of course.

Some so-called scientific disciplines, for example, the history of culture and history in general, they are closer to art and so is psychology.

Watch my previous video. They're closer to art. They're not rigorous. They're not exact or natural or physical like other sciences.

Lach borrowed heavily from other more established branches of knowledge without paying tribute to the original strict meaning of concepts and terms.

And such was the use that he had made of the word Nazism.

Because Nazism is a relatively well-defined psychological term. It's a clinical entity.

A narcissistic personality disorder, the acute form of pathological narcissism, is the name given to a group of nine symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4 and to a more elaborate dimensional description alternate model in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5.

And these symptoms of science or presentations, whatever you want to call them, include a grandeur's self, illusions of grandeur coupled with an inflated, unrealistic sense of the self and inability to empathize with others, the tendency to exploit and manipulate them, idealization of other people, in cycles of idealization and devaluation, rage attacks and so on and so forth.

Nazism, therefore, is a clear clinical definition, etiologies and prognosis.

The use that Christopher Lach makes of the word Nazism has very little to do with the use psychopathology makes of this term.

Narcissism and psychopathology is not the same like narcissism in Lach's work.

True, Lach did his best to sound medicinal and clinical. He spoke of national narcissism and accused the American society of a lack of self-awareness.

What choice of words does not a coherence make?

Lach was analyzed by many and one of the best analyses of Lach's work was propounded and proposed by Kimball, K-I-M-B-A-L-L.

Lach was a member by conviction of an imaginary pure left. This turned out to be a code word for an odd mixture of Marxism, religious fundamentalism, populism, Freudian analysis, conservatism and any other ism that Lach happened to come across and could lay his hands on.

Intellectual consistency was not the strong point of Lach, but this is excusable, even commendable in the search for truth.

Look at Slavoj Žižek, for example. What is not excusable is the passion and conviction with which Lach imbued the advocacy of each of these consecutive and mutually exclusive ideas.

The culture of Nazism, American life in an age of diminishing expectations, was published in the last year of the unhappy presidency of Jimmy Carter, 1979. The latter endorsed the book publicly.

President Carter made a speech titled National Malays, based on the book.

The main thesis of the book is that Americans have created a self-absorbed, though not self-aware, greedy and frivolous society which depended on consumerism, demographic studies, opinion polls and government. They needed all these to know and define themselves.

So what is the solution, according to Lach?

Lach proposed a return to basics. He sounds like proto-Jordan Peterson. He discusses self-reliance, the family, nature, the community and the Protestant work ethic.

To those who had here, he promised an elimination of their feelings of alienation and despair.

The apparent radicalism, the pursuit of social justice and equality, was only that in the case of Lach, apparent.

The new left to which he belonged was morally self-indulgent, narcissistic.

In a Orwellian manner, liberation became tyranny and transcendence became irresponsibility, glorified ideology of slackers.

The democratization of education, he wrote, has neither improved popular understanding of modern society, raised the quality of popular culture, nor reduced the gap between wealth and poverty, which remains as white as ever.

On the other hand, it had contributed to the decline of critical thought and the erosion of intellectual standards, forcing us to consider the possibility that mass education, as conservatives have argued all along, is intrinsically incompatible with the maintenance of educational standards.

Lach derided capitalism, consumerism and corporate America as much as he loathed the mass media, the government and even the welfare system intended to deprive its clients of their moral responsibility and indoctrinate them as victims of social circumstance.

These always remained the villains in his theatre production.

But to this classically leftist list, he added the new left. He bundled the two viable alternatives in American life and discarded them both.

Anyhow, capitalism's days were numbered, a contradictory system as it was, resting on imperialism, racism, elitism and inhuman acts of technological destruction.

So what was left? What was left except God and the family, he asks.

Lach, of course, was deeply anti-capitalist. He rounded up the usual suspects with the prime suspect being multinationals.

To Lach, it wasn't only a question of exploitation of the working class.

Capitalism acted as acid on the social and moral fabrics and made them disintegrate.

Lach adopted at times a theological perception of capitalism as an evil, demonic entity.

History was a morality play writ large.

Zeal usually leads to inconsistency of argumentation, be forewarned.

Lach claimed, for instance, that capitalism negated social and moral traditions while pandering to the lowest common denominator.

But, of course, there's a contradiction here. Social mores and traditions are, in many cases, the lowest common denominator.

Lach displayed a total lack of understanding of market mechanisms and the history of markets.

It's true that markets start out as mass-oriented and that entrepreneurs tend to mass-produce in order to cater to the needs of the newfound consumers.

However, as markets evolve, they actually fragment. Individual nuances of tastes and preferences tend to transform the mature market from a cohesive homogenous entity, the villain, to a loose coalition of niches, often mutually exclusive and conflictive.

Computer-aided design and production, targeted advertising, custom-made products, personal services, they are the outcomes of the maturation of markets.

It is while capitalism is absent that uniform mass-production of goods and shoddy quality take over.

This may have been Lach's biggest fault that he persistently and wrongheadedly ignored reality when he did not serve his pet theories.

He made up his mind and did not wish to be confused by the facts.

The facts are that all the alternatives to the known four models of capitalism, the Anglo-Saxon, the European, the Japanese, and the Chinese, all alternatives have failed miserably.

Do you want to live in a communist country? All alternative models, central planning, for example, have led to the very consequences that Lach had been warning against in capitalism.

It is in the countries of the former Soviet bloc that social solidarity had evaporated, that traditions were trampled upon, that religion was brutally repressed and suppressed, that pandering to the lowest common denominator was official policy, that poverty, material, intellectual, spiritual impoverishment became all pervasive, that people lost all self-reliance, self-respect, and that communities disintegrated.

There was no dignity left. And I'm sorry, but there is nothing to excuse Lach. You know, he wasn't ignorant.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. That's only 10 years after he had written his book. One relatively inexpensive trip would have confronted Lach with the results of the alternatives to capitalism, that he had failed to acknowledge his lifelong misconceptions and to compile the Lach errata cummer culpa.

That's a sign of deep-seated intellectual dishonesty. The man was not interested in the truth. He was interested in being right.

Is this not the best definition of a narcissist?

In many respects, Lach was a propagandist, engaged in propaganda. Worse, Lach combined an amateurish understanding of the economic sciences with the fervor of a fundamentalist preacher, and he produced an absolutely non-scientific discourse.

Let us analyze what he regarded as the basic weakness of capitalism in his book, The True and Only Haven, published in 1991.

So he thought the major weakness of capitalism was the capitalism's need to increase capacity in production ad infinitum in order to sustain itself. Such a feature would have been destructive if capitalism were to operate in a closed system. The finiteness of the economic sphere would have brought capitalism to ruin, but the world is not a closed economic system. 80 to 120 million new consumers are added annually. Markets globalize. Trade barriers are falling. International trade is growing three times faster than the world's GDP, even now, and still accounts for less than 15 percent of the world's GDP.

Space exploration is at its inception. We have new territories to conquer. The agricultural technologies, triple and quadruple and quantuple harvests. The horizon is, for all practical purposes, infinite, unlimited.

The economic system is therefore open, not closed. Capitalism will never be defeated because it has an infinite number of consumers and markets to colonize.

That is not to say that capitalism will not have its crises, even crises of overcapacity. But such crises are a part of the business cycle, not of the underlying market mechanism. They are adjustment pains, the noises of growing up, the gears in motion, not the last gasps of a dying system.

To claim otherwise is either to deceive or to be spectacularly ignorant, not only of economic fundamentals, but of what is happening in the world.

It is as intellectually rigorous as the new paradigm, which says in effect that the business cycle and inflation are both dead and buried.

Lasher's argument, capitalism must forever expand if it is to exist, is debatable. Hence the idea of progress, an ideological corollary of the drive to expand. Progress also is dubious. Progress transforms people into insatiable consumers.

And in Lasher's dictionary, consumerism is a term of abuse.

But Lasher ignores the fact that people create economic doctrines and end reality according to Marx, not the reverse.

In other words, consumers created capitalism to help them to maximize their consumption.

History is littered with the remains of economic theories and economic systems, which did not match the psychological makeup of the human race at that period or era.

There is, for example, Marxism, communism. The best theories, most intellectually rich and well substantiated, must be put to the cruel test of public opinion and the real conditions of existence.

Bargerous amounts of force and coercion need to be applied to keep people functioning under contra-human nature ideologies, such as communism. A horde of what Althusser calls ideological state apparatuses must be put to work to present the dominion of any given religion or ideology or intellectual theory if they do not empty, respond to the needs of individuals that comprise society.

Theories succeed only when people want them to succeed. Systems, including capitalism, work only for as long as people want them to work.

The socialist, more so the Marxist and the malignant version, the communist, prescriptions, these were eradicated. These failed because they did not correspond to the objective conditions of the world. They were hermetically detached. They existed only in their mythical contradiction free realm.

To borrow again from Althusser. Lash commits the double intellectual crime of disposing of the messenger and ignoring the message. People are consumers. Consumers are people. There's nothing we can do about it but try to present to them as wide an array as possible of goods and services to choose from.

Highbrow and lowbrow have their place in capitalism because of the preservation of the principle of choice, which Lash seems to abhor.

Lash presents a false predicament, a conundrum, a dichotomy, a dilemma. He who chooses progress, chooses meaninglessness and hopelessness.

Is it better, asks Lash, to consume and to live in these psychological conditions of misery and emptiness?

Well, the answer is self-evident according to him. No, it's not. Lash patronizingly prefers the working class undertones commonly found in the petit bourgeois. Condescendingly, he writes, the petit bourgeois, the working class, its moral realism, its understanding that everything is its price, its respectful limits, its skepticism about progress, sense of unlimited power conferred by science, the intoxicating prospect of men's conquest of the natural world.

Really? I grew up in a working class family, there was none of this. There was just an urgent desire to consume.

I don't know where Lash got this nonsense from. He never worked a day in his life, I can bet you.

The limits that Lash is talking about are metaphysical, theological. Man's rebellion against God is in question. This, in Lash's view, is a punishable offense.

Both capitalism and science are pushing the limits, infused with a kind of hubris which the mythological gods always chose to penalize. Remember Prometheus? What more can be said about the man who wrote, who postulated, that the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy?

Some matters are better left to psychiatrists than to philosophers in my view.

And in his work, there is megalomania to do. Lash cannot grasp. How could people continue to attach importance to money and to other worldly goods? How they attach importance to some pursuits?

After his seminal works had been published, after he had denounced materialism for what it was, a hollow illusion, how come he had failed to wake them up?


In the conclusion, people are ill-informed, egotistical, stupid because they succumb to the lure of consumerism offered to them by politicians and corporations rather than listen to Lash.

America is in an age of diminishing expectation. Expectations, Lash says, happy people are either weak or hypocritical.

Lash envisioned a communitarian society, one where men are self-made and the state is gradually made redundant. This is a worthy vision and a vision worthy of some other era, perhaps.

Lash never woke up to the realities of the 20th and 21st century.

Much population concentrated in sprawling metropolitan urban areas, market failures in the provision of public goods, the gigantic tasks of introducing literacy and good health to vast swathes of the planet, lifting people from poverty and ever increasing demand for ever more goods and services.

Small, self-help communities are not efficient enough to survive, though the ethical aspect is, maybe, praiseworthy. Democracy works best when men and women do things for themselves with the help of their friends and neighbours instead of depending on the state.

Lash says, a misplaced compassion degrades both the victims who are reduced to objects of pity and there would be benefactors who find it easier to pity their fellow citizens than to hold them up to impersonal standards, attainment of which would entitle them to respect.

Unfortunately, such statements do not tell the whole. No wonder that Lash has been compared to Matthew Arnold.

Matthew Arnold wrote, culture does not try to teach down to the level of inferior classes. Culture seeks to do away with classes, to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current, anywhere and everywhere.

The men of culture are the true apostles of equality. The great men of culture are those who have had a passion for defusing, for making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the other the best knowledge, the best ideas of their time.

That's in the work titled Culture and Anarchy. It's an elitist view, mind you.

Unfortunately, Lash most of the time was no more original or observant than the average columnist in any, you know, broachate.

He wrote, the mounting evidence of widespread inefficiency and corruption, the decline of American productivity, the pursuit of speculative profits at the expense of manufacturing, the deterioration of our country's material infrastructure, the squalid conditions in our crime-ridden cities, the alarming and disgraceful growth of poverty and the widening disparity between poverty and wealth, growing contempt for manual labour, growing gulf between wealth and poverty, the growing insularity of the elites, growing impatience with the constraints imposed by long-term responsibilities and commitments and so on and so forth.

And this around this diatribe sounds a lot like Donald Trump, who supposedly is a conservative and a republican. Well, at least he had discovered that four years ago.

Paradoxically, therefore, Lash was actually an elitist, to a very large extent, a conservative.

The very person who had attacked the talking classes, the symbolic analysts in Robert Reich's less successful rendition.

So this guy, he freely railed against the lowest common denominator.

It's true that Lash tried to reconcile this apparent contradiction by saying that diversity does not entail low standards or selective application of criteria.

But this, however, tends to undermine his arguments against capitalism.

In his typical anachronistic language, Lash writes, the latest variation on this familiar theme, its reductio ad absurdum, is that a respect for cultural diversity forbids us to impose the standards of privileged groups on the victims of oppression.

And this leads to universal incompetence and a weakness of spirit.

Impersonal virtues, he proceeds, impersonal in personal virtues like fortitude, workmanship, moral courage, honesty, and respectful adversaries. They are rejected by the champions of diversity.

Unless we're prepared to make demands on one another, we can enjoy only the most rudimentary kind of common life.

Agreed standards are absolutely dispensable to a democratic society because double standards mean second-class citizenship.

This strikes me a lot like plagiarism.

Compare it to Ellen Bloom, the closing of the American mind. Bloom writes, openness became trivial. Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason.

It now means accepting everything and denying reason's power. The unrestrained and faultless pursuit of openness has rendered openness meaningless.

Compare this to Lash. More a paralysis of those who value openness above all, democracy is more than openness and toleration.

In the absence of common standards, tolerance becomes indifference. Open mind becomes empty mind.

Lash observed that America has become a culture of excuses for the self and for the disadvantage. A country of protected judicial turf conquered through legislation and litigation.

Rights. It's called rights. A country of neglect of responsibilities. Free speech is restricted by fear of offending potential audiences. Later it came to be known as political correctness.

We confuse respect, which must be earned, with toleration and appreciation. We confuse discriminating judgment with indiscriminate acceptance and we confuse all of them with turning a blind eye.

Fair and well, political correctness is indeed degenerated into moral incorrectness and plain numbness.

But why is the proper exercise of democracy dependent upon the devaluation of money, markets, capitalism? Why is luxury morally repugnant?

As he says, how can this be proven rigorously, formally, logically?

Lash does not opine. He informs.

What he says has immediate truth value. It's non-debatable.

Lash is highly tolerant.

Consider this passage, which came out of the pen of an intellectual tyrant in effect.

The difficulty of limiting the influence of wealth suggests that wealth itself needs to be limited.

A democratic society cannot allow unlimited accumulation. A moral condemnation of great wealth backed up with effective political action, at least a rough approximation of economic equality, should be established.

In the old days, Americans agreed that people should not have far in excess of their needs.

Lash failed to realize that democracy and wealth formation are two sides of the same coin.

The democracy is not likely to spring forth, nor is it likely to survive poverty or total economic equality.

Now we know.

The confusion of the two ideas, material equality and political equality, is common. It is a result of centuries of plutocracy.

Only wealthy people had and have the right to vote, actually.

Universal suffrage is either very recent or delusional.

The great achievement of democracy in the 20th century was to separate these two aspects, economic equality and political equality, to combine egalitarian political access with an unequal distribution of wealth.

Still, the existence of wealth, no matter how distributed, is a precondition to democracy. Without wealth, there will never be a real democracy.

wealth generates the leisure needed in order to obtain education and participate in community matters.

Put differently, when one is hungry, one is less prone to read Mr. Lash, less inclined to think about civil rights or human rights, and much less inclined to exercise it.

Mr. Lash is authoritarian and patronizing, even when he is strongly trying to convince us otherwise.

The use of the phrase, far in excess of their needs, it rings of destructive envy. Worse, it rings of a dictatorship, negation of individualism, a restriction of civil liberties, an infringement on human rights, anti-liberalism, at its worst.

Who is to decide what is wealth, how much of it constitutes excess, and how much is far in excess? And above all, what are the needs of one person deemed to be in excess?

Which state commissariat will do the job? Would Mr. Lash have volunteered to phrase the guidelines? And if so, which criteria would he ever plan?

80% of the population of the world would have considered Mr. Lash's wealth to be far in excess of his needs.

Mr. Lash is prone to inaccuracies. I refer you to Alexis de Tocqueville, in 1835, who wrote, I know of no country where the love of money has taken a stronger hold on the affections of men, and where a profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of prosperity.

The passions that agitate the Americans most deeply are not their political, but their commercial passions. They prefer the good sense which amasses large fortunes to that enterprising genius which frequently dissipates them.

That was 1835.

In his book, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, published posthumously in 1995, Lash bemoans a divided society, a degraded public discourse, a social and political crisis that is really a spiritual crisis. The book's title is molded after Jose Ortega y Casse's Revolt of the Masses, in which he described the forthcoming political domination of the masses as a major cultural catastrophe. He didn't use the word oculocracy, but oculocracies, you know, mob rule, the old ruling elites with the storehouses, of all that's good, including all civil virtues, institutional memory and knowledge, he explained.

The masses, Jose Ortega y Casse warned prophetically, the masses will act directly and even outside the law in what he called a hyper democracy.

Masses, the mob, the crowd will impose themselves on the other classes. That was also said by Le Bon, Le Bon who described the dynamic of the crowd.

The masses said, how about the feeling of omnipotence? They had unlimited rights. History was on their side. They were the spoiled child of human history in his language. They were exempt from submission to superiors because they regarded themselves as the source of all authority.

The masses faced an unlimited horizon of possibilities and they were entitled to everything at any time. Their whims, their wishes, their desires, constituted the new law of the land.

Lush just ingeniously reversed the argument.

The same characteristics, he said, are to be found actually not in the masses, but in today's elites. Those, I'm quoting, those who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate.

But these elites, they're self-appointed. They represent none but themselves.

The lower media classes were much more conservative and stable than their self-appointed spokesmen and would-be liberators. The lower media classes know the limits and know the fact that there are limits. They have some political instincts.

He describes these enigmatic and possibly abstract lower media classes. They favor limits on abortion, cling to the two-parent family as a source of stability in a turbulent world, resist experiments with alternative lifestyles, and harbor deep reservations about affirmative action and other ventures in large-scale social engineering.

And who purports to represent these lower media classes?

The mysterious elite, which, as we find out, is nothing but a code word for the likes of Christopher Lesh.

In Lesh's world of Megadon, there is a battle unleashed between the people and this specific elite.

What about the political, military, industrial, business, and other elites? Yoke. They don't exist in his book. Only the intellectual elite exists.

It's navel-gazing.

What about conservative intellectuals who support what the middle classes do and have deep reservations about affirmative action to quote him? Aren't these conservative elites part of the elite?

No, he answers. So, why call it elite and not liberal intellectuals?

Well, perhaps because of a lack of integrity.

The members of this fake, fake elite? They are hypochondriacs. They are obsessed with death. They are narcissistic and they are weaklings.

A scientific description based on horror research, no doubt. Even if such a horror movie elite did exist, which is very dubious, but even if it did exist, what would have been its role?

Did Lesh suggest an elite-less, pluralistic, modern, technology-driven, essentially, for better or for worse, capitalistic, democratic society?

Other intellectuals have dealt with this question seriously and sincerely.

The aforementioned Arnold, T. S. Eliot, in notes towards the definition of culture.

Even Toynbee. Arnold Toynbee, the famous historian.

Reading Lesh, I'm sorry, but it's an absolute waste of time when compared to their studies.

The man is so devoid of self-awareness, not unintended, that he calls himself a stern critic of nostalgia.

Yeah, seriously. It resonated powerfully when I read Peterson, who kept denying who he is and what his book says.

If there is one word with which it is possible to summarize Lesh's life's work, it is nostalgia to a world which had never existed, the world of national and local loyalties, almost no materialism, savage nobleness, communal responsibility for the other.

He's a follower of Rousseau, Rousseau for the masses.

In short, he hearkens back to an utopia compared to the dystopia that is current contemporary America.

The pursuit of a career and of specialized narrow expertise, he called a cult and the antithesis of democracy.

Yet he, Lesh, was a member of the elite which he saw chastised and the publication of his tyrants enlisted the work of hundreds of career, careerists and experts.

Lesh extolled self-reliance, but he ignored the fact that he was often employed in the service of wealth formation, entrepreneurship is self-reliance, and its sole aim is to make money.

Material accumulation drives self-reliance, where the two kinds of self-reliance want to be condemned because of the results, and one inefficacious to being extolled.

Was there any human activity devoid of a dimension of wealth creation? I'm not aware of it.

Therefore, are all human activities except those required for survival to seize, according to Lesh, Lesh identified emerging elites of professionals and managers, cognitive elite, manipulators of symbols, a threat to real democracy.

Robert Reich described this kind of people as trafficking in information, manipulating words and numbers for a living. They live in an abstract world in which information and expertise are valuable commodities in an international market.

No wonder the privileged classes are more interested in the fate of the global system than in their own neighborhood or backyard, country, region. They are estranged. They remove themselves from common life. They are heavily invested in social mobility, moving away, moving up, yappies.

The new meritocracy made professional advancement and the freedom to make money the overriding goal of social policy. They are fixated on finding opportunities and they democratize competence.

This, says Lesh, is bad. It betrays the American dream.

Quite a bizarre argument, which I failed to follow.

The reign, he says, the reign of specialized expertise is the antithesis of democracy as it was understood by those who saw this country as the last best hope on earth.

I have no idea what he's talking about, honestly. For Lesh, citizenship did not mean equal access to economic competition. What it meant is a shared participation in a common political dialogue, in a common life.

The goal of escaping the laboring classes was deplorable. The real aim should be to ground the values and institutions of democracy in the inventiveness, industry, self-reliance and self-respect of workers.

The talking classes brought the public discourse into decline. Instead of intelligently debating issues, they engage in ideological battles, dogmatic worries, name calling. The debate grew less public, more esoteric and insular, inaccessible.

There are no third places, civic institutions, which, as he says, promote general conversation across class lines.

Social classes are forced to speak to themselves and dialect inaccessible to outsiders. The media establishment is more committed to a misguided ideal of objectivity than to context and continuity, which underlie any meaningful public discourse.

He would have loved YouTube. The spiritual crisis was another matter altogether. This was simply the result of over-secularization, abandoning religion. The secular worldview is devoid of doubts, devoid of insecurities, explained lush.

And so single-handedly, lush eliminated modern science, which is driven by constant doubts, insecurities and questioning. What is it talking about? What on earth is it talking about?

All modern intellectual discourse and endeavor is driven critically by skepticism, doubts and insecurities. Is this guy serious?

And so constant doubts, insecurity, questioning, utter lack of respect for authority, paradigm shifts, transcendentalism. I mean, this is the core of modern intellectual discourse.

And with amazing goal, lush says that it was religion which provided a home for spiritual uncertainties. I think he was drunk when he wrote this.

Religion writes lush was a source of higher meaning, a repository of practical moral wisdom, minor matters such as the suspension of curiosity, doubt and disbelief entailed by religious practice and the blood saturated history of all religions. These are not mentioned.

P.T., he did not engage with Dawkins, didn't have a chance to engage with Dawkins on these matters. Why spoil a good argument with facts?

The new elites disdain religion, he says. They are hostile to religion.

The culture of criticism is understood to rule out religious commitments. Religion, he says, was something useful for weddings and funerals, but otherwise it is dispensable.

Without the benefit of a higher ethic provided by religion, which I may add, there's a price of repression of free thought. That's the price we pay for this.

But without the benefit of this kind of higher ethic, the knowledge elites resort to cynicism. They revert to irreverence.

He says, the collapse of religion, its replacement by the remorselessly critical sensibility exemplified by psychoanalysis and the degeneration of the analytic attitude into an all-out assault on ideals of every kind, they have left our culture in a sorry state.

Lash was in some ways a fanatic religious man, what we would call today a fundamentalist.

He would have rejected this title with vehemence, of course, but he was the worst type of a fundamentalist, unable to commit himself to the practice of religion while advocating its employment by others.

If you asked Lash why was religion good, he would have waxed on concerning its good results.

He said nothing about the inherent nature of religion, its tenets, its view of mankind's destiny, anything else of substance.

Lash was a social engineer, the very kind of social engineer.

He's so detested, the derided Marxist type. If it works, if it molds the masses, if it keeps them at bay, if the opium works, if it keeps them in thrall, subservient, use it.

Religion worked wonders in this respect.

But Lash himself was above his own laws. He even made it a point not to write God with a capital G, an act of outstanding courage.

He says, Schiller wrote about the disenchantment of the world, the disillusionment which accompanies secularism, a real sign of true courage, a real sign of true courage as Nietzsche had observed.

Religion is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of those who want to make people feel good about themselves, their lives and the world in general.

But not so much.

He says the spiritual discipline against self-righteousness is the very essence of religion. Anyone with a proper understanding of religion would not regard it as a source of intellectual and emotional security, but as a challenge to complacency and pride.

There's no hope of consolation in Lash's universe, even in religion. It is good only for the purposes of social engineering.

So as opposed to Schiller and Nietzsche, the disillusionment and disenchantment with the world, this huge price that we pay when we abandon religion, this real warmark of personal courage is absent in Lash because Lash tells you don't be religious because you believe in anything, be religious because it works.

Lash wrote other works and in this particular respect Lash has undergone a major transformation.

In the New Radicalism in America, 1965, he decried religion as a source of obfuscation. He sounds like proto-Docie.

The religious roots of the progressive doctrine, he wrote, were the source of its main weakness.

These roots fostered an anti-intellectual willingness to use education as a means of social control rather than a basis for enlightenment.

The solution was to blend Marxism and the analytic method of psychoanalysis very much as Herbert Marcuse has done.

Herbert Marcuse, in Errors and Civilization, On-Dimensional Men, has done exactly this.

In an earlier work, American Liberals and the Russian Revolution, 1962, Lash criticized liberalism for seeking painless progress towards the celestial city of consumerism.

Lash questioned the assumption that men and women wish only to enjoy life with minimum effort.

The liberal illusions about the revolution were based on a theological misconception.

Communism remained irresistible for as long as they clung to the dream of an earthly paradise from which doubt was forever banished.

In 1973, a mere decade later, the tone in Lash's work is completely different.

He wrote The World of Nations in 1973, and he says the assimilation of the Mormons was achieved by sacrificing whatever features of their doctrine or ritual were demanding or difficult, like the conception of a secular community organized in accordance with religious beliefs and principles, which he had advocated actually in the culture of narcissism.

And the will turned the full cycle in 1991, the true and only heaven, progress, and its critics, his last work, if I remember correctly.

In there, he writes that the petit bourgeois, at least, are unlikely to mistake the promised land of progress for the true and only heaven.

In Heaven in a Heartless World, in 1977, Lash criticized the substitution of medical and psychiatric authority for the authority of parents, priests, and lawgivers.

The outsourcing of family functions.

The progressives, he complained, identify social control with freedom.

It is a traditional family, not the socialist revolution, which provides the best hope to arrest new forms of domination.

There is a latent strength in the family and in its old-fashioned middle-class morality.

And so the decline of the family institution meant the decline of romantic love and of transcendent ideas in general.

A typical Lashian leap of logic, which, again, I fail to follow.

Even art and religion, as he says in the culture of narcissism in 1979, even art and religion, historically the great emancipators from the prison of the self, even sex, lost the power to provide an imaginative release.

He must have had very bad sex. It was Schopenhauer who wrote that art is a liberating force, delivering us from the miserable, from our miserable, decrepit, dilapidated selves, and transforming our conditions of existence.

Lash, forever a melancholy, adopted this view, this pessimistic view, enthusiastically.

He supported the suicidal pessimism of Schopenhauer, but he was also wrong.

Never before was there an art form more liberating than the cinema, the art of illusion, for example.

The Internet introduced a transcendental dimension into the lives of all its users.

Why is it that transcendental entities must be white-verted, paternal and authoritarian?

In other words, why the only form of transcendence can be religious? Why do we need God in order to transcend?

What is less transcendental in the global village, in the information highway, for that matter, in Steven Spielberg?

They are transcendental, as transcendental as any God ever invented.

The left-funded Lash had chosen the wrong side in the culture of warfare between middle America and the educated or half-educated classes, which have absorbed our lives.

Which have absorbed avant-garde ideas only to put them at the service of consumer capitalism.

In the minimal self, in 1984, the insights of traditional religion remained vital, as opposed to the waning moral and intellectual authority of Marx, Freud, and the like, Lash's own personal development.

As he got older, he became more and more religious.

It's the escape of the elderly, you know, the insurance policy.

You might as well believe in God, you never know.

The meaningfulness of mere survival is questioned.

Lash writes, self-affirmation remains a possibility precisely to the degree that an older conception of personality, rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions, has persisted alongside a behavioral or therapeutic conception.

Democratic renewal will be made possible through this mode of self-affirmation.

The world was rendered meaningless by experiences such as Auschwitz. A survival ethic was the unwelcome result.

But to Lash, Auschwitz offered, as he says, the need for a renewal of religious faith, for collective commitment to decent social conditions.

The survivors of Auschwitz found strength in the revealed world, a word of an absolute objective and omnipotent creator, not in personal values, meaningful only to themselves.

This is utter nonsense. Utternonsense.

I mean, take Viktor Frankl. Most Holocaust survivors became atheists. They have lost any trace of respect for the ostensible alleged God.

This is a counterfactual. Simply, it's a lie. One can't help being fascinated by the total disregard for facts displayed by Christopher Lash, flying in the face of logotherapy in the writings of Viktor Frankl, the Auschwitz survivor.

He says, Lash, in the history of civilization, vindictive gods gave way to gods who show mercy as well as vindictiveness, gods who uphold the morality of loving your enemy. Such a morality has never achieved anything like general popularity, but it lives on, even in our own enlightened age.

As a reminder, both of our fallen state and of our surprising capacity for gratitude, remorse and forgiveness, by means of which we now and then transcend.

Lash goes on to criticize the kind of progress whose culmination is a vision of men and women released from outward constraints, endorsing the legacies of Jonathan Edwards, Orestes Bronson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, William James, Reinhold Niebuhr and above all, Martin Luther King.

Lash postulated an alternative tradition, what he called the heroic conception of life. It's an admixture, actually, of Bronson's Catholic radicalism and early republican lore.

He says, a suspicion that life was not worth living unless it was lived with ardor, energy and devotion. A truly democratic society will incorporate diversity and a shared commitment to it, but not as a goal into itself. These are the means to a demanding, morally elevating standard of conduct.

In some, Lash says, political pressure for a more equitable distribution of wealth can come only from movements fired with religious purpose and a lofty conception of life.

What's the alternative? Progressive optimism, but it cannot withstand adversity.

Lash lashes out. The disposition properly described as hope, trust or wonder, three names for the same state of heart and mind.

This, it asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits. It cannot be deflated by adversity. This disposition is brought about only by religious ideas, which the progressive, progressives have discarded.

Be religious, be hopeful.

Lash continues, the power and majesty of the sovereign creator of life, the inescapability of evil in the form of natural limits on human freedom, the sinfulness of man's rebellion against those limits, the moral value of work, which once signifies, which at once signifies man's submission to necessity and enables him to transcend it.

These are the ideals. Martin Luther King was a great man, he says, because he also spoke the language of his own people, in addition to addressing the whole nation, of course. But he also spoke the language of his own people, which incorporated their experience of hardship and exploitation.

And yet, he affirmed the rightness of a world full of unmerited hardship. He drew strength from a popular religious tradition whose mixture of hope and fatalism was quite alien to liberalism.

Lash said that this was the first deadly sin of the civil rights movement, because it insisted that racial issues be tackled with arguments drawn from modern sociology and from the scientific refutation of social prejudice. It wasn't founded on moral, in other words, religious grounds.

So what is left to provide us with guidance? Opinion polls.

When there's no God, there's the God of opinion polls.

Lash failed to explain to us why he demonizes this particular phenomenon.

Polls are mirrors. The conduct of polls is an indication that the public, whose opinion is polled, is trying to get to know itself better. Polls are an attempt at quantified statistical self-awareness, and they're not a modern phenomenon by any means.

Lash should have been happy with opinion polls.


At last, proof that Americans adopted his views and decided to get to know themselves.

To have criticized this particular instrument of know thyself, replied that Lash believed that he had privileged access to more information of superior quality, or that he believed that his observations tower over the opinions of thousands of respondents and they carry more weight.

A trained observer would never have succumbed to such vanity.

There is a fine line between vanity and oppression, vanity and fanaticism, and the grief that is inflicted upon those who are subjected to vanity.

And this is Lash's greatest error.

There is an abyss between narcissism and self-love, being interested in oneself and being obsessively pure occupied with oneself.

Lash confuses the two.

The price of progress is growing self-awareness, and with it growing pains and the pains of growing up.

It is not a loss of meaning and open innocence. It is just that pain, suffering, has a tendency to push everything to the background.

Those are constructive pains, signs of adjustment and adaptation, evolution.

America has no inflated megalomaniac grandiose ego. It never built an overseas empire, for example. It is made of dozens of ethnic immigrant groups. It strives to learn and to emulate.

Americans do not like empathy. They are the foremost nation of volunteers, and they also profess the biggest number of tax deductible, mind you, donation makers.

Americans are not exploitative. They are hard workers. They are fair players. They are Adam Smithian egoists.

Americans believe in live and let live. They're individualists, and they believe that the individual is the source of all authority and the universal yardstick and benchmark.

This is a positive philosophy. It's true that it had mutated into a malignant form. It's true that it led to inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth. It's true that technologies cater to growing narcissistic defenses in the face of disorientation and dislocation in a kaleidoscopically changing world and gender wars and epidemics and pandemics and what have you.

Narcissistic defenses are human. They're not American.

But then other ideologies had much worse outcomes than American capitalism. Luckily, they were defeated exactly by the human spirit, the best manifestation of which is still democratic capitalism, not religion, not communism.

The clinical colonialism had been abused by Lach in his books. It had joined other worlds mistreated by this social preacher.

He was no intellectual. He was a preacher. He was an evangelist.

The respect that this man gained in his lifetime as a social scientist, historian of culture, makes me wonder whether he was right in criticizing the shallowness and lack of intellectual rigor of American society and its elite.

So this was the first lecture in the cycle, the prophets of narcissism, and it had dealt with Christopher Lach.

The next lecture is about a radically different personality in another country with totally different background and a contrarian, someone who would have clashed very hard with Lach and Lach's intellectual successes, such as Jordan Peterson, and of course with the likes of Slavoj Žižek, Chomsky, and others. So stay tuned for the next lecture.

And all three, I remind you, are in the psychology track of see-ups, see-ups only. These are not meant for Southern February University. Don't, I mean, this YouTube shallon thing rather than face-to-face lectures is very confusing even to me. But please keep these apart. You're invited, of course, to listen and possibly to learn something from this lecture, but do not make it part of your curriculum, syllabus, or assignment.

Thank you. See you next lecture.

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