Historian, Critic, Prophet

Christopher Lasch & the American Predicament

Christopher Lasch“There is only one cure for the malady that afflicts our culture,” the late Christopher Lasch wrote, “and that is to speak the truth about it.” Historian, critic, moralist, and truth-teller, Lasch was a uniquely penetrating observer of American life in the late twentieth century. Beginning in 1961 with an intuition of “a possible connection between social progress and human disintegration,” he became both a searing critic of liberals’ faith in progress and a voice of conscience for a complacent nation. Indeed, Lasch may be the last great social critic this country has produced. Sixteen years after his death, at any rate, no one has taken his place.

Lasch is best known as the author of The Culture of Narcissism, the unlikely bestseller that led to an invitation to the White House to consult with Jimmy Carter in advance of Carter’s famous “Crisis of Confidence” address of July 1979. Derided at the time as a gloomy lament over American “malaise” (a word Carter never actually uttered), the speech now stands as a rare moment of seriousness in our recent political history. Upbeat talk about Americans’ can-do spirit has been mandatory since...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Casey Nelson Blake is a professor of history and American studies at Columbia University. Blake and Christopher Phelps conducted interviews with Christopher Lasch for the March 1994 issue of the Journal of American History.