The Revolt of the Elites
a book by Christopher Lasch
(our site's book review)
The author’s thesis is that the symbolic analysts (as discussed by Robert Reich in The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism) who have engaged in a de facto secession from the U.S. as a nation have betrayed democracy by isolating themselves from civic participation with the non-elite, dividing the nation, fostering multiculturalism, adopting a global rather than national outlook, refusing to commit to roots anywhere, installing a meritocracy, prioritizing self-esteem over achievement, jettisoning religious orthodoxy, pursuing a global economy context, and abandoning community responsibility. This argument has its strengths and weaknesses.
Symbolic analysts have engaged in a de facto secession from the U.S. by isolating themselves in gated communities
In taking the right-wing side of the Culture War, Lasch has sided with those who reject the Enlightenment and hold the belief that progress through science and reason is an illusion, and morality comes from orthodoxy, authoritarianism, churches, and fathers, and can’t evolve in secular ways because of the moral relativism so prevalent there. He implies that economic inequality must be socially engineered out of existence via taxes, undermining the very self-responsibility ethic and enterprising spirit he so admires.
He implies that economic inequality must be socially engineered out of existence via taxes, undermining the very self-responsibility ethic and enterprising spirit he so admires
In taking a nationalistic stance in contradistinction to a global one, he is a creature of the Second Wave Industrial Age rather then the Third Wave Information Age. In seeing feminism as a merely materialistic movement trying to legitimize two-earner families so that they can raise their living standard, he misses the essence and meaning of self-actualization, freedom, oppression and equality. And in taking a position ridiculing self-esteem, he has betrayed his willingness to enter into territories where he personally has no map and little knowledge. But Lasch is hardly clueless:
He rightfully takes to task the elites for the following misdeeds, although in many cases it’s not just elites but American culture in general that is culpable:
- Abandoning community responsibility and responsibility for their fellow man
- Failing to vigorously support obvious absolute values of morality—yes, secularism and progressivism has these
- Dumping local and regional loyalties, and roots in general, in their mobility-happy pursuit of the almighty dollar—this includes nonparticipation in their neighborhoods
- Encouraging a tourist context of community existence that erodes democracy
- Adopting political correctness
- Emphasizing rights over responsibilities
- Social engineering
Quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely on local community efforts
- Designating certain minority groups as poor victims of oppression, and then forbidding normal standards of conduct and education to be imposed on these groups
- Citing liberal institutions rather than strength of character as the factor that keeps democracy going
- Allowing TVs to baby-sit when mothers work
- Allowing neighborhoods to become defeated victims of social engineering, insisting that the professionals in day-care institutions can give kids better care than anyone else, and forgetting that: When a city really works, “people must take a modicum of responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other,” and adults in a neighborhood that works “uphold certain standards and assume responsibility for the neighborhood.”
- Not adopting populism standards, which is the authentic voice of democracy, and which doesn’t accept the brain-dead idea of absolving certain “oppressed” classes of responsibility for their actions and inactions because they are “victims,” or the idea that society is to blame for their actions
- Forgetting that small institutions close to home work better than large institutions farther from home—and, historically, always have
- Ignoring the proven fact that two deeply committed parents are a much better environment for kids than an environment with one parent or less commitment
- Indulging the delusion that the welfare state can replace community
- Adopting the idea that marriages should be loaded down with the responsibility to fill all emotional needs of the partners and that friendships are irrelevant in this context
Lasch informs us that he would rather have churches do moral work than psychology do healing work
His book informs us that he would rather have churches do moral work than psychology do healing work; he laments the therapeutic mindset, which he doesn’t begin to understand, but encourages the religious moralist mindset—and with it Allan Bloom’s right-wing, dogmatic, polemic skewering of everything unBloomlike, which is to say everything not right-wing, orthodox, absolutist and not as academically literate as he is.
He blindly condemns all of Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within, rather than acknowledging her honest plea for less abuse of children and abuse of women, and her facts about patriarchal dominance and the old paradigm and how these things are detrimental to our culture as well as others. He throws out the baby with the bath water when, after rightly criticizing her appeal to social engineering and rewriting the history of Western Civilization for political correctness (neither of which were messages in Revolution from Within, but both of which can be found in her earlier writings), he knocks the quest to embellish environments so they produce self-esteem. He totally misunderstands where self-esteem comes from, what it means, and why it’s vital. As an academic, one would have expected him to study his subject before issuing his biased report.
Lasch throws out the baby with the bath water when he knocks the quest to embellish environments so they produce self-esteem
In fact, Revolution from Within is one of the most important women’s books ever written, while The Revolt of the Elites is nowhere close to being of that caliber. The fact that he is an arrogant male historian, sheltered by the ivory towers of academia and putting down everything he doesn’t understand while Ms. Steinem has been a writer, activist, editor, entrepreneur, columnist, lecturer, organizer and feminist for many decades and has done more good than most other Americans, and yet conservative males flocked to trumpet his book while few males of any stripe even acknowledged her beautiful book’s existence—this underscores the case made by Steinem for taking a closer look at the biases of the patriarchal society and its warped values that try to keep women down. His book is a confused yawn. Hers is a wise and compassionate gift to mankind.
Lasch is an arrogant male historian, sheltered by the ivory towers of academia and putting down everything he doesn’t understand
He addresses the network versus community controversy. Lasch considers networks elitist snubbing of neighbors and local community. He is correct that ignoring the neighborhood in favor of the network is very 1990s and very 21st century but also very naïve, because neighborhood is a critical part of good community. But he is wrong to denigrate the search for people one is more compatible with, as if it were a sin to find friends outside of the restricted choices of the local scene. He clearly states the antithesis of the thesis that networks are more evolved modern social organization, all the while missing the obvious dialectical synthesis that if the process of networking uncovered great new friends and families one wished to concentrate socializing with, why not endeavor to have these become neighbors someday? It’s the difference between being at cause or being at effect, and the difference between determinism and existential choice.
Conservative males flocked to trumpet Lasch's book, yet the book deserving the horn-blowing is Steinem's Revolution from Within
If one can choose to have neighbors and network be synonymous, thereby having one’s cake and eating it too, and if one can choose to have a wonderful subcommunity of friends and neighbors—why wouldn't one?
If physics is right about there being no real boundary between entities on Earth, and each one is part of a system that partially defines it and is in relationship with it via patterns which connect, then shouldn’t one attempt to have nearby related entities harmonious with one’s own entity in an effort to promote balance and functionality rather than chaos? In other words, if one can choose to have neighbors and network be synonymous, thereby having one’s cake and eating it too, and if one can choose to have a wonderful subcommunity of friends and neighbors for oneself and one’s family as opposed to the weak connections, the pseudoconnections and the disconnections one now tolerates, why in the world would one NOT do so? (Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.)
If one can choose to have a wonderful subcommunity of friends and neighbors for oneself and one’s family as opposed to the weak connections, why in the world would one NOT do so?
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If social networks are elitist snubbing of neighbors, in Lasch-think, doesn't it then follow that Lasch's snubbing of the Enlightenment, science, psychology, the Third Wave Information Age, the internet, modernity, feminism, secularism, self-actualization, self-esteem, and everyone on the liberal side of the Culture War is indulging in the same type of black and white either-or thinking he accuses the liberals of? On the other hand, his wrongheadedness about these issues balances out but fails to nullify his rightheadedness about community, bonds, roots, political correctness, social engineering, responsibilities, victimhood, neighborhood, the welfare state, and married couples trying to fill all needs of each other as well as their children which is impossible.