Christopher Lasch (1932–1994) was an American historian.

Reagan’s Victims

The Reagan years can best be characterized as the age of evasion. At a time when the inescapable limits of American national power and economic growth have become increasingly difficult to ignore, Reagan has discredited talk about those limits. He has managed to equate acknowledgment of the country’s troubles with …

The Great American Variety Show

With his latest book, Peter Clecak has joined Daniel Yankelovich, Alvin Toffler, Herman Kahn, and other cultural forecasters who celebrate the diversity and vigor of American culture and predict a “more abundant life” to come. Although his argument is more complicated and more carefully qualified than theirs, it shares certain …

Happy Endings

The latest report on cultural trends—another “benchmark of our changing consciousness,” as Daniel Bell generously describes it on the jacket—comes from the founder and president of Yankelovich, Skelly & White, Inc. The polls conducted by his firm over the last twenty years, according to Daniel Yankelovich, indicate that Americans have …

Life in the Therapeutic State

The growth of the inward-turning, child-centered family, sociologists have long told us, is one of the distinguishing features of the transition from “traditional” to modern society. In the last twenty years, this theme has been elaborated with an increasing abundance of documentation by social historians—Philippe Aries, Eli Zaretsky, Edward Shorter, …

The Siege of the Family

The plight of the family, so long a professional preoccupation of social scientists and social pathologists, now commands anxious attention among legislators and government bureaucrats. Everyone talks about the need for a “family policy.” President Carter has repeatedly stressed the importance of holding the family together, and a growing number …

The Corruption of Sports

The recent history of sports is the history of their steady submission to the demands of everyday reality. The nineteenth-century bourgeoisie suppressed popular sports and festivals as part of its campaign to establish the reign of sobriety. Fairs and football, bull-baiting and cock-fighting and boxing offended middle-class reformers because of their cruelty and because they blocked public thoroughfares, disrupted the daily routine of business, distracted the people from their work, encouraged habits of idleness, extravagance, and insubordination, and gave rise to licentiousness and debauchery.

In the name of “rational enjoyment” and the spirit of “improvement,” these reformers exhorted the laboring man to forsake his riotous public sports and “wakes” and to stay at his hearth, in the respectable comfort of the domestic circle. When exhortation failed, they resorted to political action.

Planned Obsolescence

Psychiatric self-help, the twentieth century’s equivalent of “self-culture,” commends itself as the shortest road to health and happiness, at least for those who can’t afford regular visits to a psychiatrist. The market for books of psychiatric advice and consolation appears inexhaustible. The style of these manuals, however, has recently undergone …

The Narcissist Society

It is no secret that Americans have lost faith in politics. The retreat to purely personal satisfactions—such as they are—is one of the main themes of the Seventies. A growing despair of changing society—even of understanding it—has generated on the one hand a revival of old-time religion, on the other a cult of expanded consciousness, health, and personal “growth.” Having no hope of improving their lives in any of the ways that matter, people have convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to “relate,” overcoming the “fear of pleasure.” Harmless in themselves, these pursuits, elevated to a program and wrapped in the rhetoric of “authenticity” and “awareness,” signify a retreat from the political turmoil of the recent past.

What the Doctor Ordered

Edward Shorter’s book attempts to explain the transition from the “traditional” to the “modern” family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although most of his evidence comes from France, he tends to generalize his conclusions to all of Europe and even to America. The evidence is partly statistical, partly “literary.” …

The Emotions of Family Life

In the first of these articles (NYR, Nov. 13, 1975), I reviewed a number of studies that attempt to establish the size of the average household at various periods in history and to trace changes in household size and family structure. The controversy about the emergence of the nuclear family, …

The Family and History

The history of the family, once the province of amateurs and antiquarians, has become an academic industry. The prolonged “crisis” of the modern family, the feminist revival, the growing prestige of the social sciences and the hope that historians can share it have all contributed to the current fascination with …

A Special Supplement: The Meaning of Vietnam

In early May, The New York Review asked some of its contributors to write on the meaning of the Vietnam war and its ending. They were asked to consider the questions of the responsibility for the war; its effect on American life, politics, and culture, and the US position in …

Freud and Women

Recent movements for women’s liberation have put Freud at the top of their Enemies List. “Of all the factors that have served to perpetuate a male-oriented society,” writes Eva Figes in Patriarchal Attitudes, “…the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis has been the most serious.” According to the neofeminist indictment, Freud gave …

Take Me to Your Leader

Many students of modern society have argued, usually in more or less open opposition to socialist theories, that changes in technology, the rise of new classes, the divorce between ownership and control of property, the shift from production of goods to production of services, and the growth of bureaucracy have …

Inequality and Education

The most important finding of Christopher Jencks’s much discussed study can be stated simply. There is little correlation between income and the quality of schooling, and school reform can no longer be regarded, therefore, as an effective means of equalizing income. To put the matter more broadly, equalizing opportunity will …

On Richard Hofstadter

Even though his career was cut short in its prime, leaving us immeasurably impoverished by his loss, Richard Hofstadter left a full and rounded body of work, not merely one or two important books, the best that most historians can hope for. Each of Hofstadter’s books bore an important relation …

The Election II

Questions that have more to do with American culture than with American politics keep intruding themselves into the campaign, to McGovern’s embarrassment. McGovern prefers to discuss the “real,” political issues. Thus Eagleton was dropped lest his medical career distract the public from the “real” issues—Nixon’s record, the war, the economy.

Populism, Socialism, & McGovernism

The familiar materials of popular discontent, quietly persisting through three decades of “affluence,” seem once again to be rising to the surface of American political life. Distrust of officials and official pronouncements; cynicism about the good faith of those in positions of great power; resentment of the rich; a conviction …

The Good Old Days

The Handlins’ new book can best be described as a rather ill-tempered polemic against the “troublemakers” of the Sixties, preceded by a 257-page historical introduction. The historical sections of the work are only tenuously related to the attack on student radicalism; indeed, they sometimes tend to undermine it. What the …

Can the Left Rise Again?

An interminable war in Indochina; the revolutionary movement elsewhere in disarray; the American left fragmented and driven onto the defensive; Nixon acting belatedly but with apparent success to disarm his opponents; public services in decline; the quality of public discussion lower than ever; demoralization and drift on every side—the political …

The Education and the University We Need Now

A peculiar feature of neocapitalism in America is the presence of large groups which are excluded from production and which, because they are economically superfluous, must be kept in places of detention. The most important of these groups are the blacks and others of the new poor, young people, and …