orn in Omaha and raised in Chicago, Christopher Lasch was a Midwestern historian with a populist agenda. His parents were highly active members of the political left and acclaimed critics of the Vietnam War. From an early age, he shared their commitment to community participation and public debate, starting a neighborhood newspaper while in grade school.
As a member of the New Left, he joined Eugene Genovese at the University of Rochester in 1970,, to put together a department that would challenge the Liberal anti-Communist consensus. The publication of The Culture of Narcissism (1979) won him an invitation to the White House and a National Book Award. American society, he famously argued, had fostered “an intense fear of old age and death, a fascination with celebrity, and deteriorating relations between men and women.” President Carter, after speed reading this persuasive diagnosis of American social collapse, went on national television and condemned “spiritual malaise.”
Against the next administration, Lasch made the case that the Reagan revolution failed to conserve neighborhoods, communities, and families from the corrosive affects of the corporate state. Instead, the New Right mistakenly preached “the code of the cowboy.” In fact, Lasch saw a misguided faith in progress and commitment to mobility on both sides of the political spectrum.
In The True and Only Heaven (1991) he traced the history of this baffling faith in the inevitable march of progress. Already committed to “the hope that a self-governing republic can,” as he put it in 1983, “serve as a source of moral and political inspiration to the rest of the world, not as the center of a new world empire,” Lasch revived the causes of the populist, craftsman, and artisan movements. He saw that democratic equality could not exist unless citizens wrestled control away from corporations and the centralized state, and managed their own businesses and communities.