Christopher Lasch on the pursuit of progress

Hope and optimism are not the same thing.  They are different states of mind.  I am a hopeful person.  I am not an optimist.

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Years of Magical Thinking

Andrew Bacevich, How the US Blew the Post-Cold-War Era:

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us.

Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the “post-Cold War” era. Now that it’s over, a more descriptive name might be in order.  My suggestion: America’s Age of Great Expectations…

Anne Tagonist, 2016: the year Magic broke into Politics

The mythopoesis of a pre-Romantic Scots witch story is straightforward: a witch or sorcerer has foresworn the church and enjoys great power in the world. Her land is green. Her enemies fear her. She should be happy, but in fact she is beholden to the devil to torment her neighbours so that they, too, will foreswear the church. The hero, brought to agony by the loss of family, land, or freedom, is tempted in a moment of wild rage to call on the devil, but does not. This forebearance kills the witch malefactor, though since this is Scotland nothing improves the lot of the broken hero, whose only consolation is the firm possession of his or her soul. The Romantics prettied it up with ancient ruins and mysterious rituals, but the underlying narrative remains ugly and revolting. Magic, in these tales, is a contagious evil narrowly avoided at the final minute.

But then, history is written by the victors.

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Christopher Lasch, “What’s Wrong With the Right?”

From Christopher Lasch, What’s Wrong With the Right?, written in 1987 (emphasis added is mine):

In order to understand what’s wrong with the right, we must first understand the basis of its appeal. The conservative revival cannot be dismissed as a “simple political reaction,” as Michael Miles wrote some time ago, “whose point is to suppress a radical movement which by its nature poses a threat to the status quo distribution of power and wealth.” Contemporary conservatism has a strong populist flavor, having identified itself with the aspirations of ordinary Americans and appropriated many of the symbols of popular democracy. It is because conservatives have managed to occupy so much of the ground formerly claimed by the left that they have made themselves an important force in American politics. They say with considerable justification that they speak for the great American middle class: hard working men and women eager to better themselves, who reject government handouts and ask only a fair chance to prove themselves. Conservatism owes its growing strength to its unembarrassed defense of patriotism, ambition, competition, arid common sense, long ridiculed by cosmopolitan sophisticates, and to its demand for a return to basics: to “principles that once proved sound and methods that once shepherded the nation through earlier troubled times,” as Burton Pines puts it in his “traditionalist” manifesto, Back to Basics

That seems accurate to me as an assessment of Conservatism in 1987 and it still seems relevant today.   As framed above, it’s not an unappealing philosophy.   That said, I believe Lasch nailed it’s limitations:

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The Free Market: Black Friday In Perspective

“… individuals cannot learn to speak for themselves at all, much less come to an intelligent understanding of their happiness and well-being, in a world in which there are no values except those of the market. . . . the market tends to universalize itself.  It does not easily coexist with institutions that operate according to principles that are antithetical to itself: schools and universities, newspapers and magazines, charities, families. Sooner or later the market tends to absorb them all. It puts an almost irresistible pressure on every activity to justify itself in the only terms it recognizes: to become a business proposition, to pay its own way, to show black ink on the bottom line. It turns news into entertainment, scholarship into professional careerism, social work into the scientific management of poverty.  Inexorably it remodels every institution in its own image.”

– from Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites