Meritocracy is a parody of democracy. — Christopher Lasch
Having watched many prior conventions, I know the audience to be highly emotional. One moment they are an excitable bunch of sugar-bingeing kids at a birthday party; the next, grief-stricken mourners at a funeral. I should have known that the camera will always find a person crying in the audience on cue before shifting to another supporter chanting “U-S-A” to the lamest punchlines imaginable. The loyalists who attend these conventions are generally more interesting to watch than the speakers.
Based on the evidence above, it might seem like America is losing its mind. But, to be fair, American political conventions and those who attend them are not particularly representative of American society.
Perhaps the true narcissists are those who refuse “to accept the fact that a younger generation now possesses many of the previously cherished gratifications of beauty, wealth, power and, particularly, creativity,” according to the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, quoted by Lasch. “To be able to enjoy life in a process involving a growing identification with other people’s happiness and achievements is tragically beyond the capacity of narcissistic personalities,” Kernberg continues.
With a definition like that, it’s hard to say Baby Boomer parents who continue to support their boomerang children, financially and emotionally, could truly be considered clinical narcissists. Nor could their millennial children who still look to their parents for guidance.
In Lasch’s view, the mainstream progressive Left lost its way as soon as it set itself the task of saving capitalism from its excesses rather than proposing a more radical critique of the social, moral, and economic damage it does to settled ways of life. Instead of championing the well-being of average Americans, the Left came to valorize ideals of consumption and meritocratic striving. Along the way, it also fetishized efficiency and productivity as measures of the good life, and bought into the notion that the nation should strive for constantly expanding economic growth, with individuals chasing endlessly after a standard of abundance that’s always just out of reach.
The result is widespread spiritual misery and accompanying social pathologies, including violence, drug addiction, and depression, as Americans spend their lives in grinding pursuit of a fulfillment in luxury, novelty, and excitement that can never be achieved.
Before his tragic death from cancer (at the young age of 61), Lasch worked on The Revolt of the Elites. Here he elaborated on prior arguments, with a focus on an angle that had preoccupied him his entire career: the exposure of elitism. He particularly called out liberals, saying that their condescension towards the values of ‘Middle America’ created a space for Republicans to appear on the side of the masses. Liberalism had ‘no particularly solid and rooted constituency outside of the rootless professional class’ and lacked a vision of society, he said. That meant ‘the ascendancy of the new class rests not on its secure command of an intellectual and political tradition, but on its imagined superiority to the average unenlightened American bigot’. Lasch argued that today’s liberal elites have ‘the vices of the aristocracy without its virtues’. — Sean Collins
Hedonism, self-expression, doing your own thing, dancing in the streets, drugs, and sex are a formula for political impotence and a new despotism, in which a highly educated elite through its mastery of the technological secrets of a modern society rule over an indolent population which has traded self-government for self-expression. — Christopher Lasch
Enjoyable reminiscence about Christopher Lasch.