A superb collection of essays on culture and politics from a historian with a rare mastery of dialectics. Lasch first...


THE WORLD OF NATIONS: Reflections on American History, Politics and Culture

A superb collection of essays on culture and politics from a historian with a rare mastery of dialectics. Lasch first explores the weakness of American liberalism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, showing how liberal practices in penal reform, the treatment of mental illness, family life, and religion produced an ominous segregation of people and experience. The same period saw the rise of a national ruling class: a commercial gentry that transcended its provincial origins, absorbed the industrial parvenus, refused to become a leisure class, and equipped itself with an updated liberal ideology. Contemptuous of culture, this elite retained, to this day, a narrow vision. Lasch traces the present bankruptcy of the liberal establishment to this original flaw. He shows how this class promoted the Cold War in the name of a dubious national interest and how the same crackpot realism plunged the country into Vietnam. To Lasch, this ""liberal's war"" was not the inevitable consequence of capitalism but a generalized expression of American culture and the particular expression of an elite that fails to rule authoritatively. But he also rejects the radical alternatives hitherto proposed and subjects the left itself to an acid test in the central and most accomplished section of the book. The obsolescence of revolution in advanced industrial society explains the foibles of the radicals: their adherence to irrelevant orthodoxies, their hopeless search for revolutionary surrogates among students, blacks, women, or professionals, the revolt against reason, and the misplaced politicization of culture and interpersonal relations. In the work of the counterculturists whom Lasch severely criticizes revolution is debased to a mere change of heart. This book offers a sobering vista of advanced capitalism in which liberalism is bankrupt, revolution obsolete, culture fragmented, and radical politics displaced from the central area of work and productive relations to the margins of leisure and life-styles. Lasch fails, however, to propose concrete remedies for this impasse beyond general exhortation to exercise tactical realism and preserve critical reason.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1973


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1973

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