THE TRUE AND ONLY HEAVEN: Progress and its Critics by Christopher Lasch
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THE TRUE AND ONLY HEAVEN: Progress and its Critics

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The preeminent social critic here distills and recasts 30 years of research on American radicalism, feminism, and cultural history (in, among other books, The New Radicalism in America, Haven in a Heartless World, and The Culture of Narcissism). The result is a profound and intellectually honest work of breathtaking historical scope that could easily set the terms for political debate in a post-cold-war world in which the ideologies of right and left seem totally exhausted. In Lasch's view, what links so many across the political spectrum (including liberals in the middle) is an intransigent faith in progress, despite the calamities of our century and the pervasive evidence that our culture is in decline. Lasch's grand project is twofold. On the one hand, he traces the intellectual roots of modern notions of optimism in the future, secular versions of conventional beliefs in fortune and providence. From Adam Smith's theory of insatiable needs to the Marxist sense of being on the winning side of history, those who looked to the future--whether it was of a great mass of consumers or of a classless society--often found real people getting in the way of economic growth. As counterpoint, Lasch's larger purpose here is to provide ""a more attentive hearing"" to those who all along have rejected ""progress""--a group of forgotten or misinterpreted thinkers who advance ""a more strenuous and morally demanding definition of the good life."" From Henry George's sense of the ""organic unity of poverty and progress"" to Reinhold Niebuhr's call to spiritual discipline (with extended glances at Emerson, Carlyle, Royce, Sorel, Cole, and Martin Luther King along the way), Lasch discerns ""a single tradition or sensibility."" And that ""petty bourgeois culture"" or ""lower-middle-class"" consciousness--which he also finds in a number of social movements but especially in American populism--has much to recommend to our present day. Its moral conservatism also means a respect for workmanship, loyalty, and equality, and it steers us from the vices of envy and resentment. Neither a jeremiad nor a panacea, Lasch's massive history is exactly what we need: a cleareyed study of our usable past.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1990
ISBN: 0393307956
Publisher: Norton