Christopher Lasch and Finding Our Limits

Applications for Our Politics

More recently, Lasch notes, the left in politics began to ignore populists’ values, to their peril (525). Since Lasch wrote his book, it’s become all the more apparent. Jim Webb is a model perhaps better than Sanders or Warren for what a Laschian left-populism could look like. His Scotch-Irish populist outlook also exemplifies how social conservatism and working-class cultural conservatism are not the same. He’s a card-carrying union member, pro-choice on abortion, supports gay marriage, wants to scale back overseas military commitments, and stated “the power of the government ends at my front door unless there is a compelling reason to come inside”. Yet he’s unabashedly patriotic, economically nationalist, strongly supports the 2nd Amendment, and favors shifting affirmative action to more need-based systems. Reflecting the producerist ethic Lasch endorses, Webb is “at once revolutionary and deeply conservative” (205). His 2016 campaign ended before a single primary, and the party evidently didn’t heed his advice that “the people who would most benefit [from Democratic policies] feel alienated”. This ignorance resulted in, as Lasch himself interestingly foretold, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the shift of so many working-class communities towards the GOP. The Voter Study Group, one of the most prominent post-2016 studies, displayed a huge and often-ignored category of voters called populists; socially conservative and economically left-leaning. Hillary Clinton lost major ground here vis a vis Obama in 2012, with just 6/10 Obama-voting populists casting a ballot for her in 2016. Importantly, the study showed that lower-income GOPers support tax increases for the rich, minimum wage increases, and reducing income differences (albeit still only 16%) at double the frequency that wealthier GOP voters do. This, my friends, is a realignment in action, a realignment the left could challenge if it listened to Lasch and his sometimes unlikely exponents.

Christopher Lasch taught courses at the University of Rochester for years.

Lessons for Us All?

Beyond the political, this book has something for everybody. Lasch ends with a call for us to free ourselves by recognizing limits and renouncing resentment. By doing so, we can achieve the hope he professes and in turn abandon dueling optimism and pessimism. Recognizing limits will mean acknowledging the merit in lower-middle-class values while rejecting unabashed planet-destroying consumerism.

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Andrew Figueiredo

Andrew Figueiredo

Moderate Communitarian politics. Catholic. 1st Gen Portuguese-American born and raised in Kansas. Now a law student in Pennsylvania.