Lasch and Michea

The tendency of this analysis is to exalt bourgeois liberalism as the only civilized form of political life and bourgeois “civility” as the only uncorrupted form of public conversation.  From the pluralist point of view, the admitted imperfections of bourgeois society remain inaccessible to political correction, since political life is regarded an inherently a realm of radical imperfection.  Thus when men and women demand fundamental alterations in the political system, they are really projecting personal anxieties into politics.  In this way liberalism defines itself as the outer limit of political rationality and dismisses all attempts to go beyond liberalism, including the entire revolutionary tradition, as the politics of narcissism.  (29)

Christopher Lasch | The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations


Therapy as Antireligion

Plagued by anxiety, depression, vague discontents, a sense of inner emptiness, the “psychological man” of the twentieth century seeks neither individual self-aggrandizement nor spiritual transcendence but peace of mind, under conditions that increasingly militate against it.  Therapists, not priests or popular preachers of self-help or models of success like the captains of industry, become his principal allies in the struggle for composure; he turns to hem in the hope of achieving the modern equivalent of salvation, “mental health.”  Therapy has established itself as the successor both to rugged individualism and to religion; but this does not mean that the “triumph of the therapeutic” has become a new religion in its own right.  Therapy constitutes an antireligion, not always to be sure because it adheres to rational explanation or scientific methods of healing, as its practitioners would have us believe, but because modern society “has no future” and therefore gives no thought to anything beyond its immediate needs.  Even when therapists speak of the need for “meaning” and “love,” they define love and meaning simply as the fulfillment of the patient’s emotional requirements.  It hardly occurs to them — nor is there any reason why it should, given the nature of the therapeutic enterprise — to encourage the subject to subordinate his needs and interests to those of others, to someone or some cause or tradition outside himself.  “Love” as self-sacrifice or self-abasement, “meaning” as submission to a higher loyalty — these sublimations strike the therapeutic sensibility as intolerably oppressive, offensive to common sense and injurious to personal health and well-being. (13)

Christopher Lasch | The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations

Self-improvement and Despair

People busy themselves instead with survival strategies, measures designed to prolong their own lives, or programs guaranteed to ensure good health and peace of mind.


Both strategies reflect the growing despair of changing society, or even understanding it, which also underlies the cult of expanded consciousness, health and personal “growth” so prevalent today.

After the political turmoil of the sixties, Americans have retreated to purely private personal preoccupations.  Having no hope of improving their lives in any of the ways that matter, people have convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly-dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to “relate,” overcoming the “fear of pleasure.”  Harmless in themselves, these pursuits, elevated to a program and wrapped in the rhetoric of authenticity and awareness, signify a retreat from politics and a repudiation of the recent past. (4-5)

Christopher Lasch | The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations