06 December 2021


Christopher Lasch
The Revolt of the Elites (1995)
The therapeutic discovery of shame finds its political expression in remedial programs administered by caretakers professing to speak on behalf of the downtrodden but concerned, above all, to expand their professional jurisdiction. Steinem's "revolution from within" does not signal a flight from politics, only a continuation of politics by other means.

Her therapeutic assault on shame requires political action for its completion. As a salutary example, she recommends California's Statewide Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem. ... Self-contempt, the task force discovered, was a "primary causal factor" in "crime and violence, alcohol abuse, [etc., etc.]..."—the "very problems," Steinem adds, that "Americans fear most."

She does not bother to explain how the California task force arrived at this finding—that is, by ignoring the reservations that were advanced by the experts on whose testimony its report was based. ...[the chairman] dismissed these reservations on the grounds that they came from "those who live only in their heads, in the intellectual." The importance of self-esteem, he said, was confirmed by our "intuitive knowledge."
(p. 209)
Curious not only for the anti-positivist appeal to intuitive knowledge but also, for me, on a personal level being one who grew up as part of this forcibly self-esteeming generation.

The professionalization of compassion has not made us a kinder, gentler nation. Instead it institutionalizes inequality, under the pretense that everyone is "special" in his own way. Since the pretense is transparent, the attempt to make people feel good about themselves only makes them cynical instead. "Caring" is no substitute for candor.
(p. 210)
This is pretty devastating and hard to argue with. It evinces less a conservative or realist appeal to ruggedness than an assertion that liberal ends have not been well served by the means with which liberals have mostly pursued them.

The difficulty, for me at least, with Lasch's assault on the "helping professions" is that I personally can't blame anyone for finding fault in the more rugged styles of child-rearing and self-help. I wonder, here as elsewhere, if the issues of centralization and "professionalization" have not become conflated.

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