Under the polarized political gaiters that characterize the national conversation, there is a surprising degree of consensus between the left and the right on what is wrong with society. Selfishness, corruption, tribalism and long-term construction failure – these are universally maligned. We can all see the same glitch devices, but we seem determined not to follow the wires to the same outlets.
Sometimes thinkers emerge who dig under the political fray and offer insight into how these political differences came to be. Three of these writers who were published a generation ago, and have since been proven unequivocally, are now available in my new favorite medium, the audiobook. I thought it might be informative to review them.
Perhaps the best of them is Christopher Lasch, a Cassandra from Nebraska who anticipated not only America’s next woes but many Britons as well. Lasch, a brilliant man who shared a room with John Updike at Harvard, made this familiar intellectual journey, illustrated by Christopher Hitchens, from neo-Marxist in his early sixties to his common sense in his later years, before being severely cut off by cancer. at only 61 years old.
His revolutionary work, and still the best known, was The culture of narcissism in 1979. If you wanted an introduction to the time, a non-fiction counterpart of Tom Wolfe Bonfire of vanities, you couldn’t do much better. And it’s good that narcissism is discussed by someone who really knows what it means, beyond “feels like something rotten”.
But for me it’s his last job, Revolt of the elites, it resonates today. It is a well-demonstrated and elegantly argued defense of the traditional virtues of common decency, to put aside gratification and put one’s shoulder to the common wheel. Lasch suspects that these traditional virtues were eroded by a neoliberal meritocracy, which had somehow managed to overturn the original American dream and turn it into something ugly instead.
For Lasch, the whole interest of the Republic was that you did not to have to be mobile upwards, to deserve and demand respect. You have earned it by fulfilling your role with diligence and humility, no matter where and where it is.
The new elites, observed Lasch, “retained many of the vices of the aristocracy without its virtues” and had detached themselves from the unwashed great ones, both physically and in all legal and moral obligations. Anyone who paid attention to it four and a half years ago saw where it was leading them.
It is the clarity and detail that Lasch tells this gradual inversion of values that makes this listening essential, like finding clear and cool water in a desert, or rather, in an overheated shopping center.
Showing a little more his age, Allan Bloom’s The closure of the American mind was a huge success in its day, instead confusing its author’s expectations and even his own argument, which was that the American public no longer had an appetite for this sort of thing. A Chicago professor’s detailed lament about his students’ reluctance to engage in historical context and heavy philosophical debates – to think they know it all, in short – is the kind of thing you might imagine what David Starkey is telling now, maybe after being forced to watch something on Project 1619.
Plato, Rousseau, Nietzsche and Max Weber each obtain half a page in the index, Jacques Derrida and the Buddha each obtain a single entry. But it’s well suited for the audiobook format because you can mentally browse through when it gets too heavy while still enjoying something very akin to reading that Bloom denounces the “ kids of today ” for not wanting. make. If you harbor a suspicion that the demands to “decolonize the program” are really just a cover for the age-old demand to make things easier, you will appreciate that.
To finish, Have fun to death by Neil Postman is fantastic listening. Pithy, sharp and furnished with vivid historical details, it plays like a town hall address. Postman argues that serious debate has become impossible, as politics has become a branch of show business, due to our transition from a typographic society to a television society, obsessed with surface gloss. Writing in 1985, his Exhibit One was the presidency of former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan. I doubt he feels terribly reassured by the events of the past few years.
I won’t presume to guess where Postman would situate audiobooks on the text / television spectrum, but I would say, much closer to the former, and also able to communicate complex thought, paradox and irony, nuance and precision that anything on the printed page. And with the speed feature in play, you can easily get through Postman’s superbly pessimistic controversy in a single evening, before catching up with the latest news on 24-hour news channels in time to unsettle and disrupt your thoughts. ordered before going to bed.
This article was originally published on The lives of spectators.