The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics

Overview

"A major and challenging work. . . . Provocative, and certain to be controversial. . . . Will add important new dimension to the continuing debate on the decline of liberalism." —William Julius Wilson, New York Times Book Review
Can we continue to believe in progress? In this sobering analysis of the Western human condition, Christopher Lasch seeks the answer in a history of the struggle between two ideas: one is the idea of progress - an idea driven by the conviction that human desire is insatiable and requires ...

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Overview

"A major and challenging work. . . . Provocative, and certain to be controversial. . . . Will add important new dimension to the continuing debate on the decline of liberalism." —William Julius Wilson, New York Times Book Review
Can we continue to believe in progress? In this sobering analysis of the Western human condition, Christopher Lasch seeks the answer in a history of the struggle between two ideas: one is the idea of progress - an idea driven by the conviction that human desire is insatiable and requires ever larger production forces. Opposing this materialist view is the idea that condemns a boundless appetite for more and better goods and distrusts "improvements" that only feed desire. Tracing the opposition to the idea of progress from Rousseau through Montesquieu to Carlyle, Max Weber and G.D.H. Cole, Lasch finds much that is desirable in a turn toward moral conservatism, toward a lower-middle-class culture that features egalitarianism, workmanship and loyalty, and recognizes the danger of resentment of the material goods of others.

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Editorial Reviews

Robert Coles
“An extraordinary book by one of our wisest social and political observers. Lasch's brilliant analysis of our secular dreams and hopes, our blind spots and foolishness, ought to help us all figure out what we believe and where we are headed.”
John Patrick Diggins
“The battle that has been going on for the past two decades among historians and philosophers, nothing less than a struggle to define the historical nature of America's political soul, has been joined by Christopher Lasch. His provocative and learned book offers fresh perspectives on many topics and illuminates the relevance of Christian and classical thinkers for our troubled era.”
Michael Stern - San Francisco Chronicle
“Powerful and moving. . . . A magisterial synthesis.”
Robert Bellah
“Christopher Lasch has written a great book about the most important things. As a major contribution to public discourse, The True and Only Heaven will be at the center of discussion for years to come.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The thrust of Lasch's polemic is that progressives mistakenly cling to a faith in progress, i.e., the belief that a steady, indefinite rise in living standards is possible. The world's diminishing resources and America's shrinking middle class effectively doom the idea of such progress, he suggests. Lasch identifies a constellation of thinkers--Carlyle, Emerson, William James, Reinhold Neibuhr, syndicalist Georges Sorel, American populists--who were skeptical of material progress and its presumed benefits. He links their views to the ``petty-bourgeois sensibility'' of the lower-middle class, said to be rooted in family, neighborhood, respect for workmanship, loyalty, thrift, self-denial and a recognition of human limits. As self-appointed champion of lower-middle-class values, Lasch is less cogent than in his jeremiad, The Culture of Narcissism. He uses liberals as a whipping-post to advance his debatable thesis, accusing them of unrealistic optimism and a shallow secularism. Jan.
Library Journal
Lasch The Culture of Narcissism , LJ 11/15/78 condemns those on both the right and left who continue to believe in progress, i.e., the idea that the American economy can continue to grow indefinitely and lead the way to ``the true and only heaven'' Hawthorne's phrase of increasing wealth and ever-higher standards of living. Instead, he argues, we must recognize the environmental limits to economic growth and begin lowering our expectations. He believes the middle class is already on the verge of extinction. Lasch analyzes the thought of those who have dissented from the idea of progress and warned of human limitations--Emerson, William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King--and concludes that the solution is a conservative morality that accepts limits but ``asserts the goodness of life in the face of limits.'' Recommended for academic and large public library collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/90.-- Jeffrey R. Herold , Bucyrus P.L., Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393307955
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/17/1991
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 1,221,466
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Lasch (1932–1994) was also the author of The True and Only Heaven, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, and other books.

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