Kevin Mattson, Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University and a student of the late historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch, reflects on the relevance of his mentor in the age of Trump. He questions whether those calling attention today to Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites really understand what the book is about.
Here is a taste of his recent piece in The Chronicle Review:
The first time I saw Lasch’s name invoked recently was in the Trump “syllabus” in these pages. Jill Lepore cited Lasch’s posthumous book, The Revolt of the Elites (1995), for its “uncanny” prediction of “a democratic crisis resulting from the fact that ‘elites speak only to themselves,’ partly because of ‘the absence of institutions that promote general conversations across class lines.’” Writing in The Baffler, George Scialabba reminded readers of Lasch’s ire toward capitalism. But conservatives have also been touting Lasch’s work. At The American Conservative, Gilbert T. Sewall cites Lasch in describing a “white, yeoman flight from the Democratic Party.” Ross Douthat, of The New York Times, argues that Lasch offered an “angry” but important critique of “the professional upper class’s withdrawal from the society it rules.” And none other than Stephen Bannon has reportedly cited The Revolt of the Elites as one of his favorite books to understand this juncture in history.
I’d welcome this renewed interest, but what worries me is that much of it is driven by a desire to explain the phenomenon of Trump, and particularly the politics of the white working class in 21st-century America. The Revolt of the Elites, a book that was hastily written and not Lasch’s best, has drawn the most attention, which is unfortunate. Lasch left behind a number of important, thoughtful works of history that serve simultaneously as eye-opening social criticism. But if you go back to him to find answers as to why large numbers of the white working class voted for a man whose wealth and fame are built upon a lavish hotel business and reality television, you will be left scratching your head.
Read the entire piece here.