Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How Much Did “The Culture of Narcissism” Get Right?

By Matt Taibbi

It is symptomatic of the underlying tenor of American life that vulgar terms for sexual intercourse also convey the sense of getting the better of someone, working him over, taking him in, imposing your will through guile, deception, or superior force.

— Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism

Back in 1979, social critic Christopher Lasch wasn’t buying the idea that Americans in the sex-drugs-and-disco era were actually having fun.

“This hedonism is a fraud,” he wrote. “The pursuit of pleasure disguises a struggle for power. Americans have not really become more sociable and cooperative… they have merely become more adept at exploiting the conventions of interpersonal relations for their own benefit.”

Lasch’s reasoning traced to the beginning of American society.

The Puritans embraced the idea of getting rich, but “saw personal aggrandizement as incidental to social labor” and “instructed men who prospered not to lord it over neighbors.”


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