I have reconsidered the nature of my proposal for the “Rethinking History” CFP, which is due in three days. My previous idea — to compare a number of different left and right historians — seemed too problematic, as some of you astutely pointed out. Let me know what you think about this proposal, which I hope to submit in the next day or two:
“Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice”
Proposal for issue: “Liberalism, Conservatism, Radicalism, and Historical Materialism.”
Proposed title: Christopher Lasch and the Historiography of Political Reorientation
One of the best methods for understanding the relationship between political ideas and historical practice is to examine scholars whose political commitments shifted during their lives. Few historians better fit this mold than Christopher Lasch, the controversial U.S. historian and social critic whose eclectic oeuvre spans four decades.
When he began writing in the early 1960s, Lasch was prototypical of the coming New Left revisionism in his unsparing critique of corporate liberalism and the intellectuals who supported the new order. In The New Radicalism in America (1965), Lasch argued that liberal intellectuals such as John Dewey, by wrongly assuming culture was politically transformative, unintentionally helped prepare docile subjects for the corporate order. In The Agony of the American Left (1969), Lasch castigated those intellectuals who knowingly accepted CIA money, thus abdicating their duty as intellectuals to critique the imperialist state.
But by the publication of his bestseller The Culture of Narcissism (1979), Lasch no longer affiliated with the left, “new” or otherwise, and, in a move that surely would have drawn the ire of his former self, accepted an invitation from President Jimmy Carter to advise on the national malaise. Although the later Lasch cannot be reduced to a simple conservative – he continued to conceptualize immense wealth as an affront to basic morality – clearly he had reordered his political commitments, so much so that by the early 1990s Susan Faludi labeled him a leading anti-feminist intellectual. My essay will compare and contrast the early Lasch to the later Lasch as a means to remark on how political turmoil affects how we reconstruct the past.