Christopher Lasch came to embrace hope against hope
Hope in a Scattering Time:
A Life of Christopher Lasch
by Eric Miller
Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co
$32.00 List Price
Christopher Lasch was arguably the last, and almost certainly the best, practitioner of a vanished tradition in American letters—an influential social critic who’d been recruited as an informal adviser to presidents; a university pedagogue whose work was addressed to a general, politically engaged readership; and, most of all, a restless intellect, in the best senses of both words, unafraid to call out stultifying orthodoxies or to scandalize their adherents. It speaks volumes about his vocation and the desiccated American intellectual scene that he spent the last years of his life “afflicted with a sense of ideological homelessness,” as Eric Miller writes in his supple and observant intellectual biography, Hope in a Scattering Time. After beginning his career as a historian of liberal diplomacy, Lasch ended it by plumbing the neglected American traditions of populism, civic republicanism, and politically minded theology before a smug, liberal intelligentsia that proudly and shrilly disowned his work while revealing they had no idea what he was really talking about.
I can’t be counted as an impartial judge of Lasch’s life or legacy: Prior to his death in 1994, Lasch was my graduate school adviser. The very traits that rendered him a pariah among bien-pensant liberals made him critical to my own political and intellectual awakening. I can still recall the outraged invective from a feminist coworker in San Francisco on hearing the name of my adviser, and how difficult it was explaining to my father, a career mental-health professional, that Lasch’s critique of the debilitating