107 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2000
In "the Revolt of the Elites" Christoper Lasch powerfully and persuasively contends that that the values and attitudes of professional and managerial elites and those of the working classes have dramatically diverged. Although the claim is controverted, many of us on the right (especially social conservatives) agree with the quasi-populist/communitarian notion that democracy works best when all members of society can participate in a world of upward mobility and of achievable status. In such a world, members of society will perceive themselves as belonging to the same team and care about ensuring that that team succeeds. But how can society achieve this sort of mutual interdependence if its members are not part of a community of shared values? As Christopher Lasch explains: "[T]he new elites, the professional classes in particular, regard the masses with mingled scorn and apprehension." For too many of these elites, the values of "Middle America" - a/k/a "fly-over country" - are mindless patriotism, religious fundamentalism, racism, homophobia, and retrograde views of women. "Middle Americans, as they appear to the makers of educated opinion, are hopelessly shabby, unfashionable, and provincial, ill informed about changes in taste or intellectual trends, addicted to trashy novels of romance and adventure, and stupefied by prolonged exposure to television. They are at once absurd and vaguely menacing." (28)
The tension between elite and non-elite attitudes is most pronounced with respect to religious belief. While our society admittedly is increasingly pluralistic, "the democratic reality, even, if you will, the raw demographic reality," as Father Neuhaus has observed, "is that most Americans derive their values and visions from the biblical tradition." Yet, Lasch points out, elite attitudes towards religion are increasingly hostile: "A skeptical, iconoclastic state of mind is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the knowledge classes. ... The elites' attitude to religion ranges from indifference to active hostility." (215)
Lash claims that the divergence in elite and non-elite attitudes is troubling for the future of democracy. Its hard for me to gainsay him. Yet, while "The Revolt of the Elites" is sobering - even a tad depressing - it deserves to be read even more widely than it has been. Lasch is no partisan. Conservative proponents of unfettered capitalism get bashed about the head by Lasch just as much as liberal critics of capitalism. Populists will find themselves nodding in agreement with some sections, while communitarians will concur with other sections. About the only folks who will be offended by all of "The Revolt of the Elites" are hardened libertarians and extreme left-liberals. Highly recommended.
43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2002
This book is very interesting and provocative. Nobody seriously interested in political science, the structure of society and government, the need to reassess democracy and reconsider the roles of pressure groups, should overlook this last contribution by professor Lash.
According to the author, modern democracy is not only challenged by the masses (as Ortega y Gasset stated in its Revolt of the Masses), but also, and mostly, by the elites. Modern elites are not anymore connected with their geographical and social background and roots, they have a global vision and ambition, and do not accept any constraints and limits in the pursuance of their egotistical interests, which are basically money oriented. It is now common for the leaders and members of the ruling meritocracy to base self esteem upon success, material success, and to downplay humanistic ideals such as respect and tolerance.
The ideas and perceptions of Lash must provoke serious rethinking about the effective level of "democraticity" of the modern political structure, and the remedies that have to be conceived to ensure a truly democratic participation of the citizens in the exercise or control of power and government.
I would suggest that this book has to be accompanied by other works on the subject of democracy and elitism, in order to appreciate the dangers and pitfalls of the transformation and "materialization" of the values of the elites, and its overall effect upon the system analyzed by Lash. So read this book, but also the classic works by Robert Michels and Maurice Duverger about political parties, elites and pressure groups. Also, the book by Vilfredo Pareto "The rise and the fall of Elites" and the recent "Democracy and its critics" by Robert Dahl. You will then understand better this caveat by professor Lash, within the context of modern democracy.
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2004
Christopher Lasch (1932-1994) was a historian and penetrating social critic. In his articles, essays and books, he challenged everyone - modern liberals and conservatives as well as the leftist and academic elite. While one did not have to agree with his conclusions, he was a man who always asked questions that needed to be answered, and raised issues that needed to be confronted. Politically, Lasch could probably be best described as a New Deal liberal, for he was very suspicious of both unfettered consumer capitalism and the rise of the New Left, whose goals and views he felt were in direct opposition to American values. He could also be described as a "thoughtful declinist" but one who always held out hope for the future.
In this book, Lasch's the last one published during the author's lifetime, he argued that America was not in danger from the "Revolt of the Masses" which was the title of Jose Ortega y Gasset's landmark book which was written in 1932, in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Fascism, but that we are threatened by a "Revolt of the Elites." In 1994, Lasch had come to believe that the economic and cultural elite of the United States, who historically has insured the continuity of a culture, had lost faith in the traditional values that had animated and organized our culture since its inception. He saw a threat to the continuation of western civilization was not a mass revolt as envisioned by the pro-communist New Left of the 1960's, but a rejection of its liberal and pluralistic values by the educated elite that run its institutions and educate its children. Lasch's last question was an important one: can a society survive when a significant portion of its elite have forsaken its founding principles?
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2000
The Revolt of the Elites articulates the growing disonnectedness between the social classes in the global economy. Lasch's work, for me, was an extenstion of Robert B. Reich's point in the Work of Nations, where he predicted that "knowledge workers" would secede from nationalistic idealism to become members of a globalist higher society. Lasch's thesis is based on this growing trend, which he sees as ultimately threatening American democracy and identity.
This reframing of America's social decline is consistant with the views of many prominant social conservatives and anti-globalists. As such, it draws much criticism from groups who have a stake in the economic changes that have taken root over the past thirty-years.
Despite the average rating of this book, open-minded readers will find Lasch's work to be well thought-out, convincing, and a pleasure to read.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 1998
A favorite professor of mine used to say that Europeans claimed to read authors, whereas Americans only read books--an interesting maxim to keep in mind regarding Christopher Lasch and his books. Lasch's special gift--and the special outgrowth of his considerable dedication--is that he progressively forged a vision of wide scope. What this means is that the perspective he confered on his discussions of whatever topics he had in hand at the moment, derived from a full, almost socio-ecological world view. When he talked about the post-industrial, his speech was backgrounded by a concern with the family, just as when he talked about capitalism, he spoke with the same voice he would use in regard to democracy, or religion, or any of his other various obsessions. Lasch always wrote Lasch, and he knew himself very well. The implications of his breadth and integrity for his readers are double-edged. Anyone standing in the same tradition, and/or anyone dedicated to absorbing any sizeable portion of his ouevre, will find a purview and comprehensive moral vision infrequently rivaled. The flip-side, of course, is that in each of his individual books, one gets only a piece of Lasch which nonetheless hints at the rest. Hinting, however, usually invites more criticism than does outright statement, especially from the lazy or desperate, who will seek to nip at the tail of a dog they know would eat them alive face-to-face. Critics who casually and unimaginatively accuse Lasch of "pessimism" comically fall into the trap he set for them when he revealed the shallowness of categories like "optimism" and "pessimism," insisting instead on the more substantive concept of hope underpinned by a sometimes tragic courage. His tough hopefulness throws into relief the sort if despair or simple lack of invention evidenced by "optimism," which usually merely glosses dearth of circumspection. Lasch's hopefulness, to be sure, was subtle, and difficult to unearth from the polemic, but his sort of insistence provided for a sense of hope crystalline and pure and hard and eternal--a diamond. REVOLT OF THE ELITES presents a bit (really, a bit) more straightforward picture of his redemptive vision. It suffers, however, from a relative lack of coherence (in comparison with earlier work), which may have owed to the circumstances of its composition. What REVOLT does not do is yield to a simplistic read, nor does it, any more than any other, offer a skeleton key to Christopher Lasch. As great as his books sometimes were, none of them was able to corral the enormity of his vision, and REVOLT is no exception. Treat yourself, and treat the American community to a you informed by what Lasch had to say: read everything you can get your hands on. It will become abundantly clear (as it seemed to be clear enough in REVOLT) that the notion that Lasch ever had any target in mind other than the obscenely overprivileged is buffoonish. To say he forgot them simply bewilders. Moreover, one will discover that his toughness and tenacity served to not only excoriate a corrupt civilization, but to hammer from the fragments a stoic and resilient hope and moral mission far more resistant to the dread he's been accused of than the blithe "optimism" of his critics will ever be.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2003
The aristocratic elitism of modern society's version of royalty--well-educated liberals, university administrators, race and class baiters and political elites who fear accusations of being insufficiently sophisticated and sensitive--are tossed off their thrones by Christopher Lasch. Lasch gives a clear and comprehensive overview of the social and political upheaval of the last 40 years that occurred under the noses of a bland and uncaring populace.
He explains the changes in America that led to morality becoming a code word for judgmentalism, standards becoming a code word for racism, multiculturalism becoming a code word for denigrating an evil European culture, the loss of family and neighborhood hailed as necessary for individual freedom, and the death of social cohesiveness, which never was mourned. "Most of our spiritual energy is devoted precisely to a campaign against shame and guilt, the object of which is to make people 'feel good about themselves.' The churches themselves have enlisted in this therapeutic exercise...," he notes.
Lest one think this is a Bill Bennett-type bromide, Lasch's observations extend far beyond the ain't-divorce-and-latchkey-children-terrible speech and extends to the paradox of modern society in which people have never been better off materially because of capitalism but so in danger of losing the core of their souls and their society's democratic values.
Individuality without community connection and the disintegration of unstated but commonly understood traditional rules and obligations that neighbors and a community once believed they owed other threaten democracy, Lasch believes.
When multiculturalsm is seen from a limited tourist-type approach of folk dances and exotic food, when crime and violence in ethnic neighborhoods replace social cohesiveness, when impersonal malls and fast food restaurants displace informal gathering spots where people once discussed ideas and experiences, and when intimidation and name-calling replace reasoned debate, the country is deeply troubled, he notes. Worse yet, no one seems to find these developments alarming, so enmeshed they are in their structured public work worlds and isolated private home worlds.
Lasch pessimistically regrets the faltering of the foundation of a culture lost the very core of its democratic ideals: reasoned governance by an informed populace with a sense of community and ethics. He decries the usurpation of cultural norms instigated by elites, who rarely venture outside their smug circle of we-know-best-for-you compatriots and who refuse to acknowledge a need for individual responsibility and rather see the average, ordinary working person as a spigot for unending social spending and an unsophisticated inferior.
"...Identity politics has come to serve as a substitute for religion--or at least for the feeling of self-righteousness that is so commonly confused with religion," he says, while meanwhile decrying the modern tendency to use religion as a way to achieve personal happiness instead of as a guide to rightful living.
Lasch's clear and flowing writing style and his insights into the disorder and straying of modern society from its historical anchor make the book a timely and informative expose of many of the ills of modern society.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2000
This was the first book by Christopher Lasch that I had read. I have started a more complete reading of his works. The title is a profoundly important one. The elites in the world are revolting. The book examines the issues one by one in an effort to explain this fact. As I know of friends and family who are more worried about their next trip to Europe to see the sites than the starving children in the world, I realize that a book such as this was inevitable. It challenges all those who are interested in the concept of democracy to review what a true democracy is about.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2006
Having read both _The Revolt of the Elites_ recently and _The Revolt of the Masses_ several times, I am struck by previous reviewers contrasts and apparent misreadings. Ortega y Gasset argues a larger, archetypal predicament, that the supposed elites are plagued with the same lowest common denominator, mass or canned thought as everyone else is. Ortega y Gasset is writing with a slightly larger scope than Lasch and I would propose that Lasch misreads Ortega y Gasset himself and fails in his analysis. Purported 'Elites' are not an agreed upon monolith, and ostensibly those advancing the thought of Leo Strauss or, antipodally, Louis Althusser can be construed as elites. Therefore, one must respond with the criticism to Lasch of which elites are railroading democracy. I find this a simplistic indictment and far less invigorating than his excellent "The Culture of Narcissism".
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 1998
Mr. Lasch is right on the money with this examination of contemporary antidemocratic elitism. His biting analysis transcends more simplistic notions of class warfare and shows how socio-religious values, as much as economics, are what really seperate the masses from their "betters." Anyone who hopes that genuine populism can experience a renaissance in America, take heart; this highly readable volume shows you're not alone.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2000
In this book 'The Revolt of the Elites and The Betrayal of Democracy'Lasch is taking a critical look at democracy. According to him people should try to achieve the goal of democracy by working towards it. He states that the accumalation of wealth for personal benefit is incorrect. He felt that wealth should be used for the development of the nation. My first response to reading this book was that Lasch had a vision. He was very philosophical and philanthrophic, he believed in the betterment of the community and the nation rather than just one individual or a group of individual's whom he calls Elites who are in revolt against Middle America. In an age where people are getting more and more materialistic Lasch is concerned about the well being of democracy. He wants individuals in a democracy to uphold moral values such as sharing the wealth for nation's benefit rather than for themselves.Lasch did not like the way Elites are creating two classes Those who have the money, education, and power and those who don't and how the group that has it exploits those who don't have these qualities. He wants the nation to look forward to continuity of ideals such as exchange of ideas and debates in a secular way. This is a great book in which Lasch expresses the hope of distrubution of excess wealth for the betterment of nation.