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Mar 30, 2016 | 0 comments

Mar 30, 2016 | Essays | 0 comments

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Book Review: Culture of Narcissism, American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations

                  Over the past three decades, Christopher Lasch has established himself as a perceptive analyst of modern culture and the socio-political life of the Americans. As a great historian, his writings have combined shrewd evaluations of culture and politics through a robust examination of historical antecedents. This review is based on Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” lamenting to diminishing confidence and loss of resolve found in contemporary American life. Further, the debates of assertions of Lasch perhaps persistent among the liberal have remained alive well beyond his death in 1994. Social critics, intellectuals, and historians have condemned and commended the role of the book in social critic, criticized his nations, and applauded his efforts to explain the problems of the diminishing American culture. This paper has described the assertions by Lasch regarding the loss of American culture from chapter to chapter and later provides an evaluation of the book wholly based on reflections of the outstanding chapters.

Book Review: Culture of Narcissism, American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations

                  Christopher Lasch is an exemplary public writer in the field of sociology in the United States. Based on his focus on the socio-psychological change in the US, he contributed to the field of sociology by documenting the Culture of Narcissism. Lasch explained that the Americans had emerged “pessimistic” and had lost confidence as a result of the loss of the Vietnam War, the fear of depletion of natural resources, the slowed economic situation, and general fatigue after the tribulations of the sixties and that the pessimism led to the loss of resilience and creativity to comfort challenges of contemporary life. As such, he defined “narcissism” as the “psychological dimension of resilience on experts resulting from the loss of reproductive functions and productivity of the family. Perhaps, the use of productive functions, he referred to skills needed to meet material needs and reproductive function in having and raising children (www.labri.org/england/resources/…/AF03_Narcissism). The author took a narrowly clinical term and employed it to diagnose a pathology that appeared to have spread to all corners of American life. Notably, through his vigorous appraisal of contemporary American life and the combination of formidable intellectual grasp, and moral conviction, the book provides insights into personality in a stunning social context.

Chapter Summary
Chapter 1: The Awareness Movement and the Social Invasion of the self

In this chapter, Lasch reflects on the early political structure of the sixties where the Americans had retreated to personal preoccupations. The author emphasizes the American lives and indicates that the Americans had no hope of improving their lives, and people had convinced themselves that the element of psycho self-improvement is the fundamental thing that matters. As such, he writes that the Americans created awareness movement and social invasion of self by getting in touch with their feelings, taking lessons in ballet, and eating healthy food (p. 12). Further, Lasch provides notes in this chapter that the American’s sense of social invasion through authenticity and awareness reflects the retreat from politics as well as a repudiation of the past. Fundamentally, the chapter outlines the development of psycho self-improvement through awareness movement and to live for the moment is the prevailing passion.

Lasch observes that numerous commentators have seized on the resemblance of awareness as a means of understanding the contemporary cultural revolutions. Yet, this ignores the features that distinguish it from past religion. The chapter provides insights into the rise of therapeutic climate and notes that the authority of the poverty on America’s families: Assessing our research knowledge. Journal of the family has been wasted away.  (Baron Larry. (2010) The Reproduction of managing the business. He has 34 years of experience in vehicle maintenance in the military in Florida, so has vast experience in its regional culture and personality: a critique of Christopher Larch. Sociological Spectrum (Vol 3) pgs 297 paragraph 2 and 298 paragraph 1 and 2)- can be found on the Tandfonline site

The author observed and described the emerging power of a new industry that supplanted the lost functions previously contained inside of the nineteenth-century family structure. He notes that schools, the juvenile court system, and child advocacy organizations providing parent education were promoted to the regulators of every dimension of child welfare with parents reducing to subordinates (www.reviews.ctpdc.co.uk/lasch.htm) (p. 16).

Chapter 2: Narcissistic Personality of Our Time
                  Lasch writes of criticism of narcissism which he described metaphorically and reflected that the new critics confuse the effects and causes of narcissism. Lasch underscores that narcissism presented as a way to overcome the repressive conditions of the past that are aimed to forget the past and establishment certain levels of happiness in the hopeless world. Lasch’s view of narcissism is from a clinical perspective and used descriptions found typically in the fields of psychology and sociology to describe this phenomenon. He observed that to fully comprehend narcissism, as a social and cultural phenomenon, it was essential to look at the expanding corpus of writing that addressed it (p. 31). The culture of narcissism described in this chapter provides robust details regarding clinical narcissism found in contemporary clinical studies and literature and imparted a description of Freud’s research works into human personality and behavior (https://launiusr.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/reflecting-on-christopher-lasch-and-the-culture-of-narcissism/). The chapter highlights that the theoretical precision about narcissism is significant since the idea is readily susceptible to moralistic inflation and the practice of equating narcissism with everything disagreeable and selfish militates against historical specificity (P. 33). Lasch describes the role of socialization in narcissism and indicates that it has led to new social forms that require new forms of personality, new ways of organizing experience, and new modes of socialization. (https://launiusr.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/reflecting-on-christopher-lasch-and-the-culture-of-narcissism/)
Chapter 3: Changing Modes of Making It
                  In this chapter, Lasch recounts the heightened levels of stress that accrued from personal accomplishments, occupational achievement, in particular. The story of success witnessed in the American society alongside the self-made respect is hugely present in the American society. Quoting two great sociologists, Philip Brief, and Robin Williams, Lasch demonstrated the American meaning of work ethics based on the myths of the capitalists. Lasch criticizes the American economy and highlights that there is excessive erosion of investments and savings by the growing inflation. According to him, American society is characterized by violence, lawlessness, and unpredictable situations that a denied Americans the hope to prosper. Moreover, Lasch’s view of success achievement is based on the development of credible power realities through policymaking and the pursuit of the administration based on objectivity (p. 61). Proper government structures, he observes constitute the necessary, yet sufficient cause of upward mobility. He observes that the current government structure is based on single-mindedness to the task and hand, and there is robust performance rhetoric, efficiency, and productivity that fails to provide mechanisms of hard work. According to him, the Americans had lost the capacity for spontaneous feeling and have embarked on social survival. The decline of individualism and lack of proper social structures symbolizes the issues that trouble American society.
Chapter 4: Banality of Pseudo-self Awareness
                  Lasch describes the theatrics of the politics of and everyday existence. According to him, the modern class of managers, professionals, and bureaucrats has gained increasing power in society. As such, he indicates that approach to serious social and political issues sometimes. Satire gets used to ridicule, expose and highlight human, political life has become a form of theater and entertainment. The politicians speak to the public through stage-managed events, advertising, and propaganda. Lasch (p. 72) writes that in the simpler time, advertising has called attention to the product and extolled these advantages. The Americans have found that public life has become distant, and they emerge powerless to participate in public activities. According to him the social sciences have significantly promoted politics and industry, providing innovative techniques to persuade, motivates, control workers, and manipulates workers, consumers, and citizens.

The professional and managerial class has aggressively expanded its power and influence suppressing the less affluent societies. The chapter outlines one of Lasch’s project based on the idea that expert judgments on the process of human social living are desired and highly attainable. The managerial class, he explains, discredits common sense, tradition, and personal judgments. Therefore, he indicates that this has led to the erosion of democracy and disempowerment of the American ordinary citizens. For instance, he highlights that the overexposure to manufactured illusions by the managerial class has destroyed the representational power of the citizens (p. 87).
Chapter 5: Degradation of Sport
Lasch observes that sports have also been subjected to corruption. He takes the critics of sports to a task for using elements of extreme statements in which the old-fashioned coaches defend sports as a route to Americanism and manliness, to describe the entire sports profession. Lasch writes that sports affiliates would wish to abolish competition and eliminate the standards of athletic excellence. The broadening of possibilities for participation in sports, Lasch observes, represents a decline in the standards only because there is a reduced multifaceted nature of sports to a single element. He describes this as the display of “virtuosity” by a superior artist before an audience. According to his critics of sports, that might the only significant aspect of sports, however, he eliminates other elements such as participation in intramural sports alongside activities such as hiking, jogging, swimming, and a competitive sport whose intent is to develop physical fitness (p. 105). The chapter equates the widespread of increased sports participation demands with a call for therapy and provides that physical fitness is an ulterior purpose that leads to degradation of sports and excludes a wide variety of sporting activities encompasses today. The chapter focuses on the development of athletic programs in private schools and colleges and ignores the developing body of literature that the effectiveness of sports in Americanization and regulation of leisure activities of the working class.
Chapter 6: Schooling and New Illiteracy
In this chapter, Lasch underscores that the schooling system has led to the development of an elite class of managers, professionals, and bureaucratic that has gained increasing power. According to him, individuals cannot speak for themselves and much less come to an intelligent understanding of their well-being and happiness. Schooling has created a valueless world for the less affluent, only accepting those of the market hence the education system has failed (p. 126). The market has universalized itself, and it does not necessarily coexist with institutions operating based on the antithetical principles to itself. Lasch observes that universities and schools, newspapers, and magazines have been absorbed by the market. (http://zgm.se/files/Lasch_Christopher_The_Culture_of_Narcissism.pdf)  Besides, it puts an irresistible pressure on the daily activities to justify that itself is the only term it recognizes. The current schooling has turned the market into entertainment, and scholarship into professional careerism, and social work into scientific management of poverty.

Chapter 7: Socializing Reproduction and the Collapse of Authority

The social structures of small communities and families, in which children learned the business of being human from interaction with trusted adults, according to Lasch, have been disrupted and massively discredited. Many times, the adults interact with their peers in workplaces while the children are sent to school where they interact with one another and few selected adults. Moreover, the chapter outlines the degrading changes in acquiring literacy were at home, the interaction with adults is minimal and is largely organized in the consumption of commodities. Such commodities, he outlines include entertainment from movies, TV, and games (p. 160). Thus, the family bonds are strained, and the role of parents in the education and socialization of children has been minimized. Besides, the parental authority has been radically undermined. In his view, adults are culturally sanctioned for failing to fulfill the wishes of their children and for hurting the feelings that have reduced them to negotiating with their children and bringing them to embrace good behavior. He concludes that the adults have failed the parental tasks of socializing children, and they have become insecure tyrants. (http://www.eiu.edu/historia/Scott.pdf )

Chapter 8: The Flight from Feeling: The Sociopsychology of the Sex War
The short chapter starts with the claim that the modern dream of the capitalists or wealthy individuals’ erotic, satisfying and emotional relationship is an illusion. The chapter outlines that personal relations crumble under the emotional weight whereby the rich are burdened. He underscores that love is based on trust, and the United States (Arroyo, 2001). The Japanese culture of narcissism makes it difficult to trust anyone in the culture of narcissist people. Therefore, people are so vulnerable, isolated, so fearful that they can’t even establish and maintain satisfying emotional relationships (p. 193). Lasch observes that the sexual revolution has not allowed people to become more intimate, contrary to the hopes of the liberationists of the 20th century. Thus, love has simply made us promiscuous. Besides, Lasch writes that the degradation of work and the impoverishment of communal life has forced Americans to turn to sexual excitements to satisfy their emotional needs (p. 193-194). There is a sense of togetherness where men and women acknowledged each other’s inadequacies without making them the basis of causal relations with their own sex and ideological alternative to love.
Chapter 9: Shattered Faith in the Regeneration of Life
                  Lasch introduces the dread of old age and Lasch shows that there are two problems of seeking prolonged life and improving its quality and the medical problem (p. 207-208). He indicates that both approaches rest on hope and the powerful aversion to the prospect of bodily decay. Old age inspires apprehension, moreover, not because it represents the beginning of death but because their condition has deteriorated in modern times. He writes on the social theory of aging and depicts that the dread of age originates in the cult of the self rather than the cult of the youth (p. 217). The chapter has emphasized the significance of subjectivity to teaching, and the entire process of education. The significance of subjectivity that is inseparable from the social when people are together in solitude leads to the reconstruction of the relationship in the society to restore the “shattered faith in the regeneration of life. The emergence of narcissistic personality reflects the drastic shift in the sense of historical times of the Americans. The chapter introduces the theory of aging and indicates that the dread of aging originates not in a “cult of youth” but in a cult of the self (p. 217). 

Chapter 10: Paternalism without Father

Lasch observes that paternalism has risen from the ruins of the old paternalism of priests, kings, authoritarian fathers, and landed overlords. People have been thrown into slave and feudalism then outgrown in their own familial and personal form. The capitalists have evolved a new political ideology, welfare liberalism that absolves individuals of moral responsibility and treats them as victims of social circumstance (P. 218). The managerial and the professional class continue to be the ruling class which has taken inherited advantages for granted (p. 221). According to him, capitalism has removed the family heads from the home to go for work and the care for the children outsourced to other institutions. The author conservatively criticizes the elements of bureaucracy that have so far remained imprisoned in the assumptions of the 18th century. The reason behind it was political liberalism, which objects to the cost of maintaining a welfare state (p. 232). (Kathy Smolewska & Kenneth Dion: Narcissism and Adult Attachment: A Multivariate Approach. Self and Identity: volume 4(1), (pg 63 and 67): found on and online. Com)

Lasch’s “The employee engagement is not an activity that is to be ticked off in the calendar of change. It is to become an everyday part of the organization Culture of Narcissism, American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” emerged as the best selling sociology textbook when it was first published in 1979. The book stands as one of the most distinctive works of commentary and social criticism of the last three decades. The metaphoric use of the term narcissism is indeed an experimental venture, and it is filled with well-addressed social theories that made the book become of the catchphrases of popular psychology. The iconoclastic Lasch observes that Americans in the 1970s had developed a specific form of narcissism that obligated most citizens to constant external validation. According to Lasch, this resulted from the post-World War II of the liberal government and politics, economic wealth, spiritual bankruptcy, and persistent and unsuccessful attempts to establish self-actualization (Roweton 1980, p. 149). In essence, the author established evidence of utopianism stemming from the long-term social disintegration through the aforementioned actions. Further, this led to self-transmuting in the 1970s and the endless search (http://users.telenet.be/jan.de.vos/narcissism%20and%20the%20dsm-v%20JAN%20DE%20VOS.pdf) for personal growth that again was completely fruitless and increasingly elusive.
Notably, the book provides a robust exploration of the rising of the individual to the level of iconography that has permeated the very dimensions of American culture. According to Roweton (1980, p. 151). Lasch viewed the development as the ultimate detriment of American culture. Notably, the book provides considerable effort in characterizing the evidence of narcissism as the result of an organized kindness and its respective manifestation of seeking humanity’s constant external validation. The aspects of development through a variety of priorities and representations traced in the book provide the readers with the knowledge of the quest for wealth and fame that existed in their culture. Characterized as “making it”, the highlights on the popularity self-awareness, the rise of celebrity and people becoming famous, and the turning of politics into a spectacle, educational transformation provide a range of the objectives that constituted the American culture. ( www.ahalmaas.com/system/files/…/culture_narcissism.pdf) (http://users.telenet.be/jan.de.vos/narcissism%20and%20the%20dsm-v%20JAN%20DE%20VOS.pdf, Despite some aspects of Lasch’s arguments sounds like personal grousing from a curmudgeon than reason, the book offers a complex analysis of the American culture and its priorities. The author, according to Roweton (1980), was a fundamental critic of mass society. The documentations of the book, Culture of Narcissism, is pivoted at the modern psychic development n the rise of masse production, with its destruction of economic independence, the professionalization of education, social welfare, management, and concomitant deskilling of workers. Besides, the book provides a strong sense of alongside a deep concern about the trajectory of America as it leaves the reader with anticipations of the current ills of the American nation. For instance, the discussion of the women’s rights movement portrays the current ills of America. Lasch laments on the treatment of role in their general health. For instance, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and childbirth only affect women against women as the primary causes of discrimination and sexual danger that women get exposed to in society. As such, the book enables the readers to understand the resentment of men against skeletal muscles. In a study conducted by (), the findings indicated that HRT improves the functions of muscles in women since men still control most of the wealth and power the American society, yet they still feel threatened ( Lasch 1979, p. 205). Notably, the irrational power and wealth juxtaposition and intimidation analyzed in the book are supported by another theme.
It is significant to underscore that Lasch establishes the use of liberals and conservatives used in a culture of narcissism to support their individual societies deem as normal gender roles. Gender is personal, part of everyone’s developing identity and web of relationships, but it is also political agendas since the 1970s. Lasch enables the readers to understand the demise of traditional values in the history of the republic as this evidently led to the modernization of families and the community. Indeed, the work of Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism has addressed significant social and existential themes, thus drawing on a deep vein of commentary about alienation and anomie from various authors. Reading the book, seemingly, is both a rewarding and challenging experience. The biting critics drawn from a particular time and place provide wisdom most applicable.


Narcissism refers to ungrounded, weak, insecure, defensive, and manipulative self that represents the psychological dimension of dependence. Undoubtedly, in the “Culture of Narcissism”, Lasch has potentially uncovered the problems of the 20th-century American life arising from the aftermath of the turbulent 1960s and the narcissistic tendencies born this pessimism, which expanded corporate and industrialization control of all dimensions of human life. However, most of the writings are well-supported by data. Throughout the chapters, the central incident denotes that Americans have isolated themselves from the past, and, therefore, have lost a sense of responsibility for posterity. The analysis of the book is well informed by psychoanalytic and social theory alongside historical learning that significantly influences the moral-intellectual climate of American society. In a nutshell, Lasch had hopes that intellectuals would lead America to democratic socialism as the Americans were not achieving true democracy and freedom.



Lasch, C. (1978). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York, Norton.

Roweton, W. E. (1980). Lasch, C. The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York: W. W. Norton. Psychology in the Schools.17, 141-156.