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The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Can we continue to believe in progress? In this sobering analysis of the Western human condition, Christopher Lasch seeks the answer in a history of the struggle between two ideas: one is the idea of progress - an idea driven by the conviction that human desire is insatiable and requires ever larger production forces. Opposing this materialist view is the idea that condemn ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published September 17th 1991 by W. W. Norton Company
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Taylor I imagine his moral conservatism is more like loyalty/monogamy, less like homophobia/gender roles.

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Nov 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This inquiry began with a deceptively simple question. How does it happen that serious people continue to believe in progress, in the face of massive evidence that might have been expected to refute the idea of progress once and for all?
So opens The True and Only Heaven, Christopher Lasch's penultimate book of cultural criticism. There have been many such critiques aimed at the United States over the past half-century—most more jeremiad than reasoned analysis—but I have always believed Lasch
Newtie Jeff
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Crucial book in my personal and political development. Simply put, this book completely remade my political and social ideology. Before reading this book I had, at various times in my life called myself a liberal, a socialist, an American progressive, and an orthodox Marxist. True and Only Heaven moved me, decisively, both farther left and farther right than I had imagined I would ever move.

The book is an intellectual tour-de-force.
Jul 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Sadly this was my first Christopher Lasch experience. He was a great writer and thinker to say the very least. Lasch and, my favorite historian John Lukacs, are similar in their attitudes towards the middle class and the cult of progress. However, unlike Lasch and Lukacs, I do not give as much credit to the middle class. Still, this is required reading for anyone displeased with ideology and our baby-boomer progressives.
Sean Chick
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Lasch's last work is an examination of the idea of progress and its critics from all walks of life. His ultimate argument is that progressives had a growing distrust of the masses creating an elite that aligned itself with capitalism and technocracy instead of the masses. By the 1990s the left had fully become neoliberal, anti-democratic, and permissive. In other words, the Democratic Party of the Clintons. This means populism, lacking a home in the right or left, veers between the two. Like Las ...more
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Christopher Lasch with the Freud sanded off and a pathological urge to anticipate every last historical objection to his central arguments, among which: getting high on pure possibility seems like a good deal if you're smart or rich, but probably isn't even if you are.

Not sure this is the Lasch you should read if you're just getting into him, but it's the one you want if his earlier books struck a nerve but felt abstracted by their psychoanalytic detours or otherwise incomplete.
Mark Greenbaum
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is not light lifting, and there is a lot of self-indulgence and useless tangents into unnecessary terrain, but in between is brilliant, deeply thought-provoking, and frighteningly prescient analysis of the fall of American left and the rise of right wing populism -- all written while George H.W. Bush still occupied the White House. Today, as scribes and scholars continue to grapple with the rise of a gelatinous con artist to the highest elective office in the world, many of their diagnoses ...more
What I learned from this book: Expect less of life and more of yourself.
And I should add there is a reading of the successes and failures of the civil rights movement that is challenging and disagreeable, but difficult to disbelieve.
Andrew Figueiredo
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"True and Only Heaven" is Christopher Lasch at his dense best. Master of the run-on sentence, Lasch manages to cram so much history into one amazing work, unified by its reverent look at those throughout history who questioned the dogma of progress that rules modern society. Admittedly, his structure of various essays can prove confusing to new readers. It's quasi-sequential but not really, yet somehow flowing beautifully through so many figures, those remembered and widely forgotten too. The se ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Despite its conclusions, this is a tremendous work of intellectual and cultural history. Speaking mainly about his work in the late 1970s and early 1980s, George Scialabba has written that Lasch did not turn rightward, but 'inward.' While many of Lasch's concerns and conclusions - principally that we have sacrificed virtue and community to the false idols of 'progress' and optimism- seem to be of a piece with the New Right, he is I think justified in at least raising the objection (as Jackson Le ...more
Jul 17, 2012 rated it liked it
smart went crazy, also went slightly dumb

I am all for polemics striking at the panko-crusted heart of bourgeois liberalism but this is a bit tweedy for me. Some legit greatness in here, also a whale tank full of pedantry
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding book on American progressivist thought and its critics. Packed with information and analysis.
Steve Percoco
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
For me, this book started off strong, got bogged down often in its discussion and analysis of the history of critiques of progress, but finished in the last five pages or so with a useful perspective on where we were (in 1991 when it was published) and the significant problems that we face going forward. SPOILER ALERT: Mr. Lasch did not offer in the book his own perspective of what constitutes "The True and Only Heaven." After exhaustively recanting the view of numerous social commentators like ...more
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Journal entry for Oct 11, 1993

This section from Lasch's book serves as an excellent historiographical orientation, though with a very obvious bent of its own. The general project of the book is, according to Benjamin DeMott, "the reclamation of class." Yet it seems that is not "class" as a category of analysis which is contested in the case of the Populists, but rather a very specific understanding of class. In the section we read, it is obvious that Lasch draws specifically on Goodwyn in his se
Paul Wick
Oct 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the most engrossing non-fiction works I’ve ever read. From its depth of and breath of thinkers surveyed (e. g., the iconoclastic Orestes Brownson to Reinhold Niebuhr and MLK) it made me think, and even re-evaluate my previous belief in Affirmative Action. I largely already agreed with Lasch’s basic premise concerning the notion of progress, and a sense of place. The book’s only weak points might be that his focus on Emerson (which was fascinating) went on too long, and the Freudian analyz ...more
Alex Stroshine
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociocultural
Finally! 3.5/5, largely due to how long (nearly two years) it took me to read it and thus my forgetfulness of a lot of the earlier content. Christopher Lasch also focuses a lot on economic development and progress, some of which is a bit boring to me, but I appreciate seeing the evolution of this as well.
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: stack
20 years ahead of its time. Though there are many things to disagree with in his treatment of populist politics, Lasch's critique of the modern bourgeois view of broad progress without specific cultural responsibilities is fascinating and engrossing. ...more
Feb 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Not filled with the Freudian mumbo jumbo like in his other works but this is very long winded and seems he just wants to show how well read he is. Could be more straightforward.
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
DEVO’s father had a university job...
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Lasch's incredibly intellectually honest endeavour in this tome aids us greatly in understanding the radical falseness of much 'modern' life. Lasch's scholarship is fleet-footed and incredibly nuanced, which can be challenging academically and ideologically but is rewarding for that very reason.

This is his Magnum Opus and the greatest compliment I can give Christopher Lasch is that he lives up to the criteria for being a 'prophet' in our time. Unfortunately, I think his own prescriptions are un
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
While this book should be entitled "a lengthy discussion of politics, ethics, philosophy and sociology during the last two centuries" it accomplishes two things very well. It makes you think about how we got to where we are now and why the heck people still don't question the very idea of progress. I may not have agreed with all of the author's statements and conclusions, but, it was always provocative. An exhausting and very difficult book to read but well worth the effort. Even if you only ski ...more
Jul 23, 2011 added it
Shelves: reviewed
Very long but well worth the effort, Lasch's book examines the history of "progressive" thinking, and reactions to such thinking, since the 19th century and is probably the only historical work in which Ralph Waldo Emerson's and George Wallace's views are discussed with equal seriousness. More even-handed than earlier Lasch books such as THE CULTURE OF NARCISSISM, this is highly recommended to anyone interested in the many diverse philosophical issues covered herein. ...more
Feb 17, 2011 marked it as to-read
Another referral from Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction: Lasch apparently has quotes from Orestes Brownson who, in 1840, was denouncing a "conspiracy on the part of important men to subvert the Constitution, using norther Germany's rigid institution of forced schooling as its principal weapon." ...more
Alicia Fox
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
The first half of this book, covering the early history of the philosophy of progress, can easily be skipped over by the non-historian. The second half, however, would serve well as mandatory reading for all.
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, challenging, somewhat exhausting, but everyone should read it. At its core, not at all dated.
John Smith
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. As in, makes you weep tears of gladness to read brilliant, even as you see clearly before you the decline of America with the treachery of its elites as they sell us down the river, replacing us with foreign peoples and degrade our native culture.
Crass the head
rated it it was amazing
Sep 17, 2011
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Christopher "Kit" Lasch (June 1, 1932 – February 14, 1994) was an American historian, moralist, and social critic who was a history professor at the University of Rochester.

Lasch sought to use history as a tool to awaken American society to the pervasiveness with which major institutions, public and private, were eroding the competence and independence of families and communities. He strove to cre

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“Members of the educated elite upheld open-mindedness as the supreme political virtue but refused to debate their own idea of the good life, perhaps because they suspected that it could not withstand exposure to more vigorous ideas.” 6 likes
“This inquiry began with a deceptively simple question. How does it happen that serious people continue to believe in progress, in the face of massive evidence that might have been expected to refute the idea of progress once and for all?” 1 likes
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