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The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,032 ratings  ·  152 reviews
In a front-page review in the Washington Post Book World, John Judis wrote: "Political analysts have been poring over exit polls and precinct-level votes to gauge the meaning of last November's election, but they would probably better employ their time reading the late Christopher Lasch's book." And in the National Review, Robert Bork says The Revolt of the Elites "ranges ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 17th 1996 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 1995)
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Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
It is symptomatic of my own political leanings, I suspect, that I started losing interest in this a little after the half-way mark and then could barely take a note from the book for the whole of the third part. To me, this book loses its way and stops being about elites (in revolt or not) in the last section of the book. This is a pity, as I think the start was particularly interesting.

This was written in 1995 – in fact, the copy I read from my university library had a ‘due date’ sheet on the f
Oct 23, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was written right at the end of Lasch's life and it reads like it: he pulls no punches in telling the chattering classes what he thinks about them and the cultural trends they are presiding over. It is surprising this was published two decades ago since the criticisms are not only still applicable it did not seem to have made any difference for Lasch to have pointed them out so long ago. Elites of all types effectively live in their own world; the original American ideal of an educated ...more
J. Mulrooney
May 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When Christopher Lasch died on Valentine’s day in 1994, America lost the most profound of her critics. His final book, The Revolt of the Elites, was published a year after his death. It is a group of discrete but thematically linked essays that continue the concerns of his previous book, The True and Only Heaven: how did American democracy come to its current state?

The title of the new book reverses José Ortega y Gasset’s Revolt of the Masses. Lasch contends that the American elites -- executiv
Jan 10, 2022 rated it really liked it
Great social commentary. Highly recommend. It's almost a mini-worldview primer, exploring the ways Marxism and CRT has seeped into academia and the media. But he also has lots of other things to say. Quite prophetic for 1995, though I suppose that just shows it's been a long time coming.

I also enjoyed The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations.

For related books, see:
--Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—a
N Perrin
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-criticism
This is my first Lasch. I have been told he is one of the few recent writers adroit enough to sidestep the ideological bindings that tie down both the left and right. That assessment is certainly not wrong.

For Lasch, the rise of the neoliberal elite is nothing like the forms of landed gentry or robber barons of previous eras. This new generation is the landless billionaire class overseeing multinational conglomerates, NGOs, and Epstein-style hedonistic escapades. Because the new elite order of "
Sean Chick
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Of all the thinkers and intellectuals of the last 40 years, none were as piercing, original,and prophetic as Lasch. In the 1970s he predicted that the student radicals would become good Reaganites, or at least that their revolt would not upset the power structure. Here, as he stared at death, he saw progressives, radicals, capitalists, and their ilk turning away from class politics and creating a new elite that had more in common with elites in the world than their own people. Although he does n ...more
Nov 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I think I may be on to something (as a result of reading this book) as to why they hate us so much...its (not surprisingly) about religion... "They", of course, are those on the political right, especially those on the extreme and religious right; "we" are those who consider ourselves to be "liberal", "progressive", "enlightened", "modern", "well-educated" with a "healthy dose of skepticism re. matters of religion..." But what this book made me realize is that they don't hate us solely for w ...more
Feb 24, 2021 rated it it was ok
The most enjoyment I got out of reading this book is the irony at the heart of its existence. Much of Lasch’s ire is directed at academia. Rightly, he accuses the academy of being, bluntly, a circlejerk. I am left asking after the fact – who is this book for, if not those who already accept its critique?
Lasch’s target is worthy, because his target is so vague. If you believe there is something wrong with American society and aren’t particularly far gone down the bourgeois social politics ladder,
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
The title of this book is a reference to Ortega y Gassets famous book "the revolt of the masses". For those of you who haven't read it Gassets thesis was that the 20th century represented a massive rise of the masses of people which resulted in a major cultural change. There were no longer any lofty ideals to be held sacred; instead technology was to serve the common man and help him enjoy the fruits of past generations labor. Laschs contribution is to take this a step further: today the elite h ...more
Taylor Pearson
Oct 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
In Revolt of the Elites, Lasch argues that the degeneration of Western Democracy has been caused by the abandonment by the wealthy and educated elites of their responsibilities to support culture, education, the building of public facilities, and other obligations in these societies.

A large part of this was the shift from wealth always being tied to the land (agricultural) to increasingly being more mobile. When all your wealth is in a physical place, you are incentivized to make sure that the s
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is amazingly prophetic and a great analysis of the world as it is today, but was written in the early 1990s. Essentially, the argument is the same as Charles Murray and many others have made -- assortative mating, changes in economics and ideals, etc. have split the "elites" (basically, professionals and anyone involved in information work or "scalable work") from everyone else, and has only gotten more obviously true post-2000 and post-2008.

The book is split into 3 parts. First is the
Charles Haywood
Sep 07, 2021 rated it liked it
Christopher Lasch died before this, his last book, was published, twenty-six years ago. Lasch was a man out of time, a refugee leftist who nonetheless refused to embrace what passed for conservatism in the post-Communist false dawn, the main feature of which was idolatry of the invisible hand. No surprise, his message was rejected by its intended audience, America’s intellectual class. Now, however, every one of the problems with our society he identified has grown monstrous, far beyond the powe ...more
Joseph Stieb
Apr 03, 2021 rated it it was ok
I definitely need to read less "criticism," although I picked this out mainly because it was cited a lot on the right in the 1990s as part of their argument that the elite of society was replacing an egalitarian culture with a cult of merit and social mobility. You might as well read Bloom or even Brooks' more entertaining Bobos in Paradise to get the same critique of cosmopolitan elites. I found the book to be totally disjoined, as once you get through the first couple of chapters there's not r ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Christopher Lasch is one of those public intellectuals (a bit like Christopher Hitchens) who radically changed direction in his political leanings throughout his life; once an avowed Marxist he then became a somewhat curmudgeonly critic of the left from within the left whose thought evolved further into being a man who mostly identified with cultural conservatives but who eschewed their laissez-faire economics. A fierce critic of American capitalism, he saw the decline of American society within ...more
Gaylord Dold
Nov 30, 2016 rated it liked it

Lasch, Christopher, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy

demagogue, n. 1. a person who tries to stir up the people by appeals to emotion, prejudice, etc. in order to become a leader and achieve selfish ends. 2. in ancient history, a leader of the common people.
(Webster’s New World Dictionary, Cleveland and New York, 1959)

What comes from expecting the worst out of politics is that when, on occasion, something worse than the worst happens, the blow falls lightly. Following the he
John Gurney
Christopher Lasch was a 1960s Marxist whose views evolved, but not in the typical Left-to-Right way. He retained his criticism of the amoral market, seeing business leaders and highly-compensated professionals as "elites" who are like "tourists" in their own country, walling themselves off in exclusive subdivisions with private schools and the like. Lasch doesn't respect elites worshipping their economic prerogatives, whether luxury goods or experiences. But Lasch moved toward social conservatis ...more
Apr 14, 2022 rated it really liked it
Lasch discusses the malaise of the modern world and the decline of American democracy. His analysis touches upon many symptoms of this malaise, and root causes ranging from the material to the spiritual.

The most striking aspect of this book was the relevance it held even now 30 years after being published. The battlelines of the culture war are largely the same, despite some buzzwords falling in and out of vogue.
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant late book by Christopher Lasch, building on his Magnum Opus 'True and only Heaven'. With this, we see there was an evident deepening in his understanding of U.S culture.

Furthermore, Lasch's lucidity as a writer improved over his lifetime- 'True and only Heaven..' and this work together, showing greater style alongside greater depth, readability and sharpened personalistic criticism than earlier work- ''Haven in a Heartless World..' for example.
(* on Personalism, see Nikolai Berdyaev)
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology
"If Rieff is correct in his contention that culture rests on willingness to forbid, a “remissive” culture like our own cannot be expected to survive indefinitely. Sooner or later our remissive elites will have to rediscover the principle of limitation."

I'm distracted. My impression is that really there is no truth, but just different points of views.
A long kaleidoscope, many books lined up to support, to prove or disprove. Somehow I felt that there is a lack of willingness to define, to postulat
Jonathan Sargent
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
More like a collection of essays than an actual book. Unfortunately loses steam with a few chapters, but the rest are gold.
Ian S
Jul 26, 2020 added it
"Today it is the elites, however--those who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate--that have lost faith in the values, or what remains of them, of the West."

"These groups constitute a new class only in the sense that their livelihoods rest not so much on the ownership of property as on the manipulation of information
Andrew Figueiredo
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a MUST-READ for those looking to ascertain why populism is on the rise in liberal democracies. Lasch's collection of essays varies in topics but hits a number of prescient and strong critiques of liberalism and postmodernism. I don't agree with everything he prescribes, but there are certain essays that really resonated with me--The Democratic Malaise, The Revolt of the Elites, Does Democracy Deserve to Survive, Racial Politics in New York, Conversation and the Civic Arts, and Academic P ...more
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Read 3 chapters and then skimmed through. Eventually I had to drop it.

This book suffers from having a bunch of beliefs and opinions with no facts to support it or examples to bring out the context of the opinion. "A time came when the elites were disconnected from the people" - when? who were these elites? who were these ordinary people? AFAIK this has been happening since the age of kings and queens. It doesn't sound like something new. So the first thing that you would have in mind is to get m
Jan 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
I revisited Revolt of the Elites,after more than 10 years and find it more compelling than before. At the same time I'm not sure that his analys is as accurate that it was then. 911 changed everything. Lasch, dissects the rise and takeover of the technological and managerial classes with their lack of roots. geography,and context,but didn't foresee the post 911 proto fascist Amerika. Or maybe he did. Whatever, I think he'be depressed at our current culture of totalitarian ass kissing and liberal ...more
Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
Two stars because Lasch is able to make the odd interesting point or thing I file away for later. More stars than that would require:
* Evidence from the real world
* The willingness to follow arguments to their conclusions
* A firm definition of "elites"
* Any discussion of economic factors
* The moral courage to take actual hard positions and defend them (on the occasions that he does they prove to be bog-standard social conservatism)
Cathy Condon bannister
An interesting theory, which doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Completely full of wrong and unsubstantiated claims about the lives of "the elites", and gave culture war ammunition to John Howard to maintain his Prime Ministership for 11 years. Anti-intellectual nastiness. Worth reading to understand where this narrative came from. ...more
Jefther Vieira
Jan 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ensaio
Quase esfreguei meus olhos quando li:

“The hereditary principle would never have been overthrown without the aid of a new religion—and that religion was socialism. Socialists, mid-wives of progress, contributed to the eventual triumph of meritocracy by encouraging large-scale
production, by criticizing the family as the nursery of acquisitive individualism, and, above all, by ridiculing hereditary privilege and the “current criterion of success.” (“It’s not what you know but who you are that count
William Birdsong
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Another rant by Lasch. Hardly readable. "Lashing" out at all kinds of tropes of his own invention. Ranked as a must read in some rightward circles. ...more
Alex O'Connor
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating study. I learned more from this book than I have in any other in a long time.
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: internet, audio-book
He has a complex way of presenting his ideas, therefore makes it a bit intellectual but not on comprehensible way
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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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“The “routine acceptance of professionals as a class apart” strikes Kaus as an ominous development. So does their own “smug contempt for the demographically inferior.” Part of the trouble, I would add, is that we have lost our respect for honest manual labor. We think of “creative” work as a series of abstract mental operations performed in an office, preferably with the aid of computers, not as the production of food, shelter, and other necessities. The thinking classes are fatally removed from the physical side of life—hence their feeble attempt to compensate by embracing a strenuous regimen of gratuitous exercise.” 14 likes
“The same benefits misleadingly associated with religion — security, spiritual comfort, dogmatic relief from doubt — are thought to flow from a therapeutic politics of identity. In effect, 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.
These developments shed further light on the decline of democratic debate. ‘Diversity’ — a slogan that looks attractive on the face of it — has come to mean the opposite of what it appears to mean. In practice, diversity turns out to legitimize a new dogmatism, in which rival minorities take shelter behind a set of beliefs impervious to rational discussion.”
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