Haven in A Heartless World

Haven in A Heartless World

The Family Besieged

Book - 1977
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In the American political vocabulary, "family" and "family values" no longer simply evoke pictures of harmonious scenes; they also push our buttons (left and right) about what is wrong with society. One of the earliest and sharpest cultural commentators to investigate the twentieth-century American family, Christopher Lasch argues in this book that as social science "experts" intrude more and more into our lives, the family's vital role as the moral and social cornerstone of society disintegrates-and, left unchecked, so does our political and personal freedom.Mr. Lasch combines an analytic overview of the psychological and sociological literature on the American family with his own trenchant analysis of where the problem lies.
Publisher: New York : Basic Books, c1977
ISBN: 9780465028832
0465028837
Branch Call Number: HQ518 .L27
HQ518 .L27
Characteristics: xviii, 230 p. ; 24 cm

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dennismmiller
Feb 06, 2017

In Lasch's analysis, what is now considered the "traditional family" is the bourgeois ideal of the nuclear family as the only arena for the free expression of emotion and a private sanctuary from a public world ruled by impersonal - indeed, incomprehensible - forces. Against conventional wisdom, Lasch identifies this concept as only having emerged as industrialization made work - already displaced from the home into the marketplace - less meaningful, but had begun to decline as early as the end of the nineteenth century, as the state increasingly took over the duties of child-rearing and the health industry medicalized virtually every aspect of private life.

Much of Haven in a Heartless World is taken up with a history of psychological and sociological thinking as it relates to the family. Lasch claims that, from the very outset, social scientists viewed their role as not merely descriptive but prescriptive, leading inexorably towards an worldview in which individuals are wholly incapable of forming or sustaining healthy relationships without the mediation of experts. The final effect of this is the interruption of the individual's maturation at a dependent, infantile stage, perfectly captured by the '60s youth culture and its repudiation "of the desirability of growing up at all."

It is Lasch's central thesis that the sociological and psychiatric mainstream have fatally neglected Freud's insights into the unconscious and the mechanics of repression. With the mother and father increasingly distanced from a child supervised by the health industry and enculturated by his peer group, the primal tensions of early childhood are never satisfactorily resolved, producing a narcissistic adult who fears intimacy and regards law as the mere application of power. The result is universal hedonism, mass cynicism, the collapse of any concept of legitimate authority, and the impossibility of community.

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