Conservatism against Itself
In this early article from First Things, historian Christopher Lasch poses the question of whether cultural conservatism is compatible with capitalism. If, as Lasch argues, conservatism is defined by a respect for limits — that human freedom has constraints imposed upon it by nature, history, human fallibility, and “original sin” — then the unrelenting and insatiable quest for ever-increasing standards of comfort that capitalism encourages is completely at odds with conservative values. Despite nineteenth-century attempts to bolster the family as the primary means of curbing the large-scale transfer of “private vices” to “public virtues” implied in liberal economic theory, the effects of twentieth-century capitalism have only underscored how vulnerable the family is when the integrity of its surrounding local institutions is destroyed. Also included in this article is an account of lower-middle class versus upper-middle class cultural values as well as the alternative — though now largely unheard of — economic approaches to liberal capitalism advanced by the distributists and syndicalists.
This article was originally published in First Things, April 1990. Read by Ken Myers. 42 minutes.