Question of the Week: "The True And Only Heaven"

by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

I could choose several books that have redirected my life: Walden by Thoreau, R.H. Blyth's masterful Haiku - Eastern Culture, Stephen Mitchell's illuminating and connective The Gospel According to Jesus - but I choose instead a work by one of the great intellectuals of late Twentieth Century America - Christopher Lasch's The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics. In this endlessly challenging single volume, Lasch focused his acerbic wit and provocative insights onto what had been the central tenet of my political understanding and blasted it to smithereens: the belief that progress was inevitable and the tides of history were inevitably pushing humanity towards a more rational and reasonable shore. Instead, Lasch deconstructed the fallacies I held dear while also introducing me to many of the forgotten heroes of American political philosophy. Reading this book required the diligence and attention of participating in a graduate level seminar while illuminating a way forward on the treacherous path that has always greeted those who dare to hope. His interpretation of Reinhold Niehbur's teachings on "the spiritual discipline against resentment" continues to temper my own disappointments and bitterness while strengthening my resolve to press my shoulder to the wheel.