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No Direction HomeThe American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980$
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Natasha Zaretsky

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780807830949

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807867808_zaretsky

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The World as a Mirror

The World as a Mirror

Narcissism, “Malaise,” and the Middle-Class Family

Chapter:
(p.183) 5 The World as a Mirror
Source:
No Direction Home
Author(s):

Natasha Zaretsky

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/9780807867808_zaretsky.9

This chapter revisits the intellectual debate about national decline in America at the end of the 1970s, with special reference to the claim made by historian Christopher Lasch that the nation had degenerated into a “culture of narcissism.” Lasch attributed this culture to the decline of paternal authority within the family, as the sphere of personal life was slowly eroded by the welfare state, the mass media, peer groups, and cults of expertise. In his 1978 book, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, Lasch argued that the decline of paternal authority—which was evident in the African American family—had extended to the middle class and probably resulted in an irreparable malaise in American society and culture. The chapter examines the way the concept of cultural narcissism was incorporated into President Jimmy Carter's “Crisis of Confidence” speech in July 1979.

Keywords:   national decline, America, Christopher Lasch, cultural narcissism, paternal authority, family, welfare state, mass media, middle class, Jimmy Carter

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