Christopher Lasch: A Memoir
Our Contributing Editor Christopher (“Kit”) Lasch died on St. Valentine’s Day 1994 at the age of 61, due to massive cancer originating in one of his kidneys. His name has graced our masthead since our November 1986 issue, and he exerted a profound presence. He not only wrote frequently for us, but was a strong supporter of our work and a true friend.
If you’ve read some of the obituaries, you will probably have received an annotated bibliography and a brief curriculum vitae. You will probably not have received a sense of his towering originality, because few are able to grasp that, least of all the obituary writers. But our purpose here is not intellectual biography. The question of the hour is: Who was this man? While the ultimate authority on this question is his wife, the question begs for an interim answer because Kit was so reticent to speak or write about himself, a characteristic he attributed to his Germanic reserve.
He was a certified “elite intellectual” (see Charles Kadushin’s The American Intellectual Elite), But that is hardly a rare breed. More importantly, he was a great intellectual who was also a great man, and that is a very rare breed. He was a manly man — and I make no apologies for saying that, nor would he want me to. He was also a kind man. He was good to his friends and, though the target of countless vitriolic attacks, gentle with his enemies. He traveled in circles where arrogance and haughtiness are of epidemic proportions, but refused to succumb to those diseases. He was brilliant, but felt no need to advertise the fact. When he came to dinner, he was happy to enter the world of our younger children. He had a rich sense of play and a keen sense of humor. He was not wrapped up in himself. And he loved his wife and children profoundly. It is haunting that a man who knew so much of what love is about left us on St. Valentine’s Day.
I vividly remember driving Kit to Cody’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley the night the laser-bombs were to fall on Baghdad. He was to speak on his latest book. We expected a sparse turnout because of the war hysteria, with even Berkeleyites glued to their television sets watching the Mother of All Wars. He snuck a cigarette in the frigid air outside the bookstore — never have I seen anyone look so guilty while smoking! Then we walked in. The room was packed to overflowing. As expected, the natives were largely hostile. After the talk an utterly earnest-looking fellow rose to scold Kit for being oblivious to “predatory intentionality.” Huh? It was one of those silly Berkeleyisms, and Kit let it pass. Later, a rotund guy dressed like an urban guerrilla sashayed forward from the back of the crowd and belligerently denounced Kit for having betrayed his mentors, Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown, and for ending up in the camp of Allan Bloom, Kevin Phillips, and Frank Sinatra, adding that Kit had no way of understanding “gays.” But Kit didn’t flinch, didn’t get mean. He began by disavowing Bloom and noting that Phillips had changed, but the commando had turned around in disgust and was heading for the exit. Hit and run.
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