How’s that for a triple play? Andrew Bacevich reviews Eric Miller’s new biography of Christopher Lasch, which, with Bacevich’s forthcoming Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, is at the top of  my reading list.

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Bill Kauffman
Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Well, finishing the Drunk is at the very top of my reading list, but these two must come close after. I’m still very suspicious of Lasch, because even if he did live in Pittsford NY he liked psychology and that stuff too much. And if I remember correctly his idea of spirituality didn’t have much to do with religion. Bacevich is a ramrod straight tough guy, and looks you in the eye, and I like his earlier books. He probably is a baseball fan.

  2. even if he did live in Pittsford NY

    Were you under the impression that Pittsford is a country village?

    Dr. Lasch and his family moved to the Genesee Valley ca. 1970. I believe they lived in Avon, N.Y. until about 1978 and then in Pittsford. Pittsford is and has been for some decades the most affluent suburb of Rochester. I think you would find the vast bulk of Dr. Lasch’s colleagues on the U of R faculty would be found in the 19th Ward, the 12th Ward, Corn Hill, or Brighton. Pittsford and Avon are unusual places for a professor to make his home, though for very different reasons.

  3. Art Deco,

    I grew up in Phelps NY, and I know that whole area very well. Pittsford was indeed a country village in the 1950s, and Avon, home of the horse, still is. My uncle Vincent Callahan was Genessee-Orleans man of the year a couple of times, my mother’s family is from Oakfield and Batavia, many of my cousins are still in the area. Lasch was a real newcomer to the area that my family has lived in since the early 1800s. I don’t speak from ignorance, even though I may not always be right about a brilliant man.

  4. “dynamic optimism” means never having to say you’re sorry. One can use the term interchangeably with “carnival barker”. It is what one uses to sell derivatives to a few saps while shorting them for one’s own portfolio and then declaring proudly that you are doing “Gods work”. Ho Ho Ho Hedge Lane Ho.

    Perhaps Lasch “liked psychology and that stuff too much” because the prevailing human head trip is increasingly subsuming reality. We have come to believe that we can intellectualize reality. Not in terms of perceiving what goes on around us but in actually willing it and forming it and using our willed concoction as a bulwark against the messy imperfections, unseemly horror or relentless boredom of mere “reality”. The consumer juggernaut has turned this black urge into a form of pathological want tailor made for our philodoxy. When sitting in a rain of such things, one can tend to get wet and dwell on the soaked condition.

    Advertising has been with us since the souks of the Levant. However, since the onset of the radio , advertising has increasingly molded perceptions in ways we have yet to understand. 50 years of television advertising….and advertising is the main event, not the dramas and comedies and “reality” it interrupts…. has successfully created two generations of credulous sots, able to believe virtually anything, including human omnipotence and a kind of magical cornucopia of endless baubles. The generations that existed prior to radio and television advertising are no longer with us. Hence the happy opinions of the cheerful optimist Mr. Brooks. Hence the many supporters of his kind of malleable boosterism. Hence a people that cannot see self-destruction when it slaps them in the face, spits in their eye and tells them they will like it. Columbus sailed out upon the flat earth and bumped into the islands off North America beyond the curved horizon. Now, Mr. Brook’s fellow positivist at the Positivists Daily, the New Yawk Times proudly crows about a flat earth again. Too much psychology is an understatement.

  5. I am amused that we are fighting over whether or not Pittsford would have been an affluent place or a “country village” in Lasch’s day. I suppose we can agree that it was a place that saw itself as middle class, even as it was destined to become one of the most white suburbs in a city known as the destination for slaves seeking their freedom. We can agree that Lasch was not worried about his property values being devalued.

    But that aside, this article still bothers me in the way it reiterates Lasch’s ideology in suggesting that the Left and Right have similar, acquisitive goals. I heartily disagree, unless you refer to the Democratic Party as the Left.

    If you read any real leftist magazines (Dissent, The Nation) or other publications (Democracy Now!) you notice that the desire for acquisition is really secondary to the Leftist principle/ideology of breaking down capitalism and rethinking the capitalist nation-state.

  6. “If you read any real leftist magazines (Dissent, The Nation) or other publications (Democracy Now!) you notice that the desire for acquisition is really secondary to the Leftist principle/ideology of breaking down capitalism and rethinking the capitalist nation-state.”

    The desire there is more of acquisition of minds and souls by whatever means necessary. All else will follow from that, natch.

  7. Thanks for this post. I love Andrew Bacevich’s notion of the “sham conservatism” of the Republican Party masking alpha ape selfishness. He nails it beautifully.

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