The Public Interest

Growing into Democracy

Andrew Stark

Fall 1984

JOHN LUKACS'S Outgrowing Democracy is about the decline of America in her second century. The evidence marshalled is familiar enough: The quality of education is flagging; productivity is on the wane; the foreign policy establishment does not understand the Soviets; bourgeois urbanity--the fine edge at which the middle class meets high culture--has vanished; bureaucracy is ever more paralytic; and so on. Much of Outgrowing Democracy suffers from the flaw that habitually plagues American jeremiads: Its idiosyncratically chosen evidence cannot sustain its overdrawn conclusions. In The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch--one of Lukacs's colleagues in this genre--thinks the title of the soap opera "One Life to Live" is evidence of a new American preoccupation with the present at the expense of posterity. (Reading this, one wonders whether Lasch would now concede that the release of the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice" signals a renascent concern for the American future.) Similarly, at one point in Outgrowing Democracy, a darkly cynical remark by Norman Rockwell about one of his most wholesome paintings is taken as a sign of the deep skepticism that lies just beneath the surface of American optimism. Presumably, however, Lukacs's own earlier observation that there "are now people in this country who think it is cold because the radio says it is" could easily stand as evidence to the contrary--namely, of the credulity that lies behind American pessimism. Perhaps that is why he buried this observation in a footnote.

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