Lewis Lapham was the editor of Harper’s Magazine, for over 30 years. Harper’s has the distinction of being the second-oldest continuously published magazine in America (do you know the honor of being the oldest?). In an age of five-second sound bites and a populace given more to American Idol than American literature, Harper’s longevity and relevance is quite an accomplishment. Actually, staying true to its intellectual underpinnings in a dumbed down nation might be Lapham's true legacy at Harper's.
As a writer and social critic, Lapham has continually written about class in America. The 600 pound elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, class arguably informs American life more than any other factor.
In the late 80s, as the Reagan years were mercifully winding down, Lapham gave us Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on Our Civil Religion (Grove Press, 1988). In this book, a series of Lapham’s essays, his underlying theme is the degradation and caustic effects that chasing money for money’s sake has on culture, politics and society as a whole. Showing that his thoughts and ideas are still relevant, Lapham notes in an interview granted for The Progressive,
“We [also] need an awakening on the part of large numbers of people, both Democrat and Republican, of a political consciousness that has been dormant for the better part of the last thirty years. We have to change the notion that politics isn’t important, that what’s important is the economy and money, and that politicians serve at the pleasure of their corporate sponsors. They might as well be hired accordion players at a hospitality tent at a golf tournament.”
Lapham also has some interesting insights about young college graduates and how they no longer are interested in ideas and things bigger than themselves—only how to land a cushy corporate gig and make money.
If you’d like to read more from the interview with one of America’s great essayists, you can access it here.