By James Ledbetter
The views expressed are his own.
Which is stranger: the idea that on the campaign trail GOP presidential longshot Rick Santorum cites favorably a quotation from a quasi-Marxist social critic? Or that the quotation itself might be spurious?
For years, Rick Santorum has said that one of his favorite sayings is: “We all get up every day and tell ourselves lies so we can live.” He attributes it to the iconoclastic historian and social critic Christopher Lasch, best known as the author of The Culture of Narcissism, a hugely popular jeremiad against modern American capitalism published in 1979.
Santorum likes the quote enough to cite it in a variety of contexts. In 2004, he used it during a Senate debate to explain his opposition to same-sex marriage. In a Washington Post article this week, he appeared to use it to explain how he carries on a demanding, uphill campaign when he has a young daughter with a life-threatening disease whom he rarely gets to see.
The Santorum-Lasch nexis is odd for at least two reasons. One is that Santorum typically positions himself as a pro-life, family-values conservative. By contrast, while it’s hard to quickly summarize Lasch’s views, he came out of the Marxist-influenced left and retained a strong distaste for American conservatism even as his own later views on some subjects–notably family, abortion, and various aspects of the women’s movement–alienated many former allies.
But more importantly, there is no easily available proof that Lasch said what Santorum attributes to him. A Google search for the specific quote shows a handful of references, but mainly from Santorum himself, and none with a specific citation to any Lasch book, article, or interview. Popular online quotation aggregators, such as BrainyQuote, offer dozens of better-known Lasch observations–e.g., “Conservatives unwittingly side with the social forces that contribute to the destruction of traditional values”–but not Santorum’s favorite. My colleague Paul Smalera suggests that it sounds more like the first line of Joan Didion’s book The White Album: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”