Patrick Deneen shared the passage from Christopher Lasch below, commenting: “Tocqueville noticed this already in the 1830s—he diagnosed it as ‘restlessness.’”
In a simpler time, advertising merely called attention to the product and extolled its advantages. Now it manufactures a product of its own: the consumer, perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored. Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life. It “educates” the masses into an unappeasable appetite not only for goods but for new experiences and personal fulfillment. It upholds consumption as the answer to the age-old discontents of loneliness, sickness, weariness, lack of sexual satisfaction; at the same time it creates new forms of discontent peculiar to the modern age. It plays seductively on the malaise of industrial civilization. Is your job boring and meaningless? Does it leave you with feelings of futility and fatigue? Is your life empty? Consumption promises to fill the aching void…
A friend of mine was probably riffing off this Lasch passage a few years ago when he said something that’s stayed with me ever since: “In a world built to encourage consumer demand by stoking your anxieties and your desires for more, the most powerful and radical response is to become a no wants person.” If you can learn to live in a properly anchored way, you can become fairly immune from the advertising machine that prioritizes the ephemeral and the material over the transcendent goods, from virtue to friendship to family to personal peace.
It’s not capitalism as an economic order that does this, but rather our disordered sense that has forgotten that the economy exists for man, and not the other way around. Notice that what the democratic socialists are proposing to achieve is, in essence, a more extreme version of the disorder we’re already experiencing—that is, a wider distribution of the material goods that already fail to satisfy our restlessness.
“Our hearts are restless,” writes Augustine in his Confessions, “until they rest in you.”