Philip Rieff’s ‘The Triumph of the Therapeutic’

Here’s a book that doesn’t fit the summer reading motif. It isn’t light or very accessible, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, by sociologist Philip Rieff. Rod Dreher gives it a run down here. I heard about the book in a stirring set of interviews on Mars Hill Audio. (BTW, the recent postage hikes have increased the cost for mailing their tapes and CDs by 300%. That could sink this fantastic ministry. If you’re still looking for a Father’s Day gift, consider a subscription to the Mars Hill Audio Journal on MP3. No postage costs for them, and great conversation for your father.)

In The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Rieff describes the dominance of therapeutic language in our culture and how it rots our society by replacing moral truths and virtues with personal values and interesting, but nonessential, attributes. Rieff argues, as I understand it, that a culture may not be able to survive when its highest ideal is not virtue, but better living. If we urge each other only to cope with our trivial-to-major problems, we will never rise to the high calling of heroism. We will believe the government has limitless money to solve our problems if only the good guys win. We will believe evil men are only misunderstood men who need to talk through their pain, and we will not recognize any fight as good except that which eases our pain.

Also, the modern individual is told he is completely autonomous, but modern society works him over to conform to the crowd. You can see this in universities all over the country. Someone advocating depravity may be praised for faux individuality, but someone arguing for morals is ridiculed or shut down because he really is swimming upstream.

It seems like an excellent book as is the discussion about it on Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 82.

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