pious wish or a cynical farewell.nThe ambiguity of the greetingncorresponded to the ironynimplicit in the view to the west.n. . . meaning New York City in all itsnaffluence. The rubble of the tenementsnin the foreground, set against that “resplendent”nmetropolis glittering in thendistance, leads him in the course of hisnessay to resolve the subtle ambiguitynwith the conclusion it was, alas, a cynicalnfarewell. If there is a fiction to benexposed here, it is not Ronald Reagan’snpolicies towards the poor, but the essayist’snsearch for the poignant detail withnwhich to open his next commentary onnconservative insensitivity.nEqually tiresome is the air of disgustnwith which Mr. Lapham dismissesnReagan’s “chaotic” and “incoherent”nphilosophy. One could be more sympatheticntoward Mr. Lapham if only henhimself, reflecting for a moment thatnMr. Reagan and others whom he opposesnare also merely human and pronento misjudgments, were less smug. Instead,njust about every conservative whonpasses by in the imperial masquerade isna hypocrite or impostor, and LewisnLapham alone notices the misery of thenslums and the broken dreams and thenquiet longings of his fellow men.nMr. Reagan’s ideas, he writes in onenof these indictments, were so “unsystematic,”nso “incoherent,” not sophisticatednand “realistic” like liberalism,n”America’s generously optimistic tradition.”n”The comforts of a vacant conscience,”nmoreover, allowed Americanunder Mr. Reagan “not to worry itselfnwith tiresome questions about what wasnright and what was wrong, or what wasntrue and what was false.” “It was clearnfrom the beginning that Mr. Reagannwasn’t interested in bad news,” for thisnmight have upset his listeners and costnhim votes. Making the rich richer “wasnthe only promise Mr. Reagan kept.”nIn developing these insights, Mr.nLapham overlooks some not too intricatenflaws in his own thought. For onenthing, it is contradictory to say thatnReagan was both unconcerned aboutn”right and wrong” yet excessively moralisticnon such matters as abortion andn”the Wagnerian stage set of the EvilnEmpire.” You can fault him for one ornthe other, but not both. And, too, whennReagan took the position that abortion isn34/CHRONICLESnkilling, whether one agreed or not thatnsurely was intended as a bit of “badnnews” to a society which tolerates aboutna million-and-a-half abortions each yearn— news delivered at the risk of estrangingna lot of voters, notably LewisnLapham and the entire media establishment.nThis raises the further contradictionnthat Mr. Lapham had so manyangrynessays to write during the 80’snprecisely because Reagan in fact keptnmost of his promises — for instance, bynacting on his anti-abortion principlesnand by employing all those “merchantsnof death” at the Pentagon.nAnd the odd thing is, when younpause to examine precisely what Mr.nLapham’s own merely human valuesnamount to, they almost always havensomething to do with money. Onenadmires his insight that greed can becomena civic religion. What he doesn’tnsee, however, is that like most temptationsngreed can assume the form of itsnopposite, so that we can succumb justnwhen it appears we are being the mostnnoble or altruistic. The authority ofnwealth — how it is acquired, spent,ndoled out—thus remains the decisiveninfluence in his moral thought; underlyingneven his most exalted sentimentsnone detects the merely monetary. Younwould expect, for instance, to findnsomewhere in the book a thoughtfulnpiece on abortion — whichever side onentakes, a vital index to the spirit of an age.nMr. Lapham, however, enters the greatndebate only when the specific questionnis one of payment. If the rich can havenabortions, do not civilized standardsndemand that the poor and underprivilegednshould have them too?nThat there might be a deeper spiritualnor even merely human dimensionnbeyond the “small sum” denied thenpoor for their abortions simply has notnregistered. Nor does he think to applynhis other frequent theme — the Powerfulnversus the Powerless — to the treatmentnof unborn life, for this wouldnrequire a rethinking of liberalism’sn”generously optimistic tradition.”nWhatever the moral issue — abortion,nAmerica’s housing problem, the doc­nnntrine of military deterrence — it alwaysnseems to turn back to those grasping,nsanctimonious Republicans denyingnpoor people their rightful share of thenloot.nOnly rhetorically does he ever escapenthe who-gets-what moral calculus. Anword search on Mr. Lapham’s computernwould turn up hundreds of examplesnof Christian imagery, advancing one ornanother secular or purely economicnargument: “The search for the innocentninvestment seems to me comparablento the search for the Holy Grail. . . .n[T]he worship of technology serves thencause of barbarism. The pleading of thendeity in the machine makes it muchneasier to discard the value of the merelynhuman. … By reducing words to objects,nthe Christian propagandists transformednlanguage into stone, therebynforming an ecumenical union withnthose totalitarian states against whichnthey buried the cliches of freedom. . . .nWhether employed in the service ofnreligion or the service of the state, thentranscendental voice shouts down thenobjections of the merely human.” Ornfinally this: “Like the bones of SaintnTheodosia, the arsenal of deterrencenstands as both symbol and embodimentnof absolute power. What was humannbecomes divine. The Pentagon spendsna great deal of its money buying hightechnweapons so delicate and fundamentallynuseless as to acquire the beautynof religious sculpture.”nEven forgetting the stuff about turningnlanguage into stone and ecumenicalnunions and Saint Theodosia, what anconfused, deeply troubling outlook. Religiousnsculpture is nice to look at butnfundamentally useless because, one assumes,nit reaches beyond the merelynhuman, deludes the poor with falsenhopes, and like the arsenal of deterrencenprobably costs too much besides. And itnonly reminds us of that unsettling transcendentaln”shout.”nNo doubt from such a view thentranscendental voice does seem to shoutninstead of beckon, as “the divine” mustnseem an archaic but ever-impressive bitnof imagery to be tossed about like anynother; so much the better if it belittlesnthe “Christian propagandists” fornwhom it actually means something.nThat it might represent the one authenticnvoice in the entire masquerade, is anpossibility simply not to be found in thenbook. ‘ n