Skip to comments.The Book That Drove Them Crazy - "The Closing of the American Mind" 25 years later
Posted on 04/05/2012 3:36:57 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
"The Closing of the American Mind"
If I had reread The Closing of the American Mind 10 years ago, when my own children were themselves under 10, I confess I would have thought Blooms portrait of educational decline was overwrought. And then they grew up and went off to college.
..............[Allan] Bloom wrote a moment before the population of modernitys Holy Trinity - Marx, Freud, and Darwin - decreased by two-thirds. Marx lost his allure, at least nominally, after the collapse of the murderous regimes that had been built from his ideas. Freud was demoted from scientist to cultural observer, and an unreliable one besides. Only Darwin survives, undiminished and if anything enlarged, as the font of a new materialism whose effects Bloom foresaw even then and witheringly described. I can think of lots of reasons why The Closing of the American Mind deserves as many readers as it earned in the eighties; Blooms sly wit and the torrential energy of his prose are worth the price of admission, in my opinion. But this one carries a special urgency. As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism& = of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone - had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.
The crisis was - is - a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America - even Jerry Springer - had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.
The crisis of liberal education, he wrote, is a reflection of a crisis at the peaks of learning, an incoherence and incompatibility among the first principles with which we interpret the world, an intellectual crisis of the greatest magnitude, which constitutes the crisis of our civilization.
He asked readers to consider contemporary students as he encountered them. They arrived ill-equipped to explore the large questions the humanities pose, and few saw the need to bother with them in any case. Instead, he said, they were cheerful, unconcerned, dutiful, and prosaic, their eyes on the prize of that cushy job. They were nice. You can almost see him shudder as he writes the word. They are united only in their relativism, he wrote. The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.
Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life. Defenders of relativism often defend it by denying it exists: No one, they say, truly believes that one idea is ultimately as good as another. And of course theyre right that none of us in our own lives act as though we believed this. But most of us profess it nonetheless, especially if weve got a college education, in which case we will be careful to use air quotes when we are forced to say the word truth in polite company. In a genial but harrowing review of Closing, a professor at -Carleton College, Michael Zuckert, told of canvassing the students in his class on American political thought. He asked whether they agreed that the truths in the first lines of the Declaration of Independence were indeed self-evident. Seven percent voted yes. On further conversation, he wrote, it turned out that they were convinced there is no such thing as truth, self-evident or otherwise, in the sphere of claims of the sort raised in the Declaration. He would have gotten the same response in almost any college classroom today, and Im not too sure about the 7 percent.
What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable - he doubts, finally, that they even exist. Its no mystery why fewer and fewer students in higher education today bother with the liberal arts, preferring professional training in their place. Deprived of their traditional purpose in the pursuit of whats true and good, the humanities could only founder. The study of literature, for example, was consumed in the trivialities of the deconstructionists and their successors. Philosophy curdled into positivism and word play. History became an inventory of political grievances.
Into the vacuum left by the humanities comes science, which by its own admission is unconcerned with the large questions of meaning and purpose. Even so, on campus and elsewhere, science is now taken as the final authority on any important human question - and not always the rigorous physical sciences, either, but the rickety, less empirical, more easily manipulated guesswork of behavioral psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology, developmental studies, and so on. Nowadays, if we seek insight into the mysteries of the human heart (not high on the academic agenda in any case) we are far more likely to consult a neurobiologist or a social psychologist than Tolstoy or Aristotle. This is not progress............... The Book That Drove Them Crazy
The public school is BY FAR, the largest, most expensive, most subversive, and most destructive entitlement program in the country.
The public school is better understood as the government school collective.
It is silly to imagine that you can fix the public schools, because the very concept itself is communist.
Any child that comes out of the government school collective with their moral compass and common sense intact does so in spite of the government school indoctrination, not because of it.
If you want to win the culture war, have lots of children (see my tagline) and homeschool them or form your own school cooperative with your church or synagogue and like-minded friends and relatives.
Nobody loves your children more than you do.
Nobody can teach your children like you can.
Your children would love nothing better than to be taught by you, if you start doing so before they are corrupted by the government school collective.
It is hypocritical for you to submit your children to an authority with whom you fundamentally disagree. And your children will know it.
If you have children, make whatever sacrifices you must to get them out of the public schools.
DO NOT FEED THE BEAST!
Especially not with your own children.
“....fashion of materialism& = of explaining all life...”
...”As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism - of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone - had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.”...
You reminded me that I need to get this book. Thanks.
Alas, I fear that Marx and Freud didn’t fade away because they were discredited; they were simply incorporated so deeply into modern academic thought that they have become basic premises and no longer even need to be identified as such.
Son to be followed by “My kids public school isn’t so bad” and “I’m/I know a public school teacher trying to help kids”. I have more respect for crack dealers.
Great book, too. “Closing” is one of the dozen or so most infuential books I’ve ever read. It’s part of my “mental furniture.” Every cultural trend described by Bloom—from the breakdown of the family, to the situation of blacks at the university, to the destructive influence of feminism and promiscuity on campus—has gotten exponentially worse. The biggest difference is that now, these trends aren’t limited to places like Cornell, U of Chicago, Columbia, et al. They are general everywhere in academia, and have reinforced the corruption of the broader culture.
The cohort of students described by Bloom now runs the country , and is hellbent on carrying out the Revolution. The relativism fostered by Heidegger’s “openness,” the Frankfurt School, and Deconstructionism has done its preparatory work; souls empty of family ties, religious restraints and moral absolutes are now filled with the “passionate intensity” of liberation theology, eco-radicalism, etc.
It’s funny how Bloom— a secular academic homosexual— could be so perceptive about the breakdown of the nuclear family and the ravages of relativism! Bloom, who disavowed being “conservative,” sounds almost like his contemporary, Pope John Paul II when describing the centrality of religion, the family, and the priority of culture to politics.
Although during Reagan’s time one could think that our side was winning, the Revolution was still germinating beneath the surface. It was much more widespread and powerful than anyone realized. Now we will see if America can face down the Revolution within her own borders. Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan couldn’t. Spain did, but at a terrible cost. As many have said in recent years, we live in interesting times.
“I read “Ravelstein”, but never read “Closing of the American Mind”.
You reminded me that I need to get this book. Thanks.”
Yes. Do read it. Bloom writes well, stretches our minds like a good muscle stretch, and rewards us with cogent occlusions.
> Son to be followed by My kids public school isnt so bad
> and Im/I know a public school teacher trying to help
> kids. I have more respect for crack dealers.
I hear this all the time.
It’s so hard to get through to people that “compulsory education” and “public school” are collectivist-statist (COMMUNIST) ideas.
So, they ask, is government road-building collectivist?
Well, not exactly. We’re talking there about INFRASTRUCTURE, and nobody is COMPELLED to use them, and the only folks who pay for them (theoretically) are those who pay taxes when they buy cars, register cars, buy fuel, and pay highway tolls, i.e, those that use the highways pay for them.
But most of the time, I feel like I’m talking to tree stumps, because, invariably, they will present anecdotal evidence that some school or some teacher is doing good.
Look. I could probably find some good food rooting around in a restaurant dumpster, but I’m not going to soil myself doing that.
It's a tough assignment, because somebody has to design the cars, drill the oil, and build the houses, too. I think that's where most of us end up. What to do?
That was a pivotal period for me. I admit I was a Rolling Stone subscriber and prone to believing what they published (although the likes of William Greider are never to be taken seriously). Bloom’s book had them incandescent with rage and which caused me to wonder why.
After reading book I realized that Bloom was correct - which explained the vitriol directed at him.
The problem isn’t that public schools are public - the problem is that said system is required to accept and keep all kids - even those who do not wish to be there, those who are continually disruptive, those who are criminal. THAT’S the problem. Find a way to eliminate the majority of undesirables and you have the environment you want.
And, so you know, Thomas Jefferson himself advocated for free education.
Help rid the schools of losers - either by choosing a charter, private, or home school. But it’s silly to blame a non-existent problem.
Closing is one of the dozen or so most infuential books Ive ever read. Its part of my mental furniture.
Three of mine:
The Unseen Hand
Blacklisted By History
The Creature From Jekyll Island
Thank you for posting that. Downloaded and saved.
Reading the excerpts from Closing, I thought Bloom was on his way to converting to Catholicism.
Exposure of their agenda and the telling of truths that thwart their agenda
does indeed drive them crazy.
Usually what you get, though, is not a refutation of the exposed truth, but simply a denial and an ad hominem attack (”racist!”).