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Thirty Years After ‘The Closing of the American Mind’

Over thirty years ago, Allan Bloom—the late American philosopher and university professor who was the model for Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein—published The Closing of the American Mind. He began with a startling declaration: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” Relativism, Bloom claimed, “is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it.” Students “have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society.” What students “fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance.” At the end of the opening paragraph, Bloom summarized the result: “The point is not to correct [their] mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

In the ensuing pages, Bloom argued that modern universities were failing their students in part because postmodern trends in the humanities had devalued the Western literary canon, which he championed as a tradition that honored, cultivated, and molded the Socratic dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. Introspection was, in Bloom’s view, the point of a liberal education. In the preface to his book, Bloom described the job of a teacher as a guide in this quest, more akin to midwifery than socialization: “i.e. the delivery of real babies of which not the midwife but nature is the cause.” A liberal education, he argued, helps students to develop a mature perspective and resolute position on universal questions about human nature—the most central being, what is man?—and “to become aware that the answer is neither obvious nor simply unavailable, and that there is no serious life in which this question is not a continuous concern.”

Bloom confessed upfront that the sample of students upon which he had based his diagnosis of the “present situation” in American education was selective: “It consists of thousands of students of comparatively high intelligence, materially and spiritually free to do pretty much what they want with the few years of college they are privileged to have—in short, the kind of young persons who populate the twenty or thirty best universities.” He made no apologies, however: “It is sometimes said that these advantaged youths have less need of our attention and resources, that they already have enough. But they, above all, most need education, in as much as the greatest talents are most difficult to perfect, and the more complex the nature the more susceptible it is to perversion.”

In summarily declaring that higher education had been so undermined that truth itself had been discarded as irrelevant or illegitimate by the best and the brightest at America’s top universities, Bloom undoubtedly gave us a controversial, even dire, account of the state of modern education. Whether or not things were as bad as he said, however, the book was a stimulating contribution to an emerging conversation about social, political, and cultural values at a time when the ethos of multiculturalism was becoming a hot-button topic in institutions of higher learning and in society at large. A term that can mean many things, “multiculturalism” refers in part to a benign and productive effort to include a multiplicity of cultural perspectives in the canon of great literary and philosophical works. But it can also spark a more controversial politics of identity, tending to promote relativism, whereby truth, knowledge, and humanistic inquiry are seen as inseparable from the subjectivity of identity, perspective, and institutional affiliation.

A few years after Bloom’s book appeared, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. published a book entitled, The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. A political liberal, Schlesinger warned of the dangers of identity politics but also expressed optimism that unity would prevail in American society. His warning came as the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union broke apart, and ethnic separatism asserted itself in Eastern Europe. In America and abroad, it was an open question whether the ethos of multiculturalism in America, and ethnic separatism abroad, would lead to unity while broadening the circle of inclusion and pluralism, or greater division by galvanizing the tribal instincts of humanity.

As the discussion sometimes focused on the virtues of teaching “great books” by “dead white males,” the relevance of a traditional liberal education was sufficient to inspire film critic David Denby to publish Great Books, in which he recounted a year he spent at Columbia University taking two core courses in the humanities focused on the great works of Western civilization.  Denby wrote about coming away from the experience with a renewed appreciation for their timeless insights into the human condition, and in so doing offered a kind of defense of the Western literary canon. But Denby did not neutralize a nascent skepticism of the Western literary canon which was taking root among intellectual elites who were among the provocateurs of Bloom’s dismay. Nor is it clear that Denby’s celebration of the canon did anything to convince contemporary students at elite universities like Columbia who, 20 years later, now assume positions of influence in institutions of politics, culture, and learning in American, and Western, society.

In a 1992 essay in the New Criterion, Roger Kimball reviewed a book by Julien Benda entitled The Treason of the Intellectuals, “an unremitting attack on the politicization of the intellect and ethnic separatism” published a decade before the outbreak of World War II. Applying Benda’s observations to his own time, Mr. Kimball wrote: “From the savage flowering of ethnic hatreds in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to the mendacious demands for political correctness and multiculturalism on college campuses across America and Europe, the treason of the intellectuals continues to play out its unedifying drama.” Indeed, as Saul Bellow wrote in a foreword to Allan Bloom’s book: “The heat of the dispute between Left and Right has grown so fierce in the last decade that the habits of civilized discourse have suffered a scorching.”

Mr. Bellow’s words were written 30 years before Donald J. Trump was elected as president of the United States.

 

Jonathan Church is an economist who specializes in inflation and a contributor to the Good Men Project. He has been published in the Washington ExaminerProvidence Journal, and a few literary publications. You can find his publications at www.jonathandavidchurch.com. He does not spend much time on social media, but you can follow him on Twitter @jondavidchurch

57 Comments

    • I agree with the sentiment, but even postmodernism is out of vogue these days, and the problems facing the West cannot seriously be traced to the advent of postmodernism. Neither multiculturalism or “frailty” can be blamed on a few obscurantist academics. Postmodernism (or “Cultural Marxism” — the two are often conflated, bizarrely) makes for a nice boogeyman, but when it comes down to it, saving our civilization and preserving its heritage of freedom and liberal democracy is going to take more than complaining vaguely about “postmodernism”.

      • scribblerg says

        “…conflated, bizarrely” (sneer implied, obviously). Given that “Cultural Marxism” as explicated by Gramsci explicitly called for the power of cultural institutions be taken on by Marxist revolutions, the critique of “power” on offer via Postmodern was like pouring gasoline on an intellectual garbage fire.

        Note you claim neither can explain what’s happening, but you don’t bother to actually offer another explanation except for making implied ad hominem attacks on people holding such views due to calling those views “bogeyman”.

        I wonder, did you think your comment was an argument of some sort? Hint: It’s barely hyperbole…

        • scribblerg – No, sneer not implied; sorry. And yes, Marxism and postmodernism are both destructive, anti-western philosophies (if they can even be called that), but no, the two aren’t the same at all. That’s not to say that there isn’t overlap between the claims of the two philosophies; as you rightly point out, they both see the world solely in terms of power structures, for instance.

          That said, your accusations are unfair. I made no ad hominem attacks. “Cultural Marxism” is, indeed, a tired and overused right-wing trope, along with “post-modernist neomarxist” and other such slurs (even Jordan Peterson slings that one around sometimes), and the concept is used as a scapegoat (or yes, bogeyman) for things that can’t necessarily be blamed on postmodernism, Marxism, or some bizarre, ahistorical amalgamation of the two.

          In short: postmodernism and Marxism are not the same, and they are often conflated and blamed for things which they haven’t actually caused.

  1. Philoctetes says

    Bloom, the dandy who was a disciple of Strauss, knew that education had been taken over by the sophists. The system of Socratic inquiry elevated by Plato into basis of Western philosophical thought was undercut by those – right and left – who wanted to be seen as right for the sole purpose of gaining power. As Blake said, there were hirelings in the camp, the court and the university. Bloom showed that the hirelings were now the mainstream, influencing and controlling higher education. The Good became associated exclusively with wealth, profit and economic success. Higher education 30 years ago was just becoming commodified. Colleges and universities became places where people went so they could get a good job. As Ivan Illich said, education became a system of higher and higher drop outs. Gone was the idea of education as a means of inquiry and learning to be a well rounded person and a good citizen. And now campuses themselves are profit-driven, no longer centres of learning. Well, the rest of the comments – explicitly and implicitly – will reveal the atrocious mess that higher education now is.

    • Michael Joseph says

      Higher education is an atrocious mess? First of all about one percent of the population had access to it before WEII. This idea that it was some sort of idealistic place dedicated to the expansion of the mind is nonsense. The idea that it has become a vehicle to exploit the young for profit is also nonsense. It is now and always has been some where in the middle. Giving the majority of high school graduates access to college is going to be complex or as you say an atrocious mess; however, it is preferable to just one percent getting access.

      • Philoctetes says

        By atrocious mess, I mean curricula and campus being hijacked by special interest groups. Gender studies, courses on such pitiful thinkers as Alice Rosenbaum (aka Ayn Rand), PhDs being done on ridiculous subjects, censorship on campus, etc. Can’t disagree with the premise of making higher education more widely available. Just got to do something about the $1.5 trillion student loan debt … Now that is a seriously potential atrocious mess.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Kingsley Amis had a wonderful retort to those espousing higher education for all

        More means less

      • You are absolutely correct, if by saying higher education is somewhere in the middle, you define middle as far far to the left of rationality and reason.

    • Editorium says

      Some interesting points and I think you are largely on track, but it’s difficult to make a sweeping statement about the American university system. Like people themselves, it’s too varied in some key respects. For sure we can say the biggest and most popular schools inarguably put profit and money ahead of anything else. They are more income-driven institutions now than they are inquiry-driven institutions, and I agree it was not always that way.

      But on the philosophical, “how they teach and why they teach” side of things it’s a little more complicated. I think it depends on the school, but for sure the number of good ones unaffected by today’s shark-jumping political and social correctness, is dwindling. I do agree that even as far back as the 90s, liberal arts trends were occurring on BigTen campuses and other mainstream universities that more or less were driven by the attitude of “if it was written by an old / dead white guy, we’ve had enough of that; we don’t need it.” It was the idea of if something has been taught for a long time, it was probably done at the expense of voices from women, minorities and others that weren’t heard in those times, so the stuff from the old white guys is bad. While the first part is probably true, the last part is a really dangerous assumption.

      In my own 4 year education, literally none of the survey classes in my liberal arts curriculum, were devoted to studying classical reasoning, classical literature, or the like. Instead on the literature side we were reading the likes of Terry McMillan, which OK fine — she’s a valid voice to be heard in a modern literature class, but then her stuff should be supplemented by some classical stuff too and it wasn’t. On the reasoning side strange mixes of discussion of logic, entropy and other topics. Was almost like someone tried to make a “Cliff Notes Curriculum” for some courses.

      Going through it I wasn’t mature enough in my understanding of the world to realize I was being deprived of something, but looking back, there were really some second rate efforts at curriculum at my school (a well known Division I school). It was a “sign ’em up and move ’em through the system” kind of setup. I won’t say none of my professors were good or challenging. There were a couple great ones, including one guy who spent a lot of time on something I was grateful to learn about — WWI and how it happened and the lead-up to WWII (everything but the battles, which of course are well documented and don’t need to be covered unless you’re attending a military academy). WWI is something very important to where we are today, but is very rarely talked about in American academic institutions unless it’s a specialized course. There were long-winded debates and give and take of ideas, etc. THAT is what college is supposed to be when it comes to liberal arts education, and I saw very little of it even 30 years ago at a supposedly “good school.”

      ———-

      What’s scary today though is the whole “safe spaces” concept, which near as I can tell is a whole lot of horsecrap.

      Not tolerating explicit hate-speech in the classroom is one thing (I think any reasonable human can agree on that), but the way they are defined today, “safe spaces” is another way of saying “don’t say any thing or ask any question that might make anyone in here the least bit uncomfortable, even though you don’t know most of them very well and have no idea whether it would or not.” That’s a great way to LEARN NOTHING. About history, about humanity, about each other. If I can’t know what excites you and what makes you angry and why, I can’t know you. Much less learn anything from you.

      That’s where college administrators seem to be now in their (failed) thinking and gutless attitude towards the screaming brats holding their cell phones in professors’ faces, demanding apologies for things that don’t need to be apologized for. And to think now any decent school sets a parent back $45,000+ PER YEAR… FOR THAT.

      Maybe the best approach for home-schooling is not in high school but college. ; ) For your HS graduation, I have filled a storage locker with 47 books you need to ready and study over the next 4 years. It cost me $2200. Happy Graduation!

  2. X. Citoyen says

    The many cringe-inducing books and articles written in response to Bloom should’ve dispelled any doubts about the truth of thesis. One of the funnier examples was an historian (his name escapes me) who imagined he was debunking Closing by pointing out that Bloom would’ve spent the majority of his time as an undergraduate learning Greek and Latin. Yes, the historian refuted Bloom by showing that he actually got a liberal education.

    • ga gamba says

      One of the funnier examples was an historian (his name escapes me) who imagined he was debunking Closing by pointing out that Bloom would’ve spent the majority of his time as an undergraduate learning Greek and Latin.

      That’s quite a whopper. Of those destined to attend university, Greek and Latin were taught to children. The trivium, “the three paths” of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, was the foundation of classical education. This is why primary schools were once called grammar schools and otherwise known as Latin schools – in major US cities one will still find elite private schools named Latin School, such as Boston Latin and Chicago Latin. Many religious-affiliated schools today have returned to the classical root and commence Latin at year one. Until 1960, Cambridge and Oxford required one knew Latin as an entry qualification. Having learnt Latin and Greek many years earlier, Bloom would have spent his university days honing his rhetorical skills.

      It was at the end of the 19th century when classical education was attacked as elitist and normal schools (teachers colleges) flourished to instruct the future educators the norms of education. Those who lament its loss are reductively dismissed as “white, male, probably middle-class,” and, being that, why consider thoughtfully their views? Gary Nunn wrote in the Guardian: [T]he subject [Latin] is still often used to signify an expensive education – the linguistic bowler hat to the flat cap of modern languages. It’s the language of Eton, of entire Oxbridge graduation ceremonies, of Catholic clergy, of faded power, of traditional influence. See its knackered old relics on our currency, at unfeasibly posh dinner parties, outside and inside our courts and in almost all exclusive schools, though still only some state schools. It’s the lexical equivalent of a barrister’s wig: both fuddy-duddy and exotic, eccentric and archaic.

      That’s a complaint.

      The problem isn’t Latin per se, it’s who has the privilege to it. “Latin is a cryptolect: a secretive language, designed to exclude outsiders.” It is the line of reasoning that diminishes rather than uplifts. The aspirational demand would be to insist the flat cap wearers’ children receive Latin too. But they can’t even learn English, the opponents assert, so, it’s implied, what hope is there? Perversely, the demand is not to give more to those with less, it’s simply to take away from those deemed to have more. This is resentment.

      • Evander says

        Another a way of looking at it – perhaps the next layer of depth – is that animus towards elites and objects of their privilege is grounded in hatred of the past. People with a mind to improve society identify problems which necessarily have their roots in time prior to the present. Reflection on this leads to theorisation of the past, and anything associated with it, as the source of all problems. The mentality this theory engenders could be called newism: new is good, old is bad. (Which incidentally I heard an eminent classicist recently criticise roundly at a dinner. And in case you were wondering he’s a convinced leftist.)

        Newism is a dumbass way of looking at things. It overlooks the manifestly plain truth that the past is both the source of bad and good things. Where else did democracy, the university and art come from?

        People who are against classical education and the Western cannon are anti-Renaissance. The guiding dictum of that time was Erasmus’ ‘in primis ad fontes ipsos properandum, id est graecos et antiquos’, liberally translated as ‘Our first priority is to hasten to the source of cultural vitality and inspiration: the Greeks and the ancients.’ It stressed positive engagement with the past. Drawing on great texts, it was thought, expanded our conceptions of what was culturally possible. A worthy cannon of excellent texts coupled with confidence in man’s ability to improve himself and society through immersion in it led the to immense human flourishing.

        If you’re interested in that, you need liberal education.

        • George G says

          @Evander

          “The mentality this theory engenders could be called newism: new is good, old is bad.”

          Interesting thoughts.

          I think there’s also another stage to that. Which you could call the very, very, old. Which is an imagined place where things were very, very, good. A sort of garden of Eden state ,for whatever identity group, which is corrupted by coming into contact with western culture / whiteness / patriarchy.

          There’s a sort of BLM notion of Africa as Wakanda before whites arrived : the gazelle lay with the lion, men and women lived in fraternity and had a spiritual understanding of transgenderism. Certainly no African shed another Africans blood before those bastards in pith helmets arrived with their bibles. Like wise the aborigine’s and native Americans.

          In more recent times it’s often applied where America intervenes politically or militarily, Iraq is a good example. Originally Iraq was democratically presided over by Saint Saddam the benevolent beloved by all his countrymen, then those greedy eyed yanks spied his black gold and plotted to steal and murder.

          These are just creation myths for the modern left, they are faith over facts. I see Nietzsche mentioned elsewhere in this thread, I think as organised religion ( Christianity ) has declined and the structure, community and orthodoxy went with it, people have sought to fill that space. So many of these modern Po Mo influenced movements are so obviously cult like in their actions and words.

          • Michael Joseph says

            George, maybe Africans went to war with each other before Europeans arrived but not like them, they didn’t have the technology. The Europeans unleashed holy hell on the Africans Asians and Native Americans multiple times. Of course the worst of it was reserved for the Jews.

            Yes, let’s talk about Iraq. So what was the motivation for the invasion? Was it the stated goal of liberating the people from an oppressor? Was it merely to stabilize world oil supply? Obviously it wasn’t a pirate raid but opening Iraq’s reserves on the world market is in US national interests. Was it to clamp down on Islamic Jihad? How’s that working out for ya?

            Now we have a president and a party completely denying climate change as hurricanes, fires, and blizzards rage. What is the motivation? A small sector of the economy will profit from status quo energy consumption. The whole society will pay for the consequences. Pretty good trade off for the few.

          • Robert Hadley says

            So hurricanes are raging , are they? The last ten years have seen the fewest hurricanes than any previous ten year period since such records
            began to be kept. Three years ago (I think), not one hurricane made landfall in the U.S. This year’s Category 3 hurricane, which killed very few people, was the first Cat 3 storm or above to make landfall in the U.S. since 2007. There have been bad wildfires every fall in California since I was a boy, and even Jerry Brown has admitted that this year’s fires were made worse by terrible management practises enacted by the political Left. As for blizzards, I am a little puzzled, but will take your word for it.

        • X. Citoyen says

          @Evander,

          You’re quite right. In fact, the po-mo Illuminati was frank about being, not only anti-Renaissance and anti-Western, but anti-humanist. How this persists in escaping the notice of its defenders and sympathizers is a mystery to me.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Yes elite scholars of old used Latin and Greek as a wall to prevent commoners from entering the legal and medical fields. Also those who couldn’t understand legal language couldn’t enter into politics. There is a difference between reserving higher education for the most brilliant men and giving everyone access to knowledge so society may thrive. We have a shortage of doctors because the gatekeepers have constricted the pipeline. Your legal outcome if you’re arrested has a direct correlation with your income. If medicine and the law were written in the vernacular neither of these situations would exist.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @ga gamba

        “Latin is a cryptolect: a secretive language, designed to exclude outsiders.”

        Such is my reactionism to the hippie university that I’m beginning to think that a return to Latin would be one hell of a good idea.

      • X. Citoyen says

        I was lucky to get Greek as part of my undergraduate degree (Latin had to wait till later). Even two years of intensive Attic Greek is worth more than the rest of the classes you’ll take in those two years combined. But philosophy ain’t what she yousta be. Language requirements are being dumbed down or dropped altogether, and I’ve noticed that logic has become an elective in some places. Teaching less and less is costing students more and more.

        Kids in Ontario used to be taught Latin in high school. But that useless language was getting in the way of capital-R and E Relevant Education so Latin was dropped. Now the Globe and Mail reported a couple of days ago on a study showing one in four university graduates—not high school students, mind you, university students—in Ontario failed a basic literacy and numeracy test: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-one-in-four-ontario-university-students-lack-basic-literacy-numeracy/

        Clearly, getting rid of Latin fixed everything.

        All the same, I’m optimistic because of what’s going on outside the system. I’ve seen hopeful signs of a little renaissance in North America. Home school networks using the trivium and quadrivium. Latin enrolments going up here and there. More online teaching material appears all the time. If the system doesn’t break on its own, it’ll be bled to death by the exodus of students to other alternatives. And that might be how Bloom gets his due: Internal reform caused by the weight of external options.

  3. Farris says

    Postmodernism is dead. Like its ideological twin communism postmodernism is a morally bankrupt failure. Obituary: Postmodernism was anti-intellectualism posing as insightful. It eschewed truth because truth revealed postmodernism’s inadequacies. The postmortem is beginning. The only remaining question is when will the funeral occur?

    • Evander says

      @Farris

      Why do you say postmodernism is dead?

      Postmodernism pointed out the narrative-status – and hence contestability – of every controlling narrative. With that critique in place, groups mobilised to societally “upvote” their narrative with its concomitant values and norms. imo, the winners atm are Climate Change, Feminism and Identity Politics.

      • Aldousk says

        What is a “narrative status”? What is a “controlling narrative”? How does one “societally upvite” anything?

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Aldousk

          “What is a “controlling narrative”? How does one “societally upvite” anything?”

          Do you not know? Imagine some mainstream politician, or media person or anyone working for a socially visible organization saying, for example, that men are better at math than women. What would happen to them? If they were not fired outright, we can be sure that their carriers would stagnate. The controlling narrative forbids mentioning such obvious facts. A trivial but typical example might be Megyn Kelly being let go for suggesting that the moral panic over Halloween costumes might be somewhat overdone. The controlling narrative forbids insensitivity.

          One socially upvotes by approving some comment on twitter. This permits the most virtuous to gain social standing.

        • Evander says

          @Aldousk

          Postmodernists claim that there is no such thing as capital T truth; there are only truth-claims. Narrative status then is the deprivileging of the idea in the West, for example, that Christianity is the Truth; it’s only one narrative.

          pomo argues that any society’s way of doing things was guided by a controlling narrative of truth. Narratives conflict, so how do you determine the true winner? Power.

          To societally upvote is to push for your narrative – which is as arbitrary as any other – to gain dominance in a society. You might clash with science, logic, religion, democracy, but nevermind: it’s a naked power struggle, so you’re only limited by tenets of the ideology you choose and by the opposition you face.

          Does that make sense?

  4. The worst enemies of Western culture are the ones who most vehemently defend it.

    They take a freewheeling open source tradition and turn it into a fixed dogma impervious to inquiry or challenge.

    It would be fascinating to time travel Alan Bloom to 4th century Rome, and have him participate in the debate between the defenders of Western culture, against the invasion of the Eastern barbarian cult of Jesus. [spoiler- the barbarians won]

    • Evander says

      The key word in your description of Western culture is ‘tradition’, what is non-negotiable.

      Some ideas and practices are open to renewal, e.g. economic policy or the role of women, but others aren’t, e.g. such as the dignity of the individual and academic inquiry.

      When liberal education is retooled as political education, a non-negotiable part of our heritage – the formation of broadminded, ethical thinkers – is threatened.

      btw, Roman culture isn’t Western culture, but formed a part of its heritage. Christianity, when it achieved societal supremacy, deleted antithetical Roman beliefs and norms; it was a cultural wipe-out. Polytheism and sexual licentiousness were militated against by robust monotheism and family-based morality. Legal structures, scientific knowledge and great cultural texts were appropriated into Western society. The amalgam, the predominant ingredient of which was Christianity, became what we refer to as Western Civilisation.

      imo, we’ve attempted since Kant to answer the question of ‘What is man?’ on a spectrum ranging from man as a creation of one’s own imagining and effort to man as a deterministic product of environment. I note merely as an observation that the spectrum is an atheistic one.

      Until Kant, the West conceived of man in theological terms. On this view, man is a dignified creature under God, endowed with dignity and agency, yet dependent on God for ultimate direction, a kind of bounded freedom. Others will of course disagree with this account, but it should be part of the conversation. After all, Western culture proceeded through time and development, working with this axiom.

        • Michael Joseph says

          Western Culture reached an apex when the Continental Congress wary of the European schism enshrined religious liberty in law. This gave government power over religion and in a way exposed religion as a lie. If all may choose their own faith then there is no one true faith. But faith is universal as the Russians and Chinese have learned. The best way to insure that faith thrives is to outlaw it. What a conundrum.

          • Evander says

            @Michael Joseph

            Wasn’t the first amendment in the American constitution designed to protect government from religion and religion from government? It’s not about the state dominating religion.

            “If all may choose their own faith then there is no one true faith.”

            That’s a non-sequitur: freedom to follow your conscience has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of individual beliefs. It just means no one ‘faith’ is privileged.

            “The best way to insure that faith thrives is to outlaw it. What a conundrum.”

            By ‘outlaw’ did you inarticulately mean separate church and state? Your statements aren’t easily interpreted.

            “Meanwhile the priests were having their way with boys.”

            Is this your way of irrelevantly saying that you don’t like Roman Catholicism?

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Michael Joseph

          Soon enough sodomites in general will be having their way with boys irrespective of the white collar. And if you don’t approve of that it only proves that you are a pedophobe.

          • Morgan Foster says

            @Evander:

            “Wasn’t the first amendment in the American constitution designed to protect government from religion and religion from government? It’s not about the state dominating religion.”

            You’re close. The First Amendment says, in first relevant part, that the Federal government may not establish it’s own official church or religious movement. IOW, there can be no Church of America, financed by the government, where the leaders of the government are also the leaders of the church.

            In second relevant part, it states that the Federal government may not ban or substantially interfere with the religious practices of any faith or denomination. Such as closing Sunni mosques, leaving Shia mosques to remain open, and so forth.

            There may be some who believe that the Federal government needs to be protected from religion – or more likely, religious persons – but the First Amendment doesn’t cover that.

        • Northern Observer says

          Before the French Revolution the priests were having their way with widows and fallen women. The queering of the Catholic Church is a direct result of its trying to live up to its tenets of celibacy – high status ordinary men were replaced by low status sexually troubled men.

          The rest writes itself. The internet has served to reveal what was hidden.

          What we wouldn’t all give for that old fashioned heterosexual hypocracy now.

  5. Πέτρος says

    “It would be fascinating to time travel Alan Bloom to 4th century Rome, and have him participate in the debate between the defenders of Western culture, against the invasion of the Eastern barbarian cult of Jesus.”

    The eastern barbarian cult of Jesus… Now that’s one I’ve never heard before. I always thought Constantinus ho Megas converted to the exponentially growing religion of Yeshua bar Yosef dmen Nassrath of his own free will, with no loss to barbarians involved.

    @Chip, your yarns never cease to entertain … though perhaps not in the way you intend.

    Stay weird. 👍 ☧

    • The Romans viewed the Christianity as many Westerners now view Islam, that is, a hostile, barbaric threat to their sacred traditions.

      It would be amusing to see our descendants a few centuries from now angrily defending the Islamic tradition of Western culture from some new threat.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Chip

        Party true, however let’s not over generalize. The Christians did not invade, they converted the Romans one at a time, starting with the slaves and working up. Islam is rather invading, and tho it accepts converts, where that fails, the sword is the alternative. Please do not try to make some comparison between that and the teachings of Jesus to ‘return evil for evil to no one’.

      • Thoughthelookingglass says

        Those barbaric Irish monks painstakingly preserved ancient Greek and Roman texts. The Islamists blow up statues of Buddha and, if they take over, will not be terribly concerned with the preservation of infidel canons.

      • Charlie says

        Prof K S Lal , the Indian historian pus the death toll in India from Muslim invasion from about 1000 to 1500AD at 80million. He quotes from the muslims who stated how many they had killed. The Hindu – Buddhist culture of N India was largely wiped out.

        Tuzk-i-Timuri (Timur’s own hand written record): “I proclaimed throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners should put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolators, were on that day slain. Maulana Nasiruddin Umar, a counselor and man of learning, who, in all his life, had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives.”

        It is time westerners studied the Hindu and Buddhist experiences of Islam.

  6. Farris says

    @Evander
    “the winners atm are Climate Change, Feminism and Identity Politics.”

    It is the “atm” that is key.

    Postmodernism will not go gently into that good night.

    The current shrillness of postmodernism is the best evidence of its demise.

    Yes there are many practitioners of postmodernism, just as there remain many communists. However both have been sufficiently discredited. The truth will always eventually win out. But that is no guarantee you or I will live to see it. Like all the past false religions with false gods people will ultimately turn away. The tribalism postmodernism has bred is not sustainable. I realize my optimism may seem naive an unwarranted. Without truth today’s chic radicals are destined to be tomorrow’s has beens.
    Personally I find these old college professors and people like Robert De Niro pitiable as they endeavor to remain hip and relevant. Charlatans come and go and unfortunately they are also forgotten.

    Wishful thinking maybe?
    But would you really want to be on the side of history that denied the concept of truth?
    Thank you for observations.

    • Evander says

      Postmodernism is philosophy cashing the cheque Nietzsche wrote.

      If God is dead, what narrative do we live by? In a globalised world, that ‘we’ will swell to a planetary scale.

      Climate Change, Feminism and Identity Politics are ascendent in the West. It has global competitors in China and Islamism, now an insurgent force in Europe.

      The postmodernists were right, if you accept the ‘God is dead’ premise: a power struggle between groups with arbitrary ideologies.

      Truth will win out, I agree. I base that on my Christian faith, rejecting the Nietzschean premise.

      • Michael Joseph says

        We are post God. There are cameras everywhere. We don’t have to worry about what God sees anymore. Government now has the ability to monitor every aspect of our lives. Based on shopping patterns pregnant women get coupons for baby items even before they know they are pregnant. We should probably start thinking about what kind of society we want and then worry if God is dead.

    • Michael Joseph says

      Truth is a concept. Free speech is a concrete right that can be defended. With speech you can defend truth. Yep. I think the founders were on to something.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Farris

      “The truth will always eventually win out.”

      Yes, but the dark age might be centuries long. If Islam conquers Europe — and the demographers seem to consider it inevitable — how long will it take for them to find some sort of Enlightenment? At the moment they are going backwards. They seem to not even remember that they once upon a time had a love of learning.

  7. TheSnark says

    The best defense of the Great Books curriculum is that they embody the Enlightenment. Prior to the Enlightenment only the king, Son of Heaven, or whatever they called the ruler had any rights. Everyone else had none. And about 98% to 99% of everyone else lived in rural, agricultural squalor. This was true of whites, blacks, yellow, males, females, gay, and straight. And that state of abject squalor had been the lot of mankind for thousands of years.

    Despite the many terrible things done by the Europeans in their expansion, today large parts of the world do not fear famine, most children survive their early years, women have the vote, most people receive a basic education, and most live to be more than 35 years old. All these beneficial changes and more, can be trace directly to the Enlightenment.

    Any group of thinkers, whatever their personal flaws, who put mankind on such a path of progress deserve our respect and study.

    And my deepest apologies that almost all of them were white males.

  8. Pingback: The Closing Mind Experience | sustainliberty

  9. Morgan Foster says

    From the article: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

    The second thing that anyone can be absolutely certain of: anyone who believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative will lie to you.

  10. Pingback: Thirty Years After ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ written by Jonathan Church | RUTHFULLY YOURS

  11. David Walsh says

    Bloom’s book is an inspiring effort to analyse the malaise afflicting higher education. It appears to me to be prophetic in sounding the warning which has become all too true today. He describes the loss of confidence that drives western intellectuals to be “open to closedness” in how they view other traditions while these same traditions are just sure they are right and hold no such openness.

    Bloom has a lot to say about how the demise, the devaluing, of philosophy in academia, has led to the present disconnectedness of disciplines. There is no overarching discipline which assigns the place of the other disciplines. “The democracy of disciplines on offer is really an anarchy for there is no organisation of the sciences, no tree of knowledge, no recognised rules of citizenship” could easily apply to the fraudulent disciplines recently highlighted in the Grievance Studies scandal. He is scathing about the humanities and their loss of prestige.

    The book is an extraordinary description of how nihilism has affected the American psyche and ideas such as values, culture, creativity.
    Language has been affected with value relativism; there is no longer good and evil and there are no longer consequences for wrong choices. As he says: America has no fault auto accidents, no fault divorces and it is moving with the aid of modern philosophy to no fault choices.
    Even if much of what he says is not correct, the effort to bring together ancient and more modern philosophy, politics and the Enlightenment of which the modern university is the consequence, and early 20th century discoveries in psychology and social science into some kind of coherent whole is an intellectual enterprise which is rare in the extreme and likely to become even more rare with the present turmoil affecting academia.
    The book abounds in memorable phrases: “If we can believe that Calvinist worldviews made capitalism, we can also credit the possibility that the overpowering visions of German philosophers are preparing the tyranny of the future.”

  12. Bubblecar says

    “The heat of the dispute between Left and Right has grown so fierce in the last decade that the habits of civilized discourse have suffered a scorching.”

    It seems counter-productive to characterise this as a dispute between “Left & Right”. While today’s academic humanities departments certainly seem deserving of criticism, it’s hard to imagine the universities would be delivering a higher quality of education if the Steve Bannons, Jordan Petersons and Milo Whatsisnames were in charge of them. The much-needed backlash against overblown relativism appears to be coming from all sides of politics, as is certainly required if it’s to have a beneficial effect.

  13. Bill Haywood says

    This book is so underwhelming. For example, in the chapter on rock and roll, Bloom went on about the cultural rot displayed by rock. But get this, in forty pages he only knew the names of three bands! And one was the Rolling Stones. The book is a fact-free diatribe. It is your uncle on a bar stool with a Ph.D. vocabulary.

  14. Charlie says

    C Norhcote Parkinson, the historian said the average Oxbridge don of mid 19th century would have a degree in the Classics ( be fluent in Latin and Greek ) and probably have a degree in maths as well and speak 3-4 European languages. The reality is that only a small percentage of people have the ability to achieve the standards. In the UK it used to be the case that national exams taken at approximately 16 or 18 years of age were of such a high standards tat people could enter the professions. Most professions allowed people to study at night school, such as becoming Chartered Engineer ( Part 2 exam was equal to higher than a degree, RJ Mitchell designer of Spitfire ); one could study to become a barrister or solicitor via night school, surveyor, the Armed Forces had their technical training(- being a Naval, Airforce, Artillery or Engineering Officer requires high level of maths and physics), chemistry, physics and biology degrees could be obtained by the U of London external system( B Wallis). Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Eliot, Kipling, Orwell and Brontes all became great writers without university. Shakespeare left school at 14 years or so and Dickens at 12 years or so. Those boys who studied Latin would be expected to read at Caesar and Xenophon by the age of 13 years.

    What happened until WW1 was that school education was intense, focused and disciplined, largely around Classics, English, Maths, French, History, Divinity, Science, Music and sports. Pupils had to pay attention. We now confuse time spent in education with actual learning. Think about fitness. One could spend an hour running up steep hills over muddy fields with a 50 lb pack on one’s back or the same time gently jogging down hill. The time spent is the same but the fitness achieved of the former vastly exceeds the latter.

    From experience, bright children start to take off at the age of 9 years. The age of 13 years bright children can have studied French for 6 years, Latin for 5years and Greek for 4 years; just look at standards required for scholarships to Winchester, Eton Westminster, etc, . Historically , Mothers taught their children to read using the Bible which has a very high level of language. The Lutherans of Scandinavia insisted that men and women had to be literate to marry which was proved by reading from The Bible to The Pastor. In much of Scandinavia children and taught literacy and numeracy by their Mothers so they start school a year later than in Britain but are already ahead academically. A child who has been taught to read using King Jame’s Bible has been instructed in the language of Shakespeare.

    To achieve excellence certain activities require children to start young: ballet, gymnastics, music , chess, maths ( most mathematicians have their breakthrough ideas before the age of 25 ). Most top sports players started training well before puberty and trained rigorously , think of Don Bradman hitting a cricket ball against a wall with a stump. The Brain stops developing at the age of 20 years. It is said one can never become fluent in language unless one starts before puberty.

    What if academic excellence can only be achieved by starting young at the age of 3-4 years or younger ? Children are inquisitive and ask questions. What if the ability of the Mother or the Nanny to answer the baby or infant in an intelligent manner is vital to develop the brain? In Shakespeare’s day it was expected that a child in education should be able to read Latin at the age of 8 years. What if education beyond the age of 20 years when the brained is fully formed can never replace that between before the age of 7 years and puberty? The bones of the brain are soft and the plates are not joined before the age of 7 or thereabouts and there is solidifying of the body post puberty. The Russians start athletics training at 4-5 years of age and they say this develops the connection of neuron and the mylon sheaves which surround them. The thicker the sheaf, the faster the neural transmission.

    Huxley who won the Nobel Prize for medicine explained why Britain won so many was that rigorous selection at 11 years or 13 years , followed by Selection at 16 years and then 18 years, meant that a only a few went up to university. In Britain one could enter medical or law school after leaving school as one had already received an adequate education. Those who did had already achieved very high standards; just look at the the Oxbridge Entrance Papers and S Level papers. Below is link to Maths paper required for entry to Cambridge in 1981. The entrance exams were phased out in the late 1980s because many comprehensive schools could not teach to this standard.

    https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/cambridge-entrance-examination-mathematics-for-natural-sciences-1981/

    Many of the great physicists such as Newton, Clerk Maxwell, JJ Thompson never took doctorates, just the Cambridge Part 2 and 3 Maths Tripos. The obsession with doctorates is a post WW1 development, largely due to Prussian/ German influence.

    Until 1920 Oxford required school children to sit a Greek paper to matriculate and until 1960 a Latin Paper. People may complain about having to learn but Alexander’s army spoke Greek and this was a common of the near east for hundreds of years, which is why the Gospels were written in this language.

    There is a major problem with this approach, if only a small number of people stay on beyond the age of 16 years and even fewer go to university, then there is only a need for a few teachers and academics. If the humanities is limited to Classics, Law, History, Divinity, Asiatic Languages (pre WW1 ) then a only a few academics are needed but these must be highly intelligent and educated. English was only studied as a degree post WW1. However if standards are lowered and subjects introduced which lack rigour such as media studies, then large numbers of sub standard mediocre academics can be recruited. Bums on seats.

    As the arts have been dominated by left middle class people since the mid 1930s, the expansion of higher education has been a massive job creation scheme for mediocre middle class left wing arts graduates. I could be easily proved wrong. Jus insist all undergrads and academics pass the Greek and Latin papers required to matriculate to Oxbridge pre 1920. How can someone criticise Western Culture is they cannot read Greek, Latin, French and German works in the original? Slight variations in translation can make a massive difference?
    Surely media and cultural studies should start with the translation of Greek plays ?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_Murray

    Can we honestly say that the vast majority of arts graduates and even those with doctorates are better educated than Shakespeare or Dickens? Not only does modern education deprive people of money, both in fees and lost earnings but also time and this can never be replaced.

    Perhaps the reason why the American closed was because from the mid 19430s it ceased to be capable of absorbing and processing the vast amounts of information required to be a scholar such as a mid 19th century Oxbridge don? One think of the mind as a bag, if it is elastic it can take more facts it if rigid these are limited. We know the brain functions through connection between neurons and speed of transmission increases as the mylon sheaf thickens which comes from practice. How much intelligence is due to connections being made from birth and definitely before the ages of 4, 7, puberty and 20 years. Perhaps the connections need to be made before puberty and all that occurs is the amount of information increases slightly? Perhaps learning is asymptotic and the gradient of the curve rapidly decline after the age of 14- 16 years of age because the brain reduces it’s plasticity. Intelligence then becomes a function of how many connections and how much and quickly information can be stored and transmitted. What percentage of those reading arts degrees could actually cope with History degree of the late 19th century which would high level of Greek, Latin and French ? Is the rage due to people being forced to work at a pace beyond their comfort zone, like a runner being forced at a pace beyond theirs?

    Perhaps investing in full time schools education up to the age of 14 – 16 years of age, followed by work and training part in vocational colleges ( as in Germany and Switzerland ) with only a few going to university, is a better system? However, this will involve sacking large numbers of mediocre arts academics and bureaucrats; perhaps they could work in inner city schools and help to raise the educational standards? Is a great cause of inequality caused by the natural inquisitiveness of a child being nurtured by a Mother or Nanny and who teaches them literacy and numeracy from the age of 4 to 5 years and those who ignore or even criticise it ?

  15. New guy. Wow. I have searched FOREVER to find the quality of comments I see here. Just signed up as a patron. Thanks to the writers, and thanks to the commenters, who seem to be just as good!

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