16 Apr 2012

Looking at Allan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind” 25 Years later

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the late Allan Bloom

Matt Feeney, in the New Yorker, takes a fresh look at Bloom’s Straussian jeremiad of 1987 and observes that the relativism of the 1960s era seems no longer to be the same kind of problem. Kids at elite universities today are not relativists. They are instead commonly hyper-engagée moral perfectionists, brainwashed from the time they were toddlers into intense preoccupation with all the ersatz moral concerns of the bien pensant haute bourgeoisie community.

[T]he moral disenchantment that Bloom called relativism is not the problem it was in 1987. Indeed, college-bound American kids now grow up in world that is almost medieval in its degree of moral enchantment. Their moral reflex is anxiously conditioned to an ever-growing list of worries and provocations: smoking, safe sex, chastity, patriotism, faith, religious freedom, bullying, diversity, drugs, crime, violence, obesity, binge drinking. Almost no problem goes un-talked about, un-taught from, un-ruled on. These lessons are convincingly yoked to real-life concerns about safety, health, and happiness, not to mention all those things that, as the song says, will go down on their permanent records.

For kids entering college fully trained in this liturgy of prudence and niceness, which I am anxiously imparting to my own young children, it’s not Bloom’s censoriousness they will resist. It’s his decadence. …

Bloom’s esoteric project asks today’s students to estrange themselves from an identity that they, their parents, and their teachers, along with their ministers and rabbis and shrinks, their camp counselors and art tutors and soccer coaches, have been constructing since these kids were born, and with a degree of political and moral awareness that everyone involved is darned proud of. These are good kids. Try telling a college sophomore who founded his school’s anti-sweatshop movement that his enthusiasms are callow, his convictions harmful to a true education of the soul, and that he should instead join you on a freaky trip into the true mind of Thucydides.


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