THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND by Allan Bloom is a 1987 bestseller. It suggests Americans no longer understand the big ideas, have no clue about history, and are living in America’s very own Weimar period – a brief and tumultuous time in Germany’s history when left and right killed each other in the streets nightly.
It culminated in Hitler. But if it had culminated in a Stalinesque figure and the far left, it would have been just as catastrophic for Germans and for the world.
I read CLOSING when it came out. I read it again and red-penned it around the year 2005. I just read it for the third time.
It gets more diffuse to me with each reading. Bloom is talking about so much.
We are Weimar. We are 1/4 of an inch away from beating each other up on the streets. We are savages. Savages with technology. We think we are virtuous when we posit things that are merely selfish, selfishly ahistorical, and utterly transitory, because we don’t know our place in the greater culture.
Obama signed a bunch of executive orders. Trump spends 4 years erasing them, one by one. Transitoriness. The next president might erase Trump’s works. Transitoriness. Nothing sticks. America is vapor. There is no America. It bounces along, with or without political violence. There is only noise, passed along by useful idiots. At least until one side – both sides evil and stupid – “wins”.
And one side will win. History says so. And if you are not evil, you do not want either side, left or right, to win.
Good luck with that. Won’t happen. Irony.
Jolly Bloom’s prescription?
The classics. Homer. Socrates. Rousseau. The great thinkers. Philosophy. Logic. Reason. The Great Books. The humanities. College courses in same. Rigorous ones. Courses that teach young people how to think rather than what to think.
Mainly, courses that teach students that they don’t know anything, that they are too ignorant to realize how stupid their opinions are, and, *wham*, take this: a wallop of education that causes complete and utter estrangement from family, friends, and society.
Good luck with that, too.
Bloom admits – he’s gone now, btw, but is cast as the character Ravelstein in the Saul Bellow (also gone) novel of the same name – that nobody can make much of a dent in The Great Books in a lifetime. He admits that what constitutes a “great book” is up in the air. He admits that we no longer have teachers who understand them anyway. And the great thoughts in great books are what we need.
And to me, this third reading makes it clear that Bloom’s ideas are just another random set of opinions, just another arbitrary postmodern construct. We might as well study fly fishing or podiatry.
He may be right. He may be wrong. He may have some good ideas. The guy at the corner gas station may have better insights than Bloom does. Another philosopher might. Bloom might be a genius, or evil, or a joke, or a waffle with syrup on it.
It’s 2018. We’re all jokes now.
Bloom said that we need certainty and facts and a strict Socratic framework to use when investigating those facts. We need to know where we stand and what we mean.
His certainty now looks ludicrous.
The idiots who base their lives upon rumor and vapor and random websites – like this one? – are taking to the streets once again.
Damn certainty and damn the certain. Except for those like Bloom, in whose hands it could last be trusted.