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The Closing of the American Mind

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The Closing of the American Mind, a publishing phenomenon in hardcover, is now a paperback literary event. In this acclaimed number one national best-seller, one of our country's most distinguished political philosophers argues that the social/political crisis of 20th-century America is really an intellectual crisis. Allan Bloom's sweeping analysis is essential to understanding America today. It has fired the imagination of a public ripe for change.

392 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1987

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About the author

Allan Bloom

38 books164 followers
Allan David Bloom was an American philosopher, essayist and academic. Bloom championed the idea of 'Great Books' education, as did his mentor Leo Strauss. Bloom became famous for his criticism of contemporary American higher education, with his views being expressed in his bestselling 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind.

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Profile Image for W..
23 reviews27 followers
August 4, 2013
Perhaps this book deserves five stars -- it did, after all, shake me up a bit, the way the best books do. Bloom is rightly concerned with a problem I see in my own classrooms: the assumption that, since all views are to be tolerated in our modern liberal democracy, all views are equally valuable; furthermore, since all ideas are equally worthy of consideration, none of them are worthy of consideration. It is difficult to say anything of real importance about poetry, literature, art, religion, philosophy, etc., because the arts and humanities have become matters of personal taste, which we regard as sacrosanct. This problem is exacerbated by a tepid vocabulary pervading our discourse: instead of "love," for example, one is more likely to speak of "commitment;" instead of ideal "virtues" we have arbitrary "values." Bloom argues that these words, and others like them, result from an impotence of ideas, issued from a university system that cannot articulate its own worth, or the worth of its subjects in the humanities. So, instead of the tolerant "openness" we assume to be good, we have "a great closing":

Openness used to be the virtue permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason's power. The unrestrained and thoughtless pursuit of openness, without recognizing the inherent political, social, and cultural problem of openness as the goal of nature, has rendered openness meaningless.

It's easy to see why, as any Google search or Amazon review is likely to tell you, this book was popular with conservatives when it was published in 1987. Unfortunately, a critique of the liberal position that "accepts everything" sounds like the beginning of the type of socially conservative rant that blames, say, homosexuality or immigration or atheism for the endemic ills of our country -- a rant that ends, inevitably, with a call to “traditional values,” in particular those alleged to have been held by our Founders in their supposed intent to establish, above all other considerations, a Christian nation. A personal confession: it was impossible for me to read this book without hearing the echo of conservative and evangelical voices that would find legitimacy for their doctrine in Bloom’s argument.

But this book cannot be conservative in the sense that we understand conservatism today. Yes, Bloom treats with disdain the sort of openness that questions nothing, the sort of openness that, by default, must regard reason as the enemy of choice, disregarding how any individual choice relates to the good. But Bloom explicitly desires and calls for a different kind of openness, an intellectually honest openness, an openness grounded in reason and real engagement with the tension between complex ideas. This tension is more important than any settled conclusion one might ultimately draw from the ideas that created it:

Equality for us seems to culminate in the unwillingness and incapacity to make claims of superiority, particularly in the domains in which such claims have always been made—art, religion, and philosophy. When Weber found that he could not choose between certain high opposites—reason vs. revelation, Buddha vs. Jesus—he did not conclude that all things are equally good, that the distinction between high and low disappears. As a matter of fact he intended to revitalize the consideration of these great alternatives in showing the gravity and danger involved in choosing among them; they were to be heightened in contrast to the trivial considerations of modern life that threatened to overgrow and render indistinguishable the profound problems the confrontation with which makes the bow of the soul taut. The serious intellectual life was for him the battleground of the great decisions, all of which are spiritual or “value” choices. One can no longer present this or that particular view of the educated or civilized man as authoritative; therefore one must say that education consists in knowing, really knowing, the small number of such views in their integrity. [Italics mine]

The religious right and conservatism in its most popular and perverse form fail, as much as relativistic forms of liberalism, to establish anything like tension or tautness within the soul of man: it’s all ideology (which Bloom dismisses as mere “prejudice”), an invasion of the spiritual and the religious by “quacks, adventures, cranks and fanatics.” If Bloom finds the post-Enlightenment retreat from Christianity troubling, it is not because he regards Christianity as an expression of ultimate truth, but because the retreat from religion into the embrace of the natural sciences was so complete that matters of the soul, the good, the ideal were vanquished. The Bible, in Bloom’s conception, is not a good book because it is Right, or because it conclusively presents an ultimate and indisputable Truth, but because people once

found reasons for the existence of their family and the fulfillment of their duty in serious writings, and they interpreted their special sufferings with respect to a great and ennobling past... When [graduates from modern universities] talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing by cliches, superficialities, the material of satire. I am not saying anything so trite as that life is fuller when people have myths to live by. I mean rather that a life based on the Book is closer to the truth, that it provides the material for deeper research in and access to the real nature of things. Without the great revelations, epics, and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there, and eventually little left inside. The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished.

It seems to me that a good deal of conservative/religious discourse these days neglects a “respect for real learning” and consists instead of “superficialities” no better than those uttered in the name of liberal openness. All of this to say: the sort of conservatism from which Bloom argues leads away from what we might call contemporary conservatism—a system in which all of history and scripture serve merely to confirm one’s own prejudices, which are themselves unable to answer the problems of the soul, nature, and the good.

Meanwhile, it feels old-fashioned to read such words and phrases: soul, virtue, eros, the good, etc. And yet one fears that without them, something in academic studies, particularly within the humanities, is missing. My own graduate school experience was, at times, a long descent into theory: we were to understand literature and poetry as expressions of, say, Lacanian psychoanalysis. There were many post-modernists in our group, an earnest handful of historicists, deconstructionists, and post-feminists, each asking a set of very particular questions. We were trained to become specialists within the field of literature, and though our pursuits were too narrow to have very much in common, there was one question we all considered anathema to serious literary studies: what did the author intend? No surprise, then, that Bloom considers it the most important question:

The effort to read books as their writers intended them to be read has been made into a crime, ever since the “intentional fallacy” was instituted. There are endless debates about methods -- among Freudian criticism, Marxist criticism, New Criticism, Structuralism and Deconstructionism, and many others, all of which have in common the premise that what Plato or Dante had to say about reality is unimportant. These schools of criticism make the writers plants in a garden planned by a modern scholar, while their own garden-planning vocation is denied them. The writers ought to plant, or even bury, the scholar.

Though Bloom’s book was a bestseller in 1987, the state of the humanities does not appear much improved – just this weekend I read about “the growing field of digital humanities,” in which students search massive databases of literary texts to find patterns in language. It may no longer be necessary to actually read literature, to understand how writers spoke to the big questions, and to each other, or what they actually had to say: now, students can use “computational methods to zero in on the places in ‘Paradise Lost’ where John Milton is alluding to the Latin of Virgil’s ‘Aeneid.’” Elsewhere in the university, the field of neuroaesthetics -- a combination of literary and neurology studies -- uses literature to map the brain, to discover which “underlying mental processes are activated when we read.” The author is dead, the text is dead, and what the university now values in literature or philosophy is not anything so quaint as ideas or reason or even imagination, but the measurement of electrical impulses in our own brains. Self-knowledge begins with the neuron, not the soul. The natural sciences, Bloom might say, with regret but not surprise, have triumphed utterly over the humanities.

This seems like so much intellectual and spiritual gloom and doom, but reading The Closing of the American Mind was, for me, invigorating, partly because Bloom makes such a compelling case for reading, or rereading, classic works by their own lights -- I found myself tossing titles by Rousseau, Tocqueville, Locke, Plato, Aristophanes and others onto my Amazon wish list -- and partly because his concerns are likely to inform how I teach my own literature classes.

(Parenthetically: I deducted one star from this review because a good number of pages in Bloom’s argument are devoted to the idea that an academic misreading of Nietzsche contributed to an academic misunderstanding of Plato and Aristotle, resulting in a relativism of the humanities that was exported to the culture at large. This was hard to follow, and my paraphrase may be mangled, but I suspect that, even if I had understood its nuances, this line of thinking is not the argumentative keystone Bloom seems to think is it.)
Profile Image for Andrew.
565 reviews116 followers
March 29, 2021
This is the best argument for conservatism I've ever read. To be fair, it's also the only one I've ever read, outside of the occasional David Brooks column. And let's be honest: Bloom is about as elitist and conservative as you can get. But he makes the position seem very enticing with his brilliant argumentation and his penetrating logic as he delves into the state of the late 20th century American citizen. It doesn't hurt that he has a staggering breadth of knowledge on just about every single Western philosopher ever.

Even though it probably woulda sailed over my head, I wish I had read this book before going to college because I might have gotten a lot more out of my education if I had some clue as to where to start. As it is, I recognized myself in most of Bloom's descriptions about the students who were seeking some sort of higher life-altering experience of knowledge and subsequently being left high and dry by university administrators and faculty.

I found myself agreeing with Bloom's main thesis on the importance of the humanities (i.e. the "Great Books" and authors) in the liberal education, and their catastrophic decline in the modern university canon. I even agree that maybe college shouldn't be considered for everyone as merely a de facto extension of the factory schooling technique that has turned our high schools into wastelands of learning. In fact, Bloom's writing is so engaging throughout, and his depth of knowledge so impressive, that I found myself forgiving his obvious political slant and occasional inconsistencies. There were several, however, that merit mention:

At his worst, Bloom comes off as a lonely, bitter, out-of-touch old codger. This is evident in the ways that he talks down about his naive students and their quaint notions of "commitment" in the age of free love. He clearly despises the hippie movement and has done a good job of developing a logical justification. It left me with a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Which came first, the logical sociological insight against the ravenous hippies, or his personal distaste?

More puzzling is Bloom's glib dismissal of the family as anything other than a societal convention. While granting that the mother-child bond is "perhaps the only undeniable natural social bond," (p.115) he dismisses the father out of hand as having no conceivable reason to care for his child other than some abstract desire to attain eternity through his progeny. This is, frankly, stunning. I admire cool intellectual detachment as much as most intellectuals, but to deny that there is a lasting value to human emotions such as paternal love, or even to ignore the biology of the family situation seems wildly out of character for an otherwise rational discussion. It's all the more curious given Bloom's apparent sympathy for the Nietzchian anti-rational position. If Bloom is recognizing the value of revelation and passion in our pursuit of knowledge, how can he deny such an irrational impulse as fatherly love? And a few pages later (129), arrogantly scoffing at their capacity to "care"?

The next problem I had, on p. 248, was perhaps a minor point but illustrative of either Bloom's ingenuousness or his deceitful argumentation. Comparing the old (faith-based) to modern (reason-based) political regimes, Bloom actually manages to lament the disappearance of the aristocracy, because, "This means that there is no protection for the opponents of the governing principles [democracy:] as well as no respectability for them." Incredibly, Bloom completely ignores the fact that the corporations -- it's by no means a stretch to say that they form a modern aristocracy -- both oppose democratic governing principles and wield far more power than the supposed mob of "the people," the rule of which apparently haunts Bloom's nightmares but otherwise has little relation to reality.

Another disturbing part is Bloom's persistent characterization of the 60s radicalization of the universities with Nazi Germany. Okay, I'll admit there are parallels. But Bloom, writing in the 80s, seemed to be predicting a catastrophe that -- had "the movement" really been as similar to Nazi Germany in the first place as he insinuates -- should have already occurred a decade before. The fact that it still hasn't occurred a quarter century later makes the claim all the more outlandish. There's also the fact that Bloom excuses Heidegger's support of the Nazis because he supposedly did it "ironically." While this may be true, it is a complete abdication of academic responsibility to ignore (and excuse, in Bloom´s case) what an ironic statement of support for a cruel dictatorship might cause in practical results, i.e. in reality. Both Heidegger's and Bloom's apologetics strike me as weasel-words at best.

Then comes Bloom's glib statement (p. 320) that "You don't replace something with nothing." Talking about the criticism of the university curriculum in the 60s, he says, "The criticism of the old is of no value if there is no prospect for the new." While this may be true for the universities, to issue a blanket statement on the matter is quite simply wrong. Bloom, an apparent sympathizer of Nietzche's nihilism, should know better. Just from the example he gave of Hitler several pages before, I can say that the Nazi regime is an example of something that would have been better replaced by anything. . . yes, even nothing.

Another minor problem I have is what seems to be a misuse of Socrates. I don't pretend to know more about Plato's writings than Mr. Bloom, but I thought it was pretty accepted that as Plato matured, his writings became less about accurately documenting Socrates' dialogues and more about using his mentor as a mouthpiece for Plato's own ideas. This makes the Republic, Bloom's favorite book, distinctly Platonic, and not Socratic, although he seems to worship Socrates based on the ideas there. This is pretty well explained and criticized in Karl Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies (see my reviews of Vol. I and Vol. II), of which Bloom had to have been aware when he wrote this.

The following problems I have are more major. First, Bloom displays a strange ideological inconsistency throughout the book. I've already mentioned his hypocrisy when it comes to nihilism. But there's another point where he pointedly praises Goethe for bringing the active life to the forefront for the first time. Bloom celebrates Goethe's claim that DOING is superior to CONTEMPLATING, but he does this in the midst of one long, contemplative tome that has little to do with action. For that matter, every philosopher falls before this definition of superiority, a fact that Bloom ignores. How does Goethe's stance fit in with the rest of the Socratic philosophers that thought nothing was higher than thinking about truth and values?

The inconsistency continues with respect to Bloom's praise of the creative and the creators, the artists, which he defines in Part Two as something truly rare. He clearly detests the fact that the word is so overused these days to describe what is unquestionably NOT creation. (This is during a diatribe on "language pollution" which I actually liked and agreed with.) During this section he casually disdains the scholars who merely study what other men created. Of course, he doesn't mention that he's doing the same thing: critiquing instead of creating. What exactly is he creating here? Same problem as the Goethe passage.

Perhaps the thing that most bothered me about the book is that Bloom actually conflates the meaning of openness and closedness when elaborating on the title of his book. Try this passage from the introduction:
If openness means to "go with the flow," it is necessarily an accomodation to the present. That present is so closed to doubt about so many things impeding the progress of its principles that unqualified openness to it would mean forgetting the despised alternatives to it, knowledge of which makes us aware of what is doubtful in it. True openness means closedness to all the charms that make us comfortable with the present.(p.42, my emphasis)
This quite miraculously turns what most objective bystanders would call Bloom's closed-minded conservatism into "openness." It's a rather neat trick, and even convincing unless you stop to think about it. Then you just think, "Wait a minute, that's not right at all." A more flagrant passage occurs toward the end of the book:
In a democracy (the university) risks less by opposing the emergent, the changing and the ephemeral than by embracing them, because the society is already open to them, without monitoring what it accepts or sufficiently respecting the old. There the university risks less by having intransigently high standards than by trying to be too inclusive, because the society tends to blur standards in the name of equality. It also risks less by concentrating on the heroic than by looking to the commonplace, because the society levels. (p.253)
Let me paraphrase since his lingo is a little difficult to follow: A truly open university must oppose everything progressive while upholding tradition and should only concern itself with the most brilliant students while ignoring mediocrity. (He is also claiming that universities are somehow behind the curve on what society accepts, which is ridiculous in its own right.) This is a very convenient position for a conservative elitist to take -- it amazingly reinforces with iron-clad logic every reactionary idea he stands for.

That leads to the final problem I had with this book. Bloom adopts the Nietzchian angle that rationalists can't ultimately sustain their position, because all reason is fundamentally drawn from the irrational. At one point he says something to the effect of, "Reason is nothing more than an excuse for one's irrational desires/passions," so all rationalist positions are ultimately self-serving. Yet here he has presented us with a very reasoned argument for why conservatism needs to rule our universities. One must presume that he's aware of the logical implications -- that his own argument falls into the rationalist trap and is really nothing more than masturbatory self-congratulation -- but if he is, he never lets on.

I wanted to rate this book lower just because I disagree with the author a fair amount of the time, but the book was so enjoyable that I couldn't help myself. And it definitely made me think, which I always value.

Cross-posted at Not Bad Movie and Book Reviews.

Profile Image for booklady.
2,168 reviews65 followers
June 15, 2009
Bloom's 1987 bestseller is still relevant today. In it he critiques the American education system for removing the Great Books from the required reading in most colleges. Booklady that I am, I couldn't agree with him more. The Great Books should be read and in the originals, not in watered down or abridged versions--however much modern students complain about Dickens being repetitive, etc. If they absolutely cannot force their eyes to follow the words on the page, then get the audio versions of those old books--that is the way most of those archaic texts were meant to be read anyway--ALOUD, but not abridged.

However, as Professor Bloom points out, it's really the educational system which did away with the Great Books in the 1960s. His comparison between what happened in the United States then and what happened in Germany in the '30's is eerie. As an insider to 'the system' I suppose he should know...

This much I do know . . . Bloom is spot on that we are depriving ourselves of so much when we do not read the Great Books!
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,149 followers
September 2, 2021
Diatriba lui Allan Bloom a iscat o adevărată „furtună” în mediul academic american. Cartea s-a publicat în 1987, dar polemica a continuat cu înverșunare mai bine de un deceniu. Ce a reproșat Bloom pedagogilor? În primul rînd, neglijarea întrebărilor fundamentale: Ce este adevărul? Dar binele? Are viața omului un sens? Cum ar trebui să ne ducem viața? În al doilea rînd, neglijarea clasicilor, a Marilor Cărți. Și tocmai în aceste cărți acoperite de colbul nepăsării poate fi găsit un răspuns. Din păcate, lumea (și profesorii) au renunțat la ele.

Critica lui Bloom viza, așadar, toate aspectele educației tinerilor. În fond, ce învățau studenții în anii 80? Cîteva idei radicale: a) nu există adevăr, adevărul nu poate fi nici definit, nici atins; b) nu există realitate, realitatea e un construct social / cultural / ideologic; c) totul este relativ, opiniile sînt egale, nu există credințe și idei privilegiate...

Două extrase:

1. Școala deconstrucției constituie „ultima etapă previzibilă în suprimarea rațiunii și negarea posibilității adevărului în numele filosofiei” (p.454).

2. „Singura soluție serioasă este aceea aproape universal respinsă: abordarea vechilor și bunelor Cărți Mari, prin care educația liberală înțelege citirea anumitor texte clasice, general recunoscute, doar citirea lor, lăsîndu-le să dicteze care sînt întrebările și metoda de a le aborda – nu forțindu-le în catego // rii pe care le inventăm noi, nu tratîndu-le ca pe niște produse istorice, ci încercînd să le citim așa cum doreau autorii lor să fie citite. Sînt perfect conștient - și admit de fapt – obiecțiile aduse cultului Marilor Cărți. E amatorist; încurajează o încredere în sine autodidactă lipsită de competență; nu poți citi atent toate Marile Cărți; dacă citești doar Marile Cărți, nu poți ști ce e o carte mare, în opoziție cu una obișnuită; nu există o modalitate de a determina cine să decidă ce e o Carte Mare sau un canon; cărțile devin scopuri și nu mijloace; întreaga mișcare are un anume ton vulgar evanghelist, opus bunului gust; el generează o falsă intimidate cu măreția…” (pp.410-411).
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,279 reviews21.3k followers
February 3, 2008
I know nothing about American Universities and so when Bloom says things about the lowering of standards to accommodate black students who have been admitted without the requisite standard of education to succeed I just assume this is standard racist crap. But I’m really not in any position to argue one way or the other.

He certainly doesn’t waste time supporting any of his arguments with facts, mostly just vitriol. In fact, this book is so full of bile that after a while the need to spit becomes part of the amusement that gets you through.

The stuff about rock music being symptomatic of America’s decline at the start was quite amusing. He does tend to seriously over state his case and this distracts from some of the often very insightful things he has to say.

His critique of love among American youth is a case in point. The thesis runs a bit like this. The woman’s movement has taken away the ground for ‘possessing’ a woman. Divorce and the ‘high turn over rates’ of sexual partners devalue sex to the point where it is no longer able to sustain ‘love’. Because people do not feel it is appropriate to possess another they feel it would be wrong to feel jealous if their partner had sex with someone else – but if this is the case then love itself is impossible, as we have no means of valuing our partners at all – you can only feel nothing over the infidelity of your partner if you feel nothing for your partner. No fault divorce and the women’s movement are the great villains here as they have removed the fairytale and thus removed all capacity to love.

Bloom, however, does not appear to be asking for a return to traditional family values – this seems to be gone forever and not even something he would want. He offers no solutions here, just feels that all he needs to do is identify the problem and the solution should be obvious. It wasn’t obvious for me, so, if he is offering a solution to this problem, I missed it.

Clearly, he has also overstated the problem – divorce and the women’s movement probably are guilty of ending lots of relationships that in the past would have grinded on to death – in a kind of living death – but I’m struggling here with the negative implication of that. I think his critique of lovelessness is less relevant to the young, when one is more likely to confuse love with sex anyway, as it might be to those in mid-life who find themselves questioning the value or even possibility of meaningful sexual relationships or of relationships generally that can be places where both people are able to grow and not whither in the dark shadows they cast upon each other.

The stuff on Nietzsche – particularly Nietzsche’s attraction for the left – is something I’ve been more or less arguing for years. I’ve always been surprised at how readily the left have adopted Friedrich as one of their own, when he is anything but. The injection of irrationalism into the left that Nietzsche represented is precisely the kind of dreadful error that has made the left the near complete irrelevance that it has become today, perhaps when we need it most.

The most abhorrent aspects of Nietzsche are not the little lines he drops in to shock – “Are you visiting woman, bring your whip” – but the obsessive focus on the individual and the adolescent, masturbatory gaze he casts over ‘the artist’ as the creator of new values.

And how teenage boys just love this crap – all of whom know their ‘will to power’ and that their proper place is supermen.

I figured before I started reading this I would disagree with much of it – in the end I was surprised by some of the things I ended up agreeing with. I don’t think rock music is really just ‘the rhythm of sex’ or needs be as blandly crap as Bloom makes out – but much of it is crap. I’ve no idea how many American kids read books – there certainly do seem to be a lot of Americans on this site, but I guess that could just be an aberration.

I was talking to a friend of mine about this book the other day and told him some of the themes and tried to explain Bloom’s tone – he was appalled and told me off for bothering to read such rubbish. And that is the problem, this stuff is written with such hysteria that it is likely to alienate people immediately. I believe this is a book that is adored by the rightwing in America – but I’m not totally sure why they would feel they get such comfort from it. I did not get the impression that this book was calling for a return to traditional values – just complaining about where the loss of these values (and there loss forever) has so far brought us.

I hadn’t realised that Allan was a different person to Harold, although, in so far as they both believe in the importance of ‘the canon’ and reading ‘great books’ I guess they might as well be the same person. It would certainly save time if they were…

Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,769 reviews204 followers
March 11, 2022
Education, Democracy, And Soul

The late Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" was an unexpected bestseller when it appeared in 1987. It is an outstanding work combining polemic against the diminution of American standards with serious thought about how we came to this impasse. Bloom's book is a testament to the power of ideas.

If "The Closing of the American Mind" captures Bloom's thought, his friend Saul Bellow's novel, "Ravelstein" (1996) captures much of Bloom the man. I think Bloom's book and Bellow's novel will be permanently intertwined in the history of American thought and literature. It is difficult to think of one without reflecting on the other.

The themes of Bloom's study are stated in its title and, more explicitly, in the subtitle of the book: "How Higher Education has failed Democracy and Impoverished the Soul's of Today's Students." I tried to capture these themes in the title of this review: Education, Democracy, and Soul.

The first theme of the book is education. Bloom argues that American higher education has lost its sense of purpose and direction. He finds this due to an emphasis on relativism and toleration and a reluctance to focus on questions of purpose and meaning. Similarly, Bloom finds American education has become overly politicized and attuned to the concerns of the moment. He urges that liberal education return to its initial function of searching for wisdom and for self-knowledge. While not every student need pursue the liberal arts (in fact, it is a rare enterprise), Bloom finds that these studies must be available for those interested, and honored, if University education is to produce thoughtful human beings and an informed community holding values and the pursuit of truth in common. Bloom finds the source of liberal studies in ancient Greece with Socrates and his great student, Plato.

The second theme of the book is democracy, and American constitutionalism. American democracy remains a precious experiment and Bloom traces its roots to enlightenment thought, particularly in John Locke. The basic values of our system are liberty and equality. Bloom ties democratic values into a society devoted to the pursuit of empirical knowledge rather than superstition. He returns frequently in his book to Alexis de Toqueville's "Democracy and America" which captured a great deal of the promise of our country while warning of the leveling and conformity that would result from an unchecked, uncritical approach to a society in which each person's opinions counted as much as each other person's. There is much fascinating but difficult material in this book about German anti-rationalists beginning with Nietzsche and proceeding through Max Weber and Heidegger. These thinkers espoused theories, Bloom argues, fundamentally at odds with American democracy. Their theories have been vulgarized and watered-down and form the basis, Bloom argues, for the preoccupations of modern America with "life-styles" and "commitments" rather than reason. Bloom's historical discussions are difficult and move rather too quickly at times, but they are thoughtful and rewarding.

The third theme of the book is soul. For Bloom, soul is what our young people and our country are in danger of losing. Soul is at first blush exemplified by the Socratic pursuit. It is a conviction that some things are worth knowing and pursuing and it is an attempt to find them through serious enterprise. Soul is a matter of love, passion and effort. Bloom finds "soul" compromised by an attitude of relativism, of too easy commitments, and of a desire to compromise somewhat too easily in matters of love to attain the necessity of sex. Lack of soul, for Bloom, is exemplified in the pursuit of rock music by the young and not-so-young as an attempt to find an emotional high without the attendant spiritual and intellectual effort.

This book is difficult reading and there are moments when the polemics get in the way of the thought. This notwithstanding, the book is a passionate and deeply informed treatment of the life of the mind and spirit.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Amy.
2,542 reviews381 followers
January 6, 2020
At times it feels like listening to your Republican grandpa at dinner. He begins by bewailing the modern tastes of young people (rock music and walkmans!) and how no one cares about getting a real education these days. The word curmudgeon comes to mind.
Unless you keep reading. Suddenly he begins to lay the groundwork for his complaints. It is rambling, to be sure, but profound and thought-provoking. It begins to shift the way you think. Then he is off on another tangent...Plato...Great Books...and once again forcing you to think about the purpose of education and how we educate.
Although I think many conservatives did--and do--consider this a politically useful work, it mostly focuses on philosophy and making the argument for how it went wrong in the universities. It talks about intellectual inheritances and how Americans, well, Americanized German thought.
If you are like me, the very names of Nietzsche or Hegel sound intimidating and incomprehensible. But Professor Bloom is clearly comfortable with both, as well as a great many other philosophers, and he expounds on them with enthusiasm. Although he often lost me in the middle of his point, by the end I always understood what he meant.
In this way, I guess, you could say Professor Bloom is very much the lecturer. Sometimes dry and incomprehensible, he yet pursues his subject with zeal and passion and forces you to really think about what he is saying. And what he says is not always comfortable. But it is worth pondering.
The crisp style and philosophical bend reminded me of Thomas Sowell, but instead of getting at ideas in politics, Professor Bloom gets at ideas in philosophy and education. He particularly focuses on the danger of relativism. He also comments on many of the ways American students differ from their European counterparts which I found particularly fascinating in our modern discussion of citizenship and integration.
I suspect this one will take a couple re-reads for me to fully understand.
Profile Image for Joshuacitrak.
21 reviews3 followers
November 15, 2012
Allan Bloom is a hysterical, raving, reactionary lunatic. he and his academia ilk are exactly the reason why education teaches kids nothing, because they know absolutely zero about the children they're supposed to teach. mostly, this book is little more than a "get off my lawn" diatribe against any and all (race, sex, drugs, rock music) youth fascinations, blaming each of them in turn for the "Closing of the American Mind."

Bloom continually condescends in the most irritating manner of the American intellectual elite; yammering on and on yearning for some lost set of ideals that never existed; kids who didn't slack off. Americans who knew their place. Businessmen who were kind and good, not greedy, because they'd read French poets in school. Quoting Socrates, Plato, Tocqueville to bolster arguments that are pointless and stupid, Bloom completely fails to engage and communicate anything meaningful, which of course may be the real reason his own Ivy League students seem so disengaged. That thought, of course, would never enter the author's mind in a million years. With guys like this, it's everyone else's fault you know.

Built on a false notion, this book can never succeed. However, that doesn't stop the author from telling us all the ways in which we're so stupid and he's so fucking smart. Bloom's problems? Liberalism. Integration. Equality. Without a class and caste system, youth have no set place! No reason or need to struggle! No reason to look up to the "elite" class! Kids these days, they accept everybody without prejudice! That's wrong! Because, because now we have women thinking they can learn stuff! Make decisions about things old men like me have already decided. And ask men out on dates and nobody blinks an eye! And black people! Right there! On campus! The horrors!
Profile Image for Scott Rhee.
1,789 reviews63 followers
February 13, 2014
I was in eighth grade when the late Allan Bloom's 1987 seminal classic "The Closing of the American Mind" was published. I remembered it because my parents, like thousands of other parents across the country, bought it and put it on the bookshelf proudly. And there it sat, unread, for almost two decades.

I wish that I had read it before I had gone off to college, but I will be honest, I probably wouldn't have understood it. I don't pretend to completely understand everything in it now, at age 40, but the majority of Bloom's fascinating, more often than not disturbing, occasionally humorous, sadly prophetic, and incredibly enjoyable criticism of higher education really struck a chord with me.

Perhaps because I fancy myself a writer/philosopher (albeit one lacking in motivation and output, if not necessarily talent), I was heartened by Professor Bloom's clear respect, admiration, and love of the humanities (which, at one point, Bloom refers to as the "lost continent of Atlantis" of the disciplines).

Humanities are, not to put to fine a point on it, the brutally beaten and left-for-dead crippled stepchild of the academic world. In public education, humanities have all but been entirely wiped out. (During financial crises requiring budget cuts, the Art and Music Departments are always the first to go.) Colleges and universities fare no better. The two sister disciplines, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences, are doing quite well, despite not being on speaking terms. I should say "WERE" doing well, at the time that Bloom wrote the book. I hesitate to say but am fairly certain that even the Natural Sciences are on the decline. Didn't our politicians and economists recently lament the fact that we rank as one of the countries with the lowest viable mathematicians and scientists? Yeah, well, politicians and economists are certainly doing well, despite the fact. I digress...

Bloom's immensely popular book did not arrive without much controversy, much of it not entirely his fault. In the late-80s and early-90s, many of Bloom's (misinterpreted) ideas were adopted by ultra-conservatives like Lynne Cheney and William Bennett to aid in their attack on academia's "multiculturalist" movement, seen by many critics as an attempt to de-throne the timeless classics of the Canon, a.k.a. the Great Books, a.k.a. the Dead White Guys.

Poor Bloom, of course, who died of AIDS in 1992, wasn't around to defend himself. Posthumously labeled a "racist", a "sexist", and, most humorously, a "homophobe" (Bloom was openly gay), the late professor's book was much-maligned but managed to persist in the consciousness of its many fans and detractors. Thankfully, Simon and Schuster has wonderfully republished the book in a shiny new 25th Anniversary Edition, with a new Afterword by Andrew Ferguson. I just bought it, and it's already dog-eared...

Here's some disturbing statistics (as mentioned by Ferguson in his 2012 Afterword): "...[T]he Association of College Trustees and Alumni surveyed the catalogs of more than one thousand colleges and universities. Fewer than 20 percent of the schools required courses in American government, only a third required a literature survey class, and 15 percent required anything more than a beginner's level class in a foreign language. (p. 392)" He goes on to say that what most colleges call "core curriculums" are nothing more than "shams" (his word, not mine).

Rather shocking, although it's something I honestly never thought about or even noticed when I went to college. I was rather happy to only have to take one math course (Intro to Statistics---yuck!), and I tested out of having to take a Spanish class my freshman year. In retrospect, though, those seven film courses I took my junior and senior year really haven't helped me much in the long run. (Other than to appreciate the mise-en-scene of Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" or the use of sound and lighting in "The Artist".)

Bloom looks at the whole picture and blames several things for the sad state of affairs within the halls of academe. The first is Moral Relativism. I remember, quite vividly, having wonderfully erudite and pretentious debates with my fellow students over coffee and pizza at the Student Center about this very subject. In comparison to Bloom, though, we were simply monkeys shrieking and flinging verbal poo. Perhaps it was because we were Moral Relativists. If there had been an actual intelligent Moral Absolutist in our midst, we probably would have crapped our pants. "What do you mean there is such a thing as Absolute Truth? That's absurd: everyone knows there is no such thing as Truth." Such was our "enlightened" post-modernist viewpoint.

My 20-year-old self would have never understood the points Bloom was making, especially in regards to the moral relativist disgust of prejudices and true belief, which I erroneously called "open-mindedness". Bloom makes the astoundingly good point, though, that certain prejudices are useful, even necessary, for intellectual growth. We can't actually "learn" if we don't also "unlearn". Bloom states, "True openness is the accompaniment of the desire to know, hence of the awareness of ignorance. To deny the possibility of knowing good and bad is to suppress true openness. (p. 40)" My 20-year-old self would have been dumbfounded and speechless. Bloom goes on to say that the result of this openness, which he called "the openness of indifference (p. 41)", resulted in student apathy, while the true openness that results in real learning "encourages the desire that animates and makes interesting every serious student---'I want to know what is good for me, what will make me happy'---while the former stunts that desire. (p. 41)" My 20-year-old self knew everything there was to possibly know. My 40-year-old self, Thank God, knows that I am simply scratching the surface.

Another factor in the failure of higher education is aliteracy. Aliteracy---as opposed to ILLITERACY---is an off-shoot of the afore-mentioned student apathy. Students don't read anymore. And since they don't read, they will seek to find knowledge and wisdom elsewhere, and in all the wrong places: "Lack of education simply results in students' seeking for enlightenment wherever it is readily available, without being able to distinguish between the sublime and trash, insight and propaganda. (p. 64)"

Keep in mind, too, that Bloom was writing this in '87. Long before the Internet, iPads, iPods, XBox, smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. made it so much easier for young people to avoid those things called books. Any high school English teacher and college professor of English will attest: students' reading and writing skills suck. Of course, part of the problem is the curriculum being taught.

Grammar (which I remember fondly as a series of deconstructing sentences into its respective parts: nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc.) is a completely foreign concept to most high school kids. They no longer read Emerson and Thoreau. They may get a Poe story, or a Shakespeare play, if they are lucky, but Literature is a four-letter word to students. Can you blame them? Literature means reading (an activity that interrupts valuable HALO- or Call of Duty-playing time) and then writing a five paragraph paper about it, which is difficult when they don't understand half of what they are reading and, in some cases, don't know what a paragraph is.

Bloom gets understandably hazy and weird around the midway point in the book, with talk about people with names like Tocqueville and Robespierre, Nietzche and Heidegger. Machievelli and Kant. Occasionally, a recognizable name like Marx or Paine pops up and I'm overjoyed that I (kind of) know who and what he is talking about.

In all seriousness, Bloom does an excellent job of attempting to elicit some of the main points of these famous (and famously prolix) philosophers, and at the very least, his discussion excites me enough to want to read more of these (sadly) forgotten thinkers. He brings them up because these deep thinkers of the human soul have been replaced with MBAs and students of political science---you know, the Mitt Romneys and Paul Ryans of the world.

Liberal Education is not what it used to be. Indeed, liberal education has been usurped by the New God of Money and a curriculum that services Him. Bloom, who taught for years at Cornell, says that things started changing for the worse in the 60s, when Cornell instituted a "plan for dealing with the problem of liberal education" which "was to suppress the students' longing for liberal education by encouraging their professionalism and their avarice, providing money and all the prestige the university had available to make careerism the centerpiece of the university. (p. 340)"

According to Bloom, the "radical truth" that colleges and universities are afraid to talk about is that their idea of this new liberal education isn't enough to warrant the four to five years they expect students to stay (and have their parents drop big bucks into). He writes, "If the focus is careers, there is hardly one specialty, outside the hardest of the hard natural sciences, which requires more than two years of preparatory training prior to graduate studies. The rest is just wasted time, or a period of ripening until the students are old enough for graduate studies. (p. 340)" According to Bloom, liberal education as it exists today is nothing more than a "fraud" being perpetrated on the masses of impressionable youth.

I hesitate to agree whole-heartedly with this assessment, as I am quite happy with the liberal education I received from the medium-size Midwestern university I attended. I am perfectly happy working in the Plumbing department at my local Home Depot because of it.
Profile Image for Mark.
42 reviews
July 24, 2010
They say you should write about something you know. Mr. Bloom knows more about closed minds than most, but I think he should have kept it to himself.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,663 followers
April 15, 2018
Bloom was so sure a few decades that we fixed racism and sexism that people were complaining for no reason. College campuses are segregated, he says, and it's not at all the fault of white students. Women are also still bitching even though every door is opened to them and we got rid of sexual harassment. I believe he spoke too soon. Still, reading this made we nostalgic for Bloom's sober and curmudgenly conservatism--so sure were they that the left would destroy American civilization that they forgot to watch out for the threat on the right that would eventually lead to the closing of the America mind, the sealing the lid and throwing away the key.

Bloom is absolutely right in his view of the problem--we need to read more books and engage more with absolute truth. We need to teach classic philosophy in schools. We need to have free, open, and intelligent debate. But he thinks the problem is basically the Civil Rights and the womens rights movement. I think the 60s were a confusing time--a terrifying one for the upholders of tradition, but I don't think the culprit was who he thought it was. Partly because I don't think there was ever a golden era of intellectualism. I think the past was just as stupid as the present.

Instead of this, I'd recommend Fantasyland (recent) or Anti-Illectualism in American life (older)
Profile Image for Angela.
576 reviews26 followers
April 11, 2011
I steadily read this book a few pages, sometimes even a few paragraphs, at a time for about two months. On page 160, I decided to give it up.

Mr. Bloom's politics and mine are totally incompatible.

At the risk of oversimplifying his thesis, I fail to see how short skirts, rock & roll, and encouraging college students to have open minds has (to quote the subtitle) "...Failed Democracy And Impoverished The Souls Of Today's Students." I believe one of the purposes of a liberal arts education is to inform students of alternate value systems, and invite them to question their own received values, not necessarily for the purpose of changing those values, but to promote a deeper understanding of them and be able to defend them with something other than "Daddy [or the Bible, or my teacher, or insert authority figure of your choice here] said it, I believe it, and that settles it." While I mostly agree with Mr. Bloom's condemnation of moral relativism, I don't agree that all issues are black and white issues. This is a shades-of-gray world, and we must be prepared to compromise upon occasion and in some areas. Each person's threshold of leniency will be different.

But then again, I'm a product of the education system the author so decries. I guess the brain-washing worked after all.
Profile Image for Canon.
573 reviews47 followers
November 24, 2021
The main thing to say about this is that I literally and repeatedly laughed-out-loud reading it. Bloom's writing is hilariously pompous, pedantic, and extreme. Cutesy. A professorial reverie that budded from Bloom's brain, detached and floated away from reality altogether. It is essentially the opus that Ignatius J. Reilly, had he managed to finally control his valve situation and compile all those crayon-scrawled notebooks strewn about his bedroom, would've given the world. So: highly recommended for its comedic literary qualities.

On a less humorous note, Bloom here delivers a classic conservative polemic against relativism, tolerance, open-mindedness, multiculturalism, pluralism, identity politics, liberalism, and similar bogeymen. It's a kind of field guide to many fronts of the Forever Culture War, i.e. the reactionary struggle that modern cultural conservatism — before, during, and since Bloom’s time — has largely consisted in. Amazingly, many of the points have not substantially changed in 30+ years. So: also highly recommended for its historical, cultural, and political interest.

Reading this manifesto helped me appreciate the subtlety and depth of other philosophical works I've read recently, such as Bernard Williams's thoughts on truth, truthfulness, and relativism (including musings on Nietzsche) in his Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy — subtlety and depth being qualities rather lacking here. (Speaking of Nietzsche, here's a good essay on Bloom's analysis of "The German Connection," which is important in his story about relativism and nihilism). In addition to Bloom's opining on relativism, there isn't much else in the book that I agree with in terms of his political platform or ideology. Bloom, of course, doesn't think he's being an ideologue. He thinks it's the universities that have degenerated into bastions of unthinking liberal ideology, whereas he, spiritual maverick that he is, has stripped away through sheer power of intellect all modern ideologies that clung like devilish mollusks to his noble homuncular soul, so that he now simply communes with the greatest minds of the Western Tradition in austere serenity, leafing these geniuses' great leather-bound tomes for revelations of wisdom and virtue, contemplating Man's true nature and ends. And, behold: the true nature of Man comports with the ethical teachings of the Moral Majority. So: not really recommended as a treatment of the issues Bloom complains about.

At times I have felt the utter contempt for the inanity of popular culture and the dullness of contemporary society that Bloom voices here, especially in Part I. In these moods I craved something greater, wished the world or the roles I could play in it were somehow more noble, challenging, heroic, high-minded, truthful. As I reflected on this, it seems that I especially felt this way in my last years of living at home, as an angsty teenager ready to move out and do something "meaningful." Hence my disaffection with the abtracta Society and Culture coincided with, or boiled down to, my adolescent frustrations living under my parents' roof. This gets back to the dynamic showcased by Ignatius J. Reilly, who sublimates his petty and selfish grievances into an indictment of Modernity, replete with abstract enemies called Bad Ideas that have ruined the world. At some point, I became more content with things.

At any rate, I recognize Bloom's disaffection is real and animates many people. Indeed, this sort of reactionary disaffection seems to be the alpha and omega for a certain way of thinking, i.e. the conservative mode — nearly everything that happens is fodder for it, evidence of how terrible society or culture has become. This mode of thought tends to be rather esoteric, as everything is subsumed by First Principles of Loss. Of course, the kind of story that Bloom tells here is not new. The story of the breakdown or fragmentation of modernity and the urgent need to retrieve some classical or medieval or transcendent worldview that has been lost is an established genre, with other great hits including Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory by Alasdair MacIntyre, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis A. Schaeffer, and Intelligent Guide To Modern Culture by Roger Scruton. I am intrigued and repelled by this genre. How each author traces the decline -- which Idea(s) or Thinker(s) is responsible -- is slightly different. Prescriptions differ as well. One might be induced by these books, with their show of erudition, to feel that one hasn't fully absorbed them, that one must reread them or treat them quasi-devotionally to finally glean all their riches. I used to feel this way, especially with some of the other books on the list several years ago, but I now think it's much simpler. They are not intellectually profound works, although getting through them can be challenging, as they are rather rebarbative and dense. Whether they present conventional or far flung interpretations of their intellectual culprits ("Locke's view was..."; "According to Marx...") or of the deleterious trends of history, to "get" Bloom or MacIntyre or Weaver or Schaeffer or whoever else writes in this genre, it's not necessary to carefully retrace or master their use of thinkers or history, but to simply recall their goal, which is to prove how things have declined and why, consequently, we now require whatever their proposed ideology or doctrinal system is, to retrieve paradise. The thing is, however, that writers in this genre always leave one with the sense that things are so far gone that their solution isn't a fix anyways. The real upshot is to be stuck with them in reaction, denial, and disaffection, embattled against the world. And that's not really a place I care to be, or that I think actually reflects reality. The final thing to say, and the reason I said this genre repels me, is that it constricts thought, making one feel hopelessly stuck in a narrow circle of complaint, endlessly playing with the names of famous dead thinkers and labels for ideas like baubles in a silly game. One really does want to turn back to reality at that point and leave the reactionaries behind.
Profile Image for John David.
322 reviews283 followers
October 1, 2014
Unless you were attending a university when this book was published, or have a special interest in the general ongoing dialogue we call the culture wars, "The Closing of the American Mind" may not be on your radar. When it first came out in 1987, it caused quite a fracas and became, I'm sure to everyone's (including Allan Bloom’s) surprise, a bestseller. It's difficult for me to imagine a book by an unprepossessing University of Chicago professor on the debilitating effects of Heidegger and Nietzsche on higher education becoming a bestseller today. This may only serve to bolster Bloom's case that the "liberal" attitude of openness has gone a few steps too far.

Or it might be the direct effect of Bloom's "voice" - which is, despite what any of his intellectual confreres say, by turns elitist, rankly unegalitarian, and possibly anti-democratic in content; in tone, he often comes off as the curmudgeonly old grandfather shaking his newspaper at you and telling you to get off of his lawn. I personally have no problem with the elitism or anti-democratic attitudes when it comes to teaching. There are, quite simply, some books that are better than others, and some ideas that are better than others, and having to pretend otherwise is simply to play the ostrich's game of sticking our heads in the sand. The better books should be taught for the moral education of the student body while inferior books should be set aside (surely to be picked up by many people who, after graduating from university and having been introduced to the greats, choose to eschew them and read pulp instead.) I, like Bloom, regret that recent American culture has lost the sense of education as a kind of moral training. Bloom's critics, however, also do him the grave disservice of hitching his tone onto the wagon that is the content of his intellectual argument. Who's going to take this cranky old man seriously - who sees an uncontrollable sexual release in a young teenage boy unashamedly gyrating his hips to rock 'n' roll, who unabashedly and unashamedly blames affirmative action as one of the contributing factors in the decadence of the contemporary American university, and whose explanation of the breakdown of the American family (if there indeed has been such a thing) is, quite charitably, described as "old-fashioned."

Bloom's argument is large and multifaceted; no review of a few hundred words could deal with it in all its complexity. What it claims at its base, though, is that certain attitudes popular in the sixties and seventies - universal acceptance, universal tolerance, the slow erosion of critical faculties - which eventually came to shape the minds of university students and even how university are administered. He claims, after Nietzsche, that we live in a time "beyond good and evil" - that is, where we have ceased not only looking for the differences in good versus bad (he archly points out that we describe nothing as "evil" anymore), but that we don't even know how to discern those differences. For Bloom, the moral education must consist of "a vision of the moral universe, reward for good, punishment for evil, and the drama of moral choices." That is, at the very least, an education in critical moral discernment. He argues that this is all but gone.

He claims - dubiously, I think - that he noticed a steep drop in the number of students who were interested in the "Great Books" from the time when he first started teaching in the United States in the early sixties to the time of writing this book. At many stages in his argument, Bloom seems to have counterfactually reimagined a world in which students walked into the university already well-versed in Plato, Homer, Stendahl, and Hegel, Aristotle, eager to be filled to the brim with The Wisdom Of The Masters. I think everyone was exposed to Homer in high school, but how many of us took it "seriously" - what Bloom would call seriously? Were they familiar with the importance of “xenia” and the “oikos” in Homer? (And no, you don’t get translations of those words.) I can speak from personal experience that many of teachers themselves didn't have the intellectual background to teach Homer this rigorously.

Richard Heffner, one of Bloom’s interlocutors following the popular press cavalcade after the release of the book, suggested during his interview with the professor that being an elitist might mean “thinking some questions are better answered by Hegel than by Joyce Brothers.” By that measure, I would imagine the vast majority of intelligent people are in fact elitists. Knowledge properly used and appropriately fostered quite simply makes you a better person. I think even the most obnoxious paladins of popular culture would admit that there is intellectual territory that Oprah’s Book Club hasn’t yet broached.

You may vehemently disagree with much of what Bloom has to say, or at least how he says it (it would put you in good company), but this comes highly suggested for anyone who thinks that answers to life’s “higher and deeper” questions deserve our most serious consideration. It serves as an honest refutation against the idea a few easy shibboleths of our times: that all answers are equally good, all educations are equally fulfilling and worthy, and all truths are equally valid.
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books210 followers
April 25, 2021
Grand old grouch bitches about the opening of American minds to self-critical, multi-perspective awareness. Parades stupefying hypocrisy to glorify his own ethnic community: "America tells one story: the unbroken, ineluctable progress of freedom and equality. From it's first settlers and its political foundings on, there has been no dispute that freedom and equality are the essence of justice for us."
Profile Image for Old Dog Diogenes.
65 reviews12 followers
September 18, 2022
This book was a very interesting analysis of the American education system. It seems that we are living out in a much broader scale many of the things he addresses here in 1987. Bloom tackles the history in this book both culturally and philosophically of the American psyche. Addressing everything from Rock'n'roll to our German philosophical heritage. I was astounded by the depth and width of his argument, and the majority of the time I was compelled to agree with him. His main claim is that the moral relativism or the general "openness" that is prominent in the American worldview due to toxic egalitarianism has caused Americans to close their minds to truth and has pushed us away from a classical education.

We would do well to remember that it was democracy that killed Socrates.

“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency -- the belief that the here and now is all there is.”

"Where the purpose of higher education once was to enable the student to find truth, the modern university teaches that there is no truth, only 'lifestyle.”

“Students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing.”

“The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness— and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings —is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

“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. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students' reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4. These are things you don't think about. The students' backgrounds are as various as America can provide. Some are religious, some atheists; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism and in their allegiance to equality. And the two are related in a moral inten- tion. The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society.”

“Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even specially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities.”

“Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.”
Profile Image for Kris.
1,229 reviews167 followers
March 29, 2020
I was enthralled with Part I and Bloom’s remarks on student habits, the purpose of universities, and the significant paradigm shift in academics in recent decades. Though written in 1987, his thoughts here are incredibly perceptive and relevant, perhaps even more so in today’s landscape. The race piece of all this has become even more charged than Bloom could have seen.

In Part II he lapses into a big section on philosophers and loses the attachment to the everyday lives of students on campus. Because he didn’t make direct connections and apply this philosophy to anything here, I sadly grew bored.

Then in Part III he dives back into students and universities with more awesome observations. It ended on a good note for me.

His commentary is biting at times — Bloom is experienced and clearly not afraid to speak his mind, which I loved.

Read Amy’s review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Having read this foundational text, next I want to check out The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.
Profile Image for Gary  Beauregard Bottomley.
935 reviews556 followers
July 21, 2014
It's easy to mock the author. Rock music leads to promiscuous sex, sex is bad when it has no consequences, blacks stick together, "no fault insurance, no fault divorce, and no fault sex" leads to lessening of our values, romantic love is dead, and so on, but that's not the reason he wrote the book and I won't mock him for those silly statements.

He does state that "tradition and myths even if they are not real" help us determine our real nature and develop our soul. Our individual values and valuing others opinions lessen our souls and anything that makes us see our world in relativistic terms instead of absolute values leads to the closing of the American mind for the student. There's nothing wrong with developing a thesis like this, but the author is such a poor writer it's hard to follow his line of thought and why it could be true. I, for one, wrestle with absolute verse relative truth and what does it mean.

"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds". The author must have a very large mind and never tires in showing it by quoting philosophers but never putting them in a context such that the listener can follow the author's points. Here's how the author approaches one of his typical points, "materialism leads to reductionism which gives you determinism". He leaves it at that. He never tells you why. I only can get the impression that he must be a dualist and doesn't like science but I get no reason why that's relevant. He says dignity originally only refereed to God, and science won't give it to us and creativity lies outside of the realm of science. I have no idea what he means, but I get the feeling that he doesn't like science.

He's got some muddled theory that is hard to decipher that the beginning of the end of the university happened because of the enlightenment, and it's really hard to figure out what he means since he is such a poor writer who loves to name drop and never let the reader know what he is really trying to say. It's something to do with valuing others diversity is very bad. Empathy, seeing from others point of view, is the downfall of everything. Fine, go ahead and write a coherent book that supports that viewpoint. The author doesn't.

He's most proud of reintroducing prejudice into his students (his words, not mine). Prejudice is what the fool uses instead of reason. He really seems to not to like science. The enlightenment is okay but went too far. I stopped listening after about three fourths of the book at the point he quoted Swift to support his view that the enlightenment had gone too far. I finally figured out that he meant those things he was trying to say. It is really hard to comprehend what he is saying. He seems to think democracy is very bad and aristocracy is the ideal we should strive for. But, I'm not sure since he is such a poor writer and it's hard to figure out what he is saying.

There is one good thing about this book it's that he clearly shows how not to approach critical reasoning. He challenges his student to name a great book, a hero, and asks does evil exist. I would have answered, "the best book ever on critical reasoning is "Origin of Species". Darwin is my hero (or sometimes I would say Abraham Lincoln, isn't it amazing my two heroes were born on the exact same day Feb 12,1809), and evil are people like you who want to tear us apart instead of bringing us together".

If I can save just one person from listening to this book, it was worth me suffering through it. (Oh, yeah, there are background conversations going on during the recording of the story. I found it quaint, but some could find it obnoxious. Another reason not to listen to this book!).
Profile Image for Andrew Morton.
2 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2007
The Closing of the American Mind is a thoughtful book, if somewhat overwrought at times. With that in mind, it's fair to say that the late professor Bloom's comments on education had some impact on reinvigorating my own interest in academics.

Professor Bloom examines the educational development taking place (then in the 1980s) taking place particularly in elite higher education in the US. While some argue that his appreciation for classical literature and education is antiquated and out of date, I think that misses the broader point. Professor Bloom is primarily concerned with the (perceived) failure of higher education to ground students in those ideas and ideals that gave rise to the modern educational institution in the first place. To the extent that this yields a skeptical view of some modern alterations to the higher education edifice, he might be perceived as conservative.

Whatever label we might attach to his views for our own convenience, Professor Bloom's views bear more than cursory glance based on personal predispositions. His critique is fundamentally about education, about how our elite institutions equip their students to be leaders in society, and about whether that education facilitates the well examined life.

While the book as prose drags somewhat in the midsection, this is interesting and thoughtful non-fiction on the nature and principles of education.
Profile Image for MM.
105 reviews2 followers
June 9, 2016
After reading this book, I was inspired to write the following:


On Graduating

I have been wondering for a while now what I have gained from the past four years at University. When I refused a practical, career-driven Accounting program at [University] for the sake of studying Cognitive Science at [my University], I thought I was making the right choice. I wanted to be educated. Cognitive Science promised something beyond rote office learning, manmade laws to accommodate white collar workers' deficiencies, the dulling rule of pragmatism that normally propels our decisions.

What was it that attracted me to Cognitive Science? Looking back, it was the promise of true knowledge. Naive 17 year-old Munema yearned to know what consciousness was, if she had free will, how her psychology worked so that she could exploit it. Cognitive Science - the science of studying cognition, of thoughts, of what enables us to do what we do and why we are what we are. It was a seductive dream: to study what makes me me with the noble scientific method! Not alone, but with my peers, equally driven by a desire to know and understand.

I entered University to be educated. It has now become clear to me, after four years, that that has not happened.

In my first year, I was primarily occupied with the state of cafeteria food (for the record: not that bad) and making friends. In my second year, a bit more settled in, I was obsessed with my apartment and hosting dinner parties, while taking advantage of multiple choice exams to pass classes. My third year was the first time I was truly challenged. I failed that challenge, because I did not expect it. The ease of the first two years had made me lethargic and lazy. But that was only one class - the rest were fine - and I barely noticed the dip in my GPA. Third year was a breeze, and I decided what career I wished to pursue (the dream over, so soon!). It was not until my last year, when I decided to take some seminar classes, that I was rewarded by actually learning something worth knowing. Perhaps I even became slightly more adept at conversing, formulating my thoughts, researching.

Over these four years, it has become increasingly clear to me that a University does not aim to educate you. Street smart students know this already and do not expect to learn anything beyond applied science. They study computer science, engineering - the usual useful fields - do well, and get jobs.

Those of us who come to University with only vague longings and a sense of incompleteness, however, receive no guidance. There is no general education given to us. We choose most of our courses ourselves, patching together a degree based off of ignorance and ratemyprofs.com. Rather than being a community of people who seek to reflect upon the most beautiful, most useless, most profound truths of life together, we cannot even speak the same language. A Rosetta Stone is denied to us because a liberal education is not provided.

What did I end up learning at University? I learned that I should find out who I am - not as in the Delphic "Know thyself!", but to satisfy my infinite insatiable desires that make me "true to myself". I learned that I am not primarily a reasonable being, but rather a sectarian being; that the Muslim Student Association did more for me than any seminar class I ever took. I learned that there are people with different cultures and communities and views, but I did not learn what to do with this unintentional assault on my own beliefs, and I shrunk back to relativism as a refuge. I developed a basic class consciousness, a self-hatred that I believe inconspicuously runs through every middle-class person cognizant of their privilege to be at University. My assumptions were questioned, but not in the classroom, nor even amongst my classmates, but by the great city of [__]. How fortunate I am that [my University] happens to be seated in a hub of cultural activity!

But I did not enter University to find a "home" or to gain an "experience", to make "memories" that I could recount to my children. Surely all of these things I could have found elsewhere - an amusement park, marriage, experimenting with drugs, travelling. I entered it because it held promises of being an ivory tower. Along the way, I met excellent people - people who showed me that with the right passion and dedication, you can do anything. You can save the world, you can cure cancer, you can end world hunger. But, with all due respect, I did not aim so high. At my more modest request of knowing wisdom, University failed me.

I should have known this would be the case from my first Psychology class at [my University]. The professor informed us sombrely, "This class does not give you licence to diagnose yourself or others." It should have been clear to me from that moment that I would not be learning anything relevant to my hopes in the program.

But at least I was provided with a warning of the danger of applying the information in Psychology. It showed a respect for the field, a trust that it holds serious power and can influence a person at least potentially. No such cautiousness was to be found before Philosophy classes. So confident are the professors in the impotence of the work they do that they did not feel the need to guide us. It seems that for questions of being and nature as a whole, we are all creators. And, since traditional answers have already been thrust aside as silly, ancient knowers and figures studied more or less as mummified curiosities, we are creators ex nihilo.

The problem, of course, is that despite studying in an interdisciplinary faculty, I have no indication that what I studied has any relation to what the other 20,000 undergraduates at [my University] study. There is no sense of a greater whole. There is no purpose greater than the individual. The applied sciences hold more esteem than those that mothered them. Although each field if pursued to its limit points beyond itself, the structure of faculties indicating a relation between their majors, and conferences assuring us of the importance of shared knowledge, this is easily forgotten in the daily grind of study. And, once forgotten, it lays dormant and is not resuscitated even on convocation day, when the different faculties gather on different days to celebrate their vastly different achievements.

It seems, then, that University is not serious about educating the men and women who enter its gates. Instead of refining the souls of its students, it cultivates their skills. Everybody knows, after all, that an essay can be written in a day (a night with the right kind of pill), but lab skills require weeks to perfect. Why not focus on the latter then? A University encounters, every Fall, malleable young minds ready to be moulded into whatever shape they can be. Why mould them into cynics?

Perhaps it was my own fault. Maybe I did not take the right classes, choose the right major, or read the right books. Maybe I was too slow to realise that classes are not where most of the learning happens. Maybe I ought to have spent more time in the library. Maybe my expectations were misplaced to begin with. I don’t know.

This is not to say that University has been a waste of time. I have made wonderful friends and changed in a lot of ways, hopefully for the better. But it certainly was not the institution dedicated to intellectual pursuits that I had hoped it would be. And, at the end of four years, I can’t be sure that I wouldn’t have been better off studying Accounting after all.

When choosing which graduation photo to make as my Facebook profile photo, I was torn. There was one where the photographer placed a rolled-up scroll in my hand, placed a cap on my head, and had me smile charmingly at the camera. At first I was about to choose this captivating photo of a university student graduating from four years of pursuing knowledge holding a scroll to symbolize the seriousness and the honour of having been a University student. But it seemed wrong. It was wrong. I have not been a student of knowledge; at least, not any knowledge worth knowing. Nor can I claim to be worthy of that parchment which should mean so much. Nor the Oxford cap, with its long history. Nor the ceremonial robes, indicating the dignity of a scholar.

So instead, I chose what is my current photo: an uncapped uninitiated girl donning as little regalia as possible, gazing hopefully into the distance - beyond academic advisors and GPAs, beyond Rez and cafeteria food, beyond campus politics and elections, beyond University itself, to a land where there is wisdom and where there is truth.
Profile Image for Teri.
211 reviews4 followers
July 27, 2011
I haven't actually read this - but it's on my list. However, I couldn't just share the review below unless I listed this book as having been read. So... here is the review that has me watering at the mouth to read this book. I got the review off Amazon. Enjoy! - - Teri

When The Closing of The American Mind was published in 1987, it instantly ignited a firestorm of praise and condemnation. Conservatives hailed it as vindication of their long-ignored criticisms about American culture in general and higher education in particular. Liberals denounced it as elitist and intolerant, and they said Bloom wanted to keep students ignorant of other cultures so he could indoctrinate them with his. Neither side had it right. The Closing of The American Mind is, as Bloom put it in his preface, "a meditation on the state of our souls."

Both sides were wrong about the book because they didn't read it carefully enough. Liberals read Bloom's argument for philosophy as an attempt to purge non-white, non-European writers from the cannon on grounds of cultural purity. Conservatives read his plea as an attempt to run all the liberal professors out of academia and replace them with conservatives. But a careful reading of Bloom would quickly prove both of these interpretations false.

Bloom believed Plato's cave was culture, whether that culture was western or not (after all, it was Plato's description of his own culture that created the idea of the cave). Bloom's argument was that students should be forced to read the works of the great philosophers because those writers are the only ones who dealt with the fundamental question of life: what is man. Bloom believed it was the university's mission to equip students with the tools that would enable them to seek the answer to this question and to lead a philosophical life. Only the great philosophers were capable of introducing students to the deepest and most profound life, and without this introduction, students would forever remain in their respective caves.

Bloom never was a conservative, nor was he one who wished to impose his "culture" on others. Simply put, he was a scholar who wished to make his students think - to truly think - about the nature of their existence and of society. The goal of Bloom's book was to show how Americans of all political persuasions, social backgrounds and economic conditions are debating within a narrow modern world-view and have simply accepted as fact a mushy blend of modern theory that repeatedly contradicts itself and stands in sharp contrast to an almost entirely forgotten world of opposing thought: that of the ancients.

In other words, Americans are incapable of true self-examination and self-understanding because they are ignorant of ancient philosophy, which poses the only alternative to the modern concept of man. What Bloom does with The Closing of The American Mind is expose the great Oz by asking him life's deepest questions. Bloom asks the same questions of today's professors and students that the ancient philosophers asked of themselves and their students. He finds that not only does no one have an answer, but no one even understands the questions.

Bloom's confrontation exposes the modern American university for what it really is: one big self-esteem seminar where students are taught self-validation instead of self-examination. Professors are not forcing students to confront the most serious questions of life, but rather are handing them scrolls of paper certifying that the university has bestowed on them qualities which, in fact, they already possessed, those being "openness" and "tolerance."

Of students, Bloom writes, "The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable and natural rights that used to be the traditional grounds for a free society."

The university, he shows, does nothing to contest this belief, but feeds it instead. The end result is that there can be no more truth or goodness and no need or even ability to make tough choices. Where the purpose of higher education once was to enable the student to find truth, the modern university teaches that there is no truth, only "lifestyle."

There exist in the world polar opposites. Bloom lists "reason-revelation, freedom-necessity, democracy-aristocracy, good-evil, body-soul, self-other, city-man, eternity-time, being-nothing." Serious thought requires recognition of the existence of these opposites and the choice of one over the other. "A serious life means being fully aware of the alternatives, thinking about them with all the intensity one brings to bear on life-and-death questions, in full recognition that every choice is a great risk with necessary consequences that are hard to bear," Bloom says.

He argues persuasively that the modern university does not force students to confront these alternatives at all, much less seriously think about them. Therefore, the modern university fails in its purpose, which is to create students aware of the vast array of possibilities that life offers and capable of choosing the good life.

Bloom has been harshly, and is still continually, accused of trying to force his own ideology on his students. But even a cursory reading of The Closing of The American Mind will disprove this silly accusation. Bloom simply wanted to make students think, to make them understand that there are different ideas of what man is and that they must confront these ideas if they wish to lead a meaningful life. This, he believed, was the university's purpose because it is there and only there that students would be exposed to alternatives to the prevailing intellectual trends. Life will happen to the students, he said, they don't need the university to provide it for them. They need the university to equip them for making the choices that will lead them to the best, most fulfilling life - the philosophical life. It is precisely for this reason that universities exist, and it is precisely this task that they now fail to accomplish.

Bloom's book remains important a decade after its publication because of the depth of Bloom's intellect and the thoroughness of his analysis. Only the last third of The Closing of The American Mind focuses on the modern university. Bloom spends the first two-thirds of the book explaining the modern mind-set and contrasting it with the ancient and the enlightened. He demonstrates the shallowness of the modern mind by repeatedly beating it about the head with Aristotle, Plato, Rousseau, Tocqueville, Hobbes, Locke, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel and Heidegger. With this tactic, Bloom tears apart the vapid pop psychology that passes as deep thought and holds up the shreds for the reader to see their thinness.

But Bloom's attack is also instruction. Through it he takes the reader on an intellectual history tour in which he tracks the evolution of modern thought. Focusing on key words in today's usage, such as "lifestyle," "relationship" and "commitment," he retraces them through history to discover their origins and their true meanings. He then contrasts these words with the ones they replaced, such as "duty," "honor," "love." The depth and complexity of the ancient concepts overpowers the shallow convenience of the modern ones. Bloom tells how, when he showed this contrast to his students, they didn't care. Worse, they recoiled at the very thought of being bound by duty or honor or love as opposed to being committed to relationships via contract.

This contrast is at the heart of Bloom's book: whether humans are truth-seeking creatures who live for the purpose of pleasing God and discovering the good, or whether they are truth-creating creatures who live only for the purpose of satisfying their animal needs and preventing the bad. Bloom believes the former, modernity the latter. Bloom knew that his book would not solve the question or ennoble America. But it would reintroduce the question, which is all that he wanted the university to do. It is tragic that, as he predicted, the universities would cast him out as a heretic instead of making themselves his disciples.
Profile Image for Ahmad Abdul Rahim.
115 reviews40 followers
May 15, 2015
Buku ini teramatlah payah untuk dibaca. Aku harus mengakui bahawa aku tidak memahami kebanyakan perkara yg disebutkan pengarang. Tentang Nietzsche-sasi, Heideggernisasi; minda-budaya Jerman yang telah menerobos masuk ke dalam kesedaran universiti2 di Amerika; signifikasi zaman 60-an kepada kelangsungan universiti sebagai pendukung kersarjanaan ilmu di Amerika. Jarak topik yang disentuh penulis begitu luas. Setiap satunya pula mempunyai medan makna dan sejarah yang tersendiri. Buku ini dikatakan antara best-seller tahun 87 dengan jualan melebihi 1 juta naskhah di Amerika. Selepas membacanya, Aku ragu2 samada jumlah org yg benar2 membacanya adalah sama ramai dengan yang membeli.

First of all apakah kategori yg sesuai bagi buku ini? Untuk menjawab persoalan yg paling asas itupun pembaca bakal menghadapi dilema. Penulis tampaknya -bagi aku- meniatkan penulisannya ini sebagai satu kritikan sosial. Tetapi kritikan sosialnya ini berbentuk interogatif bukan preskriptif; that is, penulis tak menawarkan sebarang solusi di akhir (sounds familiar?). Cara interogatif yg dibawakan penulis ini membenarkan dia meneroka persoalan2 utamanya (bahawa Amerika sedang melalui detik keruduman, yg mana puncanya bukanlah politik atau sosial atau ekonomi sebaliknya intelektual) dengan lensa yg pelbagai. Justeru ada kalanya beliau membawa ke hadapan hasil pemerhatian beliau terhadap anak2 muda di universiti Amerika yg mana beliau mempunyai pengalaman hampir 40 tahun mengajar; ada waktunya Bloom cuba untuk menjejak kembali sisa2 sejarah terhadap fenomena2 tersebut dan hal ini menyebabkan terdapat sisi 'intelectual history' dalam buku tersebut.

Mana sisi2 dan kaedah analisis yg pembaca perhatikan dalam buku ini, aku fikir mereka2 yg menyelak lembaran buku The closing of American mind ini tidak dapat tidak akan menyedari bahawa isu2 yg disebutkan penulis adalah maha penting. Penulis sendiri bukan orang sebarangan untuk diketepikan pandangannya. Beliau merupakan penterjemah dari Greek kepada Inggeris karya Plato, The Republic dan karya intelektual Perancia Rosseau, Emile. Dari kenyataan2 dan lontaran pendapat berani beliau (tidak sikit boleh didapati dalam penulisannya) jelas sekali Bloom adalah seorang tradisional/konservatif dalam pendirian beliau: that is he believes there are eternal truths thay can be found throughout the writings of the thinkera and founders of the western civilization. Allan bloom juga menempelak fenomena "cultural relativism" yg marak dalam kalangan anak muda. Terdapat kontinuum dalam pendapat2 beliau ini di mana beliau mahu menegaskan eternal truths tersebut tak boleh direndahkan martabatnya dgn daya relativism yg cuba merendahkan aristotle dgn berkata aristotle tidak mengiktiraf keupayaan berfikir kaum hawa, atau amalan demokrasi di Athens hanya terhad kepada gol2 aristokrat iaitu sekitar 30% shj dari jumlah rakyat ketika itu, atau bahawa Jefferson salah seorang founding fathers of America yg menegaskan setiap manusia adalah saksama dalam Deklarasi Kemerdekaan AmerikA sendiri mengamalkan perhambaan.

Analisis2 tajam Bloom mungkin sukar diterima oleh ramai org. Aku kira hampir semua kritikan beliau tiada sandaran data atau statistik (yakni tidak kuantitatif) oleh itu ramai pembaca akan tergoda utk menyifatkan pendapat beliau sebagai satu pendapat yg subjektif. Namun utk pembaca2 serius, mereka pasti kan sedar nilai kebenaran yg terkandung dlm andaian2 dan asumpsi beliau.

Bloom mengatakan antaranya bahawa generasi anak muda kini adalah optimistik dan naif. Mereka adalah generasi2 terawal yg menikmati keamanan, kesejahteraan dan kekayaan dgn percuma dari org2 terdahulu. Justeru mereka tiada keghairahan atau suatu rasa romantis terhadap sejarah, terhadap idea kebebasan, terhadap menilai apa itu kebaikan dan keburukan - indeed Bloom nampaknya mengisyaratkan bahawa the whole discourse on freedom, rights widespread in our age right now is no more than lip service or mere repetitions of old ideas.

Selain itu antara part kegemaran aku adalah sewaktu Bloom menyentuh fenomena relativism di mana kanak2 sekolah menengah sekarang dgn selambanya menciplak sisa2 hikmah Socrates dgn mengatakn "Kebenaran itu relatif" sedangkan Socrates mengucapkan kata2 tersebut ("apa yg aku tahu dgn yakin adalah bahawasanya aku tidak tahu apa2") di akhir kehidupan beliau selepas bertahun2 beliau berdialog dgn Sufastaiyyah di Greece ketika itu dan juga dialog bersama org kenamaan dan rakyat marhaen. Itupun Socrates bukanlah menafikan kebenaran mutlak sebetulnya (the real meaning of that Socratis wisdom is very convoluted and you need to know some historical context to really grasp it).

Buku ini adalah suatu buku yg sangat unik walaupun sekali pandang ia merupakan tajuknya (american mind) yg tiada kaitan dgn aku. Tetapi aku dapati mesej2 dalam buku ini begitu berkuasa dan berbekas. Aku tidak pastmti samada aku mampu menjumpai buku yg sebegini pada masa akan datang.
Profile Image for Greg Talbot.
513 reviews15 followers
June 15, 2014
Feebeled young minds of America, watch out! Allan Bloom takes on 'Higher Education'. He attempts to show how its weak-spirited curriculum has little to help the young grow and prosper
into fully realized educated adults.

With heaviness and drama, Bloom explains how contemporary culture - music, books,cultural thought, relationships pale in comparison to the classics. Wistfully he ponders how his pure heart opened with joy when he first came to University of Chicago, and became acquainted with the classic thinkers: Rousseau, Plato, Nietzche.

Bloom is certainly from another time and place (and proud of it!). I can look past the snobbery and high-browed judgement to a degree. The cardinal complaint is just how often Bloom abandons his argument. He mixes personal experience, classical literature and very much his own whipped up opinion on everything in between. It's the effect of someone talking down to you for hours about the good old days, and how poor your experience is. Bloom comes off as an educated idiot: bloated opinions, thoughtless in thoughts and out of touch.

I'm struck by how many complaints of higher education are not even acknowledged in this book.. Bloom's book was written before the astronomical rise of college costs. It was conceived before the 2008 housing depression and jobless recovery. The book was written before the emphasis on "No Child Left Behind" and standardized test mentalities. The

Bloom's book did spawn all types of ideas for me. How can a book be so big, but offer so little? How did this book become a cultural phenomenon in 1987? What is prescriptive here, or is it all naval gazing?

Questioning cultural relativity and questioning the educational model of university programs is the type of book I would be interested in. The leaders that Bloom is enamored with (Marx, Heidegger, Plato) also fascinate me. There is a lot that can be learned from the source material of those thinkers.

Bloom really gets in the way of any argument and prevents any learning experience . There are types I sympathize with some his views, and admire his defense of high art and classical tradition. His praise of great literature in particular was rousing, and I too agree much can be learned from reading it. Frankly the book is more an expression of his own fancies than any well-delivered prescription.
Profile Image for Clif.
430 reviews115 followers
November 24, 2021
I've never been less hesitant in giving a book five stars.

This is the work of a brilliant mind and it shows with insight on almost every page. By insight, I mean the ability to take what one knows to look beneath the surface of a subject and show it in a different way from what is apparent on the surface. Bloom is employing a learned ability exactly as he would wish everyone to be able to do, but that, as he shows in his text, is something that they can no longer do for themselves due to the lack of an education that is no longer available. It isn't that people are stupid these days, it is that their minds no longer are given the nourishment needed to stimulate the thoughts that would allow them to swim beyond the wading end of the pool of thought.

The Closing of the American Mind is a tragic book because it documents a loss that cannot be regained. The thoughts of the greats in Western philosophy are left in books unopened by a shallow culture that places natural science above all. If science cannot tell us about something, then there is nothing worth knowing about it. Since reading the works of the philosophers is a challenge, why bother to make the effort when they could not know what we know now so have nothing to say to our situation?

How wrong this attitude is the book proves by showing how modern thinking has come to be, developed over the years since the Renaissance, becoming more clearly defined during the Enlightenment and ending in the coup de grace provided by deconstruction which tells us that not only can the reader not know the thinking of an author, the author him/herself is equally unable to express the reason for his/her own text.

We the ignorant do not realize that those musty philosophers directly addressed the conflicting ways of looking at the world that has now become so dominated by a single outlook that for things to be different, except in science fiction, is almost beyond the modern imagination. We are unable to think of any other way of living than what we are given. In this way we truly are at the end of history.

The thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche, an extremely difficult philosopher to read, play a prominent part in this book and it is a joy for the reader that his thoughts are made crystal clear and put into context with the thoughts of Rousseau, Locke, Descartes, and Machiavelli (and others) to provide a grand tour of Western thinking. Literature plays a part as well with Shakespeare and Swift, to name only two of many authors, woven into the story. Let's not forget Freud and Weber. Bloom presents it all as the development it has been leading up to now. A particular philosopher thought X, another thought Y. Events showed that there were problems with each line of thinking. Then another philosopher had a new idea that caught fire. Never has a better story of philosophy been told.

This epic account of the life of the mind is nothing if not stimulating and exciting. Yes, Bloom tells us, there is a reason we have arrived where we are, but it is a sorry state coming at the end of an efflorescence of reason over recent centuries after a long sleep since the daring thoughts of the ancient Greeks showed the way. The excitement of a circus of the mind has ended in nothing but the faint traces of where the tent used to stand with no concept of the acts that took place within.

There's an account of the history of the university, the place where Bloom spent his working life, with a deadly and humorous account of the different departments in relation to each other. The author tells of how the humanities, with philosophy in particular, were once at the height of scholarship breaking ground time and again in the conceptualization of humanity. Now, the humanities department is usually small, primarily a storehouse of old books and with a faculty at a loss for how to present the great works to a the student body bored by them. Meanwhile natural science blazes a path and students flock to business schools to make a buck with the pretense of understanding how people behave as homo economicus.

The meaning of education is never far from Bloom's mind. There is the dichotomy of passion and reason. It had been thought that sublimation of passion was an excellent way of turning on youth to reason by providing the mind with activity driven by the power of sexual awakening. The scheme is laid out in detail in Rousseau's classic Emile. The climax of intercourse is not to be experienced until the mind is set in the ways of reason. The youth is not to know how his longing can be quickly satisfied by the oppose sex until after he has been stimulated to think deeply, an occupation for a lifetime, before enjoying the momentary stimulation of the body. The hints of this educational thinking can still be seen in concrete over the entrances to very old school buildings, one labeled BOYS and another GIRLS.

But today sex is routine at college and by no means a big deal. You learn stuff and you enjoy sex with no connection seen between the two. The great mystery of sex is laughable, though it must be admitted relationships are transitory and it can be hard for each sex to figure out what goes beyond the immediate desires of the other. Bloom takes time to look at the modern student and laments the lack of vision, the acceptance of what is as what must be, the inability to imagine there being any alternative. College as a place to deepen the character with courses in the humanities that start one on a lifetime of becoming one's best self by examining what one does with an enlightened mind is history. You go, you have fun, you learn a specialty, you go to work. Education flattened.

The Closing of the American Mind is a great achievement, the result of anguish over loss, a last stand, a cry from the heart of a brilliant man to minds no longer open to a joy which has always been unique to man, still remains, but for which the young are no longer primed. Among many hundreds of books, it is one of if not the most important I have read. I am reminded of the story of a friend of mine who has bad vision. This was for some reason not detected for some time when he was young. He was accustomed to everything being blurry when he received his first glasses. He recalls the excitement and joy when he put them on and the world was new. Allan Bloom might make the analogy that we are like my friend in the development of the mind, but unlike it was for my fortunate friend, how to make glasses has been forgotten.
Profile Image for sologdin.
1,702 reviews605 followers
January 10, 2015
was expecting this to be a more charming version of Kimball's awful Tenured Radicals, but it is rather much more rigorous and thoughtful. that said, am still reading it as 'wrong.'

author reveals his major malfunction late in the text, which occurred during a campus altercation wherein certain left activists occupied university buildings and apparently took hostages of university personnel. this event, and university's failure to discipline, soured author on entire left project in the '60s, if indeed he was ever sympathetic.

worth reading however as author is certainly intelligent and deliberative. he is also a proponent of liberal education in the classical sense, and does not like it when campus lefties allegedly shut everything down through their allegedly dogmatic political praxis. i for one am not interested in allowing race or sex discrimination in the name of openness, so am not sure if there is any common ground to be found with author (not that he advocates for discrimination, of course).
38 reviews4 followers
April 7, 2008
One of the most influential books I've read in the last five years. The presentation of a brilliant mind. From a man that is an atheist, homosexual, and conservative. Not conservative in the Ronald Reagan sense. Conservative in that he admires Nietzsche and longs for ancient Athens. A very brilliant analysis of modern culture.
Profile Image for Mike.
27 reviews12 followers
July 29, 2009
This is a challenging (read: worthwhile) book for anyone who has any interest in defining, experiencing, or achieving education. Bloom's discussion of campus politics and the newly arrived student's hopes and frustrations cut too close to the bone for the general criticisms to hold much water; Noam Chomsky, as usual almost impossibly dismissive, called it mind-bogglingly stupid, and Lawrence Levine devoted an entire book to an argument that Bloom accepts and places in context in a few short pages. Bloom's discussion of the student unrest that took place at Cornell in the late sixties makes the book of particular interest to those who went to school there, either before the protests or in their aftermath.
18 reviews3 followers
June 13, 2007
an analylitical look at the culture that is modern western society. our society as seen through the eyes of his 40+ years as a professor at an elite university and the degradation of mankind in the west (with plenty to say about the rest of the world, too). doesn't sound too compelling, but unlike the other half-million books on this subject, bloom's insights are at once intellectually honest, relevant and, at times, stunning. bloom dares you to reason with him. here he had placed political correctness and moral relativism on trial before the concepts were even catch-phrases in modern pop-culture.
Profile Image for Julie.
74 reviews
August 10, 2010
This author is right on! What an amazing statement about how our society and its education have deteriorated. Allan Bloom points the finger at the families that have not taught morals or religion. New students coming to the universities from broken homes and broken morals cannot relate to the classical education wherein lies the meaning of life and the portrait of human nature. They end up seeking only a general or specialized training in a career and forego the real education from the great minds in the ancient or modern classics, in which the heart and mind are trained to become real leaders and modern statesmen.
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Author 6 books242 followers
January 12, 2021
We are sometimes interested, in these electronic pages, not only in perennial classics but also in the popular books of past eras, at least ones that are still relevant in the present but intriguingly distant from our own insistent concerns and obsessions. Philosopher Allan Bloom's epochal and bestselling 1987 polemic—a key text in the rise of neoconservatism—meets both criteria. It also meets another criterion, that of being broadly misunderstood and therefore worth clarifying. This is not, for instance, an obviously Reaganite book, if the Reagan era connotes a period of money-minded success-worship. While Bloom expresses approval of Reagan's calling the USSR the "evil empire," which has a pleasingly metaphysical ring to it as opposed to talk of communism's merely different "values," he otherwise dismisses the Gipper as a celebrity vulgarian and seems to prefer Jimmy Carter among then-recent presidents as the more earnest Christian. Tellingly, Bloom also describes the introduction of the MBA degree into the university as a "great disaster" that orients education away from an investigation of the true and the good and toward mere greed and materialism.

With these misconceptions out of the way, back to our first two criteria: still relevant but alien to the present. Contemporary American liberalism now finds itself stretched so thin in its war against a many-headed hydra of populist irrationalism and reactionism that one of its wings will, if it's being consistent, have to issue apologies for ever having spurned this book as a mere neoconservative screed, while another of its factions will have to redouble the original denunciation and expel the wicked text from polite consideration. To take the second proposition first, the germinal event for Bloom's thinking about relativism and the university was an armed occupation of Cornell University buildings by African-American students advocating curricular and other reforms in the late 1960s. Young people brandishing guns in the name of collective racial rights notoriously evoked for Bloom the specter of fascism, and his manifesto consequently likens faculty supporting the insurgency to Heidegger saluting Nazi youth in the 1930s. Bloom gathers the whole '60s counterculture, artistic and political, into one shock-the-bourgeoisie corps of Hitler Youth animated by the Dionysian spirit of music in perhaps the book's most infamous sentence: "Whether it be Nuremberg or Woodstock, the principle is the same." He goes on:
The fact that in Germany the politics were of the Right and in the United States of the Left should not mislead us. In both places the universities gave way under the pressure of mass movements, and did so in large measure because they thought those movements possessed a moral truth superior to any the university could provide. Commitment was understood to be profounder than science, passion than reason, history than nature, the young than the old. In fact, as I have argued, the thought was really the same. The New Left in America was a Nietzscheanized-Heideggerianized Left. The unthinking hatred of "bourgeois society" was exactly the same in both places.
If there can be no ethical boundary to an oppressed party's fight for its rights, including open political violence, if there can be no equivocation about a universal ethic of resistance when particular rights are infringed, as one faction of American left-liberalism claimed in the 1960s and now claims again, then Bloom's avowed admiration for Lincoln, King, and the inherent anti-racism of the Constitutional order ("Black slavery was an aberration that had to be extinguished, not a permanent feature of our national life"), coupled with his abhorrence for Black Power, will come across as little more than a white (Jewish) man's privileged evasion. Yet Bloom is most aggrieved not by identity politics as such but by the relativism that in his view subtends it, and this emphasis may deserve our attention in a period of public epistemological crisis. Bloom moreover traces the influence of relativism on American life to a series of antecedents that the contemporary liberal will want to take seriously, including early-20th-century Confederate apologists for whom slavery and Jim Crow were just one more expression of pluralist American culture, and thinkers like Nietzsche and Heidegger and their later popularizers, for whom there is no truth and no good but only humanly-constructed values.

Bloom's book is not, however, a polemic against "postmodernism": Bloom never uses this word, dismisses Derrida, Foucault, and Barthes in one sentence as derivative and belated "Parisian Heideggereans," and is erudite enough to understand that the relativism problem in western culture started with Rousseau if not with Machiavelli. So much of The Closing of the American Mind, in fact, is such an intricate intellectual history that I have a hard time imagining the partisan book-buyers who made it a bestseller read much past the opening chapters where Bloom tediously complains about his students, claiming that '80s youth were shallow, blasé, and unserious, and were made that way by a tamer version of the same force that impelled their militant '60s parents: popular psychology and sociology that promoted a soft version of Rousseauist sentimentality and Nietzschean relativism. This assertion leads Bloom to the heart of the book, an intellectual history the longest chapter of which is provocatively titled "From Socrates's Apology to Heidegger's Rektoratsrede." He divides this history into three stages, roughly corresponding to the common division among ancient, early modern, and late modern periods.

Bloom's history begins with ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, who understood that their pursuit of universal reason necessarily brought them into conflict with their society, since every society is founded not on reason but on irrational customs and myths: "Since myths are there first and give men their first opinions, philosophy means a critical destruction of myth in favor of truth for the sake of freedom and living naturally." They therefore kept a wary distance from politics, at best advising aristocrats with enough wealth to free them from worldly concerns, and had before them the cautionary example of Socrates, martyred by society for his infidelity to its gods. By contrast, the philosophers of the early modern period—Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, etc.—tried to solve this conflict between philosophy and the polis by convincing not the aristocrats but the general public that universal reason in the form of applied science could improve their everyday lives by bringing nature under human control. This initially successful and revolutionary public intervention, however, had the unfortunate consequence of watering philosophy down from a quest for the highest good to a search for more mundane scientific goods to please the people.

With ancient philosophy's Platonic telos thus amputated by a more worldly science, Rousseau inaugurates the late modern period by protesting this dry and bloodless enlightenment in the name of sentiment and culture, psyche and tradition. From here it is a short step to Nietzsche's perspectivism—all values are contingent cultural constructs effected by the will-to-power—which is systematized in turn by Freud and Weber. The burgeoning social sciences then popularly disseminate Nietzscheanism as a replacement for the Enlightenment via a corps of psychologists and sociologists who usurp the philosopher's role in the polis. (Along the way, Bloom claims, this relativism also destroyed the Weimar Republic and left a clear path for Hitler's accession to power. He ridicules the conventional left-liberal view of this history in a sentence that, for some, may resonate in the present: "The trouble with Weimar was simply that the bad guys won.") During this transformation from Enlightenment to relativism, the modern university, founded in the 19th century on the Kantian division between the realm of necessity (studied by the natural sciences) and the realm of freedom (studied by the humanities), is left with no obvious reason to exist other than practical scientific research. No one really believes any longer that the humanities pertain to anything other than contingent cultural customs, which the student doesn't need to learn from wise men and which can't really command the loyalty of prior transcendent goods anyway.

Leaving aside the obvious external objections we might raise to this argument—its Eurocentrism, the excessively causal role it grants philosophy as opposed to political, economic, technological, and other developments in modern history—Bloom's historical narrative can also be contested entirely on its own terms. He admires the United States as a society founded on the Enlightenment, a country that once recognized how its prosperity depended on freedom of intellectual inquiry in the universities despite its public religiosity, and laments that the Nietzscheanization of the academic left and its diaspora in the professions has called this Enlightened commitment to truth into question even as it threatens also to disarticulate religion. Yet he admits, before he begins his philosophical history proper, that Socratic ignorance is the end of philosophical study:
Socratic dialectic takes place in speech and, although drawn forward by the search for synthesis, always culminates in doubt. Socrates' last word was that he knew nothing.
Socrates, that is, ends in the same place Nietzsche starts, because Socratic skepticism and Nietzschean perspectivism, not Platonic-Enlightenment rationalism or Christian revelation, are actually true. By burying this concession where the reader won't be looking for it, Bloom effectively intimates that the public should not know it, that the Socratic thinker should instead feed the pious populace the Enlightenment line in public to keep the scholars afloat on state and private subsidies, while in the university the philosophers and their best pupils disport themselves among the values.

In Bloom's defense, this double-talk is not actually an unusual argument, nor, despite the neoconservatives' reputation for duplicity, one confined to his political tendency. Susan Sontag was more famous for attacking neoconservatives from the intellectual left than for being one, but she came to nearly the same conclusion about the disjunction between the intelligentsia's skepticism and the public's reason at the end of an essay beloved by left-liberals, "Fascinating Fascism":
The hard truth is that what may be acceptable in elite culture may not be acceptable in mass culture, that tastes which pose only innocuous ethical issues as the property of a minority become corrupting when they become more established.
In other words, and anticipating Bloom, Nietzsche was of course right about everything, including aesthetics, but he's too dangerous a toy for the people to play with—better just give the children Jesus and John Locke. In our own time, the infamous Steve Bannon never misses an opportunity to rail against neoconservatism from the populist right. Yet on his extremely popular (albeit in some quarters proscribed) podcast, he delivers the Allan Bloom thesis with a comically frank incoherence, as he laments the disappearance of our Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment heritage in one breath, and then in another utters one of his catch-phrase Nietzschean slogans: "This isn't a quest for truth, it's a contest for power!"—as if this were an assertion with which the natural philosopher Thomas Jefferson or the sincerely Christian John Adams would have agreed. Bloom's is, again, not an uncommon argument, only a dishonest one.

In deference to Bloom's philosophic master Leo Strauss, though, might we instead of deriding his thesis as dishonest rather hail it as esoteric? The mother of queer theory, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, credited Bloom with teaching her to read for subtext, a cryptic hermeneutic that influenced her own celebrated sexual inquiry into the putatively straight canon. But Bloom reveals himself to be the grandfather of queer theory in his own voice when he argues that the purpose and method of education is seduction:
A significant number of students used to arrive at the university physically and spiritually virginal, expecting to lose their innocence there. Their lust was mixed into everything they thought and did. They were painfully aware that they wanted something but were not quite sure exactly what it was, what form it would take and what it all meant. The range of satisfactions intimated by their desire moved from prostitutes to Plato, and back, from the criminal to the sublime. Above all they looked for instruction. Practically everything they read in the humanities and social sciences might be a source of learning about their pain, and a path to its healing. This powerful tension, this literal lust for knowledge, was what a teacher could see in the eyes of those who flattered him by giving such evidence of their need for him. His own satisfaction was promised by having something with which to feed their hunger, an overflow to bestow on their emptiness. His joy was in hearing the ecstatic "Oh, yes!" as he dished up Shakespeare and Hegel to minister to their need. Pimp and midwife really described him well. The itch for what appeared to be only sexual intercourse was the material manifestation of the Delphic oracle's command, which is but a reminder of the most fundamental human desire, to "know thyself."
Philosophy is intellectual reproduction, conducted with queer contempt for the public's investment in heteronormative breeding as it takes place without reproductive bodies. The philosopher transacts and witnesses the virgin student's coupling with the classic to bring forth the infant thinker. This Platonic love affair of the mind is the queer tradition Bloom seeks to preserve from the incursion, armed or otherwise, into the university idyll of the straight and the normal, who are, whether they are left-wing protesters or go-getter business students, too busy with their own interests to think. At such erotic intellection he only hints in the book, since stating it outright would have barred him from conservative adulation in the Moral Majority 1980s. How this subliminal argument would affect The Closing of the American Mind’s reception today by the liberal cognoscenti, who might well be attracted to its attack on moral relativism in an era when they enjoin everyone to choose the "right side of history"—which means the transhistorical truth if it means anything—is in this moment of maximal ideological chaos anybody's guess.
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