Brett Williams's Reviews > The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History

The Opening of the American Mind by Lawrence W. Levine
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it was ok


Levine sounds reasoned until the reader asks questions. He notes that at Berkeley the white student population declined from 68% in 1974 to 37% in 1994 while 75% of America was white at that time. Assuming all is equal, which of course it isn’t, one would expect equal representation by demographic percentage. The obvious question is, if America were 75% white in 1994, why would only 37% be admitted to Berkeley? Could whites be disadvantaged, incapable of passing Berkeley’s rigorous standards, or because Berkeley practices racist admission policies? Levine writes this “is more representative of the nation’s population,” but as it fails numerically the reader is left to wonder in what way it is more representative? He adds that Berkeley became the first major university with a majority of minority students, revealing early his emphasis on race, not education, and his philosophy, as expanded on by Arthur M. Schlesinger’s Disuniting Of America.

Levine’s book is a response to Alan Bloom’s critique of modern American university education in The Closing Of The American Mind.” Bloom is at times recklessly and conveniently misrepresented while at others accurate enough to cause wonder at what Levine could possibly disagree with? Levine paints Bloom as anti-multiculturalist. However, as Bloom notes, Herodotus was a multiculturalist too, as all should be, but with a different intent than now practiced in America: to learn what was unknown about the human condition, not to return from his travels to dismantle his homeland by removing Greek (Western) thinking as a “bias” suppressive of others, which is Levine’s position repeated throughout the book, generally between the lines.

Levine characterizes criticism of our university system and its politics as “conservative” because, in Derridian form, he focuses on who said it, not what they say or if it might be true. No debate. Yet Levine swears by open-mindedness – as long as it does not clash with his agenda. Using out-of-context sound bites Levine relishes remarks by his critics as crazy eyed, apocalyptic non-sense, lumping all into the same bucket. Never is there a hearing on recorded events and practice on campus from which these criticisms are sourced. Levine marginalizes opposition by the oft-used method of obfuscation. Issues are just too complicated, vast, impenetrable, given such mixture, morphing attitudes or flux of opinions in the marketplace of ideas to make a conclusion. That “conclusion” is happy news for Levine as it is self-serving, keeping his dogma in power. Practicing a Creationist favorite, Levine puts words in the mouth of his critic’s then tells how wrong they are. “It surely was much simpler when the university community was a homogeneous one,” writes Levine. A statement critics would agree with, but not condone, nor dare make against the muscle of today’s climate of political correctness.

Levine smacks of the anti-West creed throughout, dismissing with a sneer those who could possibly claim Western ideals as “good.” As though only naïve fools would utter such “myth” and “propaganda.” Levine’s book is readable, though not the penetrating and elevating work Bloom offered. Levine does reveal what his side of our politicized universities stand for and against, and in that his text has value as a measure of how bad things are.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 30, 2015 – Shelved

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