Brett Williams's Reviews > The Closing of the American Mind

The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Read 2 times. Last read September 3, 2021 to December 1, 2021.

Having read this book years ago, I was anxious to see how this 25th Anniversary edition held up with time. (Given Goodreads has no separate bucket for the reprint, I’ve maintained the original review below.) While Bloom’s vast mental store of the classics can occasionally make their reference mysterious to we specialized Americans, and he sometimes writes a line (or several) with density approaching that of concrete with rebar, the answer to the question was a thrilling, timeless.

Those 1960s, 70s, and 80s students Bloom wrote about are now parents and grandparents facing what Bloom saw in university as they now search for college education for their offspring. What they see are booming science and engineering departments immune to modern relativism (Bloom sees these as trade schools), even as state legislatures cut university-wide support thanks to the Right-wing’s focus on social studies and humanities departments rife with French “philosophy” of the sixties that makes all views no matter how high mere “perspectives” particular to cultural identities that Bloom takes particular aim at. (Though the Right still supports the football team.) Those parents also find the relativist / post-Marxist tandem of our university’s Left has only become more ridiculous, elevating micro-aggressions, safe spaces, and the cultish silencing of free speech from the wrong tribe, inane as that tribe now so often is. Bloom relishes the intellectual grappling of humanity’s most profound thought and the great questions they posed, from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, to Locke, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Kant, and Weber. It’s the baptism of these ideas, positive and negative, that Bloom feels should wash the bodies of students to give them a soul. The book’s original title, Souls Without Longing, was deemed a non-seller by his publisher, though more to the point.

But Bloom’s book is about much more than the decline of American higher Ed. as noted in the subtitle; it’s the main title, the American mind that concerns him most. Bloom charts how and why we Americans became a thin and shallow people. In what is really an analysis of the Enlightenment, Bloom makes clear this process was underway from the outset; we were destined to turn out this way (details so extensive and nuanced as to require a pending blog). In that regard, Bloom precedes Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed by 31 years. Bloom sees this descent accelerated by the failure of universities to educate the higher aims, beyond simply making our youth employable or politically dogmatic.

All that said, I didn’t always agree with Bloom’s positions or their implications. The authentic, heartfelt traditions of religion, confounded by both high ethics and mass slaughter of innocents by the deity Himself, doesn’t seem a great deal better than a listless people with no traditions. Still, all these years after its 1987 publication, fantastically provocative of deliberation with delightful insights into who we are.

April 2014 Review: Perhaps the most important non-fiction ever written in English.

A revealing, penetrating, inspiring text on the state of education and the modern American mind. It was Bloom’s life work—his profession at the University Of Chicago—to compare human eras and their standards. Through his research, no one has so completely uncovered the ills of our time or affirmed what is positive. His courage to face modern dogma made Bloom hated by those adhering to new orthodoxies and open to their character assassinations, but Bloom wrote anyway.

Contrary to relativism of the new movements and their extinguishing of deep education—which in the end is a search for the right answers—Bloom claims there are indeed answers to questions concerning the human condition (thus the inspiration), and that “not obvious” does not mean “unavailable.” “The liberally educated person,” he writes, “is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration.”

Today’s social relativism is considered “not a theoretical insight” but a “moral postulate of a free society,” and hence the current totalitarianism we experience from fundamentalism, Left or Right, as one dare not oppose such rule.

How did America reach its current state of intolerance to ideas without agreement on first principles? Bloom takes us on a lively tour toward an answer, engagingly written. For example, early on in America, religion was demoted from the level of “knowledge” to that of “opinion” in order to defuse dangerous elements of its passion we still see today in the Levant, but, importantly, the right to religious belief was not lost. This demotion was possible if society were to shrink its claims to moral certainty, subordinating old ways (but not abandoning them) to Enlightenment’s natural rights. Today this process of “value shrinkage” is taken to such extremes that the original ideas providing its basis are attacked, claiming each period has its “preferences.” None are superior, as that would be, by modern perspectives, discrimination. Today, “subordination” is equivalent to suppression. This radical democracy claims limits on anything to be arbitrary (since truth is now relative). “The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right,” writes Bloom, “rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

Bloom clarifies that “passion” and “commitment” have become the new political validations replacing reason and critical thinking. What the Founders worked so hard to balance (faction) due to its inherent opposition to the common good, is now promoted as a central role of government with its fondness for “groups.” With “common good” abandoned, factions are no longer problematic. What the Founders never imagined has set in—not a tyranny of the majority they strived to counterbalance, but a tyranny of passionate, committed minority interest groups.

Concerning multiculturalism in education, Bloom notes that Greeks searched out other cultures too (as we still should), but for wholly different reasons—to learn what they had to teach about the human condition, not to nullify their own society as we now do. Moderns maintain America’s Constitution was the white man’s corrupt document designed to suppress, and that Western ways are a bias to be cleansed by exposure to other cultures through multicultural studies. But this is not to learn what they have to teach so much as it is a political maneuver to dismantle the West, its values, standards, and science. Intellectual openness used to invite a quest for knowledge and certitude, while the opposite is now true. Open-mindedness means closing one’s mind to our very roots. As though to deny them will settle a score with our history for having done so much evil, while conveniently dismissing the good.

While fundamentalists assumed that removing reason from the mind would remove bias and prejudice, all they have done is vanquished our best tool for correction. Such is the state of the American mind. Though American education is in crisis, Bloom has given us the gift of knowing there is hope on our own.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Closing of the American Mind.
Sign In »

Quotes Brett Liked

Allan Bloom
“The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration.”
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Reading Progress

March 5, 2014 – Started Reading
April 6, 2014 – Shelved
April 20, 2014 – Finished Reading
April 29, 2014 – Shelved as: favorites
September 3, 2021 – Started Reading
December 1, 2021 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Brian Griffith The dude almost convinces me that opening the mind to include non-Western knowledge was totally stupid

back to top