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

The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites

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. As 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 extreme 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 ones 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.


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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

Finished Reading
April 6, 2014 – Shelved
April 29, 2014 – Shelved as: favorites

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