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The Closing of the American Mind by Allan…

The Closing of the American Mind (original 1987; edition 1988)

by Allan Bloom (Author)

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3,407222,379 (3.61)34
Title:The Closing of the American Mind
Authors:Allan Bloom (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster (1988), Edition: 1st Touchstone Ed, 392 pages
Collections:Theology Studies

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The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students by Allan Bloom (1987)


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Bloom's observations, published in the late '80s, throw a light on the 21st century. Quoting Rousseau, who noted the complementarity of the sexes, which "mesh and set the machine of life in motion," Bloom builds a passionate case for liberal arts education. Throughout the book, he fights for the soul of America's youth, claiming "some men and women at the age of sixteen have nothing more to learn about the erotic. They are adult in the sense that they will no longer change very much. They may be competent specialists, but they are flat-souled." ( )
  DellaWanna | Apr 28, 2018 |
Notes in book
  keithhamblen | Jan 17, 2018 |
Decided to read this to see if it was relevant at all. The sad answer is yes, but it flaws are even larger with age.

Most of bloom's arguments are of the "get off my lawn" sort of grumpy old men. Nearly all of part I falls into this category.

Part 2 is more philosophy than anything else and bloom's mastery of it is unquestionable.

Part 3 is mixed: in some ways dated, in some ways more relevant.

Regardless, bloom's contention: that a liberal education does not exist is even more true now than it was back in 1987. Despite his call to arms over 25 years ago, almost nothing has been done. The vast majority of america's universities are simply mechanisms one endures to get a job (or, given the most recent economic conditions, not get a job).

While much of the political conservative world internalized Bloom in the 1980s and 90s, I think one thing they miss is that bloom really takes no stand one way or the other on "right" vs "left" as we currently understand them (but he did have strong - not good - opinions on the 60s and the "radical left" of that era).

In the end, a tough book to read whose arguments are interesting but whose evidence is stale. Sadly, Bloom died in 1992 but it would have been fun to hear what he would have said 25 yrs later. ( )
1 vote dham340 | May 10, 2015 |
An apt, if sometimes overstated, critique of the American intellectual climate. Unfettered rationalism, the influence of continental philosophy, and the quest for political correctness are some of the main reasons Bloom gives for the poor state and gradual decline of American education. Bloom's explanation of European (specifically German) philosophy's influence on the language we use, our intellectual climate, and the state of our universities I found particularly fitting and novel, though I haven't read enough continental philosophy to wholeheartedly agree with his framing of the situation. The idea certainly seems to explain much of American culture, even 25 years after the book's publication. While some may see Bloom as a traditionalist (i.e. he supports the idea of the Great Books education) and reject his education solutions, he nonetheless brings up important critiques that demand attention and should resonate with anyone that has been a part of the American education system.

Thus, openness has driven out the local deities, leaving only the speechless, meaningless country. There is no immediate, sensual experience of the nation's meaning or its project, which would provide the basis for adult reflection on regimes and statesmanship. Students now arrive at the university ignorant and cynical about our political heritage, lacking the wherewithal to be either inspired by it or seriously critical of it.

People sup together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life. Educational TV marks the high tide for family intellectual life.

Thus, 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.

As it stands now, 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.

Indignation is the soul's defense against he wound of doubt about its own; it reorders the cosmos to support the justice of its cause.

Armed with music, man can damn rational doubt. Out of the music emerge the gods that suit it, and they educate men by their example and their commandments.

The most visible sign of our increasing separateness and, in its turn, the cause of ever greater separateness is divorce . . . Divorce in America is the most palpable indication that people are not made to live together, and that, although they want and need to create a general will out of the particular wills, those particular wills constantly reassert themselves. There is a quest, but ever more hopeless, for arrangements and ways of putting the broken pieces back together. The task is equivalent to squaring the circle, because everyone loves himself most but wants others to love him more than they love themselves.

"The old commandment that we lover our brothers made impossible demands on us, demands against nature, while doing nothing to provide for real needs. What is required is not brotherly love or faith, hope and charity, but self-interested rational labor. The man who contributes most to relieving human misery is the one who produces most, and the surest way of getting him to do so is not by exhorting him, but by rewarding him most handsomely to sacrifice present pleasure for the sake of future benefit, or to assure avoidance of pain through the power so gained.

"God is dead," Nietzsche proclaimed. But he did not say this on a note of triumph, in the style of earlier atheism—the tyrant has been overthrown and man is now free. Rather he said it in the anguished tones of the most powerful and delicate piety deprived of its proper object. Man, who loved and needed God, has lost his Father and Savior without possibility of resurrection. The joy of liberation one finds in Marx has turned into terror at man's unprotectedness.

These sociologists who talk so facilely about the sacred are like a mana who keeps a toothless old circus lion around the house in order to experience the thrills of the jungle.

Forgetting, in a variety of subtle forms, is one of our primary modes of problem-solving.

What is so paradoxical is that our language is the product of the extraordinary thought and philosophical greatness at which this cursory and superficial survey has done nothing more than hint. There is a lifetime and more of study here, which would turn our impoverishing certitudes into humanizing doubts. To return to the reasons behind our language and weigh them against the reasons for other language would in itself liberate us . . . We are like ignorant shepherds living on a site where great civilizations once flourished. The shepherds play with the fragments that pop up to the surface, having no notion of the beautiful structures of which they were once a part. All that is necessary is a careful excavation to provide them with life-enhancing models. We need history, not to tell us what happened, or to explain the past, but to make the past alive so that it can explain us and make a future possible. This is our educational crisis and opportunity.

To sum up, there is one simple rule for the university's activity: it need not concern itself with providing its students with experiences that are available in democratic society. They will have them in any event. It must provide them with experiences they cannot have there. Tocqueville did not believe that the old writers were perfect, but he believe that they could best make us aware of our imperfections, which is what counts for us.
The universities never performed this function very well. Now they have practically ceased trying.

The ancients were always praising virtue, but men were not made more virtuous as a result

Nonphilosophic men love the truth only as long as it does not conflict with what they cherish—self, family, country, fame, love. When it does conflict, they hate the truth and regard as a monster the man who does not care for these noble things, who proves they are ephemeral and treats them as such.

True liberal education requires that the student's whole life be radically changed by it, that what he learns may affect his action, his tastes, his choices, that no previous attachment be immune to examination and hence re-evaluation. Liberal education puts everything at risk and requires students who are able to risk everything.

Men may live more truly and fully in reading Plato and Shakespeare than at any other time, because then they are participating in essential being and are forgetting their accidental lives. ( )
  gvenezia | Dec 26, 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. ( )
1 vote kant1066 | Oct 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
ALLAN BLOOM, a professor of philosophy and political science at the University of Chicago, is perhaps best known as a translator and interpreter of Jean Jacques Rousseau's ''Emile'' and Plato's ''Republic,'' two classic texts that ponder the relationship between education and society. In ''The Closing of the American Mind,'' Mr. Bloom has drawn both on his deep acquaintance with philosophical thinking about education and on a long career as a teacher to give us an extraordinary meditation on the fate of liberal education in this country - a meditation, as he puts it in his opening pages, ''on the state of our souls.''

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Bloom, Allanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bellow, SaulForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I used to think that young Americans began whatever education they were to get at the age of eighteen, that their early lives were spiritually empty and that they arrived at the university clean slates unaware of their deeper selves and the world beyond their superficial experience.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0671657151, Paperback)

"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 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:50 -0400)

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How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today's students.

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