IN RE ALLAN BLOOM: A RESPECTFUL DISSENT (Originally posted 8/05/2010)

by George Anastaplo

   Aronson sent up a cry of rapture when he won the million dollar prize in a lottery.
A kibitzer asked him, “What made you pick a number like 52, anyway?”
“It came to me in a dream,” replied Aronson.  “I dreamed I was in a theater, and on the stage there were six columns of dancers with eight dancers in each column.  So I chose 52.”
“But six times eight is 48, not 52!” said the kibitzer.
Aronson chortled, “So O.K., you be the mathematician!”
–Anon.1

Prologue

If it had been at all anticipated that a million copies of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind would be sold, many things in it would no doubt have been written much more carefully than they were–but if that had been done, the book would have sold nowhere near as well as it has.2

Professor Bloom’s widely-acclaimed book provides shorthand reminders of what is wrong in higher education today.  Everywhere one goes this year on campuses, one encounters people interested in the Bloom phenomenon, just as last year one encountered people interested in the Bork phenomenon.  Since I am known to have been in school with both Robert Bork and Allan Bloom at the University of Chicago (in the Law School and the Committee on Social Thought, respectively), I have been many times asked about these celebrites who share the not altogether happy capacity of saying plausible, even sensible, things in a highly provocative manner.3

We are all in Mr. Bloom’s debt both for the dozens of fine students in political philosophy he has helped train and for several fine things he has published.4  Particularly instructive have been his studies of Shakespeare,5 his translation of Plato’s Republic,6 and his translation of Rousseau’s Emile.7  We would be even further in his debt if he could now transform some of his phenomenal winnings from the bestseller lottery into the leisure needed to prepare for publication his brilliant doctoral dissertation on Isocrates.8

Mr. Bloom is one of many who are privileged to recognize Leo Strauss as a teacher.9  He, however, has had a publishing success inconceivable for his master.  In fact, I estimate that more copies of Closing have been sold than of all the books published by Mr. Strauss and his other students combined.10  For better and for worse, the form, tone and substance of Closing will represent to many, for a long time to come, what the Straussian persuasion means.11

The Closing of the American Mind has become an “event,” making it difficult for us to assess the book in itself.  Since there is in its overall argument relatively little that is both new and sound, it would not warrant much attention if it were merely still another academic title.  But the astonishing reception of the book places it outside the normal range of scholarly interest.  One can be reminded of what the citizens of Thebes faced when they discovered the remarkably unnatural creature they had in Oedipus.  We can see great success turn into an appalling curse in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannos.

In any event, the unnatural is hard to talk because the usual points of reference are not available.  In Mr. Bloom’s circumstances, moreover, a clear grasp of the situation is hard to secure among those who cannot help but be jealous of, as well as appalled by, what has chanced to happen.

I.

The unnatural was once readily associated with the impious.  Something of the impious may be detected in Mr. Bloom’s book, which is rather odd considering that it stands for a return to an older way of education.

One form impiety can take is neglect of one’s origins and teachers.  Leo Strauss, his principal teacher, is ignored, even though there are in the book dozens, if not hundreds, of echoes of that teacher’s work.12  Nor can one easily gather from this book that most of the things Mr. Bloom has to say about the current failings of higher education in this country are things already long bruited about at the University of Chicago and elsewhere when he first arrived on the academic scene in the 1940s.13

To be sure, Mr. Bloom is prepared, in private conversations and in public interviews, to acknowledge both Mr. Strauss and the University of Chicago.14  But the stance taken throughout his book is that of the pioneer staking out new ground rather than that of the laborer cultivating soil already cleared by others.  This desperate self-assertiveness, which is less generous than Mr. Bloom is naturally inclined to be, is intimately linked, I suspect, to his decision to dramatize the 1960s as somehow the point of departure in the United States for the crisis he is announcing.15

Is it not misleading to permit a grounding in the classics to seem so self-centered that one can neglect what is due to one’s teachers and to one’s community?16  This is the questionable side of what is often condemned as “elitism.”  Certainly, it is not healthy to leave the impression that those upon whom one has depended, and from whom one has learned much, have not been duly appreciated.  This is a an instructive aspect of that extreme form of impiety found in an obvious repudiation of the divine.

II.

Something of the determination to enlist everything in the service of his thesis may be seen in the way Mr. Bloom deals with the texts of the great writers he draws upon.  One can easily get the impression, if this book were all one had to go by, that he never truly studies such books but merely uses them.  I am reminded of a comment I once heard from Mr. Strauss about Nietzsche:  he always found Nietzsche interesting in his masterful generalizations, but he often found him simply wrong in the details which he could check out for himself.17

One observation after another in Closing is questionable:  Socrates is presented more in opposition to Achilles than Plato indicates;18 Aristotle is presented as saying that sexual intercourse, rather than moral virtue, is one of man’s two peaks;19 enterprising moderns such as Hobbes and Locke are presented as if they wanted to uproot ambition;20 Maimonides is presented as if he identified theology with philosophy;21 Goethe is presented in a way that seems to leave a useful discussion dependent upon errors in translation of a key passage in Faust;22 Schiller is presented in a way that makes him far less sophisticated than he is about Homer;23 and Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche are presented as “thinkers of the highest order,” even though they are fundamentally wrong in critical respects.24  One can easily conclude that there is in the abundance of Closing, which is much more biographical and sociological than philosophical, hardly a statement about any of the great authors or their books that can be confidently relied upon.25

It may even make one wonder what good the kind of education advocated in Closing is if it should exhibit, if not depend upon, such unreliable scholarship.  There is a warning here for all of us who have been influenced by Mr. Strauss, who was himself the model of care and restraint in his broadranging scholarship, however daring and unconventional he was willing to appear in his conclusions.  A proper education should make one cautious in one’s uses of sources, moderate in the tone of one’s political and social advocacy, and anything but overbearing in one’s assessment of the less enlightened, keeping in mind that it is usually easier to attack than to defend.  Related to these concerns is the perennial question of how influential the traditional education can be if its advocates display themselves, both in public and in private, as decidedly self-indulgent.

Someone may protest that it is not fair to assess Closing as a scholarly work.  Still, all reports indicate that it was originally prepared as a book that would appeal to a limited academic audience.  It is common knowledge that the publisher had a lot to say about how the text should be rearranged.  What governed the arrangement of the material was not the author’s ideas, but the publisher’s commercial instincts, with the “packaging” of the book taking precedence over its substance.  Cannot we see reflected in such deference to consumerism one major cause of the deterioration of American education rightly decried by Mr. Bloom?

Is it difficult to take seriously any book whose author has acquiesced in a comprehensive rearrangement of what he had thought fit to say.  Mr. Strauss, on the other hand, was legendary in his insistence upon the integrity of the texts he carefully prepared.26  He would have found congenial the injunction issued by a fastidious author27 to his publisher:  “I write; you print.”

III.

The deficiencies all too evident in Mr. Bloom’s use of books and authors in the great Western tradition may be seen as well in his handling of American things, not least with respect to the origins and principles of the regime.  He has too low a view of the Founders, virtually taking them to have been primarily Hobbesians.  He does not seem to appreciate what Mr. Strauss said about the elevated character of what the Founders said and did.28  But then, Mr. Bloom himself is so much more interested in intellectual accomplishments than in the moral virtues that he can easily be taken to be a nihilist.29  Be that as it may, his approach, which runs the risk of mere crankiness if not even of sterility, raises serious questions about any effort to guide citizens properly.

However dubious Mr. Bloom’s view of the American founding is, even more so is his view of the lamentable re-founding he in effect sees as having taken place after the Second World War.  Much is made of “the German connection,” with Nietzsche, Heidegger and the like presented as principally responsible for the relativism and the moral and intellectual decline which this country has suffered.30  The dramatics Mr. Bloom relies upon here and elsewhere are critical to his success both as the author of Closing and as a teacher.  This is not to deny, however, that he can have a salutary effect upon bright students, in large part because he can and does point them back to the powerful, yet sober and sobering, works of Leo Strauss.

Long before Mr. Bloom first came to the University of Chicago as a college student in the middle 1940s, vigorous criticism could be heard there and elsewhere of the rise of relativism and a related decline in higher education.  The developments criticized did not depend upon the European scholars Mr. Bloom makes so much of, who had fled from the Nazis a decade before.  When Chief Justice Vinson informed us, in his 1951 opinion affirming the Communist Party leaders’ Smith Act convictions, that “nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes,” he and his teachers had not been shaped primarily by Nietzsche and the like.31  And when Justice Holmes, two generations before, could ridicule any notion of the common law as “a brooding omnipresence in the sky,” he was drawing upon a legal realism movement that went back into the Nineteenth Century.32

Much more influential in this country than German thinkers, who continue to find it difficult to make headway against American common sense, has been modern science, especially in physics and biology, subjects about which Mr. Bloom does not pretend to know much.33  These developments have affected the religious opinions of the American people, just as they have those of others around the world.  They have also induced a deep uncertainty in secular thought about man’s place in the universe.  Nietzsche and Heidegger, among others, have been shaken by the same developments, which go back to Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke, but have responded to them in ways that the typical American thinker still finds uncongenial.

One obvious consequence of modern science is the remarkable technology harnessed to it.  This has led to a steady escalation in the standard of living, an unprecedented personal and social mobility, and the development of all kinds of devices (including birth control aids) which promote self-gratification and undermine a sense of community.  What the automobile began to do to the American community after the First World War, medicine and television have continued to do in an even more intensive and pervasive form since the Second World War.  Indeed, it is an astonishing feature of Closing that so little is said in it about the disastrous effects of television upon American education and upon community life here as in other parts of the world.34  Do not we all know what it has done to the capacity of students to read, to concentrate, and to work?  They are much more apt now than they were two generations ago to expect their teachers to entertain them.

A people shaped by television insists upon

spectaculars as well as upon instant gratification–in sports,

in politics, and in intellectual experiences–and it is these debased tastes that Closing, with its cascades of pronouncements on scores of books and authors, caters to.  The middle-class book buyers who have been drawn to Mr. Bloom’s learned jeremiad find it much more congenial to believe that the chronic problems of their children are due to the drugs, music, and sexuality that outsiders have foisted upon them than to the television that those parents have been themselves too caught up with to deny to their children.  Far too much is made of the effects of the universities, and not enough of science and technology (which are to a considerable extent independent of the principal influences of academic life), in the shaping of the American people.

IV.

Whatever the principal influences upon us–whether modern science, or technology, or thinkers ranging from Machiavelli and Hobbes to Rousseau, Nietzsche and Heidegger–, they all contribute to one result, a serious questioning of the status of nature among us.  Mr. Bloom is too good a student of Leo Strauss not to be aware of how critical the problem of nature is in any effort to understand the modern development.

The merits of The Closing of the American Mind are evident here.  Consider how one critic has put his recognition of what the book can surely teach us:35

Mr. Bloom reminds us that the present defect of schooling at all levels is basically intellectual.  The jumble of “subjects” into which the curriculum has fallen is part of the problem, as is the reduction of learning to psychological adjustment and job skills, rather than the struggle for truth and an underlying understanding of things.  And this reduction has not been at odds with what the universities teach, but in line with it, reflecting the chaos of learning which has overtaken them and the low view of human nature which, at least in the social sciences, they have adopted.

Mr. Bloom recalls this for us in trenchant terms that could have been used half a century ago by Robert M. Hutchins, then president of the university at which Mr. Bloom teaches.  For the complaint as to higher education in this country is at least as old as that, though Mr. Bloom des not go very far toward acknowledging the fact, and though few writers on the subject have been as eloquent as he in making the case.

Mr. Bloom, who has been very much (I believe too much) influenced by Rousseau and Nietzsche, is probably most eloquent in depicting the confusion in students’ souls and in the souls of many of his colleagues.  And there is something commendable in his willingness to speak the truth as he sees it.

Thus the book has become, and is likely to remain for a decade, a convenient symbol of what is wrong in American higher education.  It is less likely to be useful as a guide to what can be done about our problems.  Even though Closing is not easy to read–with relatively few readers getting past the sensational exposes, in the opening chapters, of the vagaries of student life–, it may help impressionable people begin to respect the study of good books as at least fashionable.

It contributes to the dramatic character of Mr. Bloom’s assault upon established educational prejudices that he should seem much more original, far less derivative, than he is.  The soundness of Leo Strauss’s thought is testified to, however, in that it can assert itself despite Mr. Bloom’s many mistakes if not wrongheadness.  It has been somewhat sad, nevertheless, to see how bitterly Mr. Strauss has been attacked in some quarters because of this book.  I can only hope that some of Mr. Struass’s critics and their readers can be encouraged to go look at “the real thing” rather than settle for the caricature of the Straussian approach to political philosophy that has been conjured up by some reviewers.

In any event, the thoughtful reader who is aware of Mr. Strauss’s virtues can better appreciate, as he watches some Straussians carry on, how various of Socrates’ naturally ambitious or temperamentally difficult students could be mistaken as products of his teaching.  In any event, Mr. Bloom may have sensed that he could “let himself go” as he has in Closing only if he kept Mr. Strauss “literally” out of sight.  His mentor here would be Alcibiades.

V.

One consequence of Mr. Bloom’s putting an emphasis upon developments in postwar America is that he can make as much as he does of various sensational episodes in the Sixties, not least the much-publicized disturbances at Cornell University in which he happened to be involved as a member of its political science department.

It is odd that so much can be made of student unrest in the Sixties without saying much more than is said in Closing about the effect upon the young of the misconceived, self-destructive and perhaps unconstitutional American involvement in the Indochinese War.  It is silly to neglect a conflict which has had so unfortunate an effect in this country upon the level of patriotism, upon faith in government, and upon respect for a defensible worldwide strategy.36

Also silly is any suggestion that mere self-interest moved students to oppose the draft.  This approach fails to appreciate how much the most celebrated instances of resistance to improper governmental actions in Anglo-American constitutional history have taken the form of opposition to demands upon citizens.37  Who knows what would have happened to American resistance in the 1770s if the British government had given in to the American Colonists’ “self-centered” demand that they be subjected to no taxation without representation?  Be that as it may, it is hardly fitting to hear those without military experience of their own berating the young for their reluctance to fight in what seemed to them, and may well have been for us, an unjust war.

Even the “war” that Mr. Bloom does happen to know something about personally–the Cornell struggle of 1969–seems to have been considerably more complex than he makes it out to have been.  There is no indication, in Mr. Bloom’s account of the Cornell troubles, of the experiences, fears and concerns of the people, whether students or faculty, who were ranged against the position he passionately supports.  It is not appreciated, for example, that some of the more aggressive minority students may have actually believed they were defending themselves.38  Nor is it appreciated how much more dangerous military service could be at that time than life during even the most troubled days on the Cornell campus–and yet Mr. Bloom is much more sympathetic toward intimidated faculty members than he is toward students disturbed at the prospect of being shipped off to Vietnam.39

All this is not to deny that there was something traumatic for Mr. Bloom in his Cornell experience, so much so that he must be fierce in the way he deals with it two decades later.  His account of Cornell, which some consider the best thing in Closing, is the most obviously flawed part of the book.  Closing would be far better without its final seventy pages.  It is unfortunate when mistreatment, whether in one’s childhood or early in one’s career, cannot be risen above in one’s maturity.  Mr. Bloom may be in critical respects a soul with too much, or rather the wrong kind of, longing.40

I had occasion to watch close-up student sit-ins and the like on several campuses in the Sixties.  I found rebellious students usually far more thoughtful, and far more restrained, than Mr. Bloom remembers them.  And I could be struck by the unwillingness or inability of many faculty members, even on the University of Chicago campus, to talk with them seriously during one crisis after another.  I recall one occasion in Chicago, after the administration and faculty had “broken” a student sit-in, informing the Dean of the College, during a chance encounter at a reception in a faculty home, how his students had understood the issues.  They have been beaten, I added, and they are at this moment meeting to assess what has happened.  I then presumed to advise him that it would be an act of magnanimity, and not without use in reestablishing a proper trust between faculty and students on the campus, if their Dean would go to them and treat them in their defeat as an honorable enemy.  He would go, he told me, if I would accompany him.  We at once left the reception for the student center.  But after we entered the building, and just as we got to the door of the meeting hall, I was astonished to watch him fade away without either explanation or apology.  It was a most remarkable disappearing act–and ever after made me skeptical about faculty who proclaimed that they, but not the students, were open to rational discourse.41

Of course, the students at Cornell may have been different, but I suspect not.  I have talked at length with those in a position to know what happened there.  If, however, Cornell was as special as Mr. Bloom remembers it, one may well wonder whether it is instructive about what was (or was not) happening elsewhere in this country.  In any event, it is difficult to see, even if one accepts Mr. Bloom’s sincere account as completely reliable, that what happened there says much one way or another about modes of education.  To see it all, as Mr. Bloom seems to do, as the beginning of what happened to the universities under the Nazis is a perverse kind of wishful thinking.42

VI.

It is also odd that so much can be made of student unrest in the Sixties without saying much more than is said in Closing about the effect upon the young of the Civil Rights Movement.  This too bears upon what really went on at Cornell and how the students understood the issues.

Something of Mr. Bloom’s limitations in assessing those students may be seen in what he says about what is happening these days to minority students on campuses.  He comments adversely on their self-segregation and their failure to take advantage of the opportunities offered them.  He does not seem to appreciate how deep-rooted the problems of race relations still are in this country, problems which are bound to be mirrored in campus life.43

Related to his limitations here is his depreciation again and again of feminist efforts.  One can see that unfortunate attitudes about minorities and about women are as intermingled in Mr. Bloom as some ideologues believe them generally to be.  Here, as elsewhere, it seems that Mr. Bloom cannot help himself, which is an odd state of affairs in one so gifted.  This is not to deny that women are finding that the feminist cause is more complicated than they had taken it to be, perhaps even that natural differences between women and men are more critical than some had been led to believe.

Also related to all this is what Mr. Bloom has to say about rock music, which, along with what he has to say about students’ sexual relations, has aroused the greatest public interest in the book.44  I am persuaded, after discussing Mr. Bloom’s account of music with a number of people versed in rock music, including some who do not personally care for it, that he is probably wrong in what he says about what that music is generally like and does.  The redeeming feature of his discussion is, however, that it emphatically reminds us of ancient teachings about the significance of music, and of art generally, in shaping the human soul.45

I do not challenge the observation that students are much more caught up by overt sensuality than they were in my college generation or in the generation  before.  But, I suspect, this is not because of special influences upon the young–such as the music they listen to–, but rather because of that general relaxation of restraints which goes back to the Second World War and because of the general intensification of appeals to the sensual seen in the mass media catering to the adult world.  What I as a teenager saw among my young Air Corps comrades during the War has made subsequent student eroticism seem like child’s play by comparison.  All this is complicated by the now fashionable reading of the First Amendment which extends its protection to obscenity and other kinds of expression not anticipated by the framers of the Bill of Rights.

Various of the matters I have touched upon here are also important for raising the question of what nature means in ordering human relations.  It is easy if not even mandatory these days for intellectuals to deny the guidance of nature, especially if one overreacts (in the name either of justice or of compassion) to longstanding mistreatment by the community of racial minorities, of women, and of homosexuals.  Some conservative critics of Closing believe it does not go far enough, in that it does not extend to the claims of homosexuals the strictures it lays down against the claims of feminists and of racial militants.  But I would prefer to see Mr. Bloom become as relaxed about racial minorities and about uppity women as he commendably is about the aggressive homosexuals among us.  All three groups will need, for decades to come, respectful sympathy and informed guidance from the people who dominate public opinion, including those who control higher education.46

VII.

Mr. Bloom’s limitations as a reporter of political movements, including of what did happen at Cornell, are suggested by his dismissal of the McCarthy Period as not having had a significant effect in the universities of this country.  And yet there is abundant testimony to the contrary, so much so that one must wonder where he was while all that was going on.47

The interesting question here is not what was going on–for that is clear enough–but rather why Mr. Bloom should have so misapprehended things.  It seems to have something to do with his urge to make as much as he does both of his Cornell experience and of “the German connection.”  One need not deny that his Sixties were important:  after all, we are all talking about  gender, civil rights, war, and sexual relations in somewhat the way the Sixties taught us to–and that has healthy aspects as well as unhealthy.  But the McCarthy Period has also had a lasting effect, partly because the passions it ministered to and the thoughtlessness it encouraged did contribute to American involvement in Vietnam–and that, in turn, helped make some intellectuals and all too many of the young become irresponsible as citizens.

Student opinion about their teachers in the Sixties was influenced by what was remembered about how faculties had caved in to loyalty forays against the universities a decade before.  Faculties, by and large, did stand up to rampaging students in the Sixties much better than they did to governmental intimidation in the Fifties, even though the students had a better cause than did the government inquisitors.  But, then, it was considerably more dangerous for professors to resist the inquisitors.48

One contribution that the Reagan Administration has inadvertently made to a sounder polity is to teach the country that patriotism is not enough, that common sense and a respect for constitutional processes are still needed if government is to conduct itself properly.  (The 1987 Iran-Contra revelations were particularly instructive here, especially when it became known that the covert actions resorted to had included supplying arms to the very people in Iran who were partly responsible for killing our Marines in their Beirut barracks.)  Perhaps the legacy of the McCarthy Period may finally be working itself out of our system.

It is odd that Mr. Bloom sees Justice Holmes’s “clear and present danger” test as exemplifying a “gradual movement away from rights to openness.”  That is, he does not seem to appreciate that the worst abuses during the McCarthy Period were ratified by judicial recourse to the “clear and present danger” test, not curtailed by it.49  This is further testimony to Mr. Bloom’s limitations in his efforts to describe and assess the practices as well as the principles of the American regime both at this time and at its founding.50

Epilogue

Various chance factors have combined to make The Closing of the American Mind soar as it has.  The immediate ground from which it took off was prepared by the Reagan Administration before the shameful Iran-Contra revelations sapped its vitality.  The book appeals in large part to a Know-Something Movement–that is, to those who “know” that there is something really wrong with the young, with racial minorities, with homosexuals, with feminists, and with the unpatriotic (especially among intellectuals).  It also appeals, and properly so, to those who have been told repeatedly, for several generations now, about the shortcomings of American higher education.

There was a golden age in American higher education when Mr. Bloom, as a fifteen-year-old, first came to the University of Chicago–but that was principally due to the presence on campuses of large numbers of older men who had served several years in a proper war and who were serious about an education.  Perhaps, indeed, nothing would contribute more to the seriousness of higher education today than the general requirement of a few years of highminded national service immediately after high school.

Be that as it may, American students in the best universities may still be better, in that they are more open to radical intellectual challenge, than their European counterparts.  It should at once be added that the universities in this country, if they are to continue to enjoy the massive public support they need to survive, have to provide many programs in addition to the finest training in the liberal arts that a relatively few can make much use of.  The best prospects for liberal education  remain in the small colleges of this country, whether standing alone or as more or less autonomous parts of universities.

Although chance has been critical in making Mr. Bloom a wealthy celebrity, it is a fate he is as much entitled to as any scholar of our generation.  He, like the great Protagoras, does work at his calling and he is known as an eloquent champion of those privileged to study with him.  I still recall the considerable pleasure he had, and that his friends shared, when he got his contract to translate the Republic.51  Indeed, I know no one among the academics with whom I have been associated for four decades now who would enjoy spending the fortune he is making as much as Mr. Bloom should and who would be less corrupted in the process.

It would give his friends considerable pleasure if he could now take his loot, invest it conservatively, and live quite comfortably ever after while taking care of his health better than he ever has, curtailing sharply his oppressively lucrative lecture schedule, and returning to a serious study, with the help of Leo Strauss, of the Bible and the Greek texts which lie at the roots of all that he properly stands for.52

Notes for “In re Allan Bloom”

1.  This story is adapted from Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish (New York:  McGraw-Hill, 1968), p. 173.  See, for a eulogy of the spiritual prototype for the hero of this story, George Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker:  From Shakespeare to Joyce (Athens, Ohio:  Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1983), pp. 270-271.

The reader is urged, as with my other publications, to begin by reading the text of this review without reference to its notes.

2.  We have here a variation upon the ancient Cretan paradox.

The full title of Mr. Bloom’s book is, The Closing of the American Mind:  How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1987).  The book is described in this fashion by the New Yorker (July 6, 1987, p. 82);

This essay, whose author is a political philosopher at the University of Chicago, argues that American universities have yielded intellectual and moral authority to the point where their students are not taught values, and are not even allowed to discover them.  Because the traditional curriculum has been eroded, undergraduates have little chance to understand the ideas that shaped the past, and the result is that they do not learn to think coherently about the present.  This process may be described, at least in part, as good intentions gone awry:

post-Second World War faculties, attempting inclusiveness, taught tolerance, drifted into a pervasive relativism, and left themselves without any intellectual foundation for moral judgment.  At present, the author finds the university compartmentalized:  science departments are enclaves of self-importance; the humanities faculties “do not believe in themselves or what they do;” and political science is “a haphazard bazaar.”  He allows his readers to decide whether the disarray of our learned institutions represents or misrepresents the condition of the wider society.

3.  See, for what can be said on behalf of Judge Bork, Anastaplo, “On the Judging of Judges:  The Bork Case,” University of Chicago Maroon, October 6, 1987, p. 21.

4.  Among the fine publications by Mr. Bloom’s former students have been meticulous translations of Greek texts:  Plato’s Laws, by Thomas L. Pangle (Free Press); Aristotle’s Politics, by Carnes Lord (University of Chicago Press); Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito, and Aristophanes’ Clouds, by Thomas G. West (Cornell University Press).  The Pangle translation of the Laws is dedicated to Mr. Bloom.

Various of Mr. Bloom’s former students like Closing because it reads the way they fondly remember him in his lecture courses.

5.  See Allan Bloom (with Harry V. Jaffa), Shakespeare’s Politics (New York:  Basic Books, 1964).  This book is dedicated by Mr. Bloom and Mr. Jaffa, “To Leo Strauss, Our Teacher.”  See Commentary, July 1987, p. 14.

6.  See Allan Bloom, trans., Plato, Republic (New York:  Basic Books, 1968).  See note 9, below.  This translation is dedicated by Mr. Bloom to his mother and father.

7.  See Allan Bloom, trans., Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education (New York:  Basic Books, 1979).  This translation is dedicated by Mr. Bloom, “To the memory of Victor Baras, My Student and Friend.”  It was anticipated by the Bloom translation, Politics and the Arts:  Rousseau’s Letter to d’Alembert (Glencoe, Ill.:  Free Press, 1960).  Closing is dedicated by Mr. Bloom, “To My Students.”

8.  See Allan David Bloom, The Political Philosophy of Isocrates (University of Chicago doctoral dissertation, 1955).

9.  See, on Leo Strauss, G. Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, pp. 250-271.  Mr Strauss is drawn upon at length in the interpretive essay in the Bloom translation of Plato’s Republic.  See note 6, above.

10.  Closing has been on the New York Times bestseller list since April 26, 1987.  It reached the top of the list on June 7, 1987, remaining there for ten weeks.  See Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1987, p. 25.

11.  See, e.g., David Rieff, “The Colonel and the Professor,” Times Literary Supplement, September 4, 1987, p. 950; Robert Paul Wolff, Book Review, Academe, September-October 1987; Martha Nussbaum, “Undemocratic Vistas,” New York Review of Books, November 5, 1987, p. 20.  See, also, Jacob Weisberg, “The Cult of Leo Strauss:  An obscure philosopher’s Washington disciples,” Newsweek, August 3, 1987, p. 61; note 29, below.

An eminent classical scholar is reported in a New York Times Magazine article on Mr. Bloom (James Atlas, “Chicago’s Grumpy Guru,” January 3, 1988, p. 25) as having “denounced” Mr. Strauss as “a bloody lunatic.”  Far more fair, as well as instructive, is the tribute paid to Leo Strauss by the same classical scholar on another occasion when the auspices were far more favorable.  Mr. Strauss could then be remembered by him as “a man of extraordinary mental power with a kind of fantasy of the intellect, creative, almost like a poet. . . .  He cared about thoughts and their life and their relations to books and to the world with a white-hot intensity.”  See Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, p. 272.

12.  There is only one reference to Mr. Strauss by name, and that is really a quotation by Mr. Strauss from Winston Churchill to the effect that “the moderns ‘built on low but solid ground.'”  Closing, p. 167.  All kinds of other people are acknowledged by Mr. Bloom in his preface, including old students, readers and typists.  Of Saul Bellow, who contributed a most helpful foreword to Closing, Mr. Bloom can say, “[He], with his special generosity, entered into my thoughts and encouraged me in paths I had never before taken.”  Closing, p. 23.  See note 15, below.

The informed reader expects Mr. Strauss finally to emerge from the survey of political philosophy in Mr. Bloom’s long chapter, “From Socrates’ Apology to Heidegger’s Rektoratsrede,” especially since it concludes with the “study of the problem of Socrates [as] the one thing most needful.”  Closing, p. 310.  If anyone emerges here, however, it is Mr. Bloom himself.  (Elsewhere it is Woody Allen.  See Closing, pp. 125, 144-146, 154, 155, 173.)  Mr. Strauss’s last public lecture at the University of Chicago, on December 1, 1967, was on “The Socratic Question.”  See Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, pp. 259-262.  The problem of Socrates was repeatedly investigated by Mr. Strauss in his studies of Aristophanes, Plato and Xenophon.

13.  Mr. Bloom took his University of Chicago doctorate with the Committee on Social Thought, an interdisciplinary body sponsored by Robert Maynard Hutchins as President of the University.  He began his teaching career at the University of Chicago in the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, founded by Mr. Hutchins and Mortimer J. Adler.  Compare Closing, pp. 54, 70.  See note 51, below.

14.  See, e.g., University of Chicago Magazine, Summer 1987, p. 9 (“I’m a Hutchins enthusiast without believing that that was the only way or even perhaps the right way”); Washington Post, June 18, 1987, p. C2.  See note 51, below.  Mr. Bloom can also speak with respect of teachers such as Yves R. Simon and institutions such as St. John’s College.  See, e.g., New York Times, Education Life, August 2, 1987, p. 36.

15.  Is there not something Heidegerrian about such

self-assertiveness?  The demands of the market might also have been responsible for making so much in Closing of the supposed intellectual influences upon Mr. Bloom of celebrities that Mr. Strauss could hardly have taken seriously.  See note 12, above.

See, on Martin Heidegger, Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, pp. 269, 475.

16.  This may be related to the implicit depreciation of politics in Mr. Bloom’s approach.  “Never did I think that the university was properly ministerial to the society around it.  Rather I thought and think that society is ministerial to the university, and I bless a society that tolerates and supports an eternal childhood for some, a childhood whose playfulness can in turn be a blessing to society.”  Closing, p. 245.  Consider, also, ibid., p. 336:  “The importance of [his college] years for an American cannot be overestimated.  They are civilization’s only chance to get to him.”  Compare ibid., p. 39:  “The United States is one of the highest and most extreme achievements of the rational quest for the good life according to nature.”  See, also, ibid., p. 97  Compare note 49, below.

A depreciation of the political may be implicit as well in Mr. Bloom’s initial response to the University of Chicago campus:  “When I was fifteen years old I saw the University of Chicago for the first time and somehow sensed that I had discovered my life.  I had never before seen, or at least had not noticed, buildings that were evidently dedicated to a higher purpose, not to necessity or utility, not merely to shelter or manufacture or trade, but to something that might be an end in itself.  The Middle West was not known for the splendor of its houses of worship or its monuments to political glory.”  Closing, p. 243.  Thus, it seems, he had not appreciated the majestic aspirations of Midwestern county courthouses or the significance of Civil War and other such monuments across the land.  Particularly memorable is the rather insistent Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Mr. Bloom’s native Indianapolis.  See note 22, below.

17.  See Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, p. 259.

18.  See Closing, pp. 66, 285.  Compare ibid., pp. 274, 327.  Compare, also, Plato, Apology 28C-D, Crito 44B, Republic 516D-E; Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist:  Notes on the First Amendemnt (Dallas:  Southern Methodist University Press, 1971), p. 278; Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen:  Essays on Virtue, Freedom and the Common Good (Chicago:  Swallow Press, 1975), p. 240, n. 32, p. 242, n. 39.

19.  “Aristotle said that man has two peaks, each accompanied by intense pleasure:  sexual intercourse and thinking.”  Closing, p. 137.

20.  See Closing, pp. 330-331; also, ibid., pp. 110-112, 162-170, 174-177.  See, as well, ibid., pp. 28, 97, 187.

21.  See Closing, pp. 271, 283.  Mr. Strauss could speak with passion of “what it means to be a son of the Jewish people–of the ‘am ‘olam–to have one’s roots deep in the oldest past and to be committed to a future beyond all future.”  Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, p. 271.  He could invoke as well, in a time of mourning, “the traditional Jewish formula:  ‘May God comfort you among the others who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.'”  Ibid., p. 271.  Mr. Bloom’s uses of religion in Closing verge on the sentimental in some instances and on the sophisticated in others.  Neither is the proper response.  Compare, however, Closing, p. 60.

See, on the relation of revelation to reason, Anastaplo, “Church and State:  Explorations,”  19 Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal 61, 183-193 (1987).

22.  See Closing, pp. 302-303.  Goethe’s text has four stages, not only the three drawn upon here by Mr. Bloom.  It is nicely revealing that Mr. Bloom should convert the meditating Faust’s “meaning” (or “sense”) into “feeling” and that he should omit altogether “force” (or “strength”) from Faust’s inventory.  Thus, it can be said, Mr. Bloom’s depreciation of politics is instinctive, so mush so as to subvert his usual meticulousness as a translator.  See note 16, above, notes 42 and 47, below.

23.  See Closing, pp. 41, 306, 308.  Compare Gisela N. Neck, Greek Antiquity in Schiller’s Wallenstein (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1985).

24.  “I must reiterate that Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche are thinkers of the very highest order. . . .  We must relearn what this means and also that there are others who belong in the same rank.”  Closing, p. 240.  See, also, ibid., p. 290 (“The great modern philosophers were as much philosophers as were the ancients”), 307-308, 377.

25.  Mr. Bloom refuses to dull the rhetorical impressiveness of his arguments with qualifications because he, like his stylistic master Rousseau, is more interested in leading his readers to feel the power of his positions than in protecting himself in advance from criticism.  But unlike his master, Mr. Bloom seems to believe that a people, or life itself, can be significant only in or through the study of books.  (There may be something nihilistic about this.  See the text at note 29, below.)  Compare the experience of Sparta.

Eva Brann, of St. John’s College, has prepared a review of Closing which may come to be celebrated as the best response to the book.  (It is to be published in the St. John’s Review.)  It should have a most salutary effect, not least because of its restraint.  Thus, Miss Brann observes,

The Closing of the American Mind is, I am implying, a historicist enterprise or, more fairly, next cousin to it.  Since historicism, the notion that the temporal place of a text determines its significance more than does the author’s conscious intention and that history through its movements is a real agent, is Mr. Bloom’s bete noir, that is no small charge.  But there is no getting around the fact that the book continually places and positions great names evaluatively from the outside in–of internal philosophical substance it contains very little.  Similarly it persistently sums up the spirit of the times and seeks its genealogy in intellectual movements. . . .

The title itself is revealing.  It is, to be sure, not Mr. Bloom’s choice.  He wanted the euphonious and accurate title “Souls Without Longing” (the French title is “L’Ame desarmee”).  But he condoned “The Closing of the American Mind.”  The “Closing” part is fine:  One of the most convincing chapters is the early one in which he shows how openness corrupted, which becomes the lazily tolerant path of least resistance, forecloses passionate doubting, and how the springboard of learning is vigorous prejudice.  But “the American Mind” is debased Hegelianism, and a scandal.  Americans do, happily, still have certain areas of consensus; nonetheless, they are more than one mind among them.

Further on Miss Brann makes these judgments:

The text seems to be stuffed with truth that is not the whole truth and not nothing but the truth.  Of course, it is very hard to hit all the small nails squarely on the head with so large a mallet, yet there are fine and there are coarse ways of epitomizing spheres of thought and trends of opinion.  Mr. Bloom’s often anonymous and torrential mode of presentation makes it hard to tell whether the trouble is with his accuracy or his perspective.  Moreover, he sometimes seems to present an anonymous modern opinion as though it had but to come in contact with the air to self-destruct, while his great moderns, Rousseau and Nietzsche, seem somehow to merit awed admiration for setting us on the road we are condemned for following.  Mr. Bloom’s relation especially to Rousseau is the mystery of mysteries to me.  One of the excellences of his exposition is the continuous pointing to Rousseau not just as the uncannily accurate analyst but as the brilliantly effective originator of the corruption-prone side of modernity.  (The book neglects to its detriment the complementary side, the reverence-producing splendor of modern science and mathematics).  But then why is Mr. Bloom not on record as being at least as repelled as he is fascinated by this “inverse Socrates” (298)?

Mr. Bloom’s considerable use of Tocqueville as a guide to understanding American life may reflect the influence upon Tocqueville of Rousseau.  Furthermore, Mr. Bloom has become habituated to seeing American things through European eyes.

Also instructive are the reservations in Miss Brann’s review about the theory of the relation of music to the passions that Mr. Bloom finds in Plato’s Republic.

See the text at note 40, below, and the text at note 45, below.  See, also, note 33, below.  See, as well, Eva Brann, Paradoxes of Education in a Republic (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1979).

26.  Mr. Strauss’s care in writing reflected his care in reading.  See, e.g., Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe:  The Free Press, 1952).  Too much has been made both by some of Mr. Strauss’s students and by some of his critics of his discovery about how a decent deception may have on rare occasion to be resorted to by the prudent man.  See, e.g., Benjamin Barber, “The Philosopher Despot:  Allan Bloom’s elitist agenda,” Harper’s Magazine, January 1988, p. 61; Richard Rorty, “That Old-Time Philosophy:  Straussianism, Democracy, and Allan Bloom,” New Republic, April 4, 1988, p. 28.

27.  Carl Van Doren, the historian.

28.  See, e.g., Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 1.  Compare, e.g., Bloom, Closing, pp. 28, 163-164, 187.  But see note 16, above.

29.  See the reviews of Closing by Harry V. Jaffa and Harry Neumann to be published in Interpretation (volume 16, 1988).  Compare the friendlier reviews to be published there by William A. Galston, Roger D. Masters, and Will Morrisey.  Some of the unfriendly reviews (see, e.g., note 11, above) have been poorly informed, if not simply unfair.

In his discussion of “Nihilism, American Style (Closing, p. 139f), Mr. Bloom seems to complain that American nihilism has not gone as far as the European original.  The “shallowness” of the United States here may reflect a certain resiliency grounded in a sounder political system than any enjoyed by Continental Europeans.  See note 25, above.

30.  Qualified support for Mr. Bloom here may be found in Strauss, Natural Right and History, pp. 1-2.

31.  See Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, at 508 (1951).  See, on Dennis, Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, p. 824.

32.  See Anastaplo, The United States Constitution of 1787:  A Commentary (to be published in 1988 by the Johns Hopkins University Press), Lectures No. 10 and No. 11 (originally published in 18 Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal 15 [1986]).  Compare the “absolutes” drawn upon in the Declaration of Independence as well as by William Blackstone.  See, for the most instructive account of what the United States Supreme Court has done to its intended common-law powers, William W. Crosskey, Politics and the Constitution (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1953).  See, on Mr. Crosskey as a master teacher, Anastaplo, “Mr. Crosskey, the American Constitution, and the Natures of Things,” 15 Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal 181 (1983).

33.  Mr. Bloom’s attempts to make use of mathematics are not happy ones.  See Closing, pp. 127, 137.  See, also, note 25, above.  I suspect that he also could have made better use of Freud that he does.  See note 40, below.

34.  See, for an extended argument for the abolition of broadcast television in the United States, Anastaplo,

“Self-Government and the Mass Media:  A Practical Man’s Guide,” in Henry M. Clor, ed., Mass Media and Modern Democracy (Chicago:  Rand McNally, 1974).  Key questions remain, such as, Why have we permitted television to do all that it has done to us?  What does the ever-expanding medical crusade really minister to in us?  See Anastaplo, “On Death:  One by One, Yet All Together,” in Human Being and Citizen.

35.  John Van Doren, “Mr. Bloom, the American Mind, and Paideia,” The Paideia Bulletin, November-December 1987, p.1.  See, on Mr. Hutchins and his efforts to reform liberal education at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, Mortimer J. Adler, Philosopher at Large (New York:  Macmillan, 1977).

36.  See, e.g., Anastaplo, “Preliminary Reflections on the Pentagon Papers,” University of Chicago Magazine, January-February 1972, p. 2, March-April 1977, p. 16 (reprinted in 114 Congressional Record 24990 [July 24, 1972]).

37.  See Closing, pp. 328-329.  Organized campus resistance to the draft in the Sixties included among its numbers many students who were personally exempt (that is, women and the better male students).  See, on opposition to the draft and the earliest important First Amendment case (Schenck v. United States [1919]), Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, p. 826.

38.  See, e.g., Letter from Barbara Page, New York Times Magazine, January 24, 1988, p. 8.  Allan P. Sindler, a former Cornell colleague whom Mr. Bloom has properly praised (Closing, p. 23), prepared, in 1969 and 1971, accounts of the 1969 Cornell disturbances which are considerably more balanced than is Mr. Bloom’s.  (I have read only the manuscript versions of Mr. Sindler’s accounts.)  See note 42, below.  See, for a novel evidently drawing on some Cornell disturbances, Allison Lurie, The War Between the Taits (New York:  Random House, 1974).

39.  Consider how an unfriendly critic can comment upon such different responses:

Among Mr. Bloom’s various occasions for nostalgia is the good old Western movie, which people used to watch without a bunch of anti-racist and anti-sexist considerations spoiling their enjoyment.  Yet he also recounts an incident that deeply troubled him (and, indeed, seems to have been the point of departure for the book itself):  one day he was among a group of professors who were threatened at gunpoint by a group of “revolutionary” students.  I share his indignation, of course, yet I cannot help noticing his reluctance to profit from this unique opportunity actually to take part in a Western himself.

Tzvetan Todorov, “The Philosopher and the Everyday,” New Republic, September 14 & 21, 1987, p. 34.

I have been told, by a thoughtful woman who was a student at Cornell during the 1969 disturbances and who engaged in the marathon meetings among students then, that she and her friends had felt betrayed by those faculty members who resigned their posts and left them to cope with the radical minority on campus.  I myself believed at the time that those resignations were a mistake, but it is difficult to judge such maneuvers from a distance.  But I also recall that this did not keep me from letting it be known, as chairman of the political science department at Rosary College, that I was willing to do everything I could to help one or more of those who had resigned and who might have been in need of a temporary academic refuge.  See notes 41 and 42, below.

40.  A serious study of Mr. Bloom’s book could well begin with his considerable use of the word “longing.”  See, e.g., Closing, pp. 62, 125, 133, 134, 135, 157, 167, 169, 196, 205, 206, 243, 282, 320, 329.  See, also, notes 25 and 33, above.  (He is correct in pointing out the questionable implications of the use of such terms as “values” and “commitment.”  See, e.g., Closing, p. 194f.  But notice Mr. Strauss’s use of “commitment” in the passage quoted in note 21, above.)

The curious blending in Mr. Bloom’s soul of longing with anger may help explain his success with the national reading (or, at least, book-buying) public:  there are in Closing the vibrations of one tormented soul that resonate in others.  Gifted students can be moved by him, even to the extent of telling him things that they would not tell their other teachers.  These may include things that are not quite so but which they sense he somehow wants to hear.

41.  When students want to stop intellectual life on a campus, they usually can do so.  We probably do not want schools that are completely unresponsive to students or that are altogether invulnerable to student activity.  This is not to deny that there was periodic gross irresponsibility, if not even a kind of intermittent lunacy, on campuses during the Sixties.  But it does not help to be so dogmatic as not to recognize the serious questions that students could raise and that faculties and administrations failed to address properly.  One of the sadder aspects of the Sixties was the loss of confidence by faculties in their ability to guide students with respect to controversial matters.  See Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, p. 409; Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, p. 263, n. 9; Anastaplo, “The Daring of Moderation:  Student Power and The Melian Dialogue,” 78 School Review 451 (August 1970).  See, also, note 39, above.  Compare Wayne C. Booth, Now Don’t Try to Reason With Me (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 175, 217-223, 225, 243-261.

42.  For one thing, the Cornell students were not acting in concert with, but rather in opposition to, government policy.  Nor were they simply the mob that Mr. Bloom condemns:  there, as generally elsewhere on campuses, the extreme elements were effectively restrained by the bulk of the student body.  Compare the odd recourse by a few of Mr. Bloom’s students to passing out to the mob quotations from Plato, a tactic that he finds admirable.  See Closing, pp. 332-333.  See, also, note 39, above.

Mr. Sindler’s meticulous accounts of the Cornell disturbances (see note 38, above) is far more political than Mr. Bloom’s recollection.  I suspect that the poor judgment and cowardice displayed at Cornell by the administration and all too many faculty had little to do with the corrupting educational theories Mr. Bloom makes so much of in this context.  Administrations and faculty laboring under the same educational theories did handle themselves much better elsewhere.  See, for possible corrections of Mr. Bloom’s account (if not also of Mr. Sindler’s account), Cornell Alumni News, November 1987, pp. 28-31.

The concluding paragraph of Mr. Sindler’s 1971 account is instructive (pp. 84 and 85):

This account of how crisis came to Cornell suggests, I hope, the lengthy evolution and multidimensionality of the campus conflict, and the mix of motives and attitudes–creditable and otherwise–of the major actors.  It thus provides but a thin understanding to rest the explanation on the existence and effects of a wobbly and irresolute administration, a divided and unnerved faculty and a confused and exploitable student body.  These characterizations are accurate enough, but it was the reasons for the wobbliness, division and confusion in the face of the clearly illegitimate methods of dissent which illuminate Cornell’s difficulties and those facing many other campuses around the nation.  The malaise of higher education, the declining self-confidence of academic men, the shattered consensus on academic values and the relation of the university to society, the bias of faculty in favor of the political Left, the conversion of white racial guilt and empathy to blacks to a quite different posture of abdicating judgment and “giving blacks what they want,” the growing casuistry of liberals in condoning bad means when used by favored groups or on behalf of ends thought good–all these complex themes and more comprise the contextual set of larger reasons necessary to explain Cornell’s difficulties in reacting effectively to internal campus threats to fundamental university principles.  If liberal administrators and faculty persist in crippling their capacity to respond to these threats because of a self-inflicted paralysis of judgment and will, the verdict of one black Cornellian on the great April crisis may come to apply to higher education generally.  “Liberals . . .,” he shrewdly observed, “serv[ed] as liberalism’s pallbearers.”

43.  The 1954 United States Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. Board of Education was an important step toward a humane solution of the problems of race relations in this country, but we still have a way to go.  Mike Royko, who can be hardheaded (if not even cynical) about American politics, insists that “racial discrimination . . . is the most destructive and persistent of our domestic problems.  Name any of our urban miseries–poverty, crime, unemployment, education, busing–and it boils down to race.  Add up the cost, not only in dollars, but in fear and distrust, and the bottom line is race.”  Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1988, p. 3.  See, for reservations about typical “black studies” programs, Anastaplo, “Race, Law and Civilization,” in Human Being and Citizen.

44.  It is this material that Mr. Bloom’s editors evidently insisted should be moved to the front of the book.  One risk of massive editorial revisions is the sloppiness of a poor “fit” between a book’s parts by people who do not really know what they are doing.

45.  Compare the end of note 25, above.  It is true that music is very important for the young today–but also for Mr. Bloom himself, if one is to judge from repeated reports in the press of the fabulous library of recordings that he can now own.  I doubt, however, that the pleasure he gets from all this music today matches the enjoyment he derived from the performance more than three decades ago of the joyful dirge, “There is no room for gloom in Bloom’s Republic.”  (The words, and performance at a Basic Program symposium, were by Jason Aronson and Werner Dannhauser.  The music was borrowed from My Fair Lady.  See Closing, p. 310, n. 9; note 1, above; note 51, below.)

‘Even Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, a Bloom admirer, thinks he is a little harsh on old man rock.  ‘Bloom has eloquently and forcefully dissected the failures of institutions of higher education and pointed the way toward fundamental reforms.  But Bloom and I differ on one important point:  rock ‘n’ roll.  I’m for it, though only the old-fashioned kind.'”  Deirdre Donahue, “A scholar tries to open our minds,” USA Today, July 21, 1987, p. 2D.

Some rock music is far worse than Mr. Bloom reports it.  And probably all of it suffers from being technically inferior to the great music of old.  Be that as it may, the typical teenaged response to Closing is suggested by this passage from a review in a high school newspaper:  “But to this teenaged rock listener, Professor Bloom’s arguments are just too extreme.  He writes as if rock corrupts every child in America.  His ideas about how rock relates to sex are more vulgar than any video on MTV he criticizes.”  U-High Midway (University of Chicago Laboratory Schools), September 16, 1987, p. 2.

Mr. Bloom is anticipated, in what he says not only about music but also about the epistemological errors responsible for the fallings generally of higher education, by Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1948).  In Mr. Weaver’s day, however, jazz was the bete noir, not rock.  See, on Mr. Weaver, Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, p. 822.

46.  See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, p. 477.  “It is an age of pious bullies in America, and far too many people are having far too good a time beating up on the young, the poor, the defeated.”  Rieff, “The Colonel and the Professor,” p. 960.

47.  See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, p. 490; “What Is Still Wrong With George Anastaplo?  A Sequel to 366 U.S. 82 (1961),” 35 DePaul Law Review 551, 595-609, 643-647 (1986).  See, also, Ellen W. Schrecker, No Ivory Tower:  McCarthyism and the Universities (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 340-341 (the final paragraph of the book):

The academy did not fight McCarthyism.  It contributed to it.  The dismissals, the blacklists, and above all the almost universal acceptance of the legitimacy of what the congressional committees and other official investigators were doing conferred respectability upon the most repressive elements of the anti-Communist crusade.  In its collaboration with McCarthyism, the academic community behaved just like every other major institution in American life.  Such a discovery is demoralizing, for the nation’s colleges and universities have traditionally encouraged higher expectations.  Here, if anywhere, there should have been a rational assessment of the nature of American Communism and a refusal to overreact to the demands for its eradication.  Here, if anywhere, dissent should have found a sanctuary.  Yet it did not.  Instead, for almost a decade until the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war inspired a new wave of activism, there was no real challenge to political orthodoxy on the nation’s campuses.  The academy’s enforcement of McCarthyism had silenced an entire generation of radical intellectuals and snuffed out all meaningful opposition to the official version of the Cold War.  When, by the late fifties, the hearings and dismissals tapered off, it was not because they encountered resistance but because they were no longer necessary.  All was quiet on the academic front.

It should also be noticed that there have been times and places, since the Fifties, when pro-McCarthy academics have suffered for their opinions.  Even so, Mr. Bloom’s dismissal of the effects of McCarthyism in the universities may be still another indication of his lack of a reliable “feel” for politics.  See note 22, above.

48.  That is, professors could figure out what was in their interest, or at least what seemed to be in their immediate (however ignoble) interest.  See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, p. 333.

49.  See Closing, pp. 28, 260.  See, for my discussions

of the “clear and present danger” test (including Alexander Meiklejohn’s pioneering critique of it), Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, pp. 812, 818.

50.  It is unfortunate that Mr. Bloom, who does love his country, should lead outsiders to conclude, “The odd thing is that Bloom doesn’t seem actually to like America.  Indeed, when it comes time for him to describe anything about the place, he speaks only in what might be called that new grammatical mood invented by neo-conservatives:  the denunciative.”  Rieff, “The Colonel and the Professor,” p. 960.  Compare note 16, above.

Mr. Bloom can notice, “A Charles de Gaulle or, for that matter, an Alexander Solzhenitsyn sees the United States as a mere aggregate of individuals, a dumping ground for the refuse from other places, devoted to consuming, in short, no culture.”  Closing, p. 187.  Such an observation does call for the immediate comment that people such as de Gaulle have again and again depended upon the United States to save them from the political disasters that their supposedly superior cultures have helped produce.  See, also, Closing, p. 77.

51.  This was while a dozen of Mr. Strauss’s students, including Mr. Bloom, were teaching in the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago.  See notes 13 and 15, above.  See, on the Basic Program, Anastaplo, “What is a Classic?”, in The Artist as Thinker.  See, also, Anastaplo, “The Teacher as Learner:  On Discussion,” Claremont Review of Books, Summer 1985, p. 22.

It is reassuring that Mr. Bloom is not, in his critique of higher education, as original as he may seem to many of his reader to be.  That is, there are models, experiments and experiences “out there” for conscientious educators to draw upon in attempting the reforms that have long been needed.  Among the things to be considered is, of course, “the old Great Books conviction.”  See Closing, pp. 51, 344.  See, also, Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., “Democracy and the Great Books,” New Republic, April 4, 1988, p. 33; Closing, p. 287.

52.  No doubt, it is difficult to avoid being trapped by one’s phenomenal success, by what the world comes to expect of one, by the honors and lavish rewards it seems to offer.  When that happens, the human being can be lost sight of.  The classics do teach us that whoever happens to be elevated by chance is especially vulnerable to being toppled thereby.  I have observed in the prologue to this review that we can see great success turn into a curse in Sophocles’s Oedipus Tyrannos.  In the Oedipus at Colonos we can see that the long-suffering Oedipus, of worldwide fame, virtually became a thing (to be manipulated by others) because of what had happened to him.  In his case, however, we can also see that an appalling curse somehow became a blessing.

Mr. Bloom observes that “it is always pleasant to give people gifts that please them.”  Closing, p. 69.  Proper pleasure comes from giving people the gifts that should please them.  What more can Mr. Bloom do now to please his true friends but to use, and hence preserve, both body and soul as he should?

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