Saturday, September 03, 2005

Allan Bloom's Mind

Remember academic Allan Bloom, who rode to sudden fame in 1987 on the back of his book, The Closing of the American Mind? It's been years since I read the book, so I must rely on Jim Sleeper's essay at for a refresher:
Who on an American campus could ignore Bloom's accounts of Cornell faculty groveling before black-power student poseurs, or his sketches of politically correct administrator-mandarins and ditzy pomo professors? What dedicated teacher could dismiss his self-described ''meditation on the state of our souls, particularly those of the young, and their education''? Some thoughtful liberals found themselves reading ''The Closing'' under their bedcovers with flashlights, unable either to endorse or repudiate it but sensing that some reckoning was due. Conservatives championed Bloom then, of course, and they invoke him still.
But, on closer inspection, it seems that
[f]ar from being a conservative ideologue, Bloom, a University of Chicago professor of political philosophy who died in 1992, was an eccentric interpreter of Enlightenment thought who led an Epicurean, quietly gay life. He had to be prodded to write his best-selling book by his friend Saul Bellow, whose novel ''Ravelstein'' is a wry tribute to Bloom. Far more than liberal speech codes and diversity regimens, the bĂȘtes noires of the intellectual right, darkened Bloom's horizons: He also mistrusted modernity, capitalism and even democracy so deeply that he believed the university's culture must be adversarial (or at least subtly subversive) before America's market society, with its vulgar blandishments, religious enthusiasms and populist incursions.
In fact, a mistrust of modernity, capitalism, and democracy isn't an unusual paleoconservative trait. Be that as it may, Bloom was right about the dangers of political correctness, and so Closing became -- and still is -- a rallying point for those conservatives, libertarians, and (true) liberals who oppose it.

Whatever else Allan Bloom might have opposed is of little moment. He was right about at least one thing, and his rightness about that thing has served us well.