Thirty years ago, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind stunned academia and predicted our present day

Thirty years ago, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind stunned academia and predicted our present day. By Jack Burke.

We were forgetting, Bloom argued, not merely the political ideas of the American Founding Fathers, but the very foundation of Western and Judeo-Christian civilization itself. We had moved beyond even Marxism — which at least asserted an overarching view of man and his historical destiny — to Friedrich Nietzsche’s relativism, where no action was good or evil, and any set of values was conceivably as good as any other.

In short, Bloom said, the mob was becoming the absolute, and the stupid cliché “be yourself” a greater imperative than “do the right thing.” …

A man from a relatively liberal, Jewish background, Bloom merely saw himself as a defender of what he called the “theoretical life”—the authentic tradition of academics and philosophy that, he argued, had characterized the Western university from the time of Socrates and the ancient Greeks until the present day. Its main characteristic was the unencumbered pursuit of truth, humanity, and reality, which, Bloom argued, was being betrayed by the professors who during the 1960s had drifted wherever the wind blew. Truth has no value, Bloom felt, in a world where one’s own subjective experience and “feelings” are more important than the facts. …


Today is like Nazi Germany in some important ways:

Comparing the German universities under Nazi rule to the universities in his own time, in Closing of the American Mind he quotes Martin Heidegger’s Rectorial Address of 1933, made around the time Hitler seized the Reichstag. “The time for decision is past,” Heidegger declared. “The decision has already been made by the youngest part of the German nation.” It was incorrect for the universities to resist the revolutionary mass movement of Nazism because the decision had “already been made” by a social power that somehow knew better.

Bloom believed that the process of philosophical surrender was the same in that time and his own. “In both,” he said, “the universities gave way under the pressure of mass movements, and did so in large measure because they thought those movements possessed a moral truth superior to any the university could provide. Commitment [in the Nietzschean sense of believing one’s personal commitments to be more important than good or evil] was understood to be profounder than science, passion than reason, history than nature, the young than the old…. The unthinking hatred of ‘bourgeois society’ was exactly the same in both places.”

“Whether it be Nuremberg or Woodstock,” Bloom wrote, “the principle is the same.”