It is very rare when one can read a book written over twenty years ago, addressed to the intellectual, political, and educational climate of the day, and still find it incredibly accurate, provocative, and relevant two decades later. Such is the case with Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind. While a more comprehensive review would take up about 3-4 blog posts (and I may do this at a later point, or on a different part of the site), a brief summary of some of the notable features or themes gleaned so far should suffice.
One of Bloom’s primary contentions is that students who now enter college or other forms of higher education are basically victims of “openness” and “separateness.” By openness he refers to being “open” to all different types of value systems and beliefs, treating them all equally, where “there is no enemy other then the man who is not open to everything (p. 27).” This is commonly wrapped up in the idea of relativism, both in culture and in morals/virtue. He asks those who hold to such a view, “but when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible (ibid.)?” He then proceeds to demonstrate that this attitude actually is conformity, as what is in the world is a “drab diversity” and we can “create all the lifestyles we want.” This openness means we no longer need others at all. In this way, this postmodern “opening” is really a great closing (p. 34). It is from this mindset we get meaningless statements such as “diversity is a value,” one of the main tenets of pluralists today, and is of course completely incompatible with the Christian and historical western worldview.
Coupled to this is a sense of “separateness,” which takes different forms. Bloom writes how the areas of family, relationships, eros, love, etc…have been severed from any sense of community or moral foundation, to society’s detriment. America contributes in a unique way in this regard due to geography, as one can simply just chose to go south, to the coast, to the city, to the suburbs, etc…and pursue self-fulfillment. One that grows up in France does not have as many options, even though some of these same values have taken over there as well (some may say to an even worse degree). Since the closing that takes place above is combined with this isolation from any sort of tradition or obligations, it is easy to see how many spend their lives “searching for their identity” or experiencing life “crises.”
Bloom is at his best when he points out the foundational nature certain books and beliefs enjoyed in the past of the western world, and how this provided a higher form of education, rather then the isolated specialization that occurs in education today. In particular, he demonstrates how the Bible and the Greco-Roman Classics cause one to think about the most profound questions facing human existence, and how most today look to pop psychology, and find their culture in the low quality mass entertainment industry. He also wonders if some of the youth are so closed off to any sort of higher thought that they can even understand Austen’s wit or Tolstoy’s vision. He advocates a return to classical education in this regard, and a return to the western canon of books.
Readings such as this cause one to ponder some rather difficult questions in our environment now. For example, what is a nation or community? If a nation involves a common language, history, religion, culture, direction, and the like, is America a nation? Or is America 5-7 nations (perhaps even more), who happen to agree to get along for now? Other then some amorphous ideology like “American values” (who knows what that even means today), what foundations are there?
The historical and philosophical ignorance Bloom describes is one of many reasons my future children will see Cervantes, Shakespeare, Homer, Chesterton, classic history, music theory/history, and philosophy on my book shelf, and why Scripture will be memorized. It is also one of the reasons why I have included a western music literacy section on this site, and will include a literature section in the future. Bloom makes it abundantly clear that a reform/restoration to a healthy and intelligent culture must start in the family and local community. For those of you who are parents, teachers, pastors, etc…what sort of thoughts do you have in regards to this? Any experiences demonstrating how the corrupting “diversity” idea has impacted churches and schools?