Monthly Book Recommendation: March 2019
The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom
An audiobook is available here:https://archive.org/details/AllanBloomTheClosingOfTheAmericanMind
Where has critical thought gone? In the latter half of the 20th century, that question haunted Professor Allan Bloom as he watched more and more students pass through the academy with disappointing and even dangerous ideologies. Although some might’ve blamed the students or parenting, Bloom criticized the teachings of higher education.
In Bloom’s 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, he condemns how comfortable students in college are with the idea of objectivism, a school of thought that de-emphasizes absolute right and wrong, and leans toward notions of relativism. To counter it, in Bloom’s view, critical thinking —the ability to discern right from wrong — must be trained, and students should be tasked with exercising it: the failure of which could lead to total moral failing.
The entire philosophy of relativism is for Bloom an easy way out of critical thinking, proposing that there is no right or wrong. Murder, a relativist could argue, might be appropriate under some circumstances. On the other hand, absolutism — championed by Bloom in his book — establishes ethics and affirms universal rights and wrongs, the discovery of which can only be found through critical thought.
The Closing of the American Mind is split into three sections: “Students”, “Nihilism, American Style”, and “The University”, each tackling turns in relativism’s creeping growth.
In “Students,” Blooms criticizes the American youth for indulging in drugs, sex, music, and popular culture – preventing them from giving any real concern to philosophical reasoning. Students in the modern day are convinced they already know everything, and so give little regard for learning when they enter college.
This belief, in turn, devalues what Bloom referred to as the great books that make up the Western Canon. Works like Plato’s Republic, C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, and even classical music are foundations of the Western Canon. The lack of attention paid to learning the books of the Western Canon is what Bloom calls the closing of the mind.
In “Nihilism, American Style,” Bloom dives into the philosophy of many departments in higher education. Throughout higher education, Bloom says, professors teach towards the ideas of relativism. Nihilism, he says, is one short step away — a side effect of relativism. Nihilism is defined as a life where no meaning is present. Bloom’s opinion, along with many conservatives, is that without a fundamental meaning to life, determining what is right and wrong is impossible. A dangerous way of thinking that could ultimately lead to a void in the consciousness of Americans.
Bloom goes on to argue that too many professors are involved with simply finding some abstract truth, often leading to disregard of morality. Students, he says, will naturally gravitate toward this type of thought since it’s an inherently easier option. But if it’s not questioned and challenged philosophically, it can lead to poor thinking. This line of thinking, he argues, led to the rise of Communism and Nazism, two of the worst occurrences in humanity from American thought’s perspective.
In the final section, “The University,” Bloom blames the failure of the education systems, mainly liberal colleges and universities, for limiting the freedom of thought. He says that modern universities are oftentimes structured around proclaiming ideas pell-mell – with no thought of the consequences that could follow from those ideas.
Although Bloom admits why universities wouldn’t want trouble in their schools, there needs to be some level of intellectual freedom. If there is no freedom of thought, there will never be great thinkers, let alone basic thinkers.
Universities in the modern day continue to fight for what they believe is “equality” and “morality”. However, it seems that it’s only “moral and ethical” if the thought is ideologically aligned with the university. This leads to unquestioned so-called liberal thought to spread like disease from college campuses. And since universities strive for equality in perception, such an infection can easily leading to an absence of intellectual diversity.
Some of the worst regimes around the world have been driven by thought based around the philosophy of objectivism. Communist and Fascist leaders shared intentions based around its basic ideals. Leaders of these regimes believed it was acceptable to kill innocent individuals just for being classified an enemy of the state under petty circumstances. Extremism like this has led to the death of over 100 million people in the 20th century, and is now being used by radical regimes in the 21st century. The interpretation of objectivism is a clear violation of an individual’s God-given rights described by John Locke ― life, liberty, property, and limbs.
The teachings of Allan Bloom urge the importance of absolutism and its superiority to objectivism. Without the foundation of absolutism in American culture, it is unlikely America would be where it is today. The modern political left seeks to change towards socialism, which has been proven around the world to be led by corruption and, ultimately, objectivist thought. Much like the Communists and Fascists in history, the crossing of one ethical boundary only opens the possibilities for more unethical actions to be taken. The Closing of the American Mind has helped the conservative movement by pointing out the bias within higher education. In places where great thinkers ought to be getting cultivated, modern universities produce students with nothing but fragile feelings and thought. Allan Bloom’s philosophical reading should be used by modern institutions to foster thought and instill a vision for the future. If the university system in America remains unchanged, today’s students, products of liberal relativism and fragile thought, will continue to be thrown out into the world unprepared to face real life problems. To remain the beacon of freedom in the world, the United States needs to continue fostering critical thought, intellectual freedom and freedom of expression: the very bedrock of classical conservative thought.
An audiobook is available here: https://archive.org/details/AllanBloomTheClosingOfTheAmericanMind