The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

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(Jack Howard Burke, in The American Conservative, April 9, 2018)

In the summer of 1987, a relatively unknown University of Chicago political science professor and philosopher named Allan Bloom published an academic book entitled The Closing of the American Mind. It was a surprise hit that unexpectedly thrust him into the national spotlight and earned him, among other distinctions, a nationally broadcast interview on William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line.

Bloom’s book, whose principal focus was the deeply worrying state of higher education in America—and which he and his colleagues only forecast would be a modest success—remained atop The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for four continuous months. This professorial account from the inside, a “Notes from the Underground” on how the American university had been intellectually corrupted over the past 25 years, had clearly struck a chord. It was a work that held, and continues to hold, lessons for every thinking American citizen.

In 380 unrelenting pages, citing examples from philosophy, history, religion, and politics, Bloom argued that the American university had rejected the tradition of academic integrity dating back to Plato and Aristotle, capitulated to the demands of the ideologically aggressive student organizers of the 1960s, and replaced its basic pursuit of intellectual truth with a self-serving and quasi-fascist belief in moral relativism. This, he argued, was having grave ramifications for society at large.

Bearing the evocative subtitle “How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students,” the book was angrily condemned by several voices on the left (perhaps most notoriously by William Greider in his October 1987 Rolling Stone article), and sparked a high-profile public debate on the vitality of American culture, the philosophical atmosphere at the American university, the moral character of post-1960s American youth, and just where, exactly, the United States as a society was headed.