Allan Bloom

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Western Philosophy
20th-century philosophy
Allan Bloom
Allan Bloom
Name: Allan Bloom
Birth: September 14, 1930 Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Death: October 7, 1992 Chicago, Illinois, United States
School/tradition: Continental Philosophy, Platonism, Conservatism
Main interests
Greek philosophy, History of philosophy, Political philosophy, Nihilism, Continental philosophy, Politics
Notable ideas
Great Books, Socratic Irony
Influences Influenced
Pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato, Machiavelli, William Shakespeare, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss Francis Fukuyama, Thomas Pangle, Harvey C. Mansfield, Paul Wolfowitz, Alan Keyes

Allan David Bloom (September, 14, 1930 in Indianapolis, Indiana – October 7, 1992 in Chicago, Illinois) was an American philosopher, essayist and academic. Bloom championed the idea of "Great Books" education, as did his mentor Leo Strauss. Late in his career he became famous for his scathing criticism of contemporary American higher education in his bestselling 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind. In the book Bloom argued that the result of the post-modern and multicultural trends in late twentieth century American academia, grounded in a Nietzschean relativism, and coupled with the sexual revolution, had left students spiritually impoverished.

Contents

Education

Allan Bloom was an only child born to social worker parents in Indianapolis. As a thirteen year old, he read a Readers Digest article about the University of Chicago and told his parents he wanted to attend; his parents thought it was unreasonable and did not encourage his hopes.[1] Yet several years later, when his family moved to Chicago in 1944, his parents met a psychiatrist and family friend whose son was enrolled in the University of Chicago’s humanities program for gifted students. In 1946 Bloom was accepted to the same program and spent the next decade of his life enrolled at the university in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.[2] This began his life-long passion for the "idea" of the university.[3]

In the preface to Giants and Dwarfs: Essays, 1960-1990, he stated that his education "began with Sigmund Freud and ended with Plato." The theme of this education was self-knowledge, or self-discovery–an idea that Bloom would later write seemed impossible to conceive of for a Midwestern American boy. He credits Leo Strauss as the teacher who made this endeavor possible for him.[4]

After earning his bachelor’s degree he enrolled in the Committee on Social Thought, where he was assigned Classicist David Grene as tutor. Grene recalled Bloom as an energetic and humorous student completely dedicated to reading the classics, but with no definite career ambitions.[5] The Committee on Social Thought was an unique interdisciplinary program that attracted a small number of students due to its rigorous academic requirements and lack of clear employment opportunities after graduation. [6]. Bloom earned his Ph.D. from the Committee on Social Thought of the University of Chicago in 1955.

Career

Bloom studied and taught abroad in Paris (1953-55) and Germany (1957). Upon returning to the United States he taught adult education students at the University of Chicago with his friend Werner J. Dannhauser, author of Nietzsche's View of Socrates. Bloom later taught at Yale, Cornell, Tel Aviv University and the University of Toronto, before returning to the University of Chicago.

In 1963, as a Professor at Cornell, Allan Bloom served as a faculty member of the Telluride Association. The organization aims to foster an everyday synthesis of self-governance and intellectual inquiry that enables students to develop their potential for leadership and public service. The students receive free room and board in the Telluride House on the Cornell University campus and run the house themselves, hiring staff, supervising maintenance and organizing seminars. Bloom had a major influence on several residents of Telluride House, including Paul Wolfowitz, one of the founding members of both the Project for the New American Century and the New Citizenship Project.

During 1968, he published his most significant work of philosophical translation and interpretation, a translation of Plato's Republic. According to online bookseller Alibris, "it is the first translation of Plato's Republic that attempts to be strictly literal, the volume has been long regarded as the closest and best English translation available." Although the translation is not universally accepted, Bloom strove to act as a "matchmaker" between readers and the texts he translated and interpreted. He repeated this effort while working as a professor at the University of Toronto in 1978, translating Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile: Or, On Education. Bloom was an editor for the scholarly journal Political Theory as well as a contributor to History of Political Philosophy (edited by Joseph Cropsey and Leo Strauss) among many other publications during his years of academic teaching. Bloom also translated and commented upon Rousseau's "Letter to D'Alembert On the Theater" which relied heavily upon Plato's Laws.

After returning to Chicago, he befriended and taught courses with Saul Bellow. Bellow wrote the Preface to The Closing of the American Mind in 1987, the book that made Bloom famous and wealthy. Bellow later immortalized his dead friend in the novel Ravelstein. Bloom's last book was Love and Friendship, where he offered interpretations of Stendhal, Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, and Leo Tolstoy's novels in light of Rousseau's influence on the Romantic movement, as well as examining William Shakespeare and finally Plato's Symposium.Despite his analysis of eros and its fate in contemporary society, Bloom did not touch upon his private love life.

Philosophy

Bloom's work is not easily defined, yet there is a thread that links all of his published material. Allan Bloom was a philosopher, primarily concerned with preserving the philosophical way of life for the future generation. He strived to do this through both scholarly and popular writing. Accordingly, his writings fall into two basic categories: scholarly (e.g. Plato's Republic) and popular political comment (e.g. Closing of the American Mind). On the surface, this is a valid distinction, yet closer examinations of Bloom’s works reveal a direct connection between the two types of expression, which reflect his view of philosophy and the role of the philosopher in political life.

Plato's Republic

Bloom’s translation and interpretive essay on Plato’s Republic was published in 1968. For Bloom, previous translations were lacking. In particuliar, Bloom was eager to sweep away the Christian Platonist layers that had coated the translations and scholarly analysis. In 1971, he wrote, "With the Republic, for example, a long tradition of philosophy tells us what the issues are. … This sense of familiarity may be spurious; we may be reading the text as seen by the tradition rather than raising Plato's own questions[7].

Up until the late twentieth century, most English-language Platonists were following a tradition that blended Christian theology with Plato. This view, named Christian Platonism, interprets Plato as prophet of the coming Christian age, a monotheist in a polytheistic world. In this school of thought, Socrates is considered a pre-Christian saint; the tradition emphasizes Socrates' 'goodness' and other-worldly attributes, treating his death like a Christian martyr.[8]

Yet there developed a different type of Platonism—Pagan Platonism, a type of which Bloom became aware and most certainly adopted from his teacher Leo Strauss (1899-1973), the most important representative of this thought in the past century. Adherents have a significantly different view of Plato’s Republic.

Strauss developed this point of view by studying ancient Islamic and Jewish theorists, such as Al-Farabi (870-950) and Moses Maimonides (1135-1204). Each philosopher was faithful to his religion but sought to integrate classical political philosophy into Islam and Judaism. Islam has a prophet-legislator Muhammad and similarly, Jewish law is a function of its theology. Thus these philosophers had to write with great skill, incorporating the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, many of which contradicted or contravened Islamic or Jewish thought and practice, without being seen to challenge the theology. According to Strauss, Al-Farabi and Moses Maimonides were really writing for potential philosophers within the pious faithful. Strauss calls this the discovery of esoteric writing, first presenting it as a possibility in Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952). The Christian faith was traditionally more hospitable to philosophy; Christian thinkers such as Saint Augustine (354-430) made liberal use of ancient philosophy in his City of God and On Free Will without the fear of being charged with heresy.

Strauss took this insight and applied it eventually to Plato’s writings themselves. Bloom's translation and essay on the Republic takes this stance; therefore, it is radically different in many important aspects than the previous translations and interpretations of the Republic—most notable in Bloom's discussion of Socratic irony. In fact, irony is the key to Bloom’s interpretation of the Republic. (See his discussion of Books II-VI of the Republic.) Allan Bloom says a philosopher is immune to irony because he can see the tragic as comic and comic as tragic. Bloom refers to Socrates, the philosopher par excellence, in his Interpretative Essay stating: "Socrates can go naked where others go clothed; he is not afraid of ridicule. He can also contemplate sexual intercourse where others are stricken with terror; he is not afraid of moral indignation. In other words he treats the comic seriously and the tragic lightly[9]. Thus irony in the Republic refers to the "Just City in Speech." Bloom looks at it not as a model for future society, nor as a template for the human soul; rather, it is an ironic city, an example of the distance between philosophy and every potential philosopher. Bloom follows Strauss in suggesting that the "Just City in Speech" is not natural; it is man-made, and thus ironic.

Closing of the American Mind

Closing of the American Mind was published in 1987, five years after Bloom published an essay in The National Review about the failure of universities to serve the needs of students. With the encouragement of Saul Bellow, his colleague at the University of Chicago, he expanded his thoughts into a book "about a life, I've led"[10] that critically reflected on the current state of higher education in American universities. His friends and admirers imagined the work would be a modest success, as did Bloom, who recognized his publisher’s modest advance to complete the project as a lack of sales confidence. Yet on the momentum of strong initial reviews, including Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, it became an unexpected best seller, eventually selling close to half a million copies in hardback and remaining at number one on the New York Times Non-fiction Best Seller list for four months.[11]

Bloom's Closing of the American Mind is a critique of the contemporary university and how it fails its students. Also, Bloom criticizes analytic philosophy as a movement, "Professors of these schools simply would not and could not talk about anything important, and they themselves do not represent a philosophic life for the students." To a great extent, Bloom's criticism revolves around the devaluation of the Great Books of Western Thought as a source of wisdom. However, Bloom's critique extends beyond the university to speak to the general crisis in American society. Closing of the American Mind draws analogies between the United States and the Weimar Republic. The modern liberal philosophy, he says, enshrined in the Enlightenment thought of John Locke—that a Platonically-just society could be based upon self-interest alone, coupled by the emergence of relativism in American thought—had led to this crisis.

For Bloom, this created a void in the souls of Americans, into which demagogic radicals as exemplified by 1960s student leaders could leap. (In the same fashion, Bloom suggests, that the Nazi brownshirts once filled the lacuna created in German society by the Weimar Republic.) In the second instance, the higher calling of philosophy/reason understood as freedom of thought, had been eclipsed by a pseudo-philosophy, and the goal of education had morphed from free inquiry into the inculcation of an ideology. This ideology had it roots in Relativism, which had replaced and subverted Platonic/Socratic teaching with a philosophy based on Friedrich Nietzsche and his postmodern followers in the university. His criticism of the modern university was part of the struggle over the direction of the modern university. Bloom and some others, like E. D. Hirsch, Jr. advocated that a humanistic education should remain grounded in The Great Books of Western Thought. His multicultural critics argued that education needed to be made more relavent by including a greater inclusiveness to the curricula than the writings of dead European white men, often dismissively referred to as "DEWM" (pronounced doom).

The power behind Bloom's critique of contemporary social movements at play in universities or society at large is derived from his philosophical orientation. The failure of contemporary liberal education leads to the social and sexual habits of modern students, and their inability to fashion a life for themselves beyond the mundane offerings touted as success. Commercial pursuits had become more highly valued than the philosophic quest for truth or the civilized pursuits of honor and glory.

Critical reception

The success of the work brought a hailstorm of criticism from a wide spectrum of critics. Conferences were organized at many American universities where Bloom was roundly denounced. Bloom was criticized primarly liberal scholars, such as Martha Nussbaum, a feminist philospher but included some conservatives like Harry V. Jaffa.[12] [13]

Quotes

  • "As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing." (Closing of the American Mind, 67)
  • "The substance of my being has been informed by the books I learned to care for." (Closing of the American Mind, 245)
  • "Education is the movement from darkness to light." (Closing of the American Mind)
  • "The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside." (Closing of the American Mind)
  • "Law may prescribe that the male nipples be made equal to the female ones, but they still will not give milk." (Closing of the American Mind, 131)

Author's Works

  • Bloom, Allan. 2000. Shakespeare on Love & Friendship. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
  • Bloom, Allan. 1993. Love and Friendship. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Bloom, Allan. 1991. Giants and Dwarfs: Essays, 1960-1990, New York: Touchstone Books.
  • Bloom, Allan. 1987. Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Bloom, Allan. [1968] (2nd ed. 1991). Republic of Plato. (translated with notes and an interpretive essay). New York: Basic Books.
  • Bloom, Allan, Charles Butterworth, Christopher Kelly (edited and translated), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 1968. Letter to d’Alembert on the theater in politics and the arts. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Agora ed.
  • Bloom, Allan, and Harry V. Jaffa. 1964. Shakespeare's Politics. New York: Basic Books.
  • Bloom, Allan, and Steven J. Kautz ed. 1991. Confronting the Constitution: The challenge to Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson, and the Federalists from Utilitarianism, Historicism, Marxism, Freudism. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
  • Bloom, Allan, translator, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 1979. Emile, with introduction. New York: Basic Books.
  • Plato, Seth Benardete, and Allan Bloom, 2001. Plato's Symposium: A translation by Seth Benardete with commentaries by Allan Bloom and Seth Benardete. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Notes

  1. James Atlas, “Chicago’s Grumpy Guru: Best-Selling Professor Allan Bloom and the Chicago Intellectuals.” New York Times Magazine (January 3, 1988) 12.
  2. Ibid., 12
  3. Allan Bloom, 1987. Closing of the American Mind. (New York: Simon & Schuster), 243.
  4. __________. 1991. Giants and Dwarfs: Essays, 1960-1990. (New York: Touchstone Books), 11
  5. Atlas (1988): 12.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Allan Bloom, 1990. "The Political Philosopher in a Democratic Society," Giants & Dwarfs, 106
  8. George Grant, "Philosophy and Education." Food for Thought. (1953. Ottawa: Adult Education Association) and in George Grant, Collected Works of George Grant. Arthur Davis (editor). (2000. Toronto: University of Toronto Press).
  9. Bloom, Allan. Republic of Plato, "Interpretative Essay," (New York: Basic Books), 387
  10. Atlas, 1988, 31
  11. William Goldstein, “The Story behind the Best Seller: Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind.” (Publishers Weekly,July 3, 1987).
  12. Martha Nussbaum, "Undemocratic Vistas," New York Review of Books (34(17) November 5, 1987).
  13. harry V. Jaffa, "Humanizing Certitudes and Impoverishing Doubts: A Critique of Closing of the American Mind." Interpretation 16 (Fall 1988).

References

  • Atlas, James. “Chicago’s Grumpy Guru: Best-Selling Professor Allan Bloom and the Chicago Intellectuals.” New York Times Magazine (January 3, 1988).
  • "The Constitution in Full Bloom." Harvard Law Review 104 (2) (Dec 1990): 645.
  • Bayles, Martha. "Body and soul: the musical miseducation of youth." Public Interest 131 (Spring 1998): 36.
  • Beckerman, Michael. "Ravelstein Knows Everything, Almost." New York Times (May 28, 2000).
  • Bellow, Adam. "Opening the American Mind." National Review 57 (23) (12/19/2005): 102.
  • Bellow, Saul, Ravelstein, New York, NY: Penguin, 2000. ISBN 9780141001760
  • Butterworth, Charles E., "On Misunderstanding Allan Bloom: The Response to The Closing of the American Mind." Academic Questions 2(4): 56.
  • Edington, Robert V. "Allan Bloom's message to the state universities." Perspectives on Political Science 19(3) (1990).
  • Fulford, Robert. "Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, and Abe Ravelstein." Globe and Mail (November 2, 1999).
  • Goldstein, William. “The Story behind the Best Seller: Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind,Publishers Weekly (July 3, 1987).
  • Hook, Sidney. "Closing of the American Mind: An Intellectual Best Seller Revisited." American Scholar 58 (Winter 1989): 123.
  • Iannone, Carol, "What's Happened to Liberal Education?" Academic Questions 17(1) (2003): 54.
  • Jaffa, Harry V., "Humanizing Certitudes and Impoverishing Doubts: A Critique of Closing of the American Mind." Interpretation 16 (Fall 1988).
  • Kahan, Jeffrey. "Shakespeare on Love and Friendship." Women's Studies 31(4) (2002): 529.
  • Kinzel, Till, Platonische Kulturkritik in Amerika. Studien zu Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2002. ISBN 9783428106233
  • Matthews, Fred. "The Attack on 'Historicism': Allan Bloom's Indictment of Contemporary American Historical Scholarship." American Historical Review 95(2): 429.
  • Mulcahy, Kevin V. "Civic Illiteracy and the American Cultural Heritage." Journal of Politics 51(1) (1989): 177.
  • Nussbaum, Martha. "Undemocratice Vistas," New York Review of Books 34(17) (November 5, 1987).
  • Orwin, Clifford, "Remembering Allan Bloom." American Scholar 62(3) 423.
  • Palmer, Michael, and Thomas Pangle, Political Philosophy and the Human Soul: Essays in Memory of Allan Bloom, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Pub. 1995. ISBN 9780847680597
  • Rosenberg, Aubrey. "Translating Rousseau." University of Toronto Quarterly 50(3) (1981), 339.
  • Slater, Robert O. "Allan Bloom" The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers edited by John Shook, Vol. 1, Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press, 2005.
  • Sleeper, Jim, "Allan Bloom and the Conservative Mind." New York Times Book Review (September 4, 2005): 27.
  • Wrightson, Katherine M. "The Professor as Teacher: Allan Bloom, Wayne Booth, and the Tradition of Teaching at the University of Chicago." Innovative Higher Education 23(2) (1998): 103.

External Links

All links retrieved February 12, 2013.

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