Excellent review of Allan Bloom's major work concerning the decline of the American educational and intellectual traditions.
The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, An Evolution of Consciousness ARJ2 Review
Some important exceprts:
A paradoxical aspect of Bloom's book is that he deals with two forms of openness and goes on to show how what is called openness in the first form actually amounts to a "closing of the mind". Here are two kinds of openness and the effects that Bloom says each has on students:
I. Openness of indifference - humbling of intellectual pride; be whatever you want to be.
A. Stunts students' desire for self-discovery by making all endeavors of equal value.
B. Leads to the abandonment of their requirements to take languages and study philosophy of science
C. Activates their amour-propre - self-love or esteem based on others' opinions (polls)
D. Teaches them a loose interpretation of documents such as the Constitution, a waffling philosophy based on "it all depends".
E. Closes them to doubt about so many things impeding progress. (page 42)
II. Openness to the quest for knowledge and certitude - history and cultures as examples
A. Encourages students to want to know what things from history and culture are good for them, what will make them happy.
B. Activates their amour-soi - natural and healthy self-love or esteem arising from within oneself independent of the opinions of others.
C. Teaches them a close interpretation of the Constitution - "government of laws"
D. Teaches them that a true openness means a closed-ness to all the charms that make us comfortable with the present.(page 42)
How does one question this Openness I, amour-propre, which is based on a philosophical premise that is recursive, that develops its own proof out of itself?
[page 39] This premise is unproven and dogmatically asserted for what are largely political reasons. History and culture are interpreted in the light of it, and then are said to prove the premise.This is the Great Closing that Bloom promises in the title of his book:
[page 34] Actually openness [ Openness I ] results in American conformism - out there in the rest of the world is a drab diversity that teaches only that values are relative, whereas here we can create all the life-styles we want. Our openness means we do not need others. Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing. No longer is there a hope that there are great wise men in other places and times who can reveal the truth about life - except for the few remaining young people who look for a quick fix from a guru. . . . None of this concerns those who promote the new curriculum.....That first form of openness, the openness of indifference or amour-propre, is at the root of the wave of relativism that swept into university campuses in the 1960's, actually broke down the doors, occupied administrative offices, and held professors at gunpoint . This openness is a relativism that says "all endeavors are of equal value" -- that the study of Shakespeare equal, eg, to the study of how hummingbirds fly.
Using these concepts of amour propre and amour soi of Rousseau, Bloom shows that this relativism is based on a self-esteem that comes from others' opinions, a poll-based self-esteem. So that what determines the curriculum is what's popular and easy to understand currently in society.
The other kind of openness he talks about is an openness to study historical and cultural texts and material in their original form, and to be open to develop one's own thoughts from them rather than accepting at first glance, without questioning, the opinions of so-called experts in the field in their textbooks, which may be scholarly but necessarily shallow rehashes of the original texts. Only by such independent and internal self-assessment can one arrive at amour soi -- a self-love and esteem that comes from within oneself rather than from others opinions.
How does Allan Bloom say that we might re-invigorate the college and university curriculum? He suggests that a return to the use of original texts and materials is key. To assign students Dante's "Inferno" rather than a synopsis of classical poems to read. To read Shakespeare plays, not a critical review of his plays. To read Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, Freud in the original and to form one's own judgments as what are the important questions and what the answers to these questions are for oneself. That method can have the salubrious effect of actually leading the students to discover a great value, a vital understanding that can only come from directly confronting the authors in their original words in context, and from that discovery to create a royal road to future learning in their students hearts.In short, Bloom says, "One has to have the experience of really believing before one can have the thrill of liberation." That may indeed be the kind of "liberation" that is at the very root of what we mean by "liberal education."