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Paperback The Closing of the American Mind Book

ISBN: 0671657151

ISBN13: 9780671657154

The Closing of the American Mind

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. The brilliant, controversial, bestselling critique of American culture that "hits with the approximate force and effect of electroshock therapy" ( The New York Times )--now featuring a new afterword...

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A book that made a difference

The Closing of the American Mind was a unique book for me, in that it showed me why I felt a lack of education after graduating from college. It was one of those books that made me want to read more books, which I hope is the goal of every good educator. I was struck by the way Bloom described a lot of everyday realities with new eyes, and although there were a lot of things I didn't understand in the course of reading this book, I found he was right about most. He helped me understand why things are the way they are today. Covering several thousand years of philosophy and culture is ambitious, to say the least, but I found the digressions informative and interesting. Despite the complexity of Bloom's topics, his point is really quite simple and straightforward. The modern university can no longer impart a coherent education to its students. The university can no longer agree on what 'must be taught'. Choice is all the rage for college students today - and while course rosters are overflowing with new electives - the humanties have become so splintered that a liberal education now resembles a mere buffet of knowledge. Today, only technical courses have measurable use after commencement. The liberal arts university has always raved about transforming students into better thinkers - light, truth, wisdom, et. al - but in modern times, this high-minded goal exists in word only. The reality is that relativism, post-modernism and a variety of political movements have eroded 'truth' into 'worldview' and 'cultural values'. If truth cannot be obtained, and judgement cannot be employed for fear of being deemed intolerant, then what you have is the modern university: biased, pedantic, myopic, and ultimately, useless. It saddens me to say that because I graduated from one of the oldest, most-highly regarded American universities with a liberal arts degree. Out of respect for my alma mater I won't name names. Not that names matter - the atmosphere Bloom describes in the first chapters of the book were everyday realities in his day - they still are today, half a country away. You may not agree with Bloom in the end, but this book will acquaint today's college student with some legitimately new ideas. They were simply oblivious to them. The ills he diagnoses are the best part of the book. Everyone has a horror story, it seems. For example, in four years of higher learning, I never saw Plato once on the syllabus. Before you write that off as anecdote, I'd like to say that I took about the same type classes/perspectives as about any other college student. Plato just wasn't deemed a necessary part, or perhaps everyone assumed someone else would cover it. It was only after graduation (and an itch from the lack of knowledge I felt) that I finally read the Apology, the Republic, and many other classics. After that, I felt jobbed by some erstwhile professors, well-meaning though they were. I could tell you plenty about post-antebellum race riots and American hegemon

Brilliant diagnosis of America's cultural decadence

This book is a cautionary tale for those who consider themselves 'educated.' Allan Bloom's erudite, fluently written reflection on the parlous state of the American mind laments the intellectual and moral complacency of today's university students. It also outlines the academic trends that have contributed to our country's growing Philistinism and decadence. Bloom almost entitled this controversial, surprise best-seller 'Souls Without Longing.' He devotes several chapters to diagnosing the condition of students' inner lives--their vulgar taste in music and other arts, coarse romantic sensibility, immersion in pop culture, and unabashed self-centeredness. Below is a famous passage--much castigated by the Left--in which Bloom captures the effect of rock music on the young. As you read it, you'll realize that this kind of blithe hedonism permeates the lives of many Americans long after their pubescence and higher education have ended...sometimes exsequor exequor: "Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over the centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms...life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy." While many conservatives have bemoaned the decline of literacy, lower test scores, etc., among the general population, Bloom focuses mostly on elite students--our best raw material and most likely candidates for attaining cultural refinement. Beginning in the 1960s, he finds undergraduates at our top universities to be increasingly ignorant--before and after graduation--of the classical learning that is taken for granted among their European counterparts: "European schoolchildren had a vastly more sophisticated knowledge of the human heart than we were accustomed to in the young or, for that matter, the old...Their books had a substantial existence in everyday life and constituted much of what their society as a whole looked up to. It was commonplace for children of what they called good families to fill their imaginations with the hopes of serious literary or philosophic careers, as do ours with hopes of careers in entertainment or business." Bloom writes not in a tone of moral outrage but rather with the sardonic disappointment of a sophisticate among naïfs. To him, Americans simply don't know what they're missing by not taking time to understand Plato and Nietzsche, listen attentively to Mozart, or view Raphael. They also lack heroic ideals: "...I began to

Bloom deserves to be read more carefully

When The Closing of The American Mind was published in 1987, it instantly ignited a firestorm of praise and condemnation. Conservatives hailed it as vindication of their long-ignored criticisms about American culture in general and higher education in particular. Liberals denounced it as elitist and intolerant, and they said Bloom wanted to keep students ignorant of other cultures so he could indoctrinate them with his. Neither side had it right. The Closing of The American Mind is, as Bloom put it in his preface, "a meditation on the state of our souls."Both sides were wrong about the book because they didn't read it carefully enough. Liberals read Bloom's argument for philosophy as an attempt to purge non-white, non-European writers from the cannon on grounds of cultural purity. Conservatives read his plea as an attempt to run all the liberal professors out of academia and replace them with conservatives. But a careful reading of Bloom would quickly prove both of these interpretations false.Bloom believed Plato's cave was culture, whether that culture was western or not (after all, it was Plato's description of his own culture that created the idea of the cave). Bloom's argument was that students should be forced to read the works of the great philosophers because those writers are the only ones who dealt with the fundamental question of life: what is man. Bloom believed it was the university's mission to equip students with the tools that would enable them to seek the answer to this question and to lead a philosophical life. Only the great philosophers were capable of introducing students to the deepest and most profound life, and without this introduction, students would forever remain in their respective caves.Bloom never was a conservative, nor was he one who wished to impose his "culture" on others. Simply put, he was a scholar who wished to make his students think - to truly think - about the nature of their existence and of society. The goal of Bloom's book was to show how Americans of all political persuasions, social backgrounds and economic conditions are debating within a narrow modern world-view and have simply accepted as fact a mushy blend of modern theory that repeatedly contradicts itself and stands in sharp contrast to an almost entirely forgotten world of opposing thought: that of the ancients.In other words, Americans are incapable of true self-examination and self-understanding because they are ignorant of ancient philosophy, which poses the only alternative to the modern concept of man. What Bloom does with The Closing of The American Mind is expose the great Oz by asking him life's deepest questions. Bloom asks the same questions of today's professors and students that the ancient philosophers asked of themselves and their students. He finds that not only does no one have an answer, but no one even understands the questions.Bloom's confrontation exposes the modern American university for what it really is: one big self-est

A masterpiece.

Nearly all of us Americans say that we believe in liberty and equality. But how many of us would be able to defend these beliefs against an attack by a really intelligent anti-egalitarian such as Nietzsche? Our regime was founded on the idea that reason, not religion or brute force, should rule. It was not always obvious that such a regime was either good or possible, and arguments had to be made to convince people to support its creation. The Enlightenment philosophers provided those arguments. As Bloom notes, the Enlightenment brought the philosopher (i.e., reason) and the regime into harmony as they never had been before. (Socrates, the archetypical philosopher, had of course been executed for impiety.) Rousseau, while agreeing with the the fundamental Enlightenment idea of equality, argued forcefully that reason alone could not found and sustain a society, and in the process invented the modern idea of the bourgeois, the product of the reason-based society, hatred of which was an important element of both Marxism and fascism. But it was Nietzsche who provided the really devastating attack, arguing that listening to our heads rather than our hearts had killed what was really worthwhile in us, that we need to stop reasoning and start coming up with new "values."The middle chapters of the book are the best overview of political philosophy that I have come across. Bloom understands Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Nietzsche as I believe they would have wanted to be understood. Especially Nietzsche, whose ideas are described with the utmost respect, even though it is implicit that if we are to keep our regime we ultimately must reject those ideas. The sections on "Values" and "Culture," which describe how some German ideas with a great deal of nobility in them mutated when they got to America, are riveting. Bloom can see that our regime, even as it prospers economically, is in crisis. We Americans mouth the words of Jefferson, but really believe Nietzsche. We do not believe in the primacy of reason. Equality and liberty are nothing more than prejudices for most of us. They are merely "values," and if pressed, most of us would not be able to explain why we like those values better than other ones. Regimes decay for a variety of reasons, one of which is internal contradiction, as in the fall of the Soviet Union. The American regime, with its emphasis on human rights, liberty and equality, is based on the primacy of reason. If most Americans do not now believe in the primacy of reason, then our regime has an internal contradiction. I take Bloom to be saying that this contradiction has come about because those in a position to educate the rest of us have failed to do so. That is where the opening and closing sections on young people and university education come in. Those sections are interesting (and obviously near and dear to Bloom's heart) even if not as informative as the middle chapters
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