The Closing of the American Mind (Introduction)

This is a review of the introduction to The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. Almost every page of the book, when stripped off of the extravagant words, presents a lucid idea that excites me for its outrageousness, clarity, and truth! It's so easy to simply slip off on a tangent from each page, but I'll try to refrain from doing that. The book describes "how higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today's students." Even using abstract terms such as "soul", Bloom gets the essence of his message across pretty vividly.

The introduction is about Our Virtue, that of openness. However, Bloom brings to bear two sorts of openness. One that should be in order for us to be able to philosophise and animates anyone who wishes to learn. The other is responsible for the closing; the openness of indifference.

Cultural relativism is the latter sort of openness. Primary education has dedicated itself to showing that this relativism is necessary for openness. However, "the point is not correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right all."

The social sciences are used in a variety of ways to overcome prejudice. We are taught not to be ethnocentric and we should not think our way is better than others. The beliefs of any group individuals, or collectively as a nation, do not entitle them to think they are superior to anyone else. This has percolated into the American history, where originally, as far as the Founding Fathers were considered, minorities were in general bad things, mostly identical to factions, selfish groups who have no concern as such for the common good. In twentieth-century social-science, however, the common good disappears and along with it, the negative view of the minorities. "YET the constitution does not promise respect for blacks, whites, yellows, Catholics, Protestants, or Jews. It guarantees the protection of the rights of individual human beings. This has not proved to be enough, however, to what is perhaps by now a majority of America." The result of all this is that young Americans have no heroes, and are left confused and empty.

Bloom points out that only in Western Society is there some willingness to doubt the identification of the good with one's ownq way. Most non-Western cultures believe their own culture to be superior to others, and this is natural, and exactly the opposite of western thought. "But by requiring students to study these cultures, what we are really doing is applying a Western Prejudice---which we covertly take to indicate the superiority of our culture---and deforming the evidence of those other cultures to attest to its validity."

We are becoming "culture-beings" with the instruments that were used to liberate us from culture. "Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason's power. The unrestrained and thoughtless pursuit of openness, without recognising the inherent political, social, or cultural problem of openness as the goal of nature, has rendered openness meaningless. Cultural relativism destroys both one's own and the good. Culture, hence, closedness, reigns supreme. Openess to closedness is what we teach."

It should be noted here that philosophies that are existential in nature do not propound anarchy; rather they favour what is accessible to all humans as humans and NOTHING more through their common and distinctive faculty: reason, the essential freedom that justifies all other freedoms. "The United States is one of the highest and most extreme achievements of the rational quest for the good life according to nature." Trying to prevent prejudices by "removing the authority of men's reason is to render ineffective the instrument that can correct their prejudices."

Greek philosophers, however, understood the true meaning of openness. "Man cannot remain content with what is given them by their culture if they are to be fully human. This is what Plato meant to show by the image of the cave in the Republic and by representing as us prisoners in it. A culture is a cave. He did not suggest going around to other cultures as a solution to the limitations of the cave. Nature should be the standard by which we judge or own lives and the lives of peoples."

Prejudices, Bloom says, especially strong ones, are necessary for learning. They are visions of the way things are. "The mind that has no prejudices at the outset is empty." Education comes from recognising prejudices for prejudices. However, our current educational systems strives to remove these very prejudices from our minds, thus impoverishing the soul. What will the prejudices be replaced with? Junk. Does anyone believe that there are TRUTHs, such as this all-too-shallow openness, that will replace prejudices as guides?

Nietzsche argued that the sprit was being destroyed by such institutionalisation and that the very existence of the human as human and nothing else, as a noble being, depended on people like him. He may not have been right, as Bloom points out, but his case looks stronger all the time.

"The real community of man, in the midst of all the self-contradictory simulacra of community, is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers... of all men to the extent they desire to know. But in fact, this includes only a few, the true friends, as Plato was to Aristotle at the very moment they were disagreeing about the nature of the good..."

I have attempted to distill some of what I considered the more relevant points in the introduction. As you can see for yourself, each paragraph can be turned into an essay of its own merit. The reason I write this is because it amazes me how he can so prolifically make point after point, none of which are trivial!

Pseudo-intellectual ram-blings || Ram Samudrala ||