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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roots of American Disorder
The university is supposed to be the place where excited young minds come to be initiated into the mysteries of the cosmos. And it wasn't long ago that such adventures were both available and pursued. Liberal education encouraged students to ask for themselves the question "what is man?" and to wrestle with alternative answers. The university provided a haven where the...
Published on Sept. 23 2008 by Randy A. Stadt

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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, contradictory, version of American culture
I am of two minds about this book. If the book was written with the intention of inspiring people to read the classics, then the author has achieved his purpose, although somewhat unsatisfactorily. It is not the author's thesis, but contradictory and inadequate reasoning that have inspired me to read the classics - Plato, Locke, Rousseau, and Nietzsche, to determine for...
Published on Feb. 26 2003 by J. Risse


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roots of American Disorder, Sept. 23 2008
By 
Randy A. Stadt (Edmonton, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
The university is supposed to be the place where excited young minds come to be initiated into the mysteries of the cosmos. And it wasn't long ago that such adventures were both available and pursued. Liberal education encouraged students to ask for themselves the question "what is man?" and to wrestle with alternative answers. The university provided a haven where the easy and preferred answers of the culture could be safely set aside, at least for a time, while the great minds of history past were consulted, argued with, and learned from.

But in Bloom's thirty years as a university professor he has witnessed a change, both in the mood and expectation of the students, and in the university's sense of identity, which has fragmented into a smorgasbord of unrelated pursuits. Confusion over the nature of knowledge confounds both. The spirit of the age, relativism, the truth that there is no objective truth, has settled like a smog over the campuses. Students no longer expect to find truth and meaning "out there", but only within. So the appeal of liberal arts to students is vastly diminished if it is denied that these studies can point to any reality beyond themselves.

Bloom notes that "the university now offers no distinctive visage to the young person. There is no vision...of what an educated human being is. The student gets no intimation that great mysteries might be revealed to him, that new and higher motives of action might be discovered within him, that a different and more human way of life can be harmoniously constructed by what he is going to learn." The "undecided student is an embarrassment to most universities, because he seems to be saying, 'I am a whole human being. Help me to form myself in my wholeness and let me develop my real potential,' and he is the one to whom they have nothing to say" (p.339).

America was founded on the Enlightenment tradition of men like Locke where reason was central; equality and human rights were rationally derived, universal principles, and democracy could flourish. A competing political philosophy with its origins in Rousseau but more radically developed by Nietzsche is where Bloom sees the beginning of today's predicament. It was with Nietzsche that American intellectuals in the forties became enamoured. Nietzsche denied, however, the rationally accessible human rights and equality that was central to American ideals. Rather it was in localized "culture" that man finds his wholeness and identity. In fact this meant that there was no such thing as "man" in the singular; there are as many kinds of "man" as there are cultures. The objective tool of reason is replaced by the subjective one of "commitment" and acts of the will.

American intellectuals did not seem to see the darker side of Nietzsche. He himself recognized that his cultural relativism meant "war and great cruelty rather than great compassion" (p.202). "Whether this value relativism is harmonious with democracy was a question that was dealt with by never being raised" (p.152). In fact, there can't be a respect for both human rights and culture "because a culture itself generates its own way of life and principles...with no authority above it" (p.192). Bloom warns that we need to "credit the possibility that the overpowering visions of German philosophers are preparing the tyranny of the future" (p.240).

Since the sixties, the vocabulary of Nietzschean ideas has been adopted at a superficial level by Americans such that they are no more than slogans (eg. words like "values" and "creativity"). Students do not and are not required to think them through. It's not even the embrace of relativism that Bloom finds to be the biggest problem, but the unthinking dogmatism with which it is held. This results, then, in the closing of the American mind when young people believe that there are no thoughts worth considering that they do not already know, no visions of the human experience worth exploring that they do not already possess.

The denial of any universals means that there is only the particular. If there is no such thing as "man" but only the "self" then what does Aristotle have to say to me? If reason is less important than feeling why should I care about what Plato says about justice? No wonder today's students are more concerned with self-fulfillment than with becoming wise.

So how are students to get excited again by the mysteries and possibilities of human experience? Bloom sees as the best solution the old Great Books approach, where the classics are read as the authors intended them to be read. This is no small difference from the typical approach in the humanities, where the classics are now kept. There they are treated as mummified museum pieces and read through the lens of modern presuppositions and political correctness. It is as if a great sign hangs over the door to the humanities that says "There is no truth, at least not here."

For example, it is claimed that Aristotle's "Ethics" teaches us not what a good man is but what the Greeks thought about morality. If it was read as it was intended to be read, students would be challenged to discover new experiences and reassess old ones. However now they are told that Aristotle can just be used to enrich the vision of the world they already have. Bloom is not saying that the claims of the great books are automatically true, but that we ought to wrestle with them in order to see that the picture of the whole may well be larger than the one we currently have.

Though he has argued that free inquiry and democracy itself are threatened when reason is devalued, Bloom is hopeful that liberal education is still possible. "The questions are all there. They only need to be addressed continuously and seriously for liberal learning to exist; for it does not consist so much in answers as in the permanent dialogue" (p.380).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Changed My Life, June 6 2003
By 
T. Bouthillet - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
Have you ever read something that perfectly illuminates ideas that you have been perceiving on an intuitive level, but couldn't quite put into words? Have you experienced that incredible moment (all too rare) when a powerful thinker opens up your mind to whole new dimensions of thought and understanding? The Closing of the American Mind is one of those books. It's not light reading, but for those with above average reading comprehension and the patience to read slowly, Closing will take you places you've never been before.
I first heard about this book while reading Dionne's _Why Americans Hate Politics_. It was mentioned as a work that was influenced by the famous political philosopher Leo Strauss, who was very influential among the so-called "neoconservatives" (anti-communist liberals who believed in virtue and rebelled against the new-Left in the 1960s). Dionne stressed that this important group of intellectuals, having been liberals themselves, were particularly adept at criticizing the policies of the Left. I found this fascinating, so I decided to read Closing for myself. At the time, I had no idea that it would be a life changing experience.
This book is incredibly interesting. It is a brilliant critique of the American education system, particularly the University. It is even more relevant today than it was in the 1980s. If you take nothing else away from this book than a better understanding of a liberal arts education, it will be worth the price of admission. On the other hand, if you read this book carefully like I did, you will be rewarded with Bloom's brilliant mind, his incisive wit, his astonishing observations, his (sometimes overwhelming) references to the greatest works human history, and finally, an appreciation for the irony of America's great closing, a closing cloaked behind a veneer of openness.
I highly recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Purpose of True Education; Inner Directed Development, Jan. 5 2004
By 
R. Schwartz (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
A major impact in my thinking and an awesome introduction to Nietzsche, nihilism and the American education system. Bloom outlines what education was compared to what it is today. How cultures consisted of much more than mere nationalism, but rather, educated thinkers who influenced Western civilization from non-equalitarian societies. Bloom relates thoughts from Alex de Toquville and the problem of equalitarianism, the deterioration of the American educational system and the problem of nihilism. In doing this, Bloom, outlines the teachings of Nietzsche, Max Weber, Marx and other major thinkers that have dealt with such issues.
Weber's charisma, to Marx's rationalism to Nietzsche's culture, self-positing and value creating ability, using Heidegger's term of "authenticity," Bloom delivers a book that is worth every page and chapter. His outline of the 1960's turmoil that aided to both the extension of nihilism and the deterioration of the University is essential reading. The MBA has replaced true educational and cultural reflection that molds, shapes and infuses interior authenticity in individuals that in turn, form our leaders, thinkers and greats of our time period. But where are they today? Certainly a much smaller and obscure group that is both surrounded and smothered by external, outer-direction that fails to produce those great thinkers that have literally changed the course of Western civilization.
Bloom also ventures into morality, music and general social conditions that affect our American civilization and most certainly his students and the University, once a "sacred" place of character development, now a place where the classics have been shelved in the humanities, rejected by the scientific champions, only to find students - the back bone of future thinkers - to obtain more superfluous knowledge determined solely for financial success and material gain; external accomplishments devoid of internal character authenticity and inner-directed value positing.
Bloom's book should be read by every educator. The University that seriously values the original intent of such educational institutions since their inception have lost sight of direction.
Those that blow this book off as conservative verses liberal miss the entire theme of Bloom's complaint and value of the great minds that form our entire society and civilization.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great critique, fabulous, June 2 2003
By 
Seth J. Frantzman (Jerusalem, Israel) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
Blooms book is tough reading, challenging. THis book expects you, the student, to delve back into the classical times and into philosophy for understand. So far different from the light conservative reading of O'Reilly and so far different from the un-balanced unsubstantiated works of Michael Moore or Chomsky, this book requires you to think. Bloom explores many subjects facing the American college student and the developing of the American conscious. He points out the current trend(all too relevant today even though the book was written in the 80s) towards moral relativism. He notes how we as Americans ahve become so afraid of value judgements. He speaks about the inculcation of college students with all embrasing words like 'culture'. He also comments on the non-integraton of black students on college campus's despite the massive outreach efforts.
He notes the current distrust of classic texts and the current trend towards Satre and Marx on campus while noting the decline of emphasis on western thought and western civilization. This book is a great read, highly educational and of great value for todays student or young professional in understanding the lingo of the left. For a non-fiction biography of Bloom read Ravelstein by Saul Bellow.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the Best Treatise on Education of the Last 50 Years, Aug. 9 2003
By 
Greg T. Smith (Cincinnati, Ohio) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
I read The Closing of the American Mind during a summer semester at Reed College during the mid-1980s. Put simply, it is an authoritative and devastating attack on higher education. This work will likely stand the test of time, and stand as one of the best critiques of higher education of the last 50 years.
At Reed, this work was often criticized brilliantly by the iconoclastic student body. At the same time, it seemed like just about everyone read it. It is indeed thought provoking and timeless. Bloom's contribution is tremendous, and simply can't be overlooked.
In an age of increased specialization and fragmentation, Bloom weaved and crafted a brilliantly provocative treatise, and should be read by all parents before their children apply to college. It is as important as any critique of American society. I actually it rank along with De Tocqueville's Democracy in America and have it sitting close by on the shelf for reference when I feel compelled to read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the most important book ever written in English, Sept. 27 2002
By 
Brett Williams (Dallas, TX) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
A revealing, penetrating, inspiring text on the state of education and the modern American mind. It was Bloom's life work - his profession at the University Of Chicago - to compare human eras and their standards. Through his research no one has so completely uncovered the ills of our time, or affirmed what is positive. His courage to face modern dogma made Bloom hated by those adhering to new orthodoxies and open to their character assassinations, but Bloom wrote anyway.
Contrary to relativism of the new movements and their extinguishing of deep education - which in the end is a search for the right answers - Bloom claims there are indeed answers to questions concerning the human condition (thus the inspiration), and that "not obvious" does not mean "unavailable". "The liberally educated person," he writes, "is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration."
Today's social relativism is considered "not a theoretical insight" but a "moral postulate of a free society", and hence the current totalitarianism we experience from the Fundamentalist Left as one dare not oppose such rule. (The Left is no different from the intolerant Right, excepting that the Left, hypocritically, advertises themselves as tolerant, while the Right never bothered.)
How did America reach its current state of intolerance to ideas without agreement on first principles? Bloom takes us on a lively tour toward an answer, engagingly written. As example, early on in America, religion was demoted from the level of "knowledge" to that of "opinion" in order to defuse dangerous elements of its passion we still see today in the Levant, but, importantly, the right to religious belief was not lost. This demotion was possible if society were to shrink its claims to moral certainty, subordinating old ways (but not abandoning them) to Enlightenment's Natural Rights. Today this process of "value shrinkage" is taken to such extreme that the original ideas providing its basis are attacked, claiming each period has its "preferences". None are superior, as that would be, by modern perspectives, discrimination. Today, "subordination" is equivalent to suppression. This radical democracy claims limits on anything to be arbitrary (since truth is now relative), all the while emphasizing how mad the white Eurocentric past was, confirmed by body counts of the most lethal century in the record of our species. "The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right," says Bloom, "rather it is not to think you are right at all." Add to this our fashionable characterization that America's historical progenitors were racist, then subordination to Enlightenment's promise is easily jettisoned in favor of embracing any or all ideologies (except those we came from), abandoning fundamental agreement on first principles that form a social contract to begin with.
In this example we see how a kind of generalization of issues allows for the indictment of anything associated with them in order to pervert the old for a new political order, i.e. dethroning Enlightenment for political correctness and postmodernism. In short, we see a stock theme of a civilization's initial spirit and values becoming their opposite. Though Bloom never comes out to say so, one may wonder if this is a marker of a civilization's fall forewarned by Spengler.
Bloom clarifies that "passion" and "commitment" have become the new political validations replacing reason and critical thinking. What the Founders worked so hard to balance (faction) due to its inherent opposition to the common good, is now promoted as a central role of government with its fondness for "groups". With "common good" abandoned, factions are no longer problematic. What the Founders never imagined has set in - not a tyranny of the majority they strived to counterbalance, but a tyranny of passionate, committed minority.
Concerning multiculturalism in education Bloom notes that Greeks searched out other cultures too (as we still should), but for wholly different reasons - to learn what they had to teach about the human condition, not to nullify their own society as we now do. Moderns maintain America's Constitution is the white man's corrupt document designed to suppress, and that Western ways are a bias to be cleansed by exposure to other cultures through multicultural studies. But this is not to learn what they have to teach so much as it is a political maneuver to dismantle the West, its values, standards and science. Intellectual openness used to invite a quest for knowledge and certitude, while the opposite is now true. Open-mindedness means closing ones mind to our very roots. As though to deny them will settle a score with our history for having done so much evil, while conveniently dismissing the good.
While Fundamentalists assumed that removing reason from the mind would remove bias and prejudice, all they have done is vanquished our best tool for correction. Such is the state of the American mind. Though American education is in crisis, Bloom has given us the gift of knowing there is hope on our own.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent,stimulating critique of American (non) thought, Oct. 23 1996
By A Customer
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
Although a few years old, Bloom's _Closing of the American Mind_ is still a tour de force in assessing the state of American thought. Bloom contends that our society suffers from a neurotic open-ness to almost any opinion except the opinion that some positions have (innately) more merit than others. We are intolerant of the concepts of good and value in our thought life and in our spiritual world. Bloom recommends a rerurn (or progression, possibly) to a worldview that is at once more rigorous and ultimately more "open minded" in the truest sense
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4.0 out of 5 stars Everyone talked about it, yet few really understood it., Jan. 29 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
I was amazed that so many of my conservative friends purchased the Closing of the American Mind yet how few if any actually read it. I heard quotes from the book, yet they were always taken out of context and people referred to the book yet did not seem to know anything about it. I asked a PhD about the book and he only wanted to know whether the title was proper for the book, I guess he had not read it either.
Platonism is mentioned a lot in other reviews, my interest though is the acceptance of German Rationalism in America. de Tocqueville said that if America ceased to be good it would cease to be great. He said America was great because it was good. One book I was reading at the time was Sun Tzu'z Art of War, he states that when your enemy has accepted your ideas and philosophies he is no longer your enemy. Tzu mentions that when you come to fight, your enemy will not want to because there are no differences.
By our acceptance of German Rationalism have we forgotten what has made America great? Will we forget that although we have a common ancestry with Europe, we are a distinct people whose ancestors came here to escape the world that was Europe. Whether escaping religious persecution or a potato famine, those who came here sought the freedom that came with responsibility. This book called a Jeremiad may just be a warning still in this new millenium.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Education, Democracy, and Soul, July 1 2003
By 
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
The late Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" was an unexpected bestseller when it appeared in 1987. It is an outstanding work combining polemic against the diminution of American standards with serious thought about how we came to this impasse. Bloom's book is a testament to the power of ideas.
If "The Closing of the American Mind" captures Bloom's thought, his friend Saul Bellow's novel, "Ravelstein" (1996) captures much of Bloom the man. I think Bloom's book and Bellow's novel will be permanently intertwined in the history of American thought and literature. It is difficult to think of one without reflecting on the other.
The themes of Professor Bloom's study are stated in its title and, more explicitly, in the subtitle of the book: "How Higher Education has failed Democracy and Impoverished the Soul's of Today's Students." I tried to capture these themes in the title of this review: Education, Democracy, and Soul.
The first theme of the book is education. Professor Bloom argues that American higher education has lost its sense of purpose and direction. He finds this due to an emphasis on relativism and toleration and a reluctance to focus on questions of purpose and meaning. Similarly, Professor Bloom finds American education has become overly politicized and attuned to the concerns of the moment. He urges that liberal education return to its initial function of searching for wisdom and for self-knowledge. While not every student need pursue the liberal arts (in fact, it is a rare enterprise), Bloom finds that these studies must be available for those interested, and honored, if University education is to produce thoughtful human beings and an informed community holding values and the pursuit of truth in common. Bloom finds the source of liberal studies in ancient Greece with Socrates and his great student, Plato.
The second theme of the book is democracy, and American constitutionalism. American democracy remains a precious experiment and Bloom traces its roots to enlightenment thought, particularly in John Locke. The basic values of our system are liberty and equality. Bloom ties democratic values into a society devoted to the pursuit of empirical knowledge rather than superstition. He returns frequently in his book to Alexis de Touqueville's "Democracy and America" which captured a great deal of the promise of our country while warning of the levelling and conformity that would result from an unchecked, uncritical approach to a sociey in which each person's opinions counted as much as each other person's. There is much fascinating but difficult material in this book about German anti-rationalists beginning with Nietzsche and proceeding through Max Weber and Heidegger. These thinkers espoused theories, Bloom argues, fundamentally at odds with American democracy. Their theories have been vulgarized and watered-down and form the basis, Bloom argues, for the preoccupations of modern America with "life-styles" and "commitments" rather than reason. Bloom's historical discussions are difficult and move rather too quickly at times, but they are thoughtful and rewarding.
The third theme of the book is soul. For Bloom, soul is what our young people and our country are in danger of losing. Soul is at first blush exemplified by the Socratic pursuit. It is a conviction that some things are worth knowing and pursuing and it is an attempt to find them through serious enterprise. Soul is a matter of love, passion and effort. Bloom finds "soul" compromised by an attitude of relativism, of too easy commitments, and of a desire to compromise somewhat too easily in matters of love to attain the necessity of sex. Lack of soul, for Bloom, is exemplified in the pursuit of rock music by the young and not-so-young as an attempt to find an emotional high without the attendant spiritual and intellectual effort.
This book is difficult reading and there are moments when the polemics get in the way of the thought. This notwitstanding, the book is a passionate and deeply informed treatment of the life of the mind and sprit.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, contradictory, version of American culture, Feb. 26 2003
By 
J. Risse (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)
I am of two minds about this book. If the book was written with the intention of inspiring people to read the classics, then the author has achieved his purpose, although somewhat unsatisfactorily. It is not the author's thesis, but contradictory and inadequate reasoning that have inspired me to read the classics - Plato, Locke, Rousseau, and Nietzsche, to determine for myself their value.
On the other hand, if the book was written as a treatise on the state of American culture the author has done a poor job of reasoning. Many of the examples elaborated in this book are contradictory in themselves.
The classical music he cites as inspiring man's highest aspiration is a step backward in his argument against the bourgeois, as this particular music was created for money. A better support of his argument could have been made with folk music, which quite possibly is the only music that is created without the intention of drawing a profit; however, this would work against his reasoning too, as the rock music he bemoans stems from folk music.
Mr. Bloom's use of Freud as illustration of psychology in many examples (there is brief mention of behaviorism) is hardly worthy of the academia he represents when Freud had fallen from repute in many academic circles by the time the book was written.
Further, while he belabors the point of man and survival, there is no mention of the growing interest in Evolutionary Psychology initiated by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene.
As far as his view on women's roles, I will leave that to another reader who is far more poignant than myself. "Bloom's comments on the promiscuity of female college students are inappropriate, as well as sexist, considering there is no mention of like behavior in corresponding males (which, it is presumed, is acceptable)."
Finally, while I can agree on his conclusion "there needs to be more debate in academic circles," I'm uncertain as to whom that statement is directed to. The students he derided in his passage on the sixties presumably had that intention in mind when they attacked the "castles of academia" and their stolid support of the status quo and were placated with toys.
Ultimately Mr. Bloom has given us food for thought. I have no doubt of his wealth of wisdom in the philosophic, however, I think his incomplete understanding of other channels of knowledge is clearly demonstrated in this book. While I do not agree with his reasoning, I have been inspired to read further to determine for myself
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