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The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students
     

The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students

3.4 13
by Allan Bloom, Saul Bellow (Foreword by)
 

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The Closing of the American Mind, a publishing phenomenon in hardcover, is now a paperback literary event. In this acclaimed number one national best-seller, one of our country's most distinguished political philosophers argues that the social/political crisis of 20th-century America is really an intellectual crisis. Allan Bloom's sweeping analysis is essential to

Overview

The Closing of the American Mind, a publishing phenomenon in hardcover, is now a paperback literary event. In this acclaimed number one national best-seller, one of our country's most distinguished political philosophers argues that the social/political crisis of 20th-century America is really an intellectual crisis. Allan Bloom's sweeping analysis is essential to understanding America today. It has fired the imagination of a public ripe for change.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This work by a University of Chicago professor was a bestseller in cloth. According to PW, ``marred by the author's biases, this jeremiad laments the decay of the humanities, the decline of the family and students' spiritual rootlessness and unconnectedness to traditions.'' (May)
Library Journal
Bloom is angry about college studentstolerant of everything, they cannot appreciate the virtues of Lockean democracy and often abandon the great questions about God and man. Meanwhile, the humanities are like ``a refugee camp where all the geniuses driven out of their jobs and countries . . . are idling.'' The reason is partly relativism in the social sciences but largely German philosophers since Nietzsche, especially Heidegger, who ``put philosophy at the service of German culture.'' Bloom's case about the humanities and German philosophy deserves an ear, but his students from ``the twenty or thirty best U.S. universities'' are nothing like my recent American students, who pursue the old questions with vim and vigor. Perhaps they do not belong to Bloom's elite. Leslie Armour, Philosophy Dept., Univ. of Ottawa, Canada
From the Publisher
“Brilliant. . . . No other book combines such shrewd insights into our current state. . . . No other book is at once so lively and so deep, so witty and so thoughtful, so outrageous and so sensible, so amusing and so chilling.. . . An extraordinary book.”
—William Kristol, The Wall Street Journal

“Rich and absorbing. . . . A grand tour of the American mind.”
The Washington Post Book World

The Wall Street Journal - William Kristol
“Brilliant. . . . No other book combines such shrewd insights into our current state. . . . No other book is at once so lively and so deep, so witty and so thoughtful, so outrageous and so sensible, so amusing and so chilling. . . . An extraordinary book.”
The Washington Post
“Rich and absorbing. . . . A grand tour of the American mind."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780671657154
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
05/15/1988
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile:
1320L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

THE CLEAN SLATE

I used to think that young Americans began whatever education they were to get at the age of eighteen, that their early lives were spiritually empty and that they arrived at the university clean slates unaware of their deeper tires and the world beyond their superficial experience. The contrast between them and their European counterparts was set in high relief in the European novels and movies into which we were initiated at the university. The Europeans got most of the culture they were going to get from their homes and their public schools, lyceés, or gymnasiums, where their souls were incorporated into their specific literary traditions, which in turn expressed, and even founded, their traditions as peoples. It was not imply or primarily that these 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. It was that their self-knowledge mediated by their book learning and that their ambitions were formed as much by models first experienced in books as in everyday life. 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 hopes of serious literary or philosophic careers, as do ours with hopes of careers in entertainment or business. All this was given to them early on, and by the time they were in their late teens it was part of the equipment of their souls, a lens through which they saw everything and which would affect all their later learning and experience. They went to the universityto specialize.

Young Americans seemed, in comparison, to be natural savages when they came to the university. They had hardly heard the names of the writers who were the daily fare of their counterparts across the Atlantic, let alone took it into their heads that they could have a relationship to them. "What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?" They belonged to the whole world, using their reason to see the things all men have in common, to solve the problems of survival, all the time innocently and unaware trampling on the altars sacred to the diverse peoples and nations of the earth who believe themselves constituted by their particular gods and heroes rather than by the common currency of the body. This American intellectual obtuseness could seem horrifying and barbarous, a stunting of full humanity, an incapacity to experience the beautiful, an utter lack of engagement in the civilization's ongoing discourse.

But for me, and for many better observers, this constituted a large part of the charm of American students. Very often natural curiosity and love of knowing appeared to come into their own in the first flush of maturity. Without traditional constraints or encouragements, without society's rewards and punishments, without snobbism or exclusivity, some Americans discovered that they had a boundless thirst for significant awareness, that their souls had spaces of which they were unaware and which cried out for furnishing. European students whom I taught always knew all about Rousseau and Kant, but such writers had been drummed into them from childhood and, in the new world after the war, they had become routine, as much a part of childhood's limitations as short pants, no longer a source of inspiration. So these students became suckers for the new, the experimental. But for Americans the works of the great writers could be the bright sunlit uplands where they could find the outside, the authentic liberation for which this essay is a plea. The old was new for these American students, and in that they were right, for every important old insight is perennially fresh. It is possible that Americans would always lack the immediate, rooted link to the philosophic and artistic achievements that appear to be part of the growth of particular cultures. But their approach to these works bespoke a free choice and the potential for man as man, regardless of time, place, station or wealth, to participate in what is highest. It would be a sad commentary on the human condition if the brotherhood of man is founded on what is lowest in him, while the higher cultivation required unbridgeably separate "cultures." The American disposition gave witness to an optimistic belief that the two universalities, of the body and of the soul, are possible, that access to the best is not dependent on chance. Young Americans, that is, some young Americans, gave promise of a continuing vitality for the tradition because they did not take it to be tradition.

The enchanting prospect provided by the American student was particularly powerful when I first started teaching good undergraduates in this country in the years just after Sputnik. In 1965 I wrote:

The current generation of students is unique and very different in outlook from its teachers. I am referring to the good students in the better colleges and universities, those to whom a liberal education is primarily directed and who are the objects of a training which presupposes the best possible material. These young people have never experienced the anxieties about simple physical well-being that their parents experienced during the depression. They have been raised in comfort and with the expectation of ever increasing comfort. Hence they are largely indifferent to it; they are not proud of having acquired it and have not occupied themselves with the petty and sometimes deforming concerns necessary to its acquisition. And, because they do not particularly care about it, they are more willing to give it up in the name of grand ideals; as a matter of fact, they are eager to do so in the hope of proving that they are not attached to it and are open to higher callings. In short, these students are a kind of democratic version of an aristocracy. The unbroken prosperity of the last twenty years gives them the confidence that they can always make a living. So they are ready to undertake any career or adventure if it can be made to appear serious. The ties of tradition, family, and financial responsibility are weak And, along with all this, goes an open, generous character. They tend to be excellent students and extremely grateful for anything they learn. A look at this special group tends to favor a hopeful prognosis for the count's moral and intellectual health.

There was, at that moment, a spiritual yearning, a powerful tension of the soul which made the university atmosphere electric. The Soviets' beating us into space shocked the nation and, for a moment, leveling education was set back on its heels. There seemed to be no time for that nonsense. Survival itself depended on better education for the best people. External necessity injected into the easygoing educational world the urgency that should always be there. Money and standards emerged in the twinkling of an eye. The goal was to produce scientific technicians who would save us from being at the mercy of tyrants. The high schools concentrated on math and physics, and there was honor and the promise of great futures for those who excelled in them. The Scholastic Aptitude Test became authoritative. Intellectual effort became a national pastime. The mere exercise of unused and flabby muscles is salutary, and the national effort both trained and inspired the mind. The students were better, more highly motivated.

Then I began to notice strange things. For example, for the first time, American students were really learning languages. And there were the signs of an incipient longing for something else. Science had been oversold. The true scientific vocation is very rare, and in the high schools it was presented in technical and uninspired fashion. The students apparently learned what they were asked to learn, but boredom was n

Meet the Author

Allan Bloom was professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College and co-director of the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy at the University of Chicago. He taught at Yale, University of Paris, University of Toronto, Tel Aviv University, and Cornell, where he was the recipient of the Clark Teaching Award in 1967. He died in 1992.

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Closing of the American Mind 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would have to disagree with some of the previous reviewers. I found the book quite difficult to understand. You need a degree in philosophy, or you need to be a well-read autodidact to figure out what Bloom is writing about sometimes. His convoluted style doesn't help, either. I lost track of how many times I had to re-read sentences half a page long (or so it seemed) for meaning. Bloom does make interesting reading every so often though, and he is right about a narrowing of the mind in American higher education. He is wrong to blame this primarily on social-science liberals. Economics plays its part - an arts degree is worth less and less - and it is hardly surprising that many of the most intelligent students choose business degrees now. One part of the book that is disappointing is that which deals with music. Bloom's musical development seems to have ended with jazz and his misconceptions about anything post 1960 led me to wonder about his wisdom in other areas. Nevertheless, the book is still worth a read, but be prepared for a challenging experience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that can change a person's life. It's the type of book where one realizes that the point of reading is not to read the opinions one already has and to pat oneself on the back and parade with all manners of celebration, but to challenge them, as Socrates tries to show Meno. I have no idea what type of math problem '52 year old mathematician' was doing when he wrote his review labeling the book (with a lot of sweeping generalizations backed by his major thesis 'the book is to hard for me') as a 'trashball,' but it must have been of the third grader variety. This book is like fresh air, it will make you feel good and it will enliven your mind. I agree that Socrates should be brought back into schools, but not at the third grade level as the '52 year old mathematician' has had him. Everyone should know Greek. No one can appreciate the craftsmanship of Pato ('A philosopher who practices music' as Nietzsche called himself) or the absolute irony of Socrates without knowing the Greek. Why is it that people read the Apology, and leave Plato thereafter? Who has even read the Laws, Sophist, etc? How many people really know Plato's philosophy? How can we let ourselves not completely grasp something? This book of Bloom's is nothing compared to the Republic, but it is still better than most anything one can read to develop the soul. It is criticized vaguely by relativists as being 'elitist,' 'conservative,' surely 'sexist' even 'rascist.' These people equate standards and truth with opinions and fleeting desires. - Anyone who attempts to find a right way to live must be one of those damn crazy republicans. - (that is of course a vulgar charicature drawn as simple as can be, but as far as their argument goes, or lack thereof, I don't think if fails the mark to refute it) Read the Harold Bloom interview on bn.com - he defends himself nicely in his choice of Faulkner over Morrison.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A remarkable book. Written from the perspective of the late 1980's, Bloom's analysis of the debasement of higher education and American culture in general is even more valid today. The most remarkable chapter is 'The German Connection', which vividly shows how value relativism, so beloved by modern liberals, was first described by Nietzsche, not as a cause for celebration, but as the malady that afflicts us and which has to be overcome. I somehow doubt that the left will enjoy this book - it strikes too close to home - but for the rest of us it is something worth returning to over and over for its insights and wisdom.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In reading this text it becomes cleal that Bloom is an advocate of keeping a closed canon within this country. He argues for the great books and against everything else, no good education ever came solely from the great books. Bloom seems in his undertones to advocate something far worse that keeping a closed canon, he advocates closedmindedness, a sin above all others. I reccoment that anyone who reads this also read 'The Liberal Arts, The Campus, and the Biosphere: An Alternative to Bloom's Vision of Education' by David W. Orr, Published in the Harvard Educational Review 60 (2): 205-216. Blooms sentiment is truely the exact opposite of what should be happening in this country.