On Campus / Viewpoint Diversity

What Allan Bloom Got Right about Higher Education

By Todd Gitlin ● The Chronicle of Higher Education ● 10/08/2017


To Bloom, whose bestselling book, The Closing of the American Mind, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, something much worse had happened: The university had been seized by the absenceof values. “The university now offers no distinctive visage to the young person. He finds a democracy of the disciplines. … This democracy is really an anarchy, because there are no recognized rules for citizenship and no legitimate titles to rule. In short there is no vision, nor is there a set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is.”

A horde of bêtes noires had stampeded through the gates, and the resulting noise had drowned out the proper study of both nature and humanity. Nihilism had conquered. Its chief forms were cultural relativism, historicism, and shopping-mall indifference, the humanities’ lame attempts at a holding action that “flatters popular democratic tastes.” Openness was the new closure; elitism had become the worst of all isms.

Just how this happened, however, Bloom was uncertain. He was not a stickler for historical causation. When in doubt, he pounded the table and ranted about his next talking point, dotted with references to Great Books. Closing read more dyspeptic than lamentational. But the lamentational note was there. Once the university had been a crucible of truth; then it had been seized by, or sold to, the utilitarians; finally, it had collapsed in the face of nihilism. (Never mind that universities were training schools before they were Platonic academies.)

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