Tag: the sexual revolution

The Closing of the American Mind: 30 Years Ago

 

Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind is a very strange book. In part an extended reflection on pop culture and in part a critical history of philosophy, it is also in part a personal memoir. Thirty years ago – when, as a favor to Nobel-Prize winner Saul Bellow, Simon and Schuster published his friend’s book – no one, least of all Bloom himself, expected it to attract much attention. But that it did – and more. For it became a phenomenon. In fact, for nearly a year, it was the talk of the land, and it sold like hotcakes. Bloom, who had always lived beyond his means, soon found it almost impossible to do so.

I doubt that a high proportion of those who purchased Bloom’s bestseller managed to get through or even much into its second part. This section of Bloom’s tome – entitled “Nihilism – American Style” – is brilliant, and the writing is quite lively. But to even begin to understand the argument, one must be a Kulturmensch with at least a passing familiarity with writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Heidegger; and those who got bogged down in the early pages of part two are not likely to have gone on to part three: “The University.” It was the book’s first part, entitled “Students,” that electrified the American public.

Philosophy may have been too abstruse a subject for most of those who purchased the book. But nearly all of them had children or grandchildren; and, thanks to the proverbial “generation gap,” their offspring were for them a puzzle and a source of considerable anxiety. The chapters that Bloom devoted to the character of American college students before the late 1960s, to the role that an encounter with classic literary and philosophical works often then played in the intellectual and moral development of the ablest of these, to the impact that rock music came to have on the next generation of students, and to the larger significance of the sexual revolution – these were for older Americans a real eye-opener. For the first time, they had more than an inkling of what they had on their hands.