By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), pp. 56-60.
Allan Bloom, currently a professor at the University of Chicago, has had a distinguished academic career, teaching also at Yale, the universities of Paris, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. During the 1960s he was a professor at Cornell, resigning in protest over the capitulation of that school’s administration to campus radicals.
His Closing of the American Mind became an unexpected bestseller, indeed, something of a cultural phenomenon, during 1987. While we do not endorse everything in the book, several passages are well worth reflecting upon.
“The other element of fundamental primary learning that has disappeared is religion. As the respect for the Sacred – the latest fad – has soared, real religion and knowledge of the Bible have diminished to the vanishing point. . .
“The cause of this decay of the family’s traditional role as the transmitter of tradition is the same as that of the decay of the humanities: nobody believes that the old books do, or even could, contain the truth…. In the United States, practically speaking, the Bible was the only common culture, one that united simple and sophisticated, rich and poor, young and old, and – as the very model for a vision of the order of the whole of things, as well as the key to the rest of Western art, the greatest works of which were in one way or another responsive to the Bible – provided access to the seriousness of books. With its gradual and inevitable disappearance, the very idea of such a total book and the possibility and necessity of world-explanation is disappearing. And fathers and mothers have lost the idea that the highest aspiration they might have for their child is for them to be wise – as priests, prophets or philosophers are wise. Specialized competence and success are all that they can imagine.
“My grandparents were ignorant people by our standards, and my grandfather held only lowly jobs. But their home was spiritually rich because all the things done in it, not only what was specifically ritual, found their origin in the Bible’s commandments, and their explanation in the Bible’s stories and the commentaries on them, and had their imaginative counterparts in the deeds of the myriad of exemplary heroes. My grandparents found reasons for the existence of their family and the fulfillment of their duties in serious writings, and they interpreted their special sufferings with respect to a great and ennobling past. Their simple faith and practices linked them to great scholars and thinkers who dealt with the same material, not from outside or from an alien perspective, but believing as they did, while simply going deeper and providing guidance. There was a respect for real learning, because it had a felt connection with their lives. This is what a community and a history mean, a common experience inviting high and low into a single body of belief.
“I do not believe that my generation, my cousins who have been educated in the American way, all of whom are M.D.s or Ph.D.s, have any comparable learning. When they talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing but cliches, superficialities, the material of satire. I am not saying anything so trite as that life is fuller when people have myths to live by. I mean rather that a life based on the Book is closer to the truth, that it provides the material for deeper research in and access to the real nature of things. Without the great revelations, epics and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there, and eventually little left inside. The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished.”
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 6, p. 178
March 17, 1988