“There is no real teacher who in practice does not believe in the existence of the soul, or in a magic that acts on it through speech.”
With ideas like that, it is easy to see how Allan Bloom gained such a following. Immensely controversial both in his time and to this day, Bloom’s work rocked the educational tradition of the American universities in the 1980s. Bloom’s opus magnum, The Closing of the American Mind, drew lavish praise and harsh criticism in equal measure. Whatever the individual opinions, the book was a commercial success and catapulted Bloom and his philosophies into the public eye, making Bloom himself wealthy in the process.
Bloom’s philosophy is essentially a criticism of the shift in the philosophical direction of teaching during the late 20th century. Influenced greatly by his own teachers, heavyweights like Leo Strauss, and his philosophical idols, Plato and Nietzsche, Bloom planted a flag for humanism against what he considered to be an onslaught from logical positivism.
He proselytized a return to the academic morals of the Great Books of Western Thought, classics from Plato, Milton, Hobbes, and Hume. Bloom was convinced that by holding things like language and knowledge under a microscope, you lose the interest and passion that drives the desire for further understanding. This apology for the humanising ethics of antiquity extended to all aspects of American society: Bloom expressed his concern for market-targeted music dressed up as ‘free love’.
At the core of his philosophies lay the idea that the education of young people could not progress without a genuine and complete interest in the subject matter. The artistic explosion of the 70s and 80s, powered by the rebellious youth, for Bloom was nothing more than a manifestation of a society heavy with ennui.
Bloom believed that the key lay in a return to the academic ‘freedom’ of the past. Decades later, highly respected reviewers, authors, thinkers, and educationalists are still debating whether he was a genius or “mind-bogglingly stupid”.
However the die falls, the passion with which Bloom is discussed would have certainly found approval in the man himself.
“As soon as tradition has come to be recognized as tradition, it is dead.”