Bloom's masterpiece is hard to precis. It begins discussing his students and how relativism has closed their minds; how a doctrine of 'openness' has perversely undermined serious dialogue between different opinions and cultures. It then goes on a tour of Western philosophical thought illustrating the struggles that brought us to where we are now. My understanding of his critique is that we have lapsed into nihilism without taking the condition seriously. We cannot take seriously old visions of the good life and have broken the processes and destroyed the environments in which new visions might flourish. He sees this as a broad problem for Western civilisation but sees the crucial centre of the problem in the decline of liberal education within the Universities.
This isn't a book to discuss in one post and I'm sure it will be brought up frequently on this blog in the coming months but what I thought I'd note right now is how it relates to Dalrymple. Theodore Dalrymple's social conservatism has been a frequent topic of mine over the last year and relates in a very interesting way to Bloom's work. Dalrymple discusses (most effectively in this essay - which I will keep linking to until I'm satisfied every one of this blog's readers has read it) how the relativism of the elite creates desperate social problems for the disadvantaged.
Dalrymple's work is excellent but if you only read Dalrymple and look at the problems of the poor it is as if you are studying an oceanic earthquake by measuring coastal waves and understanding the misery of those they make homeless. You need to understand the problem at its source. The source of the awful problems Dalrymple describes is in the elite and their intellectual decline. A philosophical decline in the West. Hopefully Bloom can provide a valuable first step in understanding that source of our problems.