Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Closing of the American Mind

I've just finished reading Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind - just twenty years after it was written. While its title and content is directed towards Americans Harry Mount is right to argue that the disease now afflicts us and all the Western nations.

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.


Ruthie said...

"These words were a complete confession of guilt. I have had hundreds of conversations with men who have abandoned their children in this fashion, and they all know perfectly well what the consequences are for the mother and, more important, for the children. They all know that they are condemning their children to lives of brutality, poverty, abuse, and hopelessness. They tell me so themselves. And yet they do it over and over again, to such an extent that I should guess that nearly a quarter of British children are now brought up this way."

Interesting... thanks for linking to that essay.

Matthew Sinclair said...

If you have any thoughts on it please write them up.