]]]]]]]]]]]]]   A CULTURAL CRITIC ANSWERS HIS OWN    [[[[[[[[[[[[
                         By Allan Bloom                (4/1/1989)
  [Mr. Bloom is  professor in the Committee  on Social Thought at
the  University  of  Chicago.  This  essay  was  adapted  from an
address delivered at Harvard.]
     From The Wall Street Journal, 30 March 1989, p. A12:1

          [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   I  have  gotten a  great  kick  out of  becoming  the academic
equivalent of  a rock star.   This is partly  because the eternal
American child in me found  it agreeable to experience peculiarly
American success  from the inside  -- to  find out if  I had been
missing anything.   But mostly  it was  because I  was afforded a
closeup look at the closing of  the American mind.  I have had to
learn, however, to be careful to avoid injury as it slams shut on
   I tried  in my  book to  point to  the great  sources of those
serious ideas that have become  dogmas in America today.  I urged
that we turn to serious study of them in order to purge ourselves
of our dogmatism.  For  this I have been  violently attacked as a
nostalgic, an ideologue, a doctrinaire, etc., etc. The meaning is
really, ``Don't touch our belief structure; it hurts.''
   This dogmatism  is neatly expressed  in a  report recently put
out  by  the  American Council  of  Learned  Societies.  Modestly
entitles  ``Speaking   for  the  Humanities,''   it  announces  a
``consensus'' at  the cutting edge  of scholarship  that a single
method of studying classic texts is  true: They are to be studied
as  the  unconscious expression  of  the class,  race  and gender
interests  or  prejudices  of their  authors.   This  method will
overturn the hegemony of white,  Western, male writers and ideas.
Scholars who  do not  accept this  way of  looking at  things are
considered not serious.
   The report notes that the success of my book is ``disturbing''
and can  be accounted  for by  American anti-intellectualism.  In
fact  their method  is the  work of  Michel Foucault  and Jacques
Derrida, two  French writers who  passed out of  fashion in Paris
and whose  importation to  these shores  is like  a late arriving
miniskirt.  All the girls, the report tells us, are wearing it.
   Their work is in  turn based on the  really serious thought of
Nietzsche and Heidegger, whose writings  are what really ought to
be studied to find out  whether their arguments are true. Instead
we  are  invited  by  this  bureaucratic  order  to  adopt  their
conclusions unreflectively.
   We ought to know, on the basis of historical observation, that
what epochs consider  their greatest virtue  is most often really
their  greatest temptation,  vice or  danger --  Roman manliness,
Spanish piety,  British class,  German authenticity.   We have to
learn to put the scalpel to our virtues.
   Plato  suggests that  if you're  born in  a democracy  you are
likely to be a relativist.  Relativism may perhaps be an American
virtue,  but  since  we  are by  birthright  inclined  to  it, we
especially better think it  over for the sake  of our freedom and
   I  wrote about  relativism in  ``The  Closing of  the American
Mind''  speaking  of  it  under  its  currently  reputable  name,
openness.   I have  since learned  with what  moral fervor  it is
protected and its opposite, ethnocentrism, attacked.  This fervor
does not propose  an investigation but a  crusade.  The very idea
that we ought to  look for standards by  which to judge ourselves
in naughty, and there has been  a more or less successful attempt
to remove my  views from respectable  discourse.  You simply have
to believe in the current understanding of openness if you are to
believe in democracy and be a decent person.
   If you do not toe this line,  you will be called an elitist, a
charge meant to  make you suspect  as an enemy  of our democratic
nation.  This charge of elitism  reflects the moral temper of our
time, as the charge of impiety would have done in an earlier age.
You couldn't get much of a  response in a university today saying
that Mr. So-and-So is an atheist, but you can get a lot of people
worked up by saying that Mr. Bloom is an elitist.  And this tells
us a lot about  where things are at,  and explains how tempting a
career is offered to egalitarian Tartufferie.
   What  we  are  witnessing in  our  elite  universities  is the
introduction  of  a   new  ``non-elitist,''  ``non-exclusionary''
system of  education in  the humanities  and parts  of the social
sciences.  This is  an extremely radical project  that is made to
appear  mainstream  by  marching  under  the  colors  of  all the
movements toward a  more equal society  that almost all Americans
endorse.   Henry   Louis  Gates,   W.E.B.  DuBois   professor  of
literature  at Cornell,  has described  this as  his generation's
progress from  taking over buildings  in the '60s  to taking over
curricula in the  '80s -- from  rifles to canons  at Cornell.  We
face a radicalism that is not  recognized for what it is and that
can marshal powerful  and sometimes angry  passions alongside its
own fanatic ones.
   This movement  culminates in a  program for the  reform of the
human understanding.  This results in a struggle between two ways
of approaching  our intellectual  heritage.  To  illustrate these
approaches  I have  selected two  quotations.   The first  is the
voice of black educator W.E.B. DuBois at the turn of the century:
   ``I sit with Shakespeare and  he winces not.  Across the color
line I walk arm  in arm with Balzac  and Dumas, where smiling men
and welcoming women glide in gilded halls.  From out of the caves
of evening  that swing  between the  strong-limbed earth  and the
tracery of  the stars, I  summon Aristotle and  Aurelius and what
soul  I  will,  they  come   all  graciously  with  no  scorn  or
condescension.  So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil.''
   I  confess that  this view  is most  congenial to  me.  DuBois
found our  common transcultural humanity  not in a  canon, but in
certain  works from  which he  learned  about himself  and gained
strength  for  his lonely  journey,  beyond the  veil.   He found
community  rather than  war.  He  used books  to think  about his
situation,  moving  beyond  the  corrosive  of  prejudice  to the
independent and sublime dignity of  the fully developed soul.  He
recapitulates the ever-renewed experience of books by intelligent
poor and oppressed people seeking for a way out.
   The second  quotation is attributed  to a leader  of the black
student group at Stanford.  It dates  from a year ago, during the
Stanford  curriculum  debate:  ``The   implicit  message  of  the
[Western civilization] curriculum is `nigger go home.' ''  DuBois
from this  perspective was suffering  from false-consciousness, a
deceptive  faith   in  theoretical  liberation   offered  by  the
inventors of practical slavery.
   The way out offered by the Stanford reforms is a sort of world
tour  with a  relativist compass  and without  an ``ethnocentic''
life jacket.   The school motto  appears ``Join  Stanford and See
the World.''  Students  are called upon to  open themselves up to
new cultures.   They are  not to  judge those  cultures using the
``Western imperialist'' criteria.  Indeed,  they are not to judge
one culture better than any other culture at all.
   From this  perspective contemporary  writers face considerable
theoretical embarrassment.  When threatened, they run like a herd
of buffalo  back to  the discredited  universalistic principle of
freedom  of speech,  no longer  mindful of  the sacred  claims of
religions and cultures  that they have been  preaching to us.  To
defend that  right, though, they  would have to  read the writers
who grounded it, Locke  and Milton.  But we  know, don't we, what
the motives of these philosophers are?
   Practically, universities are ceding the despised historicized
humanities  to the  political  activists and  extremists, leaving
their non-historicized disciplines,  which is where  the meat and
big  bucks   are,  undisturbed.   It   is  a   windfall  for  the
administrators  to be  able to  turn  all the  affirmative action
complaints over to the humanities, which will act as a lightening
rod  while  their  ship   continues  its  stately  progress  over
undisturbed  waters.   Stanford   shows  its  concerned,  humane,
radical face  to its inner  community, and  its serious technical
face to the  outside community, particularly  to its donors.  The
humanities radicals will settle for  this on the calculation that
if they can control the minds  of the young, they ultimately will
gain political control over the power of science.
   If  we  allow   ourselves  to  be   seduced  by  this  radical
enterprise, we will turn our backs on the profound sources of our
self-awareness.  Our loss will be  irreparable.  This is the view
that  put me  at  war with  the powers  of  our day.   Anyone who
defends what those powers call the West is automatically eligible
for admission to the elitist, sexist and racist club.

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