We can’t avoid thinking. The thoughtless are always going to be the prisoners of other people’s thoughts. American intellectual life has given us an easy way to believe anything we want.
– Allan Bloom (Time Magazine, October 1988)
I am kindred spirits with Allan Bloom, a great American philosopher, historian, classicist and academic. My worn copy of Bloom’s magnum opus, “The Closing of the American Mind,” contains the inscription: “Border’s Books, Sept. 7, 1988” – literally days after I arrived at Harvard as a grad student during the same time as Barack Obama arrived there already indoctrinated by Marx, Che Guevara, Alinsky, J.M. Keynes, Cloward-Piven, Laurence Tribe, Noam Chomsky and many other leftist radicals, the latter who dismissed Bloom’s book as “mind-bogglingly stupid” for its canonistic approach to education.
Bloom’s book draws comparisons between the United States and the Weimar Republic and traces contemporary liberalism philosophy back to the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1800) and the ideas and writings of Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau – that a just society could be based upon self-interest alone, together with the rise of relativism in American thought – had caused this collective societal descent into darkness.
For Bloom, the moral vacuum created by liberalism inside the souls of Americans was filled by demagogic radicals in the ’60s similar to the Nazi Brownshirts who in the ’20s and ’30s filled the breach created in German society by the Weimar Republic. Bloom further argued that liberal values of philosophy and reason understood as freedom of thought, had been hijacked by relativism, a pseudo-philosophy or ideology of thought, which Bloom identified as the primary aspect of modern liberal philosophy responsible for sabotaging the Socratic-Platonic worldview, logic and canonical teachings.
Bloom inside the Pagan arena
In his introduction, Bloom traced the development of liberalism from the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, to social Darwinism, Marxist collectivism and Nietzsche’s nihilism of the 19th century, the latter which was fanatically embraced by many influential scientists, academics and progressive intellectuals like Oliver Wendell Holmes who beginning in the 1870s used a Darwinian worldview to undermine natural law and a Judeo-Christian worldview as the intellectual foundation of American law and jurisprudence.
The gradual movement away from [natural] rights to [sophistic] openness was apparent, for example, when Oliver Wendell Holmes renounced seeking for a principle to determine which speech or conduct is not tolerable in a democratic society and invoked instead an imprecise and practically meaningless standard – clear and present danger – which to all intents and purposes makes the preservation of public order the only common good.
Holmes, who by his influential station in society as an abolitionist, Civil War hero, well-respected author, legal scholar, intellectual, Harvard professor and Supreme Court justice, was the key figure between 1870-1930 who helped transform American culture away from reliance on the founders who believed in transcendent principles to the vague world of randomness, meaninglessness and evolving standards of Darwinian evolution as the basis of all American laws.
Behind [Holmes] opinion there was an optimistic view about progress, one in which the complete decay of democratic principle and a collapse into barbarism are impossible and in which the truth unaided always triumphs in the marketplace of ideas. This optimism had not been shared by the Founders, who insisted that the principles of democratic government must be returned to and consulted even though the consequences might be harsh for certain points of view. …
What began in Charles Beards’ Marxism and Carl Becker’s historicism became routine. We are used to hearing the Founders charged with being racists, murderers of Indians, representatives of class interests …
Here, Bloom attacks Holmes’ optimism as derivative of materialism and historical revisionism which ran counter to the founders. Bloom also criticized Holmes’ relativism and anti-intellectualism as sophism, which removed God from the center of society and replaced deity with egalitarianism, which put all ideologies, policies and philosophies on an equal footing in what Holmes frequently referred to as the “marketplace of ideas.”
The influence of Holmes on the law, courts and society is universal. For example, academics like Carl Becker’s historicism/relativism and Charles Beard, whose Marxist zeitgeist and materialistic model of class conflict acknowledged Holmes’ social Darwinist ideas. Together these men influenced generations of American academics and historians like Richard Hofstadter, psychologists and educators like John Dewey, scientists, intellectuals, judges (Richard Posner, Ginsburg, Breyer), lawyers (L. Tribe, C. Sunstein), politicians and virtually all of today’s leftist pressure groups, as they are in some way indebted to the ideas of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
On what is now referred to as identity politics, Bloom contended that “the latest enemy of the vitality of classic texts is feminism. In this view, all literature of today is deemed to be sexist.” On affirmative action, Bloom wrote that it created “this little black empire” and perpetuated something of an institutional fraud in the form of “permanent quotas, financial preference, racial hiring of faculty and difficulty in giving blacks failing marks.”
In “The Closing of the American Mind,” Bloom taught us many important things; there are too many to address here, but most significantly he taught us that Hobbes, Rousseau, Darwin, Marx, Engels, Nietzsche, Lenin, Hitler, Freud, Holmes were all brilliant philosophers, but historically their ideas only condemn mankind into the abyss. They did not and could never redeem humanity.
Hearkening back to Aristotle’s first principles outlined in his “Metaphysics,” Bloom gave a singular statement on the objective of good education: “The golden thread of all education is in the first questions: How should I live? What’s the good life? What can I hope for? What must I do? What would be the terrible consequences if we knew the truth?”
In our present Age of Obama, that last question is both prophetic and painful, which leads me to wonder if professor Bloom were alive today to witness our present collapse into intellectual depravity, economic anarchy and societal nihilism, what would he say? Perhaps Bloom would ask this question: America, why did you allow communists, socialists and progressives to close your mind to the precious and transcendent gifts of Western civilization?