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The Downfall of Higher Education

[ 90 ] August 27, 2012 |

Bruce Bawer, an old white male and writer of anti-Islamic screeds, seems to think that the downfall of higher education is in the “studies.” You know, black studies, women’s studies, gender studies, etc. Classes dedicated to non-white males, which Bawer believes constitutes the opposite of a proper education. Oh poor old “liberal” white males. Things were so much better in the 60s, when white men sat in college classrooms reading sensible white males like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Anyway, Andrew Delbanco is having none of it
, writing a devastating review of Bawer’s new book. Delbanco recognizes the real problems in higher education:

This deliberately intemperate book is a useful reminder that liberal education always faces threats from one kind of intolerance or another. It is ultimately a footnote to Allan Bloom’s 1987 best seller, “The Closing of the American Mind,” to which Bawer pays homage in his subtitle. He’s right to lament the continued decline of the kind of education that Bloom defined as helping “students to pose the question . . . ‘What is man?’ in relation to his highest aspirations” by guiding them to and through “the alternative answers” to be found in great works of art and thought. But in updating that argument, Bawer overlooks the greatest threat to today’s universities. Today, corporate-minded university presidents spout platitudes about “outcome metric” and “game-changing” technologies, while faculty members struggle to piece together a living with multiple part-time jobs, and students search for marketable skills that, they hope, will help them pay off their education debt.

In his foreword to Bloom’s book, Saul Bellow described his friend and University of Chicago colleague as “a front-line fighter in the mental wars of our times.” Taking up arms on behalf of Bloom’s cause 25 years later, Bruce Bawer is fighting a rear-guard action against an enemy who has largely ceded the field to a new philistine army that has no interest in the culture wars. The humanities and “soft” social science departments that Bawer mocks are sinking into insignificance — partly, to be sure, because they have purveyed the kind of buffoonery he decries. Meanwhile, a more formidable enemy has arrived in the form of resolute utilitarians who discourage students from seeking what Bawer wants for them: the chance, through arduous reading and reflection under the guidance of dedicated teachers, to discover themselves.

I will only disagree to the extent that I don’t think there’s a lot of “buffoonery” in the studies departments. Sometimes some of those courses could be more rigorous, but then you could say that about any traditional major in the liberal arts.

Of course, another huge problem is the gigantic con being played against our college students, wherein capitalists and their purchased politician friends push them into online degrees that employers don’t value and do them very little good.

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  1. Bill Murray says:

    and I thought the downfall of higher education was when we let the ladies in, but then what I don’t know about playdoh and bacon could make a big chewy sandwich

  2. Hon. Chris Christie says:

    I’m not so sure of the basic thesis. Classical studies was ‘studies’ before it was cool — and 100% dead white guys, too.

    Me, I lament the passing of litterae humaniores…..

  3. M F Cooper says:

    I stopped paying any attention to Bruce Bawer after he began hyperventilating about Anders Breivik being a lone nutter and pre-emptively refusing on behalf of his right-wing xenophobic corner of the blogosphere to do any soul-searching about the fact that a murderous zealot took his writings as inspiration.

    But I’m not sure why we can’t have a ‘both-and’? The classics are still very important. It is just that I do not feel that we humanities types are taken seriously at all by people in positions of power. I shall have to read more of Delblanco…

  4. Ignorant Texan says:

    My how standards have slipped at the WaPo. I no longer think they have an anti-obscenity policy, after seeing the words human resources and MBA in Mr Matthews’ post.

  5. Dana says:

    No doubt “buffoonery” is a bit strong, but I also feel like Delbanco is overstating a bit the degree of cartoonishness of Bawer’s characterization. Or at least overstating the degree of change in the academy. Packaging together strings of barely intelligible jargon and calling it scholarship is still all too common in academia.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Small sample-size, but there are 8 academics on this blog and not a single one of us has ever used a word of jargon, at least to my knowledge. Not sure how common this supposed phenomenon really is.

      • Heron says:

        I don’t really think Jargon’s that big of a problem either. What I do think is a problem though, at least in history, is pidgeon-holing. There’s nothing wrong with being a specialist -we need deep, specialized knowledge if we’re going to understand a period or trend correctly- but at the same time a total focus on that can be limiting to the field, to the writer, and to the amateur reader. There’s plenty of good analysis out there, but we need good synthesis too, particularly for a popular audience.

        Even among those trying to express a wider view you tend to run into a sort of theoretical specialization; most of them have a specific interpretation they want to push(Whig, Marxist, Hegelian, ect.) and they ignore the real revelations other approaches have provided to further what is really a philosophical, not a historical, argument. That’s one reason why I like Norman Davies as a popularizer and compilationist; the breadth of his sources and his willingness to pull good research from various different fields and approaches.

      • arguingwithsignposts says:

        Small sample-size, but there are 8 academics on this blog and not a single one of us has ever used a word of jargon, at least to my knowledge.

        Do you even read SEK’s visual rhetoric posts?

      • Anonymous says:

        We’ll meet again,
        Don’t know where,don’t know when.
        But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

  6. Dana says:

    Really, not a word of jargon? On the blog? Or anywhere, ever? I guess I should say that by “too common” I mean if I hear one paper per conference fitting my description I think that’s too much. In any case, I wasn’t referring to present company and didn’t intend for you to take it personally. And I don’t consider blogging “scholarship,” per se. Do you?

    History as an academic discipline is relatively jargon-free. That accessibility is great but also has its disadvantages. I mean, I can’t shake the sense that when people hear “historian” they think we’re a bunch of storytellers, Civil War Buffs and quaint antiquarians who spend our days farting around in library stacks at the mere sufferance of society’s productive members.

    • Dana says:

      Intended as a reply to Erik’s @10:15…sorry…

    • CD says:

      Is there a way to distinguish this lament from the more general fact that any specialized area of inquiry creates terms of art, and shared assumptions that are not immediately apparent to newcomers? I mean, I don’t understand a lot of the words in scholarly papers in organic chemistry, but I don’t write complaints about their jargon.

    • latinist says:

      Classical Studies is a bit schizophrenic about this, embracing both the wacko hippies who love Lacan and Derrida (still very exciting and new to us — the standard line is that Classics is perennially about 30 years behind the rest of the humanities), and also the curmudgeonly old farts who think that literary theory is all a load of garbage.

      For my part, I would point out that although I have heard some talks that used jargon to obfuscate useless ideas, I’ve certainly also heard others that used plain English to express, at great length, revolutionary ideas along the lines of “Cicero brilliantly uses language to persuade his audience,” or “Augustus was a skilled political strategist,” and those aren’t a picnic either.* I tend to think that use of jargon and theory is largely a matter of taste, and not strongly correlated with quality either way.

      *Neither of those is actually my least favorite type of Classics talk. That prize goes to the increasingly popular thesis, “look at all the classical references in my favorite TV show.”

  7. wetcasements says:

    Bawer wrote a pretty good book on mid-20th century American poetry.

    Then he went full wingnut.

  8. J. Otto Pohl says:

    I for one long for the good old days of the 1960s here when Black students sat down and actually read books written by both White and Black authors. The problem today is that students do so little reading by authors of any race or gender. Even the good students that do the reading complain bitterly that 75 pages a week is too much for a 400 level class. In the 1960s when Nkrumah was still in power students read hundreds of pages a week and it was considered normal. So yes standards have slipped dramatically since the 1960s. Grad students tell me it is because the country was a military dictatorship from 1966 to 1993. But, that seems like a poor excuse for today’s students.

  9. Uncle Kvetch says:

    I remember when Bawer was making his nut as a Gay Conservative, back when that particular niche had sufficient contrarian zazz to give him a fairly high public profile. Then that damn Sullivan came along, not only peddling the same schtick, but doing it with a better accent.

    So the dude shifts gears and remakes himself as an Anti-Muslim Hysteric, but they’re getting to be a dime a dozen these days. So what next? Hey, there’s always Cranky Old White Guy!

    Dude’s gonna end up accumulating more personae than David Bowie before he’s finished.

  10. Manju says:

    Bloom’s “Closing” stands apart. Even Schlesinger’s “Disuniting” is pedestrian and polemic in comparison. Bloom wrote before the term “Political Correctness” emerged, I assume, b/c he doesn’t use it.

    The writing is beautiful, elegant, and dense…but not Heidegger dense. The purpose is to take the reader on a tour thru Western Philosophy, with a focus on the overlap and tension between Marx and Nietzsche…both of whom he considers great.

    The authors who followed produced works of journalism. They would list incidents of censorship and basically do the investigating that FIRE does today. Bloom didn’t dwell on incidents. He explored the ideas that led to them. He wanted an excuse to write an intellectual history.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      He needed an excuse to write pretty bad intellectual history?

      • Manju says:

        Have you read it?

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Yep. Back when it came out. I don’t recall it all that well, but the chapter on Mick Jagger was hilarious and I do recall finding most of rest fairly weak.

          I went in pretty unbiased, IIRC, but who knows.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            And, I mean, did it even purport to be an intellectual history rather than a tired tropey right wing polemic?

            Oh look, it’s available online.

            And the opening paragraph is so mindboggling stupid and ahistorical as to really being annoying. Not to mention rather crappily written:

            There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering th e university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4, These are things you don’t think about. The students’ backgrounds are as various as America can provide. Some are religious, some atheists; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism and in their allegiance to equality. And the two are related in a moral intention. The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modem replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society. That it is a moral issue for students is revealed by the character of their response when challenged–a combination of disbelief and indignation: “Are you an absolutist?,” the only alternative they know, uttered in the same tone as “Are you a monarchist?” or “Do you really believe in witches?” This latter leads into the indignation, for someone who believes in witches might well be a witch- hunter or a Salem judge. The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to open- ness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating.

            Oh yeah. Serious intellectual history!

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              More random crapola:

              Philosophy was not ever a very
              powerful presence in universities, although there were important exceptions. We began with a public philosophy that sufficed for us, and we thought that it was common sense. In America, Tocquevlle said, everyone is a Cartesian although no one has read Descartes. We were almost entirely importers of philosophy, with the except/on of Pragmatism. One need not have read a line of philosophy to be considered educated in this country. It is easily equated with hot air, much more so than any of the other humane disciplines.So it always had an uphill fight. Students who did seek it could, however, find some refreshment at its source. But it has succumbed and probably could disappear without being much noticed. It has a scientific component, logic, which is attached to the sciences and could easily be detached from philosophy. This is serious, practiced by competent specialists, and responds to none of the permanent philosophic questions. History of philosophy, the compendium of dead philosophies that was always most lively for the students, has been neglected, and students find it better treated in a variety of other disciplines. Positivism and ordinary language analysis have long dominated, although they are on the decline and evidently being replaced by nothing. These are simply methods of a sort, and they repel students who come with the humanizing questions. Professors of these schools simply would not and could not talk about anything important, and they themselves do not represent a philosophic life for the students. In some places existentialism and phenomenology have gained a foothold, and they are much more attractive to students than positivism or ordinary language analysis. Catholic universities have always kept some contact with medieval philosophy, and hence, Aristotle. But, in sum, the philosophy landscape is largely bleak. That is why so much of the philosophic instinct in America used to lead toward the new social sciences and is now veering off toward certain branches of literature and literary criticism. As it stands, philosophy is just another humanities subject, rather contenfless, without a thought of trying to take command in the crisis of the university. Actually it contains less of the exhilarating presence of the tradition in philosophy than do the other humanities disciplines, and one finds its professors least active of the humanists in attempts to revitalize liberal education. Although there was a certain modesty about ordinary language analysis– “We just help to give you clarity about what you are already doing”— The Student and te University there was also smugness: “We know what was wrong with the whole tradition, and we don’t need it anymore.” Therefore the tradition disappeared from philosophy’s confines.

              Closing was published in 1987 i.e., post Quine and lots of Putnam, Davidson and Lewis, Rawls and Nozick, so much feminism, Foot and Thompson (see the other thread!), so much great philosophy of science, Barcan-Marcus and Kripke, etc. etc. etc. Positivism and ordinary language philosopher were hardly dominent at this point. Wiggians. Railton, Hart, etc. etc. Hell MacIntyre’s After Virtue was 1981! Gautier. SELLERS?! Nussbaum. Paul and Patricia Churchland. DANTO! Marylin Frye. SUZANNE LANGER!

              It is a total laugh. Embarrassing. The American philosophical tradition in the 20th century is rich, diverse, and had wide influence in other fields. It was deeply concerned with wide questions and esp. issues of what it is to be a person (Williams?!?!).

              Bloom is an illiterate hack (in Closing).

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Good good, I forgot to mention any of the amazing US Ancient philosophy scholars. It’s as if he’d never heard of Vlastos (for example).

              • Manju says:

                Nussbaum

                he probably would’ve mentioned Nussbaum if he had lived to see the way the Hindu Right went after her. Maybe a chapter called; “”The Nietzscheanization of the Right”.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  If if this were true, it doesn’t undo the profound hackery.

                  It’s an odd defense of his aiming to “to take the reader on a tour thru Western Philosophy” when he bollocks the philosophy so completely and yet boringly.

                  Being shockingly ignorant is not an interesting form of intellectual derring-do!

            • Manju says:

              And, I mean, did it even purport to be an intellectual history rather than a tired tropey right wing polemic?

              You’re only quoting the opening chapters, which are easier becasue they sound more ‘tropey right wing”. And even then, they weren’t tropey when he wrote them.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                You’re only quoting the opening chapters,

                My first quote, which I acknowledged was fromthe beginning, is on page 57.

                The second quote was from page 378, i.e., from the closing chapter, The Student and the University.

                So, if you through out half the quotes I gave, then why, yes, I am only quoting from the opening chapters. That other quote is an outlier!!!!

                Are you sure you’ve finished reading it or are you still deciphering it like a poem?

                which are easier becasue they sound more ‘tropey right wing”. And even then, they weren’t tropey when he wrote them.

                It is as if you’ve never heard of Buckley.

                The problem with his explication of the state of philosophy isn’t primarily that he’s all right wing, it’s primarily because he didn’t know jack shit about the history of philosophy, esp. in the 20th century.

                That should worry you, I’d think!

                • Manju says:

                  The second quote was from page 378, i.e., from the closing chapter, The Student and the University.

                  The closing chapter returns to themes of the opening ones.

                  The middle is where the meat is, and where I got lost, as I hadn’t studied much philosophy at that time.

                • Manju says:

                  The problem with his explication of the state of philosophy isn’t primarily that he’s all right wing, it’s primarily because he didn’t know jack shit about the history of philosophy, esp. in the 20th century.

                  You haven’t cited errors, just omissions.

                  But “The Closing” is a focused intellectual history. It reveals a particular phenomena in the opening chapters…basically a peculiar closed-mindedness…then takes us thru the intellectual traditions that lead to this state of mind.

                  Its not so much a history of intellectuals, but an intellectual history.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Hahahahah.So I quoted the opening chapters by quoting the closing chapter?!?

                  Could you at least acknowledge your error?

                  BTW, just to pick something at random, The German Connection starts with an extended Reagan hook and is as full of crap as the beginning and end.

                  Ooo, here you go:

                  The fact that German thought had taken an antirational and antiliberal turn with Nietzsche, and even more so with Heidegger, was evident. But this was simply epressed, and a blind eye was turned to their influence on their contemporaries. There were some superficial attempts to blame Hegel, Fichte and Nietzsche for what happened in Germany, but the German classical tradition in general, as well as German historicism, remained in favor, and the special stars in our firmament were either treated as spinoffs from them or as having been generated spontaneously. The trouble with Weimar was simply that the bad guys won.

                  It’s as if he’s never heard of Carnap! Or the analytic/continental divide!

                  My professors, many of whom were to become very famous, did not tend to be philosophic and did not dig back into the sources of the new language and categories they were using. They thought that these were scientific discoveries like any others, which were to be used in order to make further discoveries. They were very much addicted to abstractions and generalizations, as Tocqueville predicted they would be.

                  Convenient that he cites none of them, so we have only his breezy bullshit to guide us.

                  Show me anything interesting. Anything at all.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You haven’t cited errors, just omissions.

                  Oh please.

                  It has a scientific component, logic, which is attached to the sciences and could easily be detached from philosophy. This is serious, practiced by competent specialists, and responds to none of the permanent philosophic questions.

                  I already pointed out modal logic and its deep use in many branches of philosophy. But also, the history of analytic philosophy starts with Frege and the attempt to secure mathematics. Logic and philosophy were deeply intertwined and philosophical logic persists to this day. God, just read the Tractatus! Positivism thought logic eliminated metaphysics and that is a profound move toward “answering” (in a way) the permanent philosophical questions.

                  Positivism and ordinary language analysis have long dominated, although they are on the decline and evidently being replaced by nothing.

                  This is a positive error and ignores just about everything from the 1950s on and a good deal before that.

                  Seriously, dude. Pick up a book. No, not that, a competently written book.

                  But, in sum, the philosophy landscape is largely bleak. That is why so much of the philosophic instinct in America used to lead toward the new social sciences and is now veering off toward certain branches of literature and literary criticism.

                  Again, sheer nonsense. Just look at Rawls and Nozick in political philosophy. Look at philosophy of mind, of language, of mathematics! Williams vs. Smart on utilitarianism! The list is endless and marvelous. It definitely isn’t Positivism since at least Two Dogmas of Empircism and ordinary language philosophy as a school was never dominant in the US and wasn’t long dominant in the UK, to the degree that it was.

                  This simplest the grossest sort of ignorance.

                  But “The Closing” is a focused intellectual history.

                  If by “focused” you mean “crap hackery” then I agree.

                  It reveals a particular phenomena in the opening chapters…basically a peculiar closed-mindedness…

                  As it provides nothing but crancky anecdotes, it doesn’t not reveal a phenomena but a fantasy.

                  then takes us thru the intellectual traditions that lead to this state of mind.

                  You’ve provided no evidence of his competent execution of providing a basis for his delusion. It’s thin and tendentious at best; as rubbishy as the other parts as typical.

                  Its not so much a history of intellectuals, but an intellectual history.

                  Now that’s some fine fine sophistry there! He gets the ideas and the state and evolution of ideas wrong wrong wrong. Undergraduate wrong.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Here’s some more! I know I know from the hackery early chapters:

              History and social science are used in a variety of ways to overcome prejudice. We should not be ethnocentric, a term drawn from anthropology, which tells us more about the meaning of openness. We should not think our way is better than others. The intention is not so much to teach the students about other times and places as to make them aware of the fact that their preferences are only that—accidents of their time and place. Their beliefs do not entitle them as individuals, or collectively as a nation, to think they are superior to anyone else. John Rawls is almost a parody of this tendency, writing hundreds of pages to persuade men, and proposing a scheme of government that would force them, not to despise anyone.

              I trust the laughability of this is not in doubt?

              In A Theory of Justice, he writes that the physicist or the poet should not look down on the man who spends his life counting blades of grass or performing any other frivolous or corrupt activity. Indeed, he should be esteemed, since esteem from others, as opposed to self-esteem, is a basic need of all men. So indiscriminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is discrimination. This folly means that men are not permitted to seek for the natural human good and admire it when found, for such discovery is coeval with the discovery of the bad and contempt for it. Instinct and intellect must be suppressed by education. The natural soul is to be replaced with an artificial one.

              Well, I happen to have a Theory of Justice right here:

              Turning now to our present topic, it will be recalled that the Aristotelian Principle runs as follows: other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity. The intuitive idea here is that human beings take more pleasure in doing something as they become more proficient at it, and of two activities they do equally well, they prefer the one calling on a larger repertoire of more intricate and subtle discriminations…

              …The role of the Aristotelian Principle in the theory of the good is that it states a deep psychological fact which, in conjunction with other general facts and the conception of a rational plan, accounts for our considered judgments of value. The things that are commonly thought of as human goods should turn out to be the ends and activities that have a major place in rational plans. The principle is part of the background that regulates these judgments. Provided that it is true, and leads to conclusions matching our convictions about what is good and bad (in reflective equilibrium), it has a proper place in moral theory. Even if this conception should not be true of some persons, the idea of a
              rational long-term plan still applies. We can work out what is good for them in much the same way as before. Thus imagine someone whose only pleasure is to count blades of grass in various geometrically shaped areas such as park squares and well-trimmed lawns. He is otherwise intelligent and actually possesses unusual skills, since he manages to survive by solving difficult mathematical problems for a fee. The definition of the good forces us to admit that the good for this man is indeed counting blades of grass, or more accurately, his good is determined by a plan that gives an especially prominent place to this activity. Naturally we would be surprised that such a person should exist. Faced with his case, we would try out other hypotheses. Perhaps he is peculiarly neurotic and in early life acquired an aversion to human fellowship, and so he counts blades of grass to avoid having to deal with other people. But if we allow that his nature is to enjoy this activity and not to enjoy any other, and that there is no feasible way to alter his condition, then surely a rational plan for him will center around this activity. It will be for him the end that regulates the schedule of his actions, and this establishes that it is good for him. I mention this fanciful case only to show that the correctness of the definition of a person’s good in terms of the rational plan for him does not require the truth of the Aristotelian Principle. The definition is satisfactory, I believe, even if this principle should prove inaccurate, or fail altogether. But by assuming the principle we seem able to account for what things are recognized as good for human beings taking them as they are. Moreover, since this principle ties in with the primary good of self-respect, it turns out to have a central position in the moral psychology underlying justice as fairness (§67)

              I submit to you that there is no way that Bloom’s reading of Rawls is remotely accurate in the least detail. It’s questionable that he read A Theory of Justice.

              If you read the bits in the ellipsis, you’ll find Rawls discussing why we strive for more complex activities and greater skill and why that arouses admiration and pleasure in others so that a society which aims to support self development is beneficial to its members:

              Now accepting the Aristotelian Principle as a natural fact, it will generally be rational, in view of the other assumptions, to realize and train mature capacities. Maximal or satisfactory plans are almost certainly plans that provide for doing this in significant measure. Not only is there a tendency in this direction postulated by the Aristotelian Principle, but the plain facts of social interdependency and the nature of our interests more narrowly construed incline us in the same way. A rational plan— constrained as always by the principles of right—allows a person to flourish, so far as circumstances permit, and to exercise his realized abilities as much as he can. Moreover, his fellow associates are likely to support these activities as promoting the common interest and also to take pleasure in them as displays of human excellence. To the degree, then, that the esteem and admiration of others is desired, the activities favored by the Aristotelian Principle are good for other persons as well.

              So, to call Bloom a hack is to praise him far beyond his deserts.

          • Manju says:

            Ha! I was going to mention the Jagger thing in response to the Paglia/Madonna stuff up-thread.

            I went in biased-against and came out with no idea wtf he was talking about, other than in the first few chapters. But I wanted to understand because, like Nietzsche’s work, it seemed like a poem to be deciphered.

            And that’s the point. Arthur Schlesinger Jr’s “DoA” you can understand by just following the culture wars via the NYTimes. Bloom was operating on another level. I recall someone writing that “The Closing” was one of the most quoted but least read works in history.

            Anyway, as one of the few RWinger’s here, I usually engage commentators when they make a point that I rebuke with pure data or with cites within their ideological fold…a common space . This topic’s more subjective, so I’m not sure how to proceed.

            I will note that that Bloom once appeared on Oprah. Years later, Oprah became defacto dictator of the Publishing Industry. After she took control of the American Mind, Americans elected Obama. Coincidence? I think not.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              I went in biased-against and came out with no idea wtf he was talking about, other than in the first few chapters. But I wanted to understand because, like Nietzsche’s work, it seemed like a poem to be deciphered.

              You’re kidding, right? There’s really not much there, there and what’s there is usually hackery.

              And that’s the point. Arthur Schlesinger Jr’s “DoA” you can understand by just following the culture wars via the NYTimes. Bloom was operating on another level. I recall someone writing that “The Closing” was one of the most quoted but least read works in history

              Hahahhahahahah. Ok.

              usually engage commentators when they make a point that I rebuke with pure data or with cites within their ideological fold…a common space . This topic’s more subjective, so I’m not sure how to proceed.

              What’s not subjective is his totally crap reading of the history of 20th century American philosophy. Postivism was done and dusted in the 50s at the latest (for example). Someone who does not acknowledge Word and Object or Naming and Necessity when talking about the relationship between logic and the rest of philosophy when writing in 1987 is an ignoramous.

              His claims about American public ed are totally unsupported and his methodology (look at all the students I taught! They were bright but I loathed them so I can generalize!) is ridiculous.

              If you like boring, pseudo-erudite polemics, I supposed you could do worse. MacIntyre is a million times better.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Really, it’s not even about left or right wing. It’s just crap.

              • Manju says:

                His claims about American public ed are totally unsupported and his methodology (look at all the students I taught!

                can’t disagree here, but hey its philosophy. Marx, Nietzsche, etc didn’t have any methodology of note. we’re not talking DW-Nominate here.

                It’s subjective, like the Ta-Nehisi Coates piece everyone is discussing. I compare it to Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunich”. Its gobbledygook…but beautiful gobbledygook it is.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  It’s not subjective that logical positivism was long dead by 1987. It’s also not subjective that modal logic played a profound and interesting role in metaphysics, philosophy of language, and even ethics (e.g., deontic logic).

                  This is all lookupable, dude.

                • Manju says:

                  It’s not subjective that logical positivism was long dead by 1987…This is all lookupable, dude.

                  I wasn’t sure what this had to do with Bloom. So I took ur advice and looked it up. Via google, I made my way to his wiki entry.

                  There, they oddly give logical positivism a prominent spot in his book, followed by deconstruction (also odd, but a tad more understandable). So I followed the link and was told to go to page 378.

                  I open up the page and see Bloom mentioning positivism, saying; “they [positivism and ordinary language analysis"] are on the decline…”

                  Your gripe is that a school of thought that he doesn’t focus on but wiki does was long dead and not just on the decline? That’s your objection?

                  Did you read the book…or just the wiki entry?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Yes, I read the book, as I said, back when it came out.

                  Here I’ve been reading bits and pieces from the online text, which I pointed too.

                  I provided a full quotation of the passage you strangely had to go to Wikipedia to find.

                  I just posted a comment which pulled apart the whole passage.

                  That he claims that two schools of thought that were dead for DECADES and followed by a huge blossoming of philosophical activity and genius were “merely on the decline” and being replaced by nothing is a pretty devestating failure.

                  Indeed, why should I take anything else he says seriously? Read the bit about the german influence on American thought…it’s bonkers. It ignores the analytic turn. It ignores the Vienna Circle, Moore, Russell, Whitehead, etc. etc. etc. It’s not just omitting them, it’s functionally claiming they didn’t exist. To understand intellectual history you actually have to know what happened! Not just what happening in your classes and committees, but what actually happening across the intellectual landscape.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  AFAICT and recall, he never engages with Popper! Hello! Open Society!?!?!

                  Perhaps it’s because Popper was pro-democracy? But still!

                • Manju says:

                  That he claims that two schools of thought that were dead for DECADES and followed by a huge blossoming of philosophical activity and genius were “merely on the decline” and being replaced by nothing is a pretty devestating failure.

                  Other than these (logical positivism and ordinary language analysis) being the first 2 schools mentioned in the wiki summary of “The Closing”, I can’t see why you would focus on them.

                  Bloom doesn’t. He simply assigns them to the realm of science and moves on. “There were no Lenins thundering against positivism, relativity or genetics, no Goebbels alert to the falseness of Jewish science”; he writes. The Closing is about positivism about as much as it is about genetics.

                  As far as the decline v dead debates goes, Bloom is not making the observations that you assign to him. He’s saying that positivism dominated the classroom over the History of philosophy, with the thinkers who occupied the later (Freud, Marx, Weber) migrating over to the social sciences.

                  There may very well have been a “blossoming of philosophical activity” in those fields, but that doesn’t interest Bloom anymore than a blossoming in string theory does, since they never captured the imagination of students the way the above 3 thinkers did.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Other than these (logical positivism and ordinary language analysis) being the first 2 schools mentioned in the wiki summary of “The Closing”, I can’t see why you would focus on them.

                  You can continue to insinuate that I just read the Wiki article, but you’re wrong. And at the moment, I’ve clearly reread more than you.

                  I didn’t focus on those two schools (I discuss his total misunderstanding of how logic played out in the 20th century), and how he misses all the other areas of huge excitement and interest.

                  Then I went back and started reading through and trashed his crap discussion of Rawls.

                  You know, I was always rather more quietly sympathetic to you and all the DW-NOMINATE stuff. But this is just shameful on your part.

                  Argue the case or not. It doesn’t help you to lay false accusations impugning me.

                  Bloom doesn’t. He simply assigns them to the realm of science and moves on. “There were no Lenins thundering against positivism, relativity or genetics, no Goebbels alert to the falseness of Jewish science”; he writes. The Closing is about positivism about as much as it is about genetics.

                  Well, they weren’t science and were quite concerned to draw distinction between what they were doing and philosophy. Later Quinean “positivism” (not logical positivism) did argue that science and philosopher were more continuous (see epistemology naturalized).

                  I don’t understand at all your use of that quote.

                  Assigning non-science to science doesn’t really show his capabilities as an intellectual historian.

                  As far as the decline v dead debates goes, Bloom is not making the observations that you assign to him. He’s saying that positivism dominated the classroom over the History of philosophy, with the thinkers who occupied the later (Freud, Marx, Weber) migrating over to the social sciences.

                  First of all, it’s just false that positivism dominated over history of philosophy, at least in any interesting way. History of philosophy was well tended in philosophy departments throughout the 20th century (I took my area exam in Early Modern; there was great work being done on Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Spinoza, etc.; Kant studies were a major part of the US philosophical landscape from at least the 50s, with Strawson leading the way, then Bennett and Allison to mention the two most obvious; loads of people seriously took Kant as their starting point from metaphysics and epistimology (cf Sellers, Strawson and their successors) to ethics and politics (cf. Rawls, Hill, and a bazillion others). These are just the tip of the iceberg.

                  There’s no sane history of Western philosophy wherein Frued, Marx, and Weber are characteristic occupiers of the history of philosophy. They were engaged by philosophers, of course, but compared to the ancients, early moderns, and Kant, they were never and arguably should never have been part of the core philosophical curriculum (as history).

                  Ignorance isn’t a defence of ignorance.

                  There may very well have been a “blossoming of philosophical activity” in those fields, but that doesn’t interest Bloom anymore than a blossoming in string theory does, since they never captured the imagination of students the way the above 3 thinkers did.

                  Well, I suppose you have to ask, Which Students? I personally find it hard to believe that Bloom captured the interest of any students, but whatever.

                  Rawls, for example, captured the interest of a wide range of people. Nozick galvinized people for and against and had some success with popularization. He certainly made a lot of libertarians happy. Etc. etc. Functionalism vs. elimintivism as a theory of mind certainly led to lots of clashes in the classes I took between psychologists, neuroscienctists, etc.

                  And isn’t this a straight up empirical claim? Where’s the evidence?

                  Bloom found these boring. So boing he couldn’t be bothered to study them to a level which wasn’t embarrassing.

                  (Plus, there was a ton of awesome stuff on free will, survival, etc. Derek Parfit comes to mind. The students I taught seems to find that plenty interesting. And, really, Kuhn? Feyerabend? Philosophy of science attracted wide interest.)

                  Bloom is a highly, highly unreliable guide to anything about philosophy.

  11. Bijan Parsia says:

    More Bloom from the beginning, but y’know, I’m working my way through. I’m still waiting for Manju to put up one thing Bloom got right or even interesting.

    Franklin Roosevelt declared that we want “a society which leaves no one out.” Although the natural rights inherent in our regime are
    perfectly adequate to the solution of this problem, provided these outsiders adhere to them (i.e., they become insiders by adhering to them), this
    did not satisfy the thinkers who influenced our educators, for the right to
    vote and the other political rights did not automatically produce social
    acceptance. The equal protection of the laws did not protect a man from
    contempt and hatred as a Jew, an Italian, or a Black.

    It’s as if Jim Crow didn’t exist!

    (He does condemn Southern defences of slavery.)

    The civil rights movement provides a good example of this change in thought. In its early days almost all the significant leaders, in spite of tactical and temperamental differences, relied on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

    But not the Bible? Is it not a great work?

    The blacks were the true Americans in demanding the equality that belongs to them as human beings by natural and political right. This stance implied a firm conviction of the truth of the principles of natural right and of their fundamental efficacy within the Constitutional tradition, which, although tarnished, tends in the long run toward fulfilling those principles. They therefore worked through Congress, the Presidency, and, above all, the Judiciary. By contrast, the Black Power movement that supplanted the older civil rights movement—leaving aside both its excesses and its very understandable emphasis on self-respect and refusal to beg for acceptance—had at its core the view that the Constitutional tradition was always corrupt and was constructed as a defense of slavery. Its demand was for black identity, not universal rights. Not rights but power counted. It insisted on respect for blacks as blacks, not as human beings simply

    Uh….I guess he forgot about civil disobedience? Massive resistance? And the characterization of the Black Power movement is naive at best. Lumping Carmichael and Searle together isn’t helpful. Ignoring the reaction against terror (police and Klan) and the self defense aspects of it, not to mention the cultural and community building aspects is to distort wildly to fit his narrative.

    Bonkers.

    • Manju says:

      It’s as if Jim Crow didn’t exist!

      When King argued:

      “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

      …he was not ignoring Jim Crow because he was not making a factual observation of reality. He was making a normative statement, ie, what these words should lead us to do as opposed to what we actually did with them.

      Bloom is making a // argument.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        A “//” argument? A crap argument?

        The problem isn’t that King didn’t mobilize existing norms (indeed, this is a common theory of the nature of civil disobedience; though not the only one). Reread (or read for the first time) the passage:

        Although the natural rights inherent in our regime are perfectly adequate to the solution of this problem, provided these outsiders adhere to them (i.e., they become insiders by adhering to them), this did not satisfy the thinkers who influenced our educators, for the right to vote and the other political rights did not automatically produce social acceptance. The equal protection of the laws did not protect a man from contempt and hatred as a Jew, an Italian, or a Black.

        A key aspect of Jim Crow were formal rights being attenuated by formal and informal barriers. Terror and poll taxes worked together.

        “Social acceptance” was not the primary animating goal of the civil rights movement…equality was. They struggled not primarily against contempt and hatred, but discrimination and violence. Obviously, these are not unrelated, but we don’t have reeducation camps, but voter protection programs.

        Clearly this is just polemicizing, not serious argument or even a vague attempt at it, as with the rest of Closing.

        Bonk-ers.

    • Manju says:

      The problem isn’t that King didn’t mobilize existing norms

      I’m not sure what this has to do with my point. I’m saying that if you read King’s speech as an historical narrative, ie as you read Bloom, you would have to come to the conclusion that he is also bonkers.

      If we do this, he appears to be saying that “the architects of our republic….guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…to black men.”

      As you said in regards to Bloom:

      It’s as if Jim Crow didn’t exist!

      King was aware of the existence of Jim Crow. So is Bloom. If you can understand what King is communicating, then it shouldn’t be too hard to apply that same understanding to Bloom.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Bloom is writing an “intellectual history” in which he omits or elides key aspects of that history.

        Quoting one of King’s speeches which was, after all, aspirational and polemical, not intended as history per se, does not capture all that was going on.

        If you read Letter, you’ll see a whole lot about direct action, about stepping outside the norms, of, indeed, breaking the law. Some of that can be conceptualized inside a broader constitutional framework, but some is explicitly constituted in terms of natural law (a framework for assessing the constitution).

        King is writing at a moment in time, Bloom is pretending that lawsuits and legistlation were working fine to evolve the US state to equality until the uppity blacks decided that identity politics were the cool new thing. This is hugely misleading.

  12. Manju says:

    “Social acceptance” was not the primary animating goal of the civil rights movement…equality was.

    Right. Above, you actually quote Bloom saying as much. In regards to the significant leaders of the early Civil Rights Movement, he says;

    “The blacks were the true Americans in demanding the equality that belongs to them as human beings by natural and political right.”

    Bloom is not saying that “social acceptance” was the primary goal of the CRM. In the paragraph you quote, he is speaking of educators and the thinkers who influenced them…not the movement.

    He’s saying the lack of social acceptance, even after the implementation of equal protection began, lead these thinkers and those they influenced away from the belief in a political arraignment based on natural rights.

    I can see why you think Bloom is bonkers. If he said the things you are attributing to him, he would be.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Right. Above, you actually quote Bloom saying as much.

      Bloom thinks that the black power movement was about social acceptance (indeed mobilized by that). Wide swaths of it were mobilized by a concern for equality, not social acceptance. (Just consider separatism).

      Bloom deserves some minor praise for dumping on Southern racists, but even there, I don’t find his analysis particularly plausible, sophisticated, or deep. It’s just more superficial drivel.

      • Manju says:

        Bloom thinks that the black power movement was about social acceptance (indeed mobilized by that). Wide swaths of it were mobilized by a concern for equality, not social acceptance. (Just consider separatism).

        You have Bloom backwards. He thinks that the black power movement was not about social acceptance:

        “…the Black Power movement that supplanted the older civil rights movement…[had a] very understandable emphasis on self-respect and refusal to beg for acceptance…” (pg 33)

        And he admires this.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          He admires the refusal to beg for acceptance. I don’t know if he admires that (“understandable” doesn’t speak admiration to me).

          The line starts on page 31:

          Franklin Roosevelt declared that we want “a society which leaves no one out.” Although the natural rights inherent in our regime are perfectly adequate to the solution of this problem, provided these outsiders adhere to them (i.e., they become insiders by adhering to them), this did not satisfy the thinkers who influenced our educators, for the right to vote and the other political rights did not automatically produce social acceptance. The equal protection of the laws did not protect a man from contempt and hatred as a Jew, an Italian, or a Black.

          So, clearly, we have a contrast between those who follow a natural rights, universalist, constitutional, legalistic worldview against those who are primarily motivated by social acceptance. See the next few sentences:

          The reaction to this problem was, in the first place, resistance to the notion that outsiders had to give up their “cultural” individuality and Introduction: Our Virtue 31
          make themselves into that universal, abstract being who participates in natural rights or else be doomed to an existence on the fringe; in the second place, anger at the majority who imposed a “cultural” life on the nation to which the Constitution is indifferent. Openness was designed to provide a respectable place for these “groups” or “minorities”—to wrest respect from those who were not disposed to give it

          (Here, “respect” clearly is just a variant of “social acceptance”.)

          Now we have the “minority formula” which he wants to crankily apply to everything he doesn’t like, whether progressive or reactionary. (Note that this doesn’t shield him, in my eyes, from analytical failure. That he doesn’t like the Confederates doesn’t make his analysis any better!) So we have the Confederates, then Stalinists, then sexual adventurers, then:

          The civil rights movement provides a good example of this change in thought. In its early days almost all the significant leaders, in spite of tactical and temperamental differences, relied on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They could charge whites not only with the most monstrous injustices but also with contradicting their own most sacred principles. The blacks were the true Americans in demanding the equality that belongs to them as human beings by natural and political right. They therefore worked through Congress, the
          Presidency, and, above all, the Judiciary. By contrast, the Black Power movement that supplanted the older civil rights movement—leaving aside both its excesses and its very understandable emphasis on self-respect and refusal to beg for acceptance—had at its core the view that the Constitutional tradition was always corrupt and was constructed as a defense of slavery. Its demand was for black identity, not universal rights. Not rights but power counted. It insisted on respect for blacks as blacks, not as human beings simply.

          Clearly this use of “respect” is the same as the earlier one, and is the same as “social acceptance”.

          It’s prima facie concerning that such a diversity of phenomena (the Civil War! black power! the sexual revolution! socialism!) would have a monocausal explanation, especially one so vague and get off my lawny as Bloom’s “openness”. that prima facie concern is borne out by the vacuity of the analysis. A paragraph or two each suffices!?

          Yes, this is truly an intellectual tour de force instead of a cranky polemic.

          • Manju says:

            Bloom: “this did not satisfy the thinkers who influenced our educators, for the right to vote and the other political rights did not automatically produce social acceptance.”

            You: [the thinkers who influenced our educators were] “primarily motivated by social acceptance.”

            Mr. Long is not satisfied with the proposed welfare state. While it provides basic food, shelter, health care, and K-12 education, his concern is that it does not provide for college.

            Does it necessarily follow that Mr. Long is more concerned with college costs than he is with the other ones?

            Would it be accurate to say; “clearly, we have a contrast between those who” want basic food, shelter, health care, and K-12 education “against those who are primarily motivated by” college costs.

            Bloom is not this bonkers. You are just choosing to interpret him in the most bonkerish way possible.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Now you are really splitting hairs and not acknowledging that your reading both of Bloom and of me were wrong. Sigh.

              Look, whatever else you might want to say about Bloom, he’s not doing nuance here. It’s pretty clear that whomever he deems to be in the grip of “openness” are sufficiently controlled by it to do horrible things. Since he is not offering much else by way of explanation (the civil war was due to southern identity politics!), I think it’s fair to say “primarily”. Indeed, if you don’t use “primarily” it’s unclear what explanation he’s offering at all. I grant that he can grant that e.g., the black power folks also care about equality, but that isn’t enough to explain the movement. He really is highly monocausal.

              Frankly, I’ve tried to be pretty fair to Bloom. That something is a cranky polemic doesn’t make it valueless. I do think Bloom’s cranky polemic is valueless, but that’s a separate judgement.

              You, however, have chosen to defend Closing as a work of intellectual history. As such, it’s fails at just about every point. It’s not just that he omits details or makes over generalizations (which might be defensible in a popular work), but he gets things completely, utterly, spectacularly wrong (e.g., Rawls, 20th century philosophy, history of the civil rights movement, etc.) and is radically silly in his attempt to fit everything under his bete noir. This is basically Liberal Fascism. It’s not as pathetic as Liberal Fascism, but it’s got the same let’s sweep everything into a model which doesn’t even begin to be sophisticated enough to work on the one hand, and is ideologically driven on the other.

              At least, Bloom is pro-books, pro a kind of learning, etc. This is why I still have something of a soft spot for him. For me, as a kid, Closing was a mildly useful corrective to Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, which poo pooed the Greeks too much. But this is basically two crap works fortuitously cancelling each other out. I wouldn’t recommend either of them to anyone except those looking for examples of overly motivated “reasoning” or who enjoy polemics. Neither is well written enough to enjoy for the sake of the prose.

  13. Manju says:

    Look, whatever else you might want to say about Bloom, he’s not doing nuance here.

    I can’t argue with this. But he’s not doing Bizarro-world either. He’s not pushing an historical narrative where “…Jim Crow didn’t exist”. At worst, he’s giving us boilerplate Kennedy fan-boy Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Not unlike this piece of bullshit:

    …Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done.

    The 2nd point (JFK) is debatable. I mean, for King, the March on Washington was a protest against Kennedy. King had come around to Malcolm X’s view that JFK was in collaboration with his Dixiecrat wing.*

    The 3rd (Ike) is dead wrong. It’s wrong because Ike’s ’57 bill was the ’64 one…until LBJ watered it down. (The liberal talking point here is that he watered it down in order to avoid a filibuster. Left out of this narrative is the fact that LBJ had just earlier killed filibuster-killing legislation designed to head-off such a scenario.

    This creates an error of omission for the first point, as one of our Nation’s primer Civil Rights scholars, William H. Chafe, explained:

    What Senator Clinton failed to acknowledge is the degree to which Kennedy and Johnson had records prior to 1963 that were as shameful on issues of civil rights as that of many conservative white Southern legislators. Kennedy had never advocated civil rights legislation as a senator, and voted to weaken the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. He was endorsed in 1960 by reactionary segregationists like Alabama’s Governor John Patterson. And despite his promise in the 1960 campaign to end segregation in publicly financed housing by issuing an executive order, he signed that order (two years later) only after civil rights supporters sent the White House millions of pens, mocking the emptiness of his campaign pledge.

    Lyndon Johnson was no better. As a senator, he refused to support federal anti-lynching legislation, subverted efforts to end Southern senators ability to filibuster civil rights bills to death and failed to support a Fair Employment Practices law in 1949, arguing that it would “inflame the passions and prejudices” of white folks. Repeatedly, and in public, he called his chauffeur the “n” word. Although he receives credit for shepherding a civil rights bill through Congress in 1957, Johnson in fact eviscerated that law of all substantive content, leading liberal senators to call it a “sham.” In short, there is no basis for thinking that either Kennedy or Johnson would have voluntarily embraced civil rights reform if left to their own druthers.

    So, by focusing on civil rights, you have moved me to revisit Bloom. When I read first read him, I probably believed all the things Senator Clinton did. But after all these years, the above narrative seems hopelessly naive, albeit still very mainstream. Bloom has similar errors of omission, as you point out. I think this passage sums him up:

    “Without attempting to discuss what was decisive in the historic changes that took place in those relations in the years between 1950 and 1970—whether it was the doings of the courts, or of elected officials, or
    inspiration of the kind represented by Martin Luther King from within the black community that was most important—it is undeniable that the enthusiastic support of these changes by university students in the North played some role in creating the atmosphere that promoted the righting of old wrongs. But I believe the students’ role was marginal and partook not a little of the histrionic morality of which I have been speaking”

    Yes, he is not doing nuance here. I’ll revisit Bloom with this in mind. Let me know if you dispute or agree with my takedown of Clinton.

    *As always, I have pristine non-RW sources…available on request.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      He’s not pushing an historical narrative where “…Jim Crow didn’t exist”. At worst, he’s giving us boilerplate Kennedy fan-boy Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

      Of course he’s not explicitly asserting, in so many words, that Jim Crow didn’t exist. But, c’mon. Read the actual words he wrote. Look back at my first comment on that. Putting aside the ahistoricality of his “analysis” of the emergence of “black power” (Dubois vs. Washington, anyone), this simply cannot stand:

      The blacks were the true Americans in demanding the equality that belongs to them as human beings by natural and political right. This stance implied a firm conviction of the truth of the principles of natural right and of their fundamental efficacy within the Constitutional tradition, which, although tarnished, tends in the long run toward fulfilling those principles. They therefore worked through Congress, the Presidency, and, above all, the Judiciary. By contrast, the Black Power movement that supplanted the older civil rights movement—leaving aside both its excesses and its very understandable emphasis on self-respect and refusal to beg for acceptance—had at its core the view that the Constitutional tradition was always corrupt and was constructed as a defense of slavery.

      Again, wherein civil disobedience? Etc. etc. etc.

      Forget the civil rights movement, look at any of the other bits. His analysis of slaveowning south is not particularly better, if less morally offensive. (In particular, the slave south had universalist narratives and it’s quite easy to see how to bend a Bloomian “West is best” narrative into the service of domination. The whole “they’re not read/blacks are better off” crap (cf recent thread on Lee) is exactly in this vein.

      For the other things you quote (without citation…links please; you’ll really have to forgive my not taking your selections and interpretations remotely at face value, given the poorness of your readings of both me and Bloom, esp. when you are, at best, slow to acknowledge them), I’m not sure how they are relevant. I’ve not been defending anyone’s else’s interpretation of history, intellectual or otherwise, so I don’t see why I have to be saddled with defending, or even discussing, other crap views.

      And I’m guessing that the Clinton quote is from a speech? By a sitting senator? Yes, I think in general it’s good to look to political speechs when evaluating the quality of a purported scholarly work of intellectual history. As long as what the intellectual historian right is no worse than what is pushed in political speechs, there can be NOTHING but the UTMOST respect for their work.

      C’mon.

      If you want to move from “Bloom as serious intellectual historian” to “Bloom mobilizers of right wing political myths of a certain sort”, that’s a reasonable move to make. IIRC, people critiqued Bloom precisely for being oh so very Straussian about this. (I.e., prima facie, Bloom lying about history in order to establish a political myth is exactly something Bloom purportedly is comfortable with, qua Straussian. I don’t defend this here, because I think it would take a lot of work to establish properly. But it is an line of investigation worth exploring. At the very least, it should put you on guard in taking Bloom a face value.)

      Note that I’ve not particularly focused on Civil rights; Cf his discussion of Rawls or the history of modern philosophy — the Rawls discussion is hugely shameful from a scholarly point of few. But good enough. I’m glad you are revisiting with a critical eye.

      There’s nothing wrong with been influenced by a crap book when young. As I said, Russell’s History motivated me a lot but made me scorn Plato and Aristotle; Bloom made me a tad more open to them. Neither were hugely decisive, frankly, when compared to the course offerings (both requirements and electives) at Wesleyan which really opened me up to the glories of Ancient Philosophy. (Victor Gorevich was amazing. A kind of crusty, Bloomesque figure only with the scholarship and deep insight to back it up and without the polemical distortion. Reading Aristolte’s Politics with Hegel’s Philosophy of Right was an education by itself.)

      I can’t really say much about the legislative history of the civil rights movement as I’ve not studied it in any depth (which is why I stay out of the DW-Nominate discussions). I have studied the philosophical history to a reasonable degree, so I’m reasonably comfortable there.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        BTW, thanks for acknowledging my point that Blooms is omissive here.

      • Manju says:

        Of course he’s not explicitly asserting, in so many words, that Jim Crow didn’t exist. But, c’mon. Read the actual words he wrote.

        I immediately recognized Bloom’s actual words as mimicking King’s; “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note…” “This note was a promise that…black men…would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

        For Bloom; “…the natural rights inherent in our regime are perfectly adequate…” The problem is, or course, in the real world, the architects did no such thing. So why talk about non-existent rights as if they exist?

        Well, for King, they did exist…in the philosophical realm, as a Platonic form; as “…universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.” He was not only being “aspirational and polemical”. He was a theologian-philosopher laying the theoretical groundwork for racial justice. Indeed, he was saying that this groundwork had been laid before him…by the founders of the very regime he intended to overthrow.

        Bloom is appropriating this formulation. It also “is not intended as history per se”. They are both saying that Racial Justice exists in the founding as an inherent principle…as a Platonic form if you will.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          I’m not denying, nor have I denied, that one strain of abolitionist and civil rights thinking was to make use of the wording and ideals of the constitution, declaration of independence, and other shared documents. But even a cursory understanding of history shows that these were essentially contested as well and that progress came from extra-legal means. Remember oh the civil war? Massive resistance? In Bloom’s passage we had the constitutional order and working through the regime (i.e., via congress, the presidency and “above all” the judiciary) opposed to “black power”.

          This ignores civil disobedience, on the one hand, and self reliance, on the other. Both strains that were alive well before Black Power per se. Civil disobedience exactly says that the regime itself is inadequate to realizing the implicit ideals. Cf the discussion in Letter:

          We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

          Now, King is a complex thinker (cf this and this and this, just to pick some random samples…I’m traveling and my King books are in a box somewhere) but natural law is definitely a key component of his thought.

          But this has little to do with Bloom exegesis. Bloom make several claims in just that passage including that the civil rights movement was working within the regime and then BP was working against the essential grain of the regime. Pre-BP they were real americans, post-BP they were identity politicians.

          This is not a good reading of the history even as a shallow view. That’s the point you need to address. A few quotes from MLK speechs which appeal to the ideals of the constitution are no where near sufficient to justify Bloom’s passage as useful, much less accurate, intellectual history.

          And of course MLK was being aspirational and polemical in his speechs and activism. Part of the point was to transform the common understanding of America so as to include Black people. And of course there was a ton of theory involved as well (including the theory of creative, nonviolent tension and crises). Bloom doesn’t seem to acknowledge this at all. Which is my original point.

          An even glancing history of the civil rights movement that doesn’t acknowledge civil disobedience is pretty craptastic. When it’s essential to his point, it’s much worse.

          Now, if you want to say, “Ok, Bloom was wrong about the mechanism but right about the ideals, i.e., classic civil rights is motivated by universalist ideals and black power is motivated by…” well, what’? “Openness”? That’s hugely silly. A prime theme of Black power was solidarity and community building. And it was a persistent strain (Malcolm X?!?!?). It’s easy to find a connection running from civil disobedience to e.g., the Black panthers…both involve extra-legal reactions to the failure of the regime (non-violent vs. violent). Both had strains which were force oriented and dignity oriented. Multiculturism in the post-modernist sense was not a particular dominent force. Indeed, black superiority was e.g., the animating ideology of the Nation of Islam at various points. That should be welcome to Bloom, right? Even if they are wrong about black superiority, at least that is contending for a determinate notion of the good. It’s the opposite of relativism.

          Which just goes to show how shallow and junky Closing is as intellectual history.

          It’s striking to me that you keep ignoring context. The analysis of white supremacy is equally ahistorical, mono-causal, and silly.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Btw, it might help if you try to figure out what you are trying to show about Closing and some criteria for showing it.

            Possible things:

            1) Closing as intellectual history (going to die in a fire, my guess)

            2) Closing as cultural critique (well, maybe if you don’t accept the specifics but the spirit; i.e., you don’t care about accuracy)

            3) Closing as exhortation to something worthwhile (gonna have problems, but perhaps the most workable)

            But really, you’d be better off reading King or Rawls.

          • Manju says:

            I’m not denying, nor have I denied, that one strain of abolitionist and civil rights thinking was to make use of the wording and ideals of the constitution, declaration of independence, and other shared documents. But even a cursory understanding of history shows that these were essentially contested…

            It doesn’t matter. The bulk of his argument “is not intended as history per se”, as you immediately grasped with King’s ahistoric philosophical flights of fancy. Indeed, Bloom even tells us so:

            Without attempting to discuss what was decisive in the historic changes that took place in those relations in the years between 1950 and 1970—whether it was the doings of the courts, or of elected officials, or inspiration of the kind represented by Martin Luther King from within the black community that was most important—it is undeniable that theenthusiastic support of these changes by university students in the North played some role in creating the atmosphere that promoted the righting of old wrongs.

            It’s like every other student’s first objection to Locke’s State of Nature; “Hey, that never happened!”

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              The bulk of his argument “is not intended as history per se”,

              So you’re conceding that he’s not writing an intellectual history, contrary to your initial claim:

              Bloom didn’t dwell on incidents. He explored the ideas that led to them. He wanted an excuse to write an intellectual history

              (Note that we’re not talking incidents here, but about the evolution of the intellectual structure of the Black led civil rights movement.)

              I, of course, think that Closing is crap intellectual fantasy or polemic as well, but all I’ve shown is that it is extremely bad history of any kind. Just look at the account of Rawls.

              Now, the quote you give is really funny since it’s far divorced from the quote about the transition to black power, which he unambiguously says is the result of “openness”. This quote here again elides civil disobedience and, indeed, black nationalism and other submovments of the time:

              whether it was the doings of the courts, or of elected officials, or inspiration of the kind represented by Martin Luther King from within the black community that was most important

              King is reduced to inspiration, but King was action as well, and perhaps more fundamentally. (That one can theorize Civil Disobedience as having a fundamental interaction with speech and moral suasion does not mean you can eliminate the active part of it. Economic boycotts were about applying economic pressure, not just trying to animate appropriate constitutional feelings.

              Note that King wasn’t trying to produce a retrospective history — he was trying to make history. He certainly believed in his moral and practical political theory, but even that evolved quite a lot over time. Bloom is writing a purely historical account. He’s trying to explain what happened (at least on an intellectual history view of Closing). And his omissions are striking.

              It’s like every other student’s first objection to Locke’s State of Nature; “Hey, that never happened!”

              Ok, this was bit bizarre. I understand that you’re distressed that a cursory examination of one of your cherished books reveals that it’s a travesty of low-brow ignorance, but get a grip!

              It’s hard to see how critiquing Bloom for getting the history so very wrong is the same as failing to understand that state of nature arguments are rational reconstructions, not attempts at history.

              (And note that rational reconstructions are not the same as Big Lies! Big lies are not analytical tools.)

          • Manju says:

            Remember oh the civil war?

            Bloom does. In his eclectic takedown of Oliver Wendell Holmes (who occupies a space in liberation-land similar to that of Woodrow Wilson…but Bloom is no Libertarian…ergo, eclectic) he endorses this argument:

            1. [There can] be no compromise with the principle of equality…

            2. [The principle of equality does not] depend on the people’s choice or election but is the condition of their having elections in the first place,…

            3. …popular sovereignty on the question of black slavery [is] impermissible even if it would enable us to avoid the clear and present danger of a bloody civil war.

            (pg 29)

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              I’m not a first amendement scholar, so I don’t know how useful I can be here. But, uh, this all seems pretty crappy. Bloom:

              The gradual movement away from rights to 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.

              This seems bonkers to me, from what little I know. Just looking at the Wikipedia article on clear and present danger make Bloom’s description nonsensical. Clear and present danger replaced the “bad tendency” test (which seems like a good thing!). It was less vague, although more narrow (i.e., fewer things were forbidden).

              But then, he goes nuts!

              The notion that there should be no limitation on free expression unless it can be shown to be a clear and present danger would have made it impossible for Lincoln to insist that there could be no compromise with the principle of equality, that it did not depend on the people’s choice or election but is the condition of their having elections in the first place, that popular sovereignty on the question of black slavery was impermissible even if it would enable us to avoid the clear and present danger of a bloody civil war.

              This is utterly incoherent. I’ve trouble even parsing it. But your reconstruction shows that it’s depends on a key equivocation, to wit, that popular sovereignty is a form of (first amendment protected) expression.

              But..what? This doesn’t make any sense. First of all, Lincoln is free to express his insistence of no-compromise with the principle equality. Similarly, people are free to express their insistence of no-compromise with the principle of inequality. People can advocate for war! (Clear and present and imminent danger seem to refer to things during wartime.)

              So, I’m pretty skeptical that Bloom is using “clear and present danger” remotely correctly. It’s clear that he’s equivocating a couple of times. And, again, he takes a ridiculously shallow view of something he doesn’t like (whether Black power, the slave south, Rawls, 20th century anglo-american philosophy), gibberishes it up, and then say, “See, openness”.

              Not particularly impressive.

  14. Manju says:

    This ignores civil disobedience…Civil disobedience exactly says that the regime itself is inadequate to realizing the implicit ideals.

    Well yes, but this doesn’t refute Bloom. He isn’t saying the Regime itself is adequate (see above for his views on the Civil War) but rather that the principles of the Regime are.

    Although he fails to mention it, a Bloom with a better grasp of the historical details could’ve mentioned this passage to make his case:

    I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
    -MLK

    So, civil disobedience does not present a problem.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Bloom wrote (as I’ve quoted many times):

      The blacks were the true Americans in demanding the equality that belongs to them as human beings by natural and political right. This stance implied a firm conviction of the truth of the principles of natural right and of their fundamental efficacy within the Constitutional tradition, which, although tarnished, tends in the long run toward fulfilling those principles. They therefore worked through Congress, the Presidency, and, above all, the Judiciary.

      The normal reading of this last sentence is that one is working through the normal political process. Putting aside the hilarity of the “above all, the Judiciary” which clearly is meant to suggest that all advancement happened by persuading the Supreme Court (which, while obviously an enormous component, is a component, and not the above all one).

      If you want to stretch, you could include in this account “civil disobedience” for the sake of generating test cases. But that’s not the kind of civil disobedience (remember, massive resistance aimed at generating a crises) that King was enacting or defending in Letter.

      If you’re not going to stick to the text, I don’t see that we’re going to get very far.

  15. Manju says:
    the bulk of his argument “is not intended as history per se”,

    So you’re conceding that he’s not writing an intellectual history, contrary to your initial claim:

    I’m saying “intellectual history” is not “history per se”. The latter concerns events; the former ideas. Take King’s assertion: The architects of our republic signed a promissory note to all men, yes, black men as well as white men, guaranteeing the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Well, that never happened. So, to answer this:

    It’s like every other student’s first objection to Locke’s State of Nature; “Hey, that never happened!”

    Ok, this was bit bizarre.

    State of Nature / (emergence of) Social Contract narratives are not histories per se either, though they are written to appear as such. Similarly, King and Bloom are writing about the emergence of ideas as if they were real events. It’s a rhetorical device.

    Is it “intellectual history”? I guess it doesn’t read like textbook intellectual history either, where ideas are more contextualized within history per se. Upon further thought, I’m not sure how to label the bulk of the Closing.

    It’s just not what Schleesinger Jr does in “The Disuniting of America ” (or D’souza’s Illiberal Education). They focus on particular incidents (censorship and other forms of “political correctness”).

    Bloom is much more abstract, at least in core of the book. Ergo, when I first read it I understood the beginning and the end, but was lost in middle…as I did not have a grasp of Western Intellectual History.

    In comparison, even Schlesinger Jr’s work seemed more “tropey right wing” and polemic:

    If some Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to devise an educational curriculum for the specific purpose of handicapping and disabling black Americans, he would not be likely to come up with anything more diabolically effective than Afrocentrism.

    —ASJr in TDoA

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      I’m saying “intellectual history” is not “history per se”. The latter concerns events; the former ideas.

      Oy. This is where you’re going? Again?

      Yes, intellectual history is the history of ideas. But it is never the less history, i.e., the course of intellectual events. Getting the events correct is important.

      Take King’s assertion: The architects of our republic signed a promissory note to all men, yes, black men as well as white men, guaranteeing the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

      Well, that never happened.

      Then King got the intellectual history wrong. Of course, he wasn’t trying to get the intellectual history right. He was trying to make an argument that the promissory note should be interpreted so as to cover all men. This isn’t a difficult concept to understand!

      So, the standard of intellectual history typically require that 1) you get the ideas right and 2) you get the events right. If you claim that Descartes 2nd argument for the existence of god was his attempt to avoid Kant’s refutation of all proofs of the existence of god, then you are Just Wrong, as a matter of history. If you claim that it can avoid Kant’s refutation then fine, but you aren’t doing history. If you pretend that Descartes lived long enough to read Kant and respond and pretend that his 2nd argument is a response, then you are doing alternative history. (I wouldn’t even call that a rational reconstruction.)

      State of Nature / (emergence of) Social Contract narratives are not histories per se either, though they are written to appear as such. Similarly, King and Bloom are writing about the emergence of ideas as if they were real events. It’s a rhetorical device.

      I’m not sure why you keep pushing this transparently stupid line. I’m clearly the only one reading this at this point.

      A meta-point: Please stop presuming that I don’t know how state of nature arguments function. I’ve studied them extensively in my graduate training (both in political and non-political contexts, e.g., Sellers). Your mistaken condescension here serves you no better than pretending that I didn’t read Closing. (And again, to be clear, I read it in full back when it came out. I reread bits of it in our discussion. I did look for the discussion of the history of philosophy because that’s something I know well and could check easily. Then I started from the beginning. I’ll happily read any chapter you care to pick. I prefer ones I can easily check. Thus far, he’s gotten everything almost as spectacularly wrong as you can get it.)

      You can safely presume that I’ve read Plato, Aristotle (there’s a quick reconstruction of the emergence of the city in the early part of the Politics), Locke, Rousseau, Rawls, Nozick, Sellers, Railton, Gauthier, Descartes (he has a mechanistic history of the universe), and loads other. You can rest assured that I’ve spent plenty of time discussing the difference between founding myths, state of nature arguments, and rational reconstructions. (I tend not to distinguish the latter two very much except by purpose.)

      You can also safely presume that I’ve done intellectual history, i.e., trying to determine where an idea came from and how it evolved.

      None of this means that I’m right in this case, of course. But please stop pretending that I’m going to make a rookie mistake.

      So, Bloom is clearly not making a state of nature argument, so the only possible hope you have for this transparently stupid line is that somehow they are analogous. But they aren’t analogous. State of nature arguments don’t purport to be history or, in any reasonable sense, possible history. Bloom makes claims about specific people and the course of their intellectual evolution. For example, he makes a specific, easily refuted, claim about Rawls that gets both the idea and the history of the idea wrong.

      He doesn’t say, “Let’s pretend the Black Power movement was motivated by openness and see how that plays out.” He claims that they were motivated by (something resembling) openness. He doesn’t say, “Let’s put aside civil disobedience and see how that plays out”, he just ignores civil disobedience even though that’s a critical aspect of most activists in the civil rights movements and certainly King. (Indeed, as I’ve pointed out, economic boycotts and sit-ins were not attempts to have the judiciary make progress in an expansive understanding of the ideals of the republic, they were an exercise of power.) To ignore the historical antecedents of integrationism vs. separatism is to misrepresent the history of those ideas. To ignore the aspects of BP that were not motivated by tolerance (what?!) but superiority arguments is to omit evidence against Bloom’s own thesis.

      This makes for extraordinarily crap intellectual history per se, and frankly, fairly crap alternative intellectual history.

      Is it “intellectual history”? I guess it doesn’t read like textbook intellectual history either, where ideas are more contextualized within history per se. Upon further thought, I’m not sure how to label the bulk of the Closing.

      Ok, this is at least progress. I’ll note that Closing doesn’t just not contextualize, it gets things massively wrong. You don’t come out with a better (if wrong on some details like priority) understanding of e.g., Rawls, 20th century philosophy, or the civil rights movement, you come out with profoundly wrong and rather stupid views on them.

      Bloom is much more abstract, at least in core of the book. Ergo, when I first read it I understood the beginning and the end, but was lost in middle…as I did not have a grasp of Western Intellectual History.

      Er…well…let me say that I’m not yet convinced that you have a grasp of Western Intellectual History at the moment. Perhaps you do, but you have not demonstrated that in the least to me. Indeed, you’ve demonstrated both carelessness and, indeed, contempt for intellectual history.

      BTW, I’m not sure why you keep appealing to Schlesinger and now D’souza. I’m quite comfortable in saying that the D’souza is crap based on what I’ve read of him. I mean, we’re unambiguously talking Liberal Fascism territory here…you don’t read it for content, you read it as data (e.g., for an intellectual history of the PC Wars). I don’t know the Schlesinger at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised that its terrible as well. That bit you quote doesn’t seem very promising to me.

      But I don’t understand at all why that other people also wrote crap intellectual history and indeed pure crap helps you. Is it supposed to be a tu quoque argument? A “we have no better” argument? A “it was good for the time but we’ve transcended it” argument? Or just gibberish thrown in hopes of derailing the debate?

      The only bit that you’ve advanced thus far that has a prayer is that somehow the middle bits are good while the beginning and end are crap. That’s not a great argument because, frankly, it seems highly unlikely that the same author who is so careless about everything would suddenly become sober, careful, and sensible in the middle. But it is possible. The bits that I looked at were not remotely promising, but fine.

      However, you’ve neither articulated nor defended anything from the middle in any concrete terms. If the middle is so good, it should be possible to extract defensible, interesting claims from it. So do so, and let’s get on with it. Or drop your stronger claims, and just concede that you enjoyed the book in spite of its many inaccuracies and found it stimulating. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it shouldn’t cloud your judgment about the substantive merits of the book.

  16. Manju says:

    If you want to move from “Bloom as serious intellectual historian” to “Bloom mobilizers of right wing political myths of a certain sort”, that’s a reasonable move to make. IIRC, people critiqued Bloom precisely for being oh so very Straussian about this. (I.e., prima facie, Bloom lying about history in order to establish a political myth is exactly something Bloom purportedly is comfortable with, qua Straussian. I don’t defend this here, because I think it would take a lot of work to establish properly. But it is an line of investigation worth exploring. At the very least, it should put you on guard in taking Bloom a face value.)

    Earlier I wrote that, for King, natural rights actually existed as “…universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”

    I did this as a defense of his (and by extension Bloom’s) manner of speaking, i.e. writing about the emergence of ideas as if they were real events. But I did not say Bloom belied this. This, I think, is the Straussian lie.

    The central thinker of the Closing is Nietzsche, who, for Bloom, peered deeper into the abyss deeper than anyone. I don’t believe Bloom actually saw a way out. The consequence of this is that Natural Rights do not actually exist as King says they do. There are no moral principles “as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”

    But Bloom sides with King, with Liberalism, with the Enlightenment Project nevertheless. What he leanrnt for Nietzsche is that the alternative is tyranny, like Jim Crow. So Bloom embarks on a sort of Platonic lie. I think. He never actually says this.

  17. Bijan Parsia says:

    Earlier I wrote that, for King, natural rights actually existed as “…universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”

    Yes, so?

    I did this as a defense of his (and by extension Bloom’s) manner of speaking, i.e. writing about the emergence of ideas as if they were real events. But I did not say Bloom belied this. This, I think, is the Straussian lie.

    But this makes no sense. King is articulating a moral and even legal framework. He can be evaluated on it or, if he attributes it to other people, the accuracy of that attribution. Articulating a natural rights or natural law framework doesn’t inherently have anything to do with the emergence of ideas.

    I’ve no idea why you think the emergence of ideas are not real events. Weird. If you want Bloom to be articulating a dialectical rather than historical account, well, ok. But his is pretty damn tendentious esp. given the actual historical pattern.

    But if we’re on board that Closing is not an accurate intellectual history, fine. That’s all where I was going in the first place. I’ll note that noble lie theory is generally opposed to the Enlightenment (the very ideas seem fundamentally opposed). And, er…isn’t Bloom notoriously opposed to liberalism? The Rawls bit certainly suggests that.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s particularly easy to reconcile King and Bloom, and certainly not on the basis of a few quotes. This is in the territory of conservatives constantly blathering about content of character.

    I’d be cautious about his reading of Nietzsche. Given the unreliability I’ve seen thus far, and the notable tendentiousness of Strauss’s encounter with Nietzche, I wouldn’t be too sanguine.

    Of course, not all history of philosophy need be Apollonian, but may be fruitfully Dionysian (to borrow Jay Rosenberg’s distinction). It’s theoretically possible to produce great philosophy out of misreadings, even shallow readings. Now, I think Bloom’s “philosophy” is crap (just a collection of cranky claims with little argumentative bite), but that’s surely a different story.

    I think we’ve pretty much exhausted the utility of this discussion, eh? If you have some new bit of Closing you’d like me to look at, fine.

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