American Philosopher, Classicist, Academic and Author
Allan Bloom, fully Allan David Bloom
American Philosopher, Classicist, Academic and Author
That gray net of abstraction, used to cover the world in order to simplify and explain it in a way that is pleasing to us, has become the world in our eyes. The only way to see the phenomena, rather than sterile distillations of them, to experience them in their ambiguity again, would be to have available alternate visions, a diversity of profound opinions. ? Souls artificially constituted by a new kind of education live in a world transformed by man?s artifice and believe that all values are relative and determined by the private economic or sexual drives of those who hold them. How are they to recover the primary natural experience?
The defenselessness of philosophy in the city is what Aristophanes points out and ridicules. He, the poet, has much sympathy with the philosopher?s wisdom but prides himself on not being so foolish. He can take care of himself, win prizes from and be paid by the people. His stance is that of the wise guy in the face of the wise man; he is city smart.
The family spiritual void has left the field open to rock music? The result is nothing less than parents' loss of control over their children's moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it.
The man without ideology, the one possessing science, can look to the economic infrastructure and see that Plato?s political philosophy, which teaches that the wise should rule, is only a rationalization for the aristocrats? position in a slave economy; or that Hobbes?s political philosophy, which teaches man?s freedom in the state of nature and the resulting war of all against all, is only the cover for the political arrangements suitable for the rising bourgeoisie. This point of view provides the foundation for intellectual history, which tells the story behind the story. Instead of looking at Plato and Hobbes for information about what courage is?a subject important to us?we should see how their definitions of courage suited those who controlled the means of production. But what applies to Plato and Hobbes cannot apply to Marx; otherwise the very assertion that these thinkers were economically determined would be itself a deception, simply the ideology for the new exploiters Marx happens to serve. The interpretation would self-destruct. He would not know what to look for in the thinkers who were inevitably and unconsciously in the grip of the historical process, for he would be in the same condition as they were.
The philosopher wants to know things as they are. He loves the truth. That is an intellectual virtue. He does not love to tell the truth. That is a moral virtue. Presumably he would prefer not to practice deception; but if it is a condition of his survival, he has no objection to it. The hopes of changing mankind almost always end up in changing not mankind but one?s thought.
The sexual revolution was precisely what it said it was?a liberation. But some of the harshness of nature asserted itself beneath the shattered conventions: the young were more apt to profit from the revolution than the old, the beautiful more than the ugly. The old veil of discretion had had the effect of making these raw and ill-distributed natural advantages less important.
The university began in spirit from Socrates' contemptuous and insolent distancing of himself from the Athenian people, his refusal to accept any command from them to cease asking, What is justice? What is knowledge? What is a god? and hence doubting the common opinions about such questions.
There is no more foundation to legitimacy than the inner justification the dominated make to themselves in order to accept the violence of those who dominate them. These justifications are, according to Weber, of three kinds: traditional, rational, and charismatic. Some men submit because that is the way it has always been; others consent to obey competent civil servants who follow rationally established rules; and others are enchanted by the extraordinary grace of an individual. Of the three, charismatic legitimacy is the most important. No matter what conservatives may think, traditions had a beginning that was not traditional. They had a founder who was not a conservative or a traditionalist. The fundamental values informing that tradition were his creation.
Tocqueville shows how a democratic regime causes a particular intellectual bent which, if not actively corrected, distorts the mind?s vision. The great democratic danger, according to Tocqueville, is enslavement to public opinion. ? The external impediments to the free exercise of reason have been removed in democracy. ? Since very few people school themselves in the use of reason beyond the calculation of self-interest encouraged by the regime, they need help on a vast number of issues. ? Some kind of authority is often necessary for most men and is necessary, at least sometimes, for all men. In the absence of anything else to which to turn, the common beliefs of most men are almost always what will determine judgment. This is just where tradition used to be most valuable. ? Tradition does provide a counterpoise to and a repair from the merely current, and contains the petrified remains of old wisdom (along with much that is not wisdom). The active presence of a tradition in a man?s soul gives him a resource against the ephemeral, the kind of resource that only the wise can find simply within themselves. The paradoxical result of the liberation of reason is greater reliance on public opinion for guidance, a weakening of independence.
When a youngster like Lincoln sought to educate himself, the immediately-available obvious things for him to learn were the Bible, Shakespeare and Euclid. Was he really worse off than those who try to find their way through the technical smorgasbord of the current school system, with its utter inability to distinguish between important and unimportant in any way other than by the demands of the market?
The ?last man? interpretation of the bourgeois is reinforced by a certain ambiguity in the meaning of the word ?bourgeois.?... The capitalist and the philistine bourgeois are supposed to be the same, but Marx presents only the economic side, assuming, without adequate warrant, that it can account for both the moral and esthetic deformities of the bourgeois described by the artists
The disciplines are philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and the science of man. ? This is the academy. Dependent on it are a number of applied sciences?particularly engineering, medicine and law?that are lower in dignity and derivative in knowledge, but produce the fruits of science that benefit the unscientific and make them respectful of science. Thus the advantage of the knowers, who want to pursue knowledge, and that of those who do not know, those who want to pursue their well-being, are served simultaneously, establishing a harmony between them. And thus the age-old gulf separating the wise from those who hold power is bridged, and the problem of the wise in civil society is solved.
The family, however, has to be a sacred unity believing in the permanence of what it teaches. ? When that belief disappears, as it has, the family has, at best, a transitory togetherness. People sup together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life.
The market (the peaceful competition for the acquisition of goods) requires the prior existence of the social contract (the agreement to abide by contracts and the establishment of a judge to arbitrate and enforce contracts) without which men are in a state of war. The market presupposes the existence of law and the absence of war. War was the condition of man prior to the existence of civil society, and the return to it is always possible. The force and fraud required to end war have nothing to do with the market and are illegitimate within it. The rational behavior of men at peace, in which economics specializes, is not the same as the rational behavior of men at war, as was so tellingly pointed out by Machiavelli. Political science is more comprehensive than economics because it studies both peace and war and their relations. The market cannot be the sole concern of the polity, for the market depends on the polity, and the establishment and preservation of the polity continuously requires reasonings and deeds which are ?uneconomic? or ?inefficient.? Political action must have primacy over economic action, no matter what the effect on the market. ? Economics deals only with the bourgeois. ? The warlike man is not within its ken. Political science remains the only social science discipline which looks war in the face.
The philosophers in their closets or their academies have entirely different ends than the rest of mankind... The moderns did not think, as did the ancients, that they would lose sight of the distinction between the two in identifying them... What the ancients almost religiously kept apart, the moderns thought they could join without risk.
The side of modernity that is less interesting to Americans, which seeks less for political solutions than for understanding and satisfaction of man in his fullness or completeness, finds its profoundest statement in Nietzsche.
The university has lost whatever polis-like character it had and has become like the ship on which the passengers are just accidental fellow travelers soon to disembark and go their separate ways. The relations between natural science, social science and humanities are purely administrative and have no substantial intellectual content.
There is no real education that does not respond to felt need; anything else acquired is trifling display.
Today?s student gets no intimation that great mysteries might be revealed to him, that new and higher motives of action might be discovered within him, that a different and more human way of life can be harmoniously constructed by what he is going to learn.
When I was a young teacher at Cornell, I once had a debate about education with a professor of psychology. He said that it was his function to get rid of prejudices in his students. ? Did this professor know what those prejudices meant for the students and what effect being deprived of them would have? Did he believe that there are truths that could guide their lives as did their prejudices? Had he considered how to give students the love of the truth necessary to seek unprejudiced beliefs, or would he render them passive, disconsolate, indifferent, and subject to authorities like himself?
The ? attempt to preserve old cultures in the New World is superficial because it ignores the fact that real differences among men are based on real differences in fundamental beliefs about good and evil, about what is highest, about God. Differences of dress or food are either of no interest or are secondary expressions of deeper beliefs. The ?ethnic? differences we see in the United States are but decaying reminiscences of old differences that caused our ancestors to kill one another. The animating principle, their soul, has disappeared from them. The ethnic festivals are just superficial displays of clothes, dances and foods from the old country. One has to be quite ignorant of the splendid ?cultural? past in order to be impressed or charmed by these insipid folkloric manifestations.
The dislike of philosophy is perennial, and the seeds of the condemnation of Socrates are present at all times.
The first discipline modernity?s originators imposed upon themselves was that of self-restraint, learning to live with vulgarity. Their high expectations for effectiveness were made possible by low expectations of what was to be.
The men of the Enlightenment proper were the first whose teachings were addressed not only, or primarily, to other philosophers or potential philosophers of the same rank, and who were concerned not only with those who understand but also with changing the opinions of mankind at large. Enlightenment was the first philosophically inspired ?movement,? a theoretical school that is a political force at the same time.
The practical effects of unwillingness to think positively about the contents of a liberal education are, on the one hand, to ensure that all the vulgarities of the world outside the university will flourish within it, and, on the other, to impose a much harsher and more illiberal necessity on the student?the one given by the imperial and imperious demands of the specialized disciplines unfiltered by unifying thought.