Published Humanitas, Volume XXV, Nos. 1 and 2, 2012

The reaction of putative conservatives to the publication of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind in 1987 was symptomatic of deep intellectual confusion. They treated the book as a defense of the American political tradition and the values of Western civilization—as a work of conservative thought. Some of these conservatives may have based their assessment only on excerpts from the book in which Bloom criticized spineless academic administrators and the drug and rock culture, but not even these sections were a clear indication of conservatism. Sentiments of this kind could have been expressed by people ranging from moderate liberals to communists and reactionaries. Although some on the left attacked the book, it was very different from its reputation among supposed conservatives. Curiously, it did not make them suspicious that a book by one of their own should receive an extraordinary amount of attention and be treated with high respect in places where conservative ideas were ordinarily disdained.

When Modern Age invited this writer to contribute to a symposium on The Closing of the American Mind, I tried to show that it was not a defense of the traditional American mind with its classical, Christian, and British lineage and resonances, but was largely a defense of the Enlightenment mind. What Bloom bewailed was that the Enlightenment mind, which he rather loosely and arbitrarily equated with the American mind, was closing. That mind was being threatened, he argued, by the more extreme radicalism in American universities and elsewhere that had earlier manifested itself in the New Left and counterculture of the late 1960s and early ’70s. According to Bloom, this extremism had roots in certain European, especially German, intellectual currents. In typical Straussian fashion, Bloom obfuscated by implying a connection between the Enlightenment he favored and the so-called “Ancients,” as he interpreted them. For instance, he treated Socrates as a kind of pre-Enlightenment figure.

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