Reflections on Bloom and His Critics by Peter Lawler

Peter Lawler, "Reflections on Bloom and His Critics," The Journal of General Education, Vol. 41 (1992), pp. 273-285.


The many, it turns out, are less consistently democratic than the few. Radical anti-elitism or egalitarianism is the doctrine of those defining themselves by their devotion to ideas, the intellectuals. Intellectuals, in our democracy as in Socrates’, devote themselves to the destruction of inegalitarian distinctions. They do so in the name of the truth, but also in the name of dignity and happiness. The anxiety and restlessness that characterizes competitive, individualist, or somewhat undemocratic democracy produce misery and degradation. That the losers in this race of life are miserable in their poverty seems obvious. But even the winners are uneasy and otherwise discontented. Democratic intellectuals inherit, as intellectuals, the classical and biblical view that it is inhuman to be excessively concerned with money and power.

Bloom, of course, shares this moral opposition to the vulgarity of bourgeois life. But, he adds, it must be made clear that it is an objection to democracy. The people, in truth, aspire to be bourgeois. Intellectuals, in truth, reject both the popular and bourgeois standards with their devotion to ideas and idealism. The many will never share fully their devotion, nor their view of human excellence.

With the class interest of intellectuals as intellectuals clearly in mind, Bloom claims to be less antibourgeois or antidemocratic than most contemporary intellectuals. His criticism of democracy is part of a criticism of political community as such. All forms, democracy, aristocracy, and the others, are necessarily limited in their openness. No political community could ever really share Socrates’ devotion. The life of the mind never really acquires political recognition.