Matt Feeney, "Allan Bloom’s Guide to College," New Yorker, 12 April 2012.
I don’t point this out to suggest Bloom was blind to these ironies. I do so to note that he is a less reliable ally in the partisan fight against relativism than many conservatives believe. I do so also, I suppose, to clear the ground for a better appreciation of his work. The weakest parts of “The Closing of the American Mind” are those that send conservatives’ hearts racing, the first two sections on “Students” and “Nihilism, American Style.” But the third section, “The University,” is a masterpiece, and also a hand grenade. When I reread the long chapter called, dauntingly, “From Socrates’ Apology to Heidegger’s Rektoratsrede,” I find myself drawing back, shaking my head, and thinking: “I can’t believe all this is in here, a number-one best-seller!”
Bloom’s light, urgent prose makes it easy to forget how audacious this chapter is in its depth, breadth, and seriousness, and how defiant it is in its defense of liberal education. Bloom’s knee-jerk opponents tend to be leftists, but these people are merely symptoms of a deeper modern distrust of liberal learning. It might be better, then, to reframe Bloom’s project, from a secretly erotic quest for sublime knowledge to an existentially urgent battle for nonconformity; real weirdness in a world that wants to co-opt everything, make everything productive for and comprehensible to everyone….
Bloom’s esoteric project asks today’s students to estrange themselves from an identity that they, their parents, and their teachers, along with their ministers and rabbis and shrinks, their camp counselors and art tutors and soccer coaches, have been constructing since these kids were born, and with a degree of political and moral awareness that everyone involved is darned proud of. These are good kids. Try telling a college sophomore who founded his school’s anti-sweatshop movement that his enthusiasms are callow, his convictions harmful to a true education of the soul, and that he should instead join you on a freaky trip into the true mind of Thucydides.