On Allan Bloom by Michael Zuckert

Michael Zuckert, "On Allan Bloom," The Good Society, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2008), pp. 81-83.


As Bloom sees it, students, and their education, are victims of the spread of liberal Enlightenment ideas, which have come to undermine the structure of relationships that under-girded and are needed to under-gird a healthy society capable of producing educable students. The key note of Bloom’s treatment of the causes of the changes he is talking about occurs at the head of his discussion of sex. America, he says, is the land shaped by philosophers and philosophies—everything merely natural or given has given way to human action inspired by theory. The ideas that have shaped us are freedom and equality—these are philosophic ideas—not ideas that erupt spontaneously in social or political life, and they are ideas that have remade our common life.

At the time of his writing, Bloom thought we were facing a culminating moment in the drive of the philosophers’ ideas to reshape human life. Now, he thinks, we are entering the “ultimate act” of our drama. Because now freedom and equality invade areas heretofore more or less off limits and more or less unreformed by modern philosophy—the spheres of intimacy, privacy, sex, love, marriage, and family—they are now being reshaped. This is, of course, a significant social phenomenon in its own right. But it is particularly important for Bloom’s theme of educatability, for these most intimate spheres are where students are made—and not just in the biological sense. This is where our deepest selves are formed. The continued march of the modern philosophic project of remaking all in the name of freedom and equality is about to remake us all in such a way as to make us very unfit for educating, i.e., for achieving the highest human satisfactions of art and philosophy.

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