Remembering Allan Bloom

Clifford Orwin, "Remembering Allan Bloom," The American Scholar, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Summer 1993), pp. 423-430.


The least fair of all the accusations later leveled against Allan was that he was an ideologue. Like all of us, he harbored inclinations in that direction, inclinations all the more powerful in a man of such incandescent passion. He could be irascible and hasty, and he could oversimplify complex issues. Unlike most of us, however, he was wholly conscious of these inclinations and battled them constantly. He regarded the use of teaching to advance a partisan viewpoint as disgraceful, especially if one was teaching the works of great poets and philosophers. Today we are admonished that to teach great books (books that the teacher asserts to be greater than most others, including almost all recent ones) is itself an ideological exercise. Allan turned to these books precisely to escape from ideology. He never offered a dogmatic teaching; he presented philosophy as that way of life for which the problems were always more evident than the solutions. He wanted to help students achieve a broader perspective on their own problems than was avail- able in their own society, to survey themselves and it from the heights afforded by the works of the greatest thinkers. He stressed that these thinkers were neither Democrats nor Republicans; he noted for instance that Plato and Aristotle, while neither “socialists” nor “capitalists,” were closer to the former than the latter. His aim was never to bring the cavalry of political philosophy to the rescue of any partisan position; it was to disclose the difficulties of those positions, thereby freeing the students from them.