This jejune observation by Mr. Ganesh: opens his latest essay:
Nowhere in Europe are universities as central to national life as in the US. Time-hogging is part of it: four rather than largely three year degrees, two as opposed to one for graduates. Then there is the enmeshment with professional sport. The campus is a portal to the big leagues in a way unknown to European football, where careers are made at a younger age. Throw in the vast cost, and it is natural that Americans stamp their alma mater on car rears and hoodies.
This is succeeded by rhetorical exhumation of the notorious Straussian Allen Bloom, as a some how player in Ganesh’s pop sociology, for want of a better descriptor.
It is also natural that they would curse academia’s politicisation. When Allan Bloom wrote about the left’s capture of education in The Closing of the American Mind, his thesis was novel. Thirty-four years on, even liberal faculty, hounded by students for whom liberalism is not enough, ask if he went far enough. The first stirrings of a fightback are in the air. It is hard to know whether to cheer it on or fear the perverse consequences.
Since ‘Closing’ was on my bookshelf, a $4.50 remainder copy, I read first Saul Bellow’s introduction, that was more about him: his narcissism not so toxic as Norman Mailer’s metaphysically framed pugilism, but ‘Closing’ gets lost within Bellow’s self-regarding chatter.
This followed by Bloom’s preface that begins:
This essay- a meditation on the state of our souls, particularly those of the young, and their education-written from the perspective of a teacher. A thought, was George F. Will’s 1988 book ‘Sate Craft as Soul Craft’ inspired by Bloom’s polemic?
Mr. Bloom begins Part One. Students, with these sub-headings:
The Clean Slate
The implication of these topics, implies an intimate knowledge of the inner lives of students, and of their day to day conduct. Was he a confident to his ‘students’, or just an outside observer, of public conduct and classroom demeanor ? I find it hard to believe, from observing Bloom’s television personae, that any student would find him in any way sympatico!
Here is a PDF of Mr. Bloom’s polemic, for the reader who might like to explore Straussian Mendacity, in situ!
Regrettably I can’t find a PDF of ‘Essays on The Closing of The American Mind’ edited by Robert L. Stone. A valuable resource, for the reader to explore what Mr. Bloom’s Straussianism was, and the evolution of Bloom’s cultural politicking.
Richard Rorty’s ‘Straussianism, Democracy, And Allen Bloom I: That Old Time Philosophy’ reflects on the destructive Straussian agenda of ‘Intellectuals’ vs ‘Philosophers’ .
David Rieff’s ‘The Colonel and the Professor’ compares the public careers of Bloom and Iran-Contra co-conspirator Oliver North.
Betty Friedan of ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and ‘Second Wave’ on Bloom’s Anti-Feminism titled ‘Fatal Abstraction’ .
Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Undemoctatic Vistas’, from November 5, 1987 issue of The New York Review Of Books
Allan Bloom, like Musonius, has written a book that defends the central role of philosophy in higher education, and defends it as essential for the health of human souls and human society. Like Musonius again, he initially presents the philosophical activity he praises as a search, through active critical argument, for the best human life; he praises as the founder of his ideal university Socrates, the paradigm of tireless rational searching to whom Stoics also appeal. But in Bloom’s book the Socratic conception is in conflict with another very different idea of philosophy: the idea of a study that is open only to a chosen few specially suited by nature (and to some extent also by wealth and social position) for its pursuit; the idea of a philosophy that is concerned more with revealing fixed eternal truths than with active critical argument; of a philosophy that not only does not aim at justice and practical wisdom, individual and/or communal, but actually despises the search for social justice and beckons chosen souls away from social pursuits to a contemplative theoretical life.
To understand these contradictions, and their relation to Bloom’s practical proposals for a reform of the university curriculum, we must begin with his diagnosis of contemporary American culture, for whose diseases philosophy is supposed to provide the cure. As Bloom sees it, the central problem in higher education today, and in American society more generally, is widespread relativism. Both teachers and students have been taught that all conceptions of the good human life are equally valid, and that it is not possible to find an objective view-point from which to make rational criticisms of any tradition or any study, however apparently trivial or even base. The most any such criticism can be, according to this prevalent view, as Bloom reports it, is an expression of unenlightened prejudice.
Bloom’s ascension is about , in part, the Reagan Free Market sloganeering of ‘government is the problem’ : the Straussians came along for the ride, like the followers of Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan her most fervid acolyte. The Straussian nihilism in answer to a Liberalism, and the remnants of The New Deal, that had lost its political luster, in the glare of ‘Morning In America’. And its Neo-Confederate/Originalism as the new dispensation, proclaimed by Reagan as ‘I believe in States Rights’. The Victory of Reagan was the triumph of the ‘Outliers’ : the Neo-Liberal Trinity of Mises/Hayek/Friedman, and its enthusiasts, The Neo-Confederate/Originalists, greedy Capitalists and the redoubtable jingo Jeane Kirkpatrick.
After the exhumation of Bloom, Mr. Ganesh continues his essay: a reimaging of the conflictual melodrama between the New Democrats and Republican, in all the attempts of both parties to establish political primacy. That Ganesh names ‘a strange kind of equilibrium’: the very definition of the political, as practiced?
America has arrived at a strange kind of equilibrium. The left enjoys an entrenched supremacy in culture that spans universities, publishing, Hollywood, corporate PR and, deplatformed Republicans would say, social media. There is no print equivalent of Britain’s tabloids to offset the hegemony. Whether or not the left ever planned this march through the institutions, the resulting monoculture has discontents beyond the registered Republicans who turn to Fox News. The huge podcast audience of Joe Rogan, who traffics in something closer to libertarianism, is proof of that.
A mere 528 words later, the reader arrives here:
In a sense, America benefits from a separation of powers that is deeper than the one codified by its founders. It is that between politics and culture; between formal and informal clout. One side has advantages in politics “proper”. The other gets to set the atmosphere in which it takes place. That this is an ill-gotten kind of peace does not mean there are better ones available.
The lesson, that Mr. Ganesh’s essay teaches the reader, is that no matter the rhetorical garnish, even of an antique Straussian, Political Metaphysics simply replicates itself.