Sean Collins on Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind”

Not a great piece at all by Collins in Spiked! on the 25th anniversary of The Closing of the American Mind. He starts out with the tired commonplace about how neither the left nor the right understood Bloom—please, this rhetorical posture was always inane, but the commonplace is now so common that can’t be taken seriously anymore.

Of course, Collins doubles down on the clichés with a good ol’ fashioned critique of Bloom’s strategy in Closing. Collins chides Bloom for his elitism, saying it didn’t make him friends on the left. This line of criticism is irrelevant. It says, in effect, that Bloom should have kept his elitism to himself so he’d gain more traction with…egalitarians! Think about how absurd that is: Bloom is being criticized for stating a view that put him at odds with people who espouse a view that he fundamentally disagrees with. Is that a weakness in Bloom’s case or just part of it?

Anyway, I wanted to point out a specific problem because it has the ring of a criticism about it. I think it’s wrong, but at least it’s halfway sensible on the face of it. Collins suggests Bloom contradicted himself by rejecting the Nietzscheanism of the left, on the one hand, while offering an essentially Nietzschean critique of liberal education (qua child of the Enlightenment) on the other. Sounds fair.

But Collins himself explains why it isn’t a contradiction at all in the process of explicating Bloom’s view. Collins says Bloom “is irked because they [i.e., the left] don’t struggle with the Nietzschean existential moment, and join him in re-establishing the questioning spirit of Socrates as a means of grappling with it” because where Bloom finds Nietzsche’s abyss the cause for concern, the left sees it as a license to party.

Where’s the contradiction? Collins says that Bloom and the left share anti-Enlightenment Nietzschean sympathies which run against liberal education. But this is the classic four terms fallacy: being anti-Enlightenment doesn’t make you anti-liberal education. Bloom believes liberal education is the only answer to the Nietzschean abyss, while the left thinks it renders it unnecessary. There’s no contradiction: there two different views of Nietzsche issue in two different views of liberal education.

Come to that, I suggest that Blooms view of the role of liberal education—whether he’s truly anti-Enlightenment or not—dovetails with the Enlightenment view of liberal education, while the left’s view of it is inconsistent with it.  So, not only is Bloom self-consistent (contrary to Collins’s claim), he’s also consistent with the Enlightenment view of liberal education.


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