"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Sorry, We're Closing"

As readers of this blog know, I occasionally venture to read something of a higher intellectual calibre than trashy 19th century novels. When this happens I am often pleasantly satisfied with how I have used my reading hours. When I bought The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom for 20 cents and began reading it I had this pleasant feeling. The Closing of the American Mind gives an overview of the philosophies and ideas that have influenced modern American intellectual life. Such influences as Marxism, Freudianism, egalitarianism, and democracy, among others, are all mentioned for their role in shaping education and the current thought processes in academia.

From the very beginning my pencil was streaking across the pages, trying to preserve in this way all the best thoughts and ideas. Looking back, I see that my system of underlining has a serious problem: too much of the book has been underlined for any sort of quick reference to be effective. Nevertheless I scanned back through the first 80 pages and saw a host of excellent quotes, just a few of which I couldn't resist copying here. The next 300 pages will have to wait for another time.
“History and the study of cultures do not teach or prove that values or cultures are relative” (39).

“To deny the possibility of knowing good and bad is to suppress true openness” (40).

“No longer is there a hope that there are great wise men in other places and times who can reveal the truth about life.... The point is to propagandize acceptance of different ways, and indifference to their real content is as good a means as any. It was not necessarily the best of times in America when Catholics and Protestant were suspicious of and hated one another; but at least they were taking their beliefs seriously” (34-35).

The dreariness of the family's spiritual landscape passes belief... The delicate fabric of the civilization into which the successive generations are woven has unraveled, and children are raised, not educated... The parents must have knowledge of what has happened in the past, and the prescriptions for what ought to be, in order to resist the philistinism or the wickedness of the present. Ritual and ceremony are now often said to be necessary for the family, and they are now lacking. The family, however, has to be a sacred unity believing in the permanence of what it teaches, if its ritual and ceremony are to express and transmit the wonder of the moral law” (57).

“The moral education that is today supposed to be the great responsibility of the family cannot exist if it cannot present to the imagination of the young a vision of a moral cosmos and of the rewards and punishments for good and evil, sublime speeches that accompany and interpret deeds, protagonists and antagonists in the drama of moral choice” (60).

“What poor substitutes for real diversity are the rainbows of dyed hair and other external differences that tell the observer nothing about what is inside” (64).

"Lack of education simply results in students' seeking for enlightenment wherever it is readily available, without being able to distinguish between the sublime and trash, insight and propaganda” (64).

“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency—the belief that the here and now is all there is” (64).

“Students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing” (67).

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, New York. A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster inc. 1988

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