Book Review: Essays On The Closing Of The American Mind

Essays On The Closing Of The American Mind, edited by Robert L. Stone

I remember when I first obtained the Closing Of The American Mind and read it.  A former minister had died with a large library and had donated that library to the Home Office of the Church I attend, and while I was a student at the religious educational institute of that church we were able to pick among the various leftover books those we might want.  I thought it looked like an interesting enough book and I got it and read it and brought it with me back for my Florida library.  While by no means a perfect book, it was certainly critical of numerous flaws in education and the book was designed to appeal to those whose greater knowledge and philosophical depth marked them as somewhat sympathetic to an approach that at least appeared like traditionalism.  This book, like some I have read [1] consists on essays both critical and friendly about a nonfiction book that is deemed as important for one reason or another.  When a book about the philosophy of education sells a million copies, one can be sure that plenty of other people are going to be interested in talking about it, and that is certainly the case here.

This book is eleven parts and nearly 400 pages long and nearly all of the works included in the book are edited for length.  After an introduction the book opens with reviews that are positioned as showing that Bloom’s work transcended the usual perspectives of right and left (I).  After that some writers ponder the question of how it is that Bloom managed to write a bestseller (II).  The third part of the book then consists of some praise by former students of a supposedly spellbinding teacher (III).  After that some essayists ponder whether or not Bloom is an elitist (that is likely a yes) (IV).  This then leads into the question by Harry Jaffa and others as to whether or not Allan Bloom is a nihilist who only gives apparent support to traditional ways of thinking (V).  Some feminists then take up the question as to whether Bloom is anti-feminist (VI), and some writers even try to grasp at straws to argue about Bloom’s thoughts about affirmative action (VII).  A few contributors tackle Bloom’s hostility to rock music (VIII), others discuss the inevitable exaggerations and oversimplifications that a book will have (IX), and one brave essayist tackles the relationship between religion and philosophy (X).  The book then ends with a discussion of the proper role of the university in a democratic society (XI), after which there is a bibliography.

If this book’s materials are definitely uneven, it is definitely still a demonstration of the way that books are a part of a great conversation.  When someone gets a certain degree of attention, both friendly and hostile as well as more questioning and ambivalent, concerning areas as contentious as college education, gender politics, and the American political tradition, it is obvious that other people are going to try to gain attention by virtue of their interaction with that text.  And this was clearly the case with Bloom’s Closing Of The American Mind.  By and large the editor of the text is clearly favorable to Bloom’s work because the framing of this includes perspectives that are critical but also seeks to foreground them with responses about Bloom’s worth and providing Bloom or his surrogates with rebuttals to those who have hostile and adverse opinions, throwing shade at some critics and pooh-poohing others.  This is the sort of book that seeks to provide the appearance of an open and free discourse while providing the reality of a carefully edited and controlled discussion that seeks to further increase the glory of the book by showing what sort of important conversation it has provoked among others.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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