I’ve just spent a fruitless hour trying to find the source from which I’d copied the following Allan Bloom quote some time ago. Somehow I’d lost the link, and now I can’t find it again.
But I thought I’d present the quote anyway because—like so much of Bloom’s oeuvre—it shows his uniquely facile mind and brilliant observations.
It was from an audio recording of a lecture that Bloom had given back in (to the best of my recollection, anyway) the mid-1980s. I had tried to transcribe it faithfully, complete with hesitations and idiosyncrasies and audience reaction. Bloom—whom I’ve written about before several times, mostly in the context of discussing his wonderful and highly-recommended book The Closing of the American Mind, was a professor of philosophy for most of his life. He was exceedingly familiar with the outlook of university students, primarily in America but also in Europe. Note that what he said back then describes trends that have only intensified since:
You know, we’ve all read history. Everybody, you know, world history, and weren’t all past ages maaaad? There were slaves, there were kings—I don’t think there’s a single student who reads the history of England and doesn’t say that that was crazy. You know “that’s wonderful, you gotta know history, and be open to things and so on,” but they’re not open to those things because they know that that was crazy. I mean, the latest transformation of history is as a history of the enslavement of women, which means to say that is was all crazy—up till now.
Our historical knowledge is really a history which praises, ends up praising, ourselves—how much wiser [voice drips with sarcasm] we are, how we have seen through the errors of the past…Hegel already knew this danger of history, of the historical human being, when he said that every German gymnasium professor teaches that Alexander the Great conquered the world because he had a pathological love of power. And the proof that the teacher does not have a pathological love of power is that he has not conquered the world. [laughter] We have set up standards of normalcy while speaking of cultural relativism, but there is no question that we think we understand what cultures are, and what kind of mistakes they make.
Bloom was not a cultural relativist; he believed it was a pernicious influence that had taken over American education. Time has proven him correct, has it not?