June 1st, 2017

Allan Bloom redux: education for tolerance

[NOTE: I thought this post from 2013 could bear repeating, with some edits and additions to bring it up to date.]

I’ve written before about Allan Bloom’s masterful The Closing of the American Mind, published in 1987, here and here.

And I probably will again. It is so richly loaded with thought that almost every sentence might cause the reader to pause and reflect. Plus, it’s extremely readable. Bloom has done something extraordinarily difficult, which is to write a serious work about education, politics, history, and philosophy in a very lively style.

Apparently, that’s the kind of guy he was.

I was blown away at the outset by the first few paragraphs of his introduction, entitled “Our Virtue.” And so I’m going to reproduce some of it verbatim, just for you, to whet your appetite for the book itself. Remember as you read this that it was written no later than 1987, and probably a bit earlier:

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative…Some are religious, some atheists; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism and in their allegiance to equality. And the two are related in a moral intention. The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society…The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness, and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness—and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings—is the great insight of our times…

The students, of course, cannot defend their opinion. It is something with which they have been indoctrinated…

Every educational system has a moral goal that it tries to attain and that informs its curriculum. It wants to produce a certain kind of human being…In some nations the goal was the pious person, in others the warlike, in others the industrious…Aristocracies want gentlemen, oligarchies men who respect and pursue money, and democracies lovers of equality. Democratic education, whether it admits it or not, wants and needs to produce men and women who have the tastes, knowledge, and character supportive of a democratic regime. Over the history of our republic, there have obviously been changes of opinion as to what kind of man is best for our regime. We began with the model of the rational and industrious man, who was honest, respected the laws, and was dedicated to the family (his own family—what has in its decay been dubbed the nuclear family). Above all he was to know the rights doctrine; the Constitution, which embodied it; and American history, which presented and celebrated the founding of a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”…

But openness…eventually won out over natural rights, partly through a theoretical critique, partly because of a political rebellion against nature’s last constraints. Civic education turned away from concentrating on the Founding to concentrating on openness based on history and social science. There was even a general tendency to debunk the Founding, to prove the beginnings were flawed in order to license a greater openness to the new…

Liberalism without natural rights, the kind that we knew from John Stuart Mill and John Dewey, taught us that the only danger confronting us is being closed to the emergent, the new, the manifestations of progress. No attention had to be paid to the fundamental principles or the moral virtues that inclined men to live according to them…

Note how long ago all of this had already hit its stride. As the book goes on, some of the best passages involve Bloom’s description of the faculty’s craven abdication during the student uprisings of the 1960s, when he was one of those who tried (in vain, as it turned out) to hold his finger in the dike of the best traditions of Western Civilization.

In 2017 I would add that little has changed except these ideas have become even more widespread, if anything, and many of the students have become more strident, angry, confrontational, and accusative. Yesterday at Legal Insurrection, Professor Jacobson quoted a tweet by Eric Weinstein (the brother of -much-in-the-news Evergreen professor Bret Weinstein), that succinctly summarizes where we have arrived at this point:

Intersectional Shakedown, n.: Protection racket where underrepresented groups sell protection from bigotry charges for apologies/concessions.

The Intersectional Shakedown racket is rampant not just in the university but in public life as a whole. If all the “ists” are defined as nearly the worst accusations ever—“racist,” “sexist,” “rape apologist” and the like—people will do almost anything to avoid being called any version of intolerant. And to avoid this, they will bend over backwards to give the potential accusers want they want. Special considerations of many sorts, including campus police standing down while they harrass others and/or block traffic, failure to be disciplined or charged even when violence occurs, being given pride of place at a graduation—all of this is in the form of a concession in order to avoid being painted with the vile brush of intolerance. And if all these concessions fail, and a person ends up being the target of such an accusation, then there’s always the apology.

Professor Jacobson adds:

The Intersectionality Shakedown method is particularly effective because it targets the people who are not what they are accused of being: Eric Weinstein is not a racist, and David Collum is not a rape apologist or any of the other things he was accused of being. So they actually are damaged by and afraid of the accusations, whereas people who actually were those things likely would not care.

In these circumstances, the silence of peers helps the aggressors.

“The silence of peers” is unsurprising. If one studies history—or lives for a while in the real world of various workplaces especially including academia—one becomes impressed by how relatively rare moral courage is. It has been my personal experience in academia, on issues much smaller and much less risky that the present ones, in situations where I stood up to speak against what I considered some sort of wrong action, that I was usually completely alone. Afterwards, people would often come up to me privately and say they agreed with me, and when I asked why they hadn’t stood and spoken publicly to support me, they would answer that they were afraid for their jobs or their grades. That’s how I learned that most people don’t want to draw even a minor amount of attention to themselves when any possibility of retaliation exists. How much worse it must be when the dangers and the exposure are greater.

19 Responses to “Allan Bloom redux: education for tolerance”

  1. DNW Says:

    You are right. I read the book on your recommendation and was startled at how , as you say, almost every declarative or descriptive sentence, capable of being formed into a proposition, was an insight worthy of being the subject of it’s own examination.

    “… in situations where I stood up to speak against what I considered some sort of wrong action, that I was usually completely alone. Afterwards, people would … answer that they were afraid for their jobs or their grades. That’s how I learned that most people don’t want to draw even a minor amount of attention to themselves when any possibility of retaliation exists. “

    Is not cowardice a moral failing?

  2. blert Says:

    “Everything is relative” was the mantra of my old high school chemistry teacher.

    He used it to duck out of every tough question.

    I think that’s what has made it so popular with slipshod thinkers.

  3. DNW Says:

    Speaking of slipshod, I’ve done it once again. A contraction in place of a genitive form of a pronoun.

    GEEEEEEEEEEZZZZZ

  4. M J R Says:

    Related, albeit far less important:

    In grad school, in class I asked a question of the good professor. After class, a fellow student thanked me for asking it, remarking that whatever it was had in fact been bothering him. I remarked that he could have felt free to ask the question; he replied, “I didn’t want to appear ignorant.”

    Whatever.

  5. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Professor Jacobson adds:

    “The Intersectionality Shakedown method is particularly effective because it targets the people who are not what they are accused of being: Eric Weinstein is not a racist, and David Collum is not a rape apologist or any of the other things he was accused of being. So they actually are damaged by and afraid of the accusations, whereas people who actually were those things likely would not care.”

    If they are not guilty of those things, then why are they afraid of the accusations? Of course it is fear that the accusations will be harmful and may even be extremely harmful.

    It is a truth that the lionhearted die but once, whereas the coward ‘dies’ a thousand times.

    When has standing for the right been dependent upon there being no cost? Shouldn’t being falsely accused engender angry defiance at the injustice?

    My personal definition of character is doing the right thing when you know it will extract a price and the higher the price paid, the greater the character demonstrated. And, the more important the right be stood for, the greater the honor due in standing for the right.

    An applicable quote:

    “Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How’s that again? I missed something.” R.A. Heinlein

    The truth of an issue does not lie in the degree of consensus.

    An expression the Samurai were known for;

    “Duty, heavier than a mountain. Death, lighter than a feather.”

    It is fear of loss, that leads to men abandoning the right and in doing so, they lose their souls. The death of our body cannot be escaped, it is the death of the soul that should be feared.

    If “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” then perhaps no higher honor is there than this, that a man forfeit the regard of his fellows in service of the right.

    And those relativists who ask, “what is the right?” prove with that question, the absence of a ‘lodestone’ in their moral compass.

    That lodestone is found where heart and head align. And, when the head and heart are aligned, the hand (our actions) cannot be led astray.

    It is when the head is off kilter that the heart lies confused, it having lost connection with the still, small voice within. Commonly known as our conscience, which I suspect is what truly separates mankind from the animal kingdom.

    The Buddha spoke of mankind’s apprehension of truth as like blind men who had never even heard of an elephant touching but one part of it and variously declaring the part they had touched as being the whole of it. Clearly their limited perception prevents them from grasping the whole but regardless of their limitations, the elephant is whole and real. So too with truth, it is NOT relative but is seldom ever heard.

  6. J.J. Says:

    Fear of being shunned or belittled by others is a part of our hunter-gatherer tribal heritage. Being cast out by the tribe was a certain death sentence. In those days humans survived by teamwork and group defense. And all were aware of it. Our ancestors lived as tribal hunter-gatherers for a million years. Agriculture and nomadic herding began about 12,000 years ago. Agricultural villages and the beginnings of individual enterprises began about seven thousand years ago. An inch of time compared to the tribal years. The need for group affinity and acceptance is very deep in our DNA. It’s amazing that as many people decide to buck the tide as do.

    When your livelihood is on the line that especially gets your attention. That’s why the progressives use it. Media Matters knocked off Bill O’Reilly. Now they are targeting Sean Hannity. College profs who don’t toe the line are easier prey than powerful TV personalities. People who would take a person’s livelihood away in the name of ideology are scumbags of the first order. Financial ruin and personal disgrace – it’s the name of the progressive game.

  7. AesopFan Says:

    It is not a long step from ousting errant colleagues from campus to standing them up against the firing-squad wall.
    I think they call that a “slippery slope”–

    Here’s a list of the steps taken so far, as we near the point where someone pulls the haunted-house lever and the stairs become a ramp:
    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/446634/understanding-campus-free-speech-crisis
    “In fact, I began covering campus silencing incidents for NRO in 2001, when I wrote about angry UC Berkeley students storming the offices of the Daily Californian to destroy a run of papers containing a David Horowitz ad opposing reparations for slavery.
    Today’s problems are hardly new.

    Additional examples follow, in great detail.
    In a separate post, Kurtz brings things up-to-date:
    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/448132/year-shout-down-worse-you-think-campus-free-speech
    “The 2016–17 academic year will go down in history as the year of the shout-down. But what actually happened and where are we headed now? The episodes that drew national attention: the Milo Yiannopoulos riot at Berkeley, Middlebury’s Charles Murray shout-down, the Heather Mac Donald shout-downs at UCLA and Claremont, and the Ann Coulter imbroglio at Berkeley, are part of a larger and still poorly-known set of speaker disruptions and related incidents. So let’s review the year’s lesser-known campus disturbances and consider both their import and what we may be in for next year.
    ..
    So where are we headed now? The optimistic view would attribute this year’s occasionally violent shout-downs to passing distress with the election of President Trump. That is not persuasive, since the previous academic year’s campus disturbances can just as easily be attributed to the Left’s ascendance under President Obama. In truth, the campus left is now emboldened regardless of who’s in power. The left is on offense for reasons that include, but also run far deeper than, whoever happens to be president.
    The future now looks to be a contest between two trends: 1) increasing violence by a campus Left that has learned administrators will do nothing to stop it, and 2) efforts by administrators to prevent disruptions by locking out conservatives and other controversial speakers.
    A fully empowered campus left unworried about repercussions will turn its violence and intimidation beyond visiting speakers to administrators, faculty, and students. This is already happening, as the nightmarish campus takeover at Evergreen State College, the UC Santa Cruz takeover, and various portentous incidents elsewhere indicate. Almost every speaker shout-down holds the potential for student-on-student violence, since many feature competing chants and angry back-and-forth that could easily burst into a direct clash. …”

    One thing that heightens my concern is that, even though I am a daily news&blog reader, some of the events listed had not hit my radar, suggesting that the level of violence / innovation required to “make the news” has become a very high bar.

  8. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “For what can be done against force without force?” Marcus Tullius Cicero, 44 BC

  9. Gringo Says:

    Neo, you have shamed me to start reading Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, which has been on my bookshelf for years.

  10. arfldgr Says:

    Professor Jacobson adds – why women have always had the power, from lysistrad to now, unless their leaders tell them they dont, which is what they tell them.. and they get more and more wacko trying to prove they have power…

    you can read the stuff from the thirties about how and what it would do to them when it wasnt a movement but was a campaign making mind viruses the way we have bio viruses and computer viruses…

    our grandparents and before called those things :Bad Advice..

    we are no longer smart enough to think that turkish delights from the witch queen are not in our interests.

    but its irrelevent.
    they divided the house they live in and it cant stand any more..

    hows that for thinking on every line…
    anyhone know all the references in my invisable knapsack?

  11. arfldgr Says:

    “For what can be done against force without force?” Marcus Tullius Cicero, 44 BC

    Conspiracy

  12. Sharon W Says:

    Great post, Neo. I, too, found Bloom’s book one of the most prescient I’ve ever read, having done so at the beginning of Obama’s presidency. I felt it explained how that man could be elected when it was really Hillary who was the intended candidate–Obama to follow 8 years later.

    GB- “My personal definition of character is doing the right thing when you know it will extract a price and the higher the price paid, the greater the character demonstrated.” I’m finishing Eric Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer and just read of his first night in jail. Talk about paying the price for taking a stand for what is right. I regularly tell my sons, “Be strong and of good courage.” (Deut 31:6–a command from God). Without courage, one is very vulnerable to serious failure.

  13. arfldgr Says:

    One thing that heightens my concern is that, even though I am a daily news&blog reader, some of the events listed had not hit my radar, suggesting that the level of violence / innovation required to “make the news” has become a very high bar.

    I work in academia, just ask

    want irony in spades?

    the left wanted segregation and took the vote away from women and blacks (why murder blacks in the south to prevent them voting in hayes tilden if they didnt ahve it? they had it, it was taken by the changes that bruoght the new taxes… duh.. amazed no one has yet pointed this out here)

    but the not left rose up and fought and changed all that.

    then the left turned theminto themselves, pretended they fought for it, and then convinced the new followers that they want to be segregated from whites, and especially white males.

    so harvard, yale, and other colleges now have racially segregated commencement ceremonies (god help you if you are adopted and not matching your parents and siblings).

    70 colleges will call the police if you trigger them with some issue like, its a melting pot. a few might be triggered by your prescence.

    yesterday, the head of a parents organization decided to get up at the end of a childrens talent show and do a full on drag grinding crotch show to the parents horror… though i wonder why they are horrified given the other things they agree that are a part of it.

    we are basically at the forefront of 1931-1932 germany
    when the scapegoats are now known by all to be the thing assigned… the debasement and social moores that woudl stop such thigns as camps gone… the victims population has collapsed thanks to feminism…

    and the last nail in this game has been driven
    the race groups hav figured out that the sourve of evail white men are the white women and they are hating them even more!!! just destroy the source… no? and guess what? they destroyed their potential mates comparatively and if you read the blogs of men without women on them – you are all on your own on this one for the most part.

    the men are basically agreeing with the others..
    like the professor of math
    or the people here who have destroyed my life
    (work is the here i mean not neo)

    so many broken things are on the side.

    and the second funkiest part..
    all the points that would justify exterminations and such under the SAME arguments of such from europe that we didnt learn so we didnt know to avoid., are all in place

    do you think the college professor in texas that is calling for whites to be exterminate and having whites side with him, will have problems finding enough angry minorities to vote camps or such.

    dont think so? they are already removing people from work and school by other means and have done so. now that they remvoed half, the other half has to go, and they are very bewildered (like my sister who just discovered her tax payer paid 5 degress mean much less cause of the warm bodies and living scenery that are getting degrees. funny, we used to make fun of docs cause they cant write well, now do we make fun of them cause they can read?)

    Not white privilege, its white female privilege

    White Women Should Reflect on Privilege After Women’s March

    How white women in tech can harness their privilege to help

    Was the Women’s March just another display of white privilege?

    Women’s March Falling Apart Because Racism, White Privilege

    [edited for length by n-n]

  14. arfldgr Says:

    I felt it explained how that man could be elected when it was really Hillary who was the intended candidate–Obama to follow 8 years later.

    yeah, the same way the russians set up indonesia, and the chinese swooped in after they did the work and tried to finish it with the potato landing in their hands.

    same thing

    i said so here when i saw her cry

    she doesnt act like a person who gave a great try and lost, she acts like a boxer who thought the fix was in and got cheated.

  15. AesopFan Says:

    arfldgr Says:
    June 2nd, 2017 at 4:09 pm
    I felt it explained how that man could be elected when it was really Hillary who was the intended candidate–Obama to follow 8 years later….

    she doesnt act like a person who gave a great try and lost, she acts like a boxer who thought the fix was in and got cheated.
    * * *
    Indeed. She really did feel that she was the Entitled One and can’t understand what happened.
    She wuz robbed.
    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2017/06/hillary-looks-back-in-anger-3.php

  16. Manju Says:

    Here’s a provocative thought for those who have read the Closing. Was Bloom a relativist too?

    Nietzsche certainly was. And he is the central character of this work. But for Nietzsche, relativism was a theoretical insight. For Bloom’s students, it is a moral principle without which a free society could not be possible.

    But Nietzsche teaches us that relativism leads to the opposite…to a true right-wing, ie, a regime that is the enemy of equal rights under the law. The only foundation for freedom is Natural Rights of Man, Bloom argues. (Martin Luther King was right. Malcolm X was wrong, and closet Right-Winger to boot, in Bloom’s scheme.)

    But the question remains…what are Natural Rights to Bloom…a theoretical insight or moral principle? It’s natural to assume the former, but afak he never explicitly says this.

    And he’s clearly imbibed Nietzsche waaay more than Locke, whom he revers but from a distance imo. Add to that his love for Plato and I think a case can be made that Bloom was actually working from the position that Nietzsche’s insight was unavoidable…and his (Bloom’s) advocacy of Natural Rights is really a Noble Lie.

  17. mezzrow Says:

    Bret Weinstein spent two and a half hours with Joe Rogan yesterday, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Weinstein is the Platonic model of a principled leftist, and the penny has well and truly dropped for him. He is perhaps the most impressive guy I have encountered on the left in the past decade. Rogan is no friend to the Trump train, but he sees why it is here. Their dissection of the current events at Evergreen and how the core leftists continue to double down when you think they no longer can is a revelation.

    Short take:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcpdyl6wSsw

    Long version:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq4Y87idawk

    PS: I also recommend you dig out the session with Jordan Peterson for a similarly enlightening long form discussion.

  18. neo-neocon Says:

    mezzrow:

    Thanks!

    I already find Bret Weinstein highly impressive, and I plan to follow your links later when I get some time to do so.

  19. Mark30339 Says:

    “in situations where I stood up to speak against what I considered some sort of wrong action, that I was usually completely alone”
    .
    Allan Bloom was a voice crying out in the wilderness. It is striking how those who reject his sensibility have been so wildly successful — and how those embracing Bloom’s sense of dignity and order are so easily isolated and disregarded.
    .
    Neo’s reflections coincide with a recent repost at NR from Professor Jeffrey Hart in 1970:
    .
    “The dominance of this kind of sensibility in the educated classes of our society is surely cause for alarm, since it cannot but follow that those who lose their grip on the reality of the world will shortly lose the world itself: the world cannot be governed by sentimental illusions. Poor fools, one cannot but sigh, poor fools, the barbarians will make short work of you.”

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/447984/american-academic-culture-secession-intellectuals

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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