Saturday, September 10, 2005

More on Bloom

It's so bizarre to watch this debate about Allan Bloom's politics unfold. It's spilling over onto OxBlog now with Jim Sleeper himself making another statement on the matter.

Sleeper can't seem to understand that Bloom's purpose was to defend the contemplative life, to which both parties, with their practical concerns, are potentially hostile. Forget about liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans -- Bloom (like Tocqueville) taught that democracy itself poses threats to open-mindedness or the life of the mind.

Democracy basically means equality (if we use Tocqueville's definition), but democracy's success depends on its ability to be liberal or combine freedom with equality, which is easier said than done. One crucial characteristic of a liberal democracy is a university that teaches books making at least some rare people dissatisfied with the typical alternatives -- investment banker if you're a Republican, social worker if you're a Democrat. This is what Sleeper doesn't get. He wants the university and what it teaches to be compatible with some political party's vision of justice. But Bloom's purpose is to take an assessment of philosophy or the life of the mind in late 20th century America, and to discuss what special threats it faces, not to defend one political party over another. If Democrats found themselves more threatened by his book, it's because they tend to control the universities, which haven't done a spectacular job in distracting students from practical matters or preventing them from being little Lockean nerds (even if they've never read Locke).

Democrats are as utilitarian as Republicans; both are far away from philosophy. Republicans like to make money; Democrats like to redistribute it. Somebody once said that Allan Bloom enjoyed tossing it off the back platform of luxury trains.


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