Monday, September 19, 2005

Sleeper Responds

The following is the text of a note that Jim Sleeper sent to me (in italics) and, below that, my reply.

Dear John, you may post the following if you want. I don't have time to register and log in. Jim Sleeper

I wish that John Coumarianos would re-read my essay on Allan Bloom and tell readers of this blog what it actually says about the liberals and the left, as well as inform them that it identifies me as the author of "Liberal Racism" and "The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York."

I was not anywhere near to defending Democrats or "liberals" in this essay, nor did I try to recruit or link Bloom to the left. The more anyone insists, as John does, that Bloom did not want either party or either side to dominate liberal education, the more he is simply repeating what I say not once but two or three times in the essay. When I criticize conservative demagogues such as David Horowitz and Roger Kimball for invoking a man who would have disliked them as much as he disliked radical leftists, that does not indicate that I am defending radical leftists. Is that difficult to understand? Or is John just so defensive about conservatives that he'll now hunt for quotes in the essay that he can stretch to imply that I was defending the left?


Jim -- Thanks for the note.

You make fair points. Perhaps I was a little defensive. I don't think I misrepresented your position, however. I thought you had a decent grasp of what Bloom was about, unlike many other commentators including conservative ones. What I mostly object to is that Bloom tells us himself that he's not a conservative, so this isn't really news. He also goes out of his way in "Western Civ and Me" to praise conservatives, even though he isn't one. I also thought that if you wanted to "beat up" conservatives with Bloom, you could have pointed to Love and Friendship, which conservatives haven't embraced. You didn't give evidence of tackling that book. An interesting essay would be a discussion of why conservatives haven't embraced that book. It would require lots of effort and meditation, however. So I guess I just thought your essay wasn't that ambitious (not that the NYTimes would have appreciated a deep meditation on a book like Love and Friendship).

I don't know Horowitz and Kimball that well; and to the extent that I know them I don't find them nearly as interesting as Bloom. However, I think conservatives are more inclined to implement Bloom's only practical proposal -- the Great Books proposal -- whether they fully understand the radicalness of those books or not. Liberals are simply a lost cause at this point, when it comes to defending and implementing a Great Books education. They are more inclined to view the books and their authors as products of their times and perpetrators of supposed injustices. Contact with these books is the most important thing, and, strangely enough, I have more confidence that conservatives are willing to allow that.


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