Sunday, September 04, 2005

This Just In from the New York Times: Allan Bloom wasn't a Conservative

Well, it took them long enough...

Jim Sleeper's piece in the NYTimes Book Review today is a day late and a dollar short. Who doesn't know by now that Allan Bloom wasn't a political conservative? He says as much in his Harvard address "Western Civ and Me," which appears in Giants and Dwarfs. (He also says that although he isn't one, political conservatives have to have courage on college campuses.) Apparently, Sleeper thought Bloom was speaking esoterically, or (more likely) Sleeper didn't read the address.

The other disappointing thing about Sleeper's piece is that it neglects Bloom's last book, Love and Friendship, which conservatives have not embraced and which hasn't struck such a popular nerve. It contains longer, more detailed discussions of difficult texts, and it is in some ways darker and more unsettling, though no less thrilling, than the Closing of the American Mind.

I suppose it's good that in the end Sleeper recognizes that "Bloom wanted liberal education to resist both 'whatever is most powerful' and the 'worship of vulgar success.' True openness, he said, 'means closedness to all the charms that make us comfortable with the present.'" These are things that transcend current partisanship, however; and if they don't make him a conservative, they certainly don't make Bloom a "liberal" in any conventional sense either.

It's difficult to envision friendly or non-corrosive, but very serious, criticism of liberalism; and that's why it's tough to grasp what Bloom was about. "Not-a-conservative" is a technically correct description of Bloom, but it doesn't do much to advance our understanding of him.


Blogger Isaac said...

Believing in truth outside of power and such is, to a certain extent conservative. But it's the conservatism of good scholarship which many people embrace...

11:12 PM  

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