Rereading The Closing Of The American Mind

by Maisie Allison

Andrew Ferguson reflects on Allan Bloom's bestselling book, dubbed the "first shot in the culture wars":

Bloom’s reputation for fuddy-duddyism rested largely on his instantly notorious discussion of the “gutter phenomenon” of rock music, in which he deploys words (orgiastic, barbaric) straight from a pulpit-pounding preacher circa 1955. To anyone under the age of 30 he sounded like the old crank next door hollering, “Turn it down!” But again, his case against rock was entirely his own. He didn’t worry that the music would unleash passions but that it would deaden them, especially the passion required for real inquiry and learning. “My concern here,” he wrote, “is not with the moral effects of this music?—?whether it leads to sex, violence, or drugs.” His critics to the contrary, Closing placed Allan Bloom to the left of Tipper Gore, who spent the eighties crusading against the depredations of Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard (and the nineties apologizing for it).

Ferguson notes that despite the partisan fanaticism that surrounded the treatise, Bloom was "never a movement conservative." As Jim Sleeper explained in 2005: 

Far from being a conservative ideologue, Bloom, a University of Chicago professor of political philosophy who died in 1992, was an eccentric interpreter of Enlightenment thought who led an Epicurean, quietly gay life. He had to be prodded to write his best-selling book by his friend Saul Bellow, whose novel ''Ravelstein'' is a wry tribute to Bloom. Far more than liberal speech codes and diversity regimens, the bêtes noires of the intellectual right, darkened Bloom's horizons: He also mistrusted modernity, capitalism and even democracy so deeply that he believed the university's culture must be adversarial (or at least subtly subversive) before America's market society, with its vulgar blandishments, religious enthusiasms and populist incursions.