Allan Bloom and Homogenizing Nature

by Ted V. McAllister on August 31, 2010 · 14 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

I offer a paragraph from Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1989) for consideration, or perhaps to allow us to be shocked afresh.   This passage comes as Bloom lamented a shift in the American educational project from “the education of democratic man to the education of democratic personality.”  The first, which he describes below, is noble, the latter leads to nihilism.

“The old view (education of democratic man) was that, by recognizing and accepting man’s natural rights, men found a fundamental basis of unity and sameness.  Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear or become dim when bathed in the light of natural rights, which give men common interests and make them truly brothers.  The immigrant had to put behind him the claims of the Old World in favor of a new and easily acquired education.  This did not necessarily mean abandoning old daily habits or religions, but it did mean subordinating them to new principles.  There was a tendency, if not a necessity, to homogenize nature itself.” (p. 27, italics added)

How say those on the Porch about the desirability of homogenizing nature?  What about the PoMo’s?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Albert August 31, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Depending on what Bloom means by “religion”–this seems to be an attempt to imagine unity without religion on the basis of “natural rights” (reason *alone*?), which implies a view of religion (and class, race, origin) as fundamentally divisive in such a way so that they need to be marginalized in order to create brotherhood. Though American to a certain extent, such an ideal is modern and liberal, leading to the homogenization of man and, it would seem, nature. It’s not hard to hear echoes of the French revolutionary call to “liberty, equality, and fraternity” in this quote. Add “mastery of nature” (homogenization?) and the picture is familiar. That “natural rights” is not considered “religious” in its substance and effect is another peculiarity which smells of modern liberalism.

“Homogenization” as the marginalization of certain kinds of diversity (of man and of nature) is necessary and good to a certain extent (something needs to be shared), but I wonder what the character of limits, if any, to this homogeneity is implied for him.

avatar David August 31, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I’m not convinced that man has a nature that can be homogenized. Our wills can be informed of common interest to combat ignorance and deliberative doubt, but I contend at the core of homogeneity is commodity.

Perhaps you are right and the commodity of man was a right goal of the system in the past. I’m sure it was since Dewey, et al. I’m not sure when Bloom’s analysis focuses. At some point we decided that an Irishman was as good as a German for hiring if we could just process both of their identities out of them. Efficiency even spoke over prejudice (a powerful barrier to reason).

But that’s not near as interesting as this notion of “true brothers”.

What calls us to brotherhood is the nobility of obligation, not camaraderie–though the later can emerge in the presence of the former. Perhaps I’ve grown too suspicious of words like “brotherhood” to see them in their original light. However, if I suspend my disbelief for a moment I do not see how I can have brotherhood without knowing my brother. Other citizens today are seen as much as obstacles to our desire to control the destiny of our political units.

In elder days, one was my brother because he sprang from the loins of the same man and came into the world with all the same obligations I had. In a more general sense brotherhood would form out of similarly formative strife such as war, or famine, or the ascetic commitments of religious or academic orders.

If you want that sort of brotherhood in school you should treat it more like boot-camp. Either way, it’s a dog and pony show for the crowd. Citizenry is currently an involuntary activity. The abdication of one’s identity for the sake of citizenry is precisely why not everyone is suited for citizenry.

We have to ask ourselves, if we homogenize for the sake of common political interests can any personal (or sub-political) interests survive? And what have we given our faces for? There is some sort of paradox here in giving up our person in an attempt to secure it in the collective body politic.

avatar John Médaille September 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Hmmm. Homogenized nature. Sounds yummy. Does it have a cool nougat center?

avatar J. W. Blakely September 4, 2010 at 10:35 am

The problem with accepting Allan Bloom’s educational program is that it is an attempt at reviving the Platonic idea (expressed in the Republic) of the edifying myth or noble lie.

Allan Bloom and Leo Strauss both hid the fact that they believed the very truth of the world was the nihilism and relativism that they publicly denounced. The true, esoteric content of their philosophy was nihilism as the dangerous truth and preserve of philosophers, while the exoteric project would be to spread the political fiction (as they saw it) of foundational, natural rights. (See both John Gunnell and Shadia Drury for the academic articles arguing these points.)

As Strauss writes in “Natural Right and History” those such as Nietzsche and Heidegger that have seen the truth of nihilism which “destroy[s] the protecting atmosphere within which life or culture or action is alone possible”—that they have two options available to them: they can either theorize this truth openly, developing their doctrines which are hostile to all political communities in defiance of them or else they can “insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life—that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion.”

This also explains why in Saul Bellows Ravelstein you will discover that Allan Bloom could care less about virtue education for “the philosopher”–who, beyond good and evil, could pursue a life of reckless hedonism.

Bloom’s call is a call for propaganda for what he saw as the masses unable to face the truth of nihilism without politically destructive consequences.

avatar David September 4, 2010 at 11:12 am

I have always had a certain compassion for philosophers, so alienated from life and living by their sense of superior perspective. Reading Strauss always revives that sense of the loss of meaning.

I’ve found it does no good to suggest to them that their position completely misses the point, as the appearance of humility in nihilism is merely a cloak for pride.

avatar Joshua Lore September 6, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I am eager for Mr. Mcallister to return and respond to some of the comments that have been levied so far. It’s easy to detect the shiny liberal allure to this Babelesque ‘community’ which Bloom celebrates — one that has overcome the brutal tribalism, the naive fealty to divine forces, the reverent submission, even devotion, to hierarchies which place not man at the top, all the limits of our supposed adolescent forbearers that kept us from reaching our full potential which, if given space, could turn this world into a heaven without having to wait for some savior to return — our patience, afterall, has grown thin.

But don’t the principles we give highest credence to always don a religious quality, even if those principles include a commitment to rising above religion? Is this not especially true when they are embedded in something with a name like “natural human rights”? Afterall, to suppose the existence of natural rights supposes there is a way things ‘aught’ to be, as potentially opposed to the way things ‘are’. Not even to mention the vast array of problems with the whole humanistic concept of ‘natural rights’, to subordinate “class, race, religion, national origin and culture’ to this concept is simply to bring about a very generic metanoia. Whatever moral instruction is gained by the particulars of the old religion are subordinated to those of the new.

There’s not really a lot to say about the consequences of this which Bloom mentions that hasn’t already been said in the comments above. One cannot hear a phrase like “the homogenization of nature” without getting shivers up one’s spine.

avatar MAR September 6, 2010 at 8:55 pm

As Paul Gottfried once said, Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind is one of the most influential left-wing books of the past couple decades. Although not as significant as the writings of Karl Marx and Franz Boas, he was able to turn conservatism on its head: take what was traditionally right-wing and make it left-wing, and vice versa.

Bloom always had the same, tiresome MO: bring up the bogeyman of relativism only to crush it with some Jacobin notion of universal human rights. Bloom was arch-enemy to man in his traditional environs: rooted, blood and soil attachments, ancestral memories, etc.

avatar MAR September 6, 2010 at 9:24 pm

* The above comment, obviously, is not to imply that Marx or Boas wrote in the last couple decades.

Blooms writings are also anti-Western in a very fundamental sense: Bloom wished to eradicate the real, historic West (and its people) and wallpaper over it with rights-based abstractions.

What Gottried says about Strauss below could equally apply to Strauss’s student Bloom:

“From my writings, it should be clear why I consider Strauss’s “return to the classics” less than what is claimed for it. To me his publicized turning back to antiquity was largely about reading eighteenth-century rationalism back into ancient texts. Socrates and Plato, as seen through the interpretive lenses of Strauss and his students, can no longer be viewed as pre-moderns, or as thinkers who pointed to those eternal ideals that hover above and render intelligible the material world. Strauss leaves us with a picture of Plato, as a questioning skeptic, which points forward to the modern interpreter rather than backward. Moreover, Strauss’s emphasis on “esoteric” readings allows for the unjustified ascription of his attitudes and values to premodern authors, and those “truths” that the Straussians wish us to venerate reveal their own late modern ideological preferences—now decked out as “human rights”—rather than what most of their pre-modern authors were likely to have believed.”

http://www.nhinet.org/gottfried18-1&2.pdf

avatar MAR September 6, 2010 at 9:35 pm

And what Ryn writes about Strauss could easily apply to Bloom:

“Though careful not to tip his hand too much and too often, Strauss himself does indicate the radical, even revolutionary import of his own ahistorical notion of universality. He writes, for example, that “the acceptance of any universal or abstract principles has necessarily a revolutionary, disturbing, unsettling effect.”23 The neo-Jacobin, revolutionary propensity of many so-called neoconservatives shows that they regard universal principles as having in politics the same effect as Strauss sees universal principles as having in philosophy. The desire of many neoconservatives to clear the decks of historically evolved beliefs and institutions extends to America itself. The America they champion is not the actual, historically distinctive America with its deep roots in Christian and English civilization but a country of their own theoretical invention, which owes its greatness to what are alleged to be its ahistorical, rational founding principles. The America of neoconservatism breaks sharply with the America of history.”

http://www.nhinet.org/ryn18-1&2.pdf

avatar RiverC September 13, 2010 at 7:37 am

Isn’t Multi-cult just the latest way to ‘homogenize nature’?

The question is not at this point, ‘is it homogenized?’ It never is. The question is ‘for whom is it homogenized?’ The answer is the same, for the American/Euro elite.

Multi-cult gives them the way, just as Dewey et al’s system did, of having a homogenized experience of things. All cultures are ‘different’ and ‘unique’ and all ‘special’ and ‘equal’ but that’s just another way of saying that they’re all meaningless.

When assimilation failed the only way to deal is multi-culturalism. And in any case, the action of the commercial culture (capitalism) so often hated by the typical multi-culturalist ideologue (At least those I’ve known) is precisely the factor which defangs all cultures and makes multi-culturalism possible with the degree of ‘safety’ that most of us require.

Bloom et al have created a comfortable lie RE: democratic man: he is merely a copy of Christian man, but all of the details have been replaced. Since the fall of Rome the west has dreamed of universal jurisdiction – when Christedom fragmented in the Reformation it was only a matter of time before a new universal brotherhood was invented…

But this differs from the America that was founded: the picture we’re given of what America ‘is’ or ‘was’ looks more like the France of the French Revolution.

avatar Christopher Carr September 14, 2010 at 12:10 pm

What’s wrong with nihilism? I can be a nice nihilist, can’t I?

http://www.duke.edu/~alexrose/dditamler.pdf

avatar David September 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Mr Carr,

I have a fondness for nihilists and their intentional delusions. You may be any kind of nihilist your faculties are capable of fulfilling.

avatar JD Salyer September 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I can’t say much that hasn’t already been expressed by MAR, Mr. Blakely, et al…

avatar Gerard Casale September 23, 2010 at 11:12 am

There are some penetrating comments here; such as J.W. Blakely’s insight into the self-indulgence of Bloom’s fictional alter ego Ravelstein. But as usual there are also few that raise the question whether the commenter had actually read and thought about Bloom’s own writings; how else to account for the assertion that “Bloom was arch-enemy to man in his traditional environs: rooted, blood and soil attachments, ancestral memories, etc.”

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