Bloom, Nietzsche, Rorty.
I read Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind as a polemic against the American university with two prongs:
(1) An easy description of American university students as ungrounded, shallow and "nice", and
(2) A technical argument about the influence of German philosophy on contemporary American society.
Despite the fact that the book was published in 1987, it remains bold and trenchant 20 years later. Bloom makes a number of assertions in prong (1) that I believe that he would hold to today were he alive, nearly all of which I disagree with. Here are three of the boldest:
-All American college students are thoroughgoing relativists.
-European students are vastly superior to Americans in their education, ability to discuss books, and civic engagement.
-Liberal education is dead.
Prong (2), which I don't quite follow and need to rereread, has to do with the fact that we've imported anti-Democratic German philosophers like Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Heidegger as well as their vocabularies and are in danger of becoming useless relativists because of it. What strikes me as massively ironic is the fact that Bloom is so critical of the masses in American being allowed to make decisions through voting, even as he clucks at the fact that we pretend that there is no danger in our cherrypicking of the parts of Nietzsche we like. Bloom worships Plato and thinks that the un-Republic-ed life is not worth living--his elitism leaps from every page through a series of anecdotes about him pithily refuting everyone he encounters and knocking American university students down like tenpins. Richard Rorty, a classmate of Bloom's at the University of Chicago, describes the university at the time as having been enveloped in a "neo-Aristotelian mystique," and Bloom never escaped it.
For me, Bloom's first critique is interesting and illuminating but misguided, and his second is (despite my lack of complete understanding) nearly certainly wrong. One of the parts of pragmatism I've kept in my journey away from Rorty is a lack of faith in someone's assenting to believe something as a prediction of how they will necessarily act.
Any thoughts? J. Morgan, I'm particularly interested in your take on our appropriation of the German vocabulary.