The Nihilism & Atheism of Allan Bloom

October 1988By Philip E. Devine

Philip E. Devine is Professor in Residence at Stonehill Col­lege and teaches philosophy at Lesley College, both in Massachusetts. He is the author of The Ethics of Homicide, and his Relativism, Nihilism, and God is forthcoming from Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Ed. Note: In our July-August 1987 issue our Con­tributing Editor Robert N. Bellah reviewed Allan Bloom’s bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind. The review, entitled “Academic Fundamen­talism?,” was itself widely noted and commented upon. Currently, Bloom’s book, often regarded as a conservative manifesto on culture and the acad­emy, continues to be the topic of heated debates, and, as we go to press, it still commands a place on the bestseller list of The New York Times Book Review. Below we present a penetrating analysis of Bloom’s book and ideas, revealing the beguiling na­ture of at least one variant of Straussian conserva­tism.

The stir being caused by Allan Bloom’s book on the plight of higher education in America leaves me with divided sympathies.

Any thoughtful observer of the contemporary academic scene will share many of Bloom’s con­cerns. The universities have failed to emerge from the turmoil of the Sixties with any strength of pur­pose. Morale, educational standards, and standards of academic business ethics are all low. More mon­ey for university budgets, and a better academic market from the seller’s point of view, might make life easier for college teachers, but they hardly touch the central problems of the academy. Moral debil­ity and easy relativism pervade the student popula­tion, and many “educators” not only fail to combat, but even encourage, these phenomena.

At many institutions college life is a four-year vacation from the labor force, devoted chiefly to drinking, dope, and fornication. Buzzwords such as “lifestyle” stand in the way of serious examination of important moral, political, and religions issues. Moral cowardice among professors is an epidemic disease. Serious moral conviction, which even when erroneous makes it possible to pursue truth, is lack­ing everywhere. Skepticism about the very existence of truth has undermined the foundations of aca­demic freedom, and left the academy vulnerable to assaults from every quarter.

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