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 Blooms bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind. The review, entitled Academic Fundamentalism?, was itself widely noted and commented upon. Currently, Blooms 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 Blooms book and ideas, revealing the beguiling nature of at least one variant of Straussian conservatism.
The stir being caused by Allan Blooms 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 Blooms 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 sellers 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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