You are here:   Features > The American mind continues to close
In several cases, I observed that editors who had once enjoyed flourishing sidelines as freelance writers now had almost entirely given up on their craft. In an editorial meeting, a staffer might offer some brilliant insight that I recognised as the seed of a fine article. But if I tried to assign the piece, she would demur, for the reasons described above. It’s one of the reasons I quit my job. You can help show a person how to write. But you can’t make them want to write.

“Of all university members, humanists have the least self-confidence,” Bloom wrote. “In their heart of hearts many doubt that they have much to say. After all, most of the writers they promote can be convicted of elitism and sexism, the paramount sins of the day.” This is still true. But the crime of elitism has now expanded into the more general category of privilege, and especially white privilege. Bloom’s description of relativism — “the consciousness that one loves one’s own way because it is one’s own” — no longer applies to progressive white writers, who loathe their “own way”, which is why so many of them do not have much to say. Even black and Indigenous writers can find themselves in a straitjacket, because they are pressured (often by cynical white editors, acting on their own desire to be viewed as enlightened) to repeatedly write about issues connected to their identity. Eventually, even the most morally urgent subject will become stale to a writer if he or she writes of nothing else. 

The few glimmers of hope and energy I’ve witnessed tend to emanate from those men and women whose own personal histories serve to challenge one-dimensional theories of persecution in our society. Which brings me back to Bloom — who was Jewish and gay, and the child of social workers whose own parents escaped Europe’s murderous anti-Semitism. These are not incidental biographical details. Bloom came to the defence of traditional Western literature and philosophy without the baggage of colonialism and racial supremacism that weighs down your average gentile to the point of intellectual paralysis. And if Bloom’s surname were Smith or Jones, I’m not sure The Closing of the American Mind would have been written.

Similarly, I do not think it is a coincidence that many of the most influential and vigorous critics of liberal orthodoxy to emerge since that book’s publication also have been Jews — a list that includes Richard Bernstein, Alan Dershowitz, John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg, Andrew Breitbart, David Brooks, Christopher Hitchens, Charles Krauthammer, William Safire and Ben Shapiro. Since 9/11, in particular, it has disproportionately fallen to Jewish commentators (and sometimes gay men or women) to sound the alarm against the normalisation of Islamist anti-Semitism, misogyny and homophobia. If the people with the least moral standing in arts and letters are seen to be straight, lily-white WASPs, and those with the most are visible minorities and indigenous peoples, then the Jew (perhaps especially a gay Jew) falls exactly in between. 

View Full Article
Moss Reumann
November 1st, 2017
6:11 PM
This is an excellent piece of criticism, and well written. In one place, however, I think Kay gets it wrong. He writes, "no one wants to write anything that gets them thrown out of a tribe they’ve inhabited, in good standing, since college, or even high school." Logically, and based on my own behavior, it's less about the spoiling of longtime allegiances than is about maintaining the ability to publish in a wide variety of outlets in the future, given the fact that one's entire bibliography is just a few keystrokes away from an editor considering one's work. It's easy to blame reluctant writers, but keep in mind that an editor's willingness or unwillingness to consider the work of writers who have in the past expressed diverse, non-orthodox viewpoints is just as important, if not more so.

Lubomir Poliacik
October 31st, 2017
4:10 PM
I don't believe that describing Professor Allan Bloom as an "obscure academic" prior to the publication of "The Closing of the American Mind" is quite accurate. When he taught at the University of Toronto in the 1970's he was something of an academic star, with a following of devoted student "Bloomites". But more importantly, he was the most prominent expounder of the work of his former teacher, Leo Strauss. You may recall that "Sraussians" in G.W.Bush's White House were held responsible by the liberal press for the invasion of Iraq, among other things.

Sal Scilicet
October 30th, 2017
12:10 PM
“Tell me where you come from and I will tell you what you are.” … We Jews have always been drawn to universalising creeds … the real community of man … of those who seek the truth … [where] the contact people so desperately seek is to be found.” When I lived in Israel, “the land of the Jews”, the burning question was, who is a Jew? In other words, who is “the stranger within thy gates”? Namely, the “goyim” (the nations) – for whose welfare and wellbeing the Torah prescribes certain guarantees. That is to say – who, living among us, may be legally, morally, emotionally [and safely] ostracised … thereby deemed to be most certainly not “one of us”? Whenever the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ [what it “means” to be me] comes up for discussion, the question of language is always deftly circumvented. Without hesitation or disquiet the words are taken for granted as representation, “standing for” something that is somehow assumed to exist quite independent of the text. But what is one to make of “The American Mind”? The vocabulary, grammar and syntax, of any language, determines, equivocates, defines, delimits, confines and rigorously dictates what can be said and what cannot. Ever since language evolved, grammatically logical dictums nave been habitually deployed to “make sense” – logically coherent narratives, that barely resemble lived experience. When “I” say what time it “is”, “I” am stating an indisputable, albeit fleeting, fact. [The present moment “now” has no dimension.] Just one of innumerable facts, with which each speaker/writer habitually confirms “the world as it is”. A popular, inescapable conceit. “Reality” can hardly be defined as a comprehensive catalogue of facts. Hence all the familiar rhetorical conventions – happiness, time, democracy, The Universe, gravity, economics, philosophy, freedom, humanity, civilisation … Without ever having to explain what any of the words mean. Not to mention such evocative confabulations as, “mind”, “personality”, “consciousness”, “awareness”, “soul” … Such is the beguiling, indispensable utility of language, that everybody knows what gravity “is”. What time “is”. What happiness and freedom “are”. Even though no two eminently useful, precise definitions will ever be exactly alike. Of course, if language really were such a reliable means of communication, establishing “The Whole Truth”, and nothing but the real nature of “Reality” … there would have been no irresistibly lucrative need, all these years, for those lawyers, theologians and academics … not to mention all those millennia of bloodshed. Whence this reluctance to examine the ineluctable function of grammatically regimented language? As thoroughly indispensable as it undeniably is – and at once so notoriously ambiguous – this wilful refusal is truly remarkable, just to glance but once through Galileo’s glass. Has the universal ‘group-think’ as to the wholesale disparagement of all things ‘post-modern’ become so deeply ingrained as to finally render such erstwhile provocations as Bloom’s, ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ thoroughly done and dusted? The incontrovertible conventions of public discourse create the persistent illusion that if, for example, the subject is ‘happiness’, then obviously happiness not only exists somewhere outside the strict confines of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. But the thing can actually be actively ‘pursued’. Much like ‘Life and Liberty’, inalienably made freely available, for all to have and to hold. Don’t we know? “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. But nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, if it’s free.” Whereas, while every individual person, once legally defined and duly promulgated by the State, as a solitary, self-determined moral agent, is thus, merely by dint of the rigours of literacy, privately persuaded that “I sure-as-hell know what happiness is”, not one is able to clearly define that most illusive of qualities for a certainty, to the satisfaction of all. Ergo – “Publish and be damned.” At the very real risk of ridicule, words such as ‘consciousness’, ‘mind’ and ‘soul’ are just that, essential semantics. It seems to me part of the problem inherent to every language is that words are used to conjure – literally call into awareness – both abstract and concrete concepts alike. This invariably inspires the pervasive illusion that ‘mind’ and ‘brain’ are not only all of a piece, but also equally tangible. Suppose notions of ‘the self’, ‘consciousness’, ‘mind’ and ‘awareness’ are none other than indispensable, socio-culturally habituated, linguistically constructed figments of the imagination. Most words acquired during infancy as indisputable descriptors of experiential phenomena, such as ‘dog’ and ‘ball’, engender a deep-seated conventional belief that all words describe a grammatically signified experiential reality, whose ordinary apprehension is simply assumed to be common to all. Meanwhile, intensely private experience is messy, irrational and illogical. Which, by its very ephemeral nature is quite literally inaccessible to the inflexible discipline of polite discourse. Instead of giving an accurate account of what really happened and what it was really like, each individual is obliged to construct a coherent narrative, in compliance with the ruling conventions of grammar and syntax, which is then understood as ‘history and ‘reality’. Thus, common expressions such as, ‘changing my mind’, ‘going out of my mind’ and ‘The Closing of the American Mind’, create the illusion that ‘the mind’ is an experiential ‘fact of life’. And therefore routinely taken for granted as such.

Alex Kudera
October 30th, 2017
12:10 PM
Based on the author's ideas concerning Jewish writers as "the most influential and vigorous critics of liberal orthodoxy," I'm rebranding as Jewish and inviting critics to read Fight for Your Long and Auggie's Revenge in this tradition.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.