In his Weekly Standard cover story on Allan Bloom’s book “The Closing of the American Mind” 25 years later, Andrew Ferguson writes of Bloom, “As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.”
The crisis was– is–a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America– even Jerry Springer–had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.
“[College students] are united only in their relativism,” he wrote. “The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.”
Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life … What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable… he doubts, finally, that they even exist.