Revisiting the Canon Wars

Rachel Donadio:

Twenty years ago, when Reagan and Gorbachev were negotiating the end of the cold war and college cost far less than it does today, a book arrived like a shot across the bow of academia: “The Closing of the American Mind,” by Allan Bloom, a larger-than-life political philosophy professor at the University of Chicago. Subtitled “How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students,” it spent more than a year on the best-seller list, and today there are more than 1.2 million copies in print. Saul Bellow, who had urged his brilliant and highly idiosyncratic friend to write the book in the first place, wrote the introduction. (Bellow later cast Bloom as the main character in “Ravelstein.”)
Bloom’s book was full of bold claims: that abandoning the Western canon had dumbed down universities, while the “relativism” that had replaced it had “extinguished the real motive of education, the search for a good life”; that rock music “ruins the imagination of young people”; that America had produced no significant contributions to intellectual life since the 1950s; and that many earlier contributions were just watered-down versions of Heidegger, Nietzsche, Weber, Freud and other Continental thinkers. For Bloom, things had gone wrong in the ’60s, when universities took on “the imperative to promote equality, stamp out racism, sexism and elitism (the peculiar crimes of our democratic society), as well as war,” he wrote, because they thought such attempts at social change “possessed a moral truth superior to any the university could provide.”

Saigon South International School Recommended Reading List: Grades 6 to 12 [PDF.]