R.R. Reno Revisits Allan

The gist of Bloom×?Ts polemic×?’and the book was nothing if not a long, erudite, and hyperbolic polemic×?’was a brief against the cultural revolution of the 1960s. He said out loud what liberal elite culture could only regard as heresy: The supposed idealism of the 1960s was, in fact, a new barbarism. Whatever moral and spiritual seriousness the long tradition of American pragmatism had left intact in university life, the anti-culture of the left destroyed.

The result? Higher education has become, argued Bloom, the professional training of clever and sybaritic animals, who drink, vomit, and fornicate in the dorms by night while they posture critically and ironically by day. Bloom identified moral relativism as dogma that blessed what he called ×??the civilized reanimalization of man.×?? He saw a troubling, dangerous, and soulless apathy that pleasured itself prudently with passing satisfactions (×??Always use condoms!×?? says the sign by the dispenser in the bathroom) but was moved by no desire to know good or evil, truth or falsehood, beauty or ugliness.

I remember reading Bloom in 1987, feeling as though he was describing what I was experiencing as a young graduate teaching assistant. Bright, energetic, ambitious Yale students could master material with amazing speed. They could discuss brilliantly. They could write effective, well-researched papers. But they possessed an amazing ability to understand without being moved, to experience without judging, to self-consciously put forward their own convictions as mere opinions. On the whole, they seemed to have interior lives of Jell-O.

I have since learned that students are often not as they appear. Quite a number have steely souls and passionate convictions, but they have learned that the proper posture of higher education is either soft diffidence or its counter-image, snarky critical superiority. At times, a cultivated moral passion is OK, even desirable, especially if it is sincerely felt, unconventional, and asserted as an imperative of personality. An urgent vegetarianism expressed with a vehemence bordering on taboo, for example, can be quite acceptable. What is positively discouraged, however, are reasoned, principled commitments. So students who have real and serious moral or religious convictions hide them and cordon them off from their educational experience.

Read the whole post here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to R.R. Reno Revisits Allan

  1. Chris Stiles says:

    The problem with this argument is – of course – that it was ever thus. Students were always like this – you just have to read back through some of the earlier travel writers who did the ‘Grand Tour’.

    Bloom just happened on a social change that he didn’t like.

  2. The Scylding says:

    Well, it goes even further back – the students at the University of Paris achieved notoriety in the late medieval period. And have you read The Canterbury Tales? Nay, we always seem to think that things have never been so bad / good as they are now – it is just another variation of the “chronological snobbery syndrome”…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s