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Closing the American mind, again

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

For so long as I can remember, conservatives have complained that the great contemporary problem is “relativism”; if only we could stop these “relativists”, who are mostly postmodernists, then all would be well. The left is relativistic and postmodern, yet if only they would accept objective truth—facts and logic—as gifted to us by the Enlightenment then all would be well. If only they would recognise that there is one way to know—a universal way, good for all people everywhere in the world—and give up on their emotional selfishness, such little snowflakes that they are, everything would be sensible and well-ordered again.

For do you not know, there is no “white man’s truth”; there is just truth and only truth—one truth that is good for men everywhere and forever. Indeed, says the conservative, as he warms to his theme, I do believe the one and forever truth was written in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence—for these were produced by Enlightenment reason. This is why, adds the British conservative, I am so glad we now have a Supreme Court in Britain, and perhaps we too will one day have a First Amendment too—at this point it is customary to make some reference to checks and balances, another holy rite in this religion.

This view, so far as I can tell, was popularised by Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind (1987), a book I first read about fourteen years ago and which inspired me to attribute Engel’s egalitarian views to Rousseau—“I don’t think Engels got his views from Rousseau,” my lecturer scribbled in the transcript for the completed essay. Anyway, The Closing of the American Mind has had its impact, not least because it provides good fodder for higher journalistic types—“What shall we do about the closing of the American mind now?”. You can always roll out Camille Paglia—devotee to that other Bloom, Harold—to nasally intone, “It’s aaawful, just aaaawful dhese intellectual khadamites—these social justice waaaarriors. When hai whas a student wahmen whanted to be spunky haaAmazon wharriors—devhoted to bheauty and phower.” Relativism bad, m’kay?

Bloom’s thesis is as follows: every year he saw students arrive at his university who were extremely arrogant—as young people always are—but their arrogance took a particular form; basically, his students all maintained a live-and-let-live attitude towards the world—every culture and individual has their own lifestyle and we will respect their cultures and lifestyles, one lifestyle or culture is as good as another; none can be considered superior—there is no “one truth”, except perhaps that Western culture itself is a bit suspect and smelly. As with the sceptic who asserts knowledge is impossible, this assertion seems to rest on a contradiction; if you claim it is not possible to know anything how do you know that you cannot know anything? If you assert that all cultures and lifestyles must be respected and are, effectively, the same, on what basis do you make the claim—does not your assertion that one culture is as good as another contain within it the hidden view that not to be “judgemental” vis-à-vis any one culture is the superior position?

What Bloom noticed is a common right-wing criticism of liberal democracy itself—except Bloom was not a rightist, not at all; he thought he defended liberal democracy. Rightists often point out that liberalism covertly “tops from the bottom”; liberalism says we need to privatise religion to avoid religious wars and get on with the practical business of government, scientific enquiry, and economic activity; and yet this contains a contradiction similar to the “sceptic contradiction” and the “culture contradiction” noted above: liberalism says that you can say whatever you want in the public sphere, so long as it is liberal—hence, in the guise of tolerance, liberalism banishes all other perspectives on human life from the arena.

“Look,” says the liberal, “you can say anything you want, so long as it’s not religious fundamentalism—we can’t have people acting as if the Bible is true in the public sphere, it will lead to religious wars. Oh, please don’t mention race either—you see our political settlement is based on the idea we are just rational individual minds that are all identical and come together to trade and contract. Oh, please don’t mention men and women are different either, you see we operate on the basis that men and women can act rationally together—equally in respect of economics and contracts—and so we don’t accept there are fundamental differences between them; if you want to talk about those differences in the private realm that’s fine.”

It goes on like this for every aspect in human life, until effectively the only acceptable way to lead your life is progressive liberalism—especially since the state has expanded to such a degree that liberalism has moved increasingly left so that it intrudes into everyone’s life; the private sphere where you were allowed to practice Christianity as your forefathers did—by, say, refusing to bake a wedding cake for sodomites—becomes criminal.

This is because liberalism is an elite theory: liberal democracy, as Mill observed, is predicated on the idea that a representative elite—responsible property-owning males—makes decisions, so that mob democracy is avoided; and the Founding Fathers thought much the same thing. The problem is that once the liberal elite has been corrupted—especially through mass enfranchisement—its function as shepherd becomes perverse. What starts as, “Let’s keep squabbles between Catholics and Anglicans out of the political arena to avoid religious civil war so we can at least survive and economically prosper,” becomes, when the liberal religion is corrupted, a war by the state against people who hold traditional religious views—or, in fact, hold any views that contradict progressive liberal egalitarianism, such as common sense observations that race and sex exist.

Liberalism as filtered through Enlightenment rationalism is a religion that says it is “reason”; people who object to its total domination are just irrational or, perhaps, mentally ill—it is a tricky thing because, unlike the traditional faiths, it does not even concede that it is a religion. Ironically, this makes Enlightenment rationalism among the most totalitarian and oppressive faiths in world history—and people in the West today are less free than they were in medieval times, when the Church at least admitted it was a Church and was counterbalanced by the aristocrats and the king. Now we only have the progressive liberal administrative state, staffed by people who “fucking love science” and the Enlightenment, and who see anyone who objects to their total control as reactionary, fascistic, religiously fundamentalist (all religions properly interpreted support the Enlightenment), or mentally ill.

Now, Bloom would not accept what I have just said; for what I have just said is that liberalism—or, more precisely, the Enlightenment rationalism that came to influence the Lockean liberal tradition that pre-existed it—is itself a religion; and this would make me what I am—a dirty, dirty relativist; basically, someone who reads too many Germans—for be in no doubt, Bloom thinks our current problems are caused by the Germans; and two Germans in particular. Bloom would agree with me that something has gone wrong with the West’s civic religion so that it seems to denigrate the West at worst and at best say that the West is just one among many cultures—neither better nor worse than any other. This is why his students—students in general, even today—seem to be so provisional and floaty; they have been inculcated, through school and the media, with a dominant belief system that says one thing is as good as another; and to say otherwise is discrimination and bigotry.

For Bloom, the reason why this is so is because the Germans (the eternal enemy; two world wars and one World Cup, as we say in England) infiltrated the American university system, basically in the 1920s. What threatens America, in Bloom’s read, is a leftist movement that has combined Marxism with Heidegger and Nietzsche and so given defunct Marxist ideas new life—you still see a pale imitation of Bloom’s ideas retailed by Jordan Peterson as “postmodern neo-Marxism”. But hold everything—Heidegger and Nietzsche are rightists, right? What do you mean they are leftists? What gives? What Bloom refers to when he speaks about a German infiltration is not Nietzsche and Heidegger as such; he has in mind the influence those men exerted on Freud, Fromm, Weber, Riesman, Adorno—and, ultimately, Woody Allen. For Bloom, these German ideas were imported to America—often by Jewish intellectuals fleeing the Third Reich—and have become the norm for Americans. These ideas supplanted Enlightenment reason and the civic virtue promoted by the Founding Fathers and have replaced it with a cult around authenticity, spontaneity, psychobabble, and “just being yourself”. “I’m okay, you’re okay—we’re just interrelating here; no judgement, man.”

What did Heidegger and Nietzsche want to do, in essence? They wanted to detonate Western metaphysics as built up onwards from Plato and Socrates. It is from Plato that the Christians derived their idea that there was another world to which souls migrate based on good or bad behaviour—the Jews thought, rather like the ancient Greeks, that the soul went to the underworld; it went to the realm of shadows. Nietzsche comes along and says that the Platonic idea is cope—a coping strategy, as we say in contemporary psychology—and all there is really is life, glory, and the dance; Socrates invented the idea that true beauty is contained within the soul—a soul that can migrate elsewhere—because he was an ugly man; really, physical beauty and, so to speak, moral beauty are isomorphic; beautiful people have beautiful souls, and there is no difference between soul and body. When we die we are, as the Jews and Greeks thought, dead—we go to the realm of shadows, no more.

All the questions asked by Socrates—“Why? Why? Why?”—constituted nitwit behaviour; Socrates—rather like the Enlightenment philosophes—questioned everything, but he had no better replacement for what he unpicked; just like the French Revolution. All he could offer was a method that left a person useless—a fact Aristophanes noticed when he mocked Socrates and the philosophers in his The Clouds. Aristophanes depicted philosophers as idiots who destroy the city gods, question beauty, question warriorship, and question business—yet offer nothing in return except doubt, all they do is sit around all day and discuss the nature of a gnat’s anus.

Nietzsche said that the Socratic turn was a mistake: what we require is not some ugly old man going around saying “Why? Why? Why?” what we require is action—poets to sing new gods into existence, businessmen doing deals, soldiers out in battle. The man who goes up to Trump and says, “But why, Mr. Trump, why do you do deals?” just needs to be clunked on the head; he is probably a resentful troublemaker, Trump does as Trump does and it seems to work for him—so why bother with the “why”, when you have no answer?

From another angle, Heidegger said that the fascination with reasons and ends started by Socrates and Plato has concealed Being; therefore, Western metaphysics is all a complete mistake. In short, Descartes says, “I think, therefore I am.”; Heidegger says that Descartes—ultimately stuck within the Socratic metaphysic—prejudices the think over the am. The “am” represents “isness”—existence itself, here subordinate to thought or reason; or rendered invisible by it. To turn it round the other way, “Am-ness is the backdrop that stands behind thought; all thought occurs on a stage provided by Being.” The upshot from this conclusion is that we need to re-poeticise the world, both Nietzsche and Heidegger agree on that score.

The gods and God Himself are dead because the Socratic metaphysic explicitly opposes poetry—the poets must be constrained, says Plato—and it then conceals Being, because it says God is “a being”, out there, to which we should aim through reason. The world is dead and disenchanted because ugly Socrates won and now we live a world dominated by instrumental reason and thought, a world that conceals Being and really set us only pseudo-problems to solve.

So far, this all sounds crazily rightist. It defends the extant order—the soldiers, merchants, and priests—from philosophy’s envious questions; just let people be and get on seems to be what Heidegger and Nietzsche say—let them sing their folk songs, fight their wars, and worship the gods. Indeed, Nietzsche and Heidegger are, in my view, very much on the right; Socrates is the prototypical idiot leftist “expert” who claims to have special moralised knowledge to help you but actually messes everything up because, by his own admission, he knows nothing—and, further, he is probably an ugly man secretly motivated by spite.

However, Bloom maintains that what has happened is this: ideas influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger—Freudian psychoanalysis, gestalt therapy, and so on—have arrived in America and told Americans that they need to re-poeticise; they need to become authentic and “get in touch with themselves”; in other words, they need to re-mythologise. This is why all his students were so floaty; they had learned what Nietzsche taught: reason eventually destroys itself because it is based on unreason; if we interrogate our rational thought, we find it is built on a primitive psychological carriage—psychology tells us it is so.

The pristine reason the Enlightenment worshipped was a bust; evolutionary psychology says we evolved to survive, not to be “reasonable” or “find the truth”—the stories we tell ourselves about our attempts to be reasonable are self-serving, attempts to generate status in the pack or shorthands to navigate reality. If reason is unreasonable, we cannot then really say one culture is superior to another; the different cultures are different ways to survive—science tells us it is so, and confirms Nietzsche’s intuition that what you see around you was built to enhance power and survival. The “neutral truth” does not exist—only, as Nietzsche would say, truths embodied in different cultures to help them to survive; and even our individual truths are useful lies or illusions that help us live. As Joan Didion has it, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

By the 1900s, most Marxists knew that Marxism as a prospective science was not true; however, they did not want to give it up—so, instead, they birthed Marxism as a mythology. Nietzsche and Heidegger both agree that the world needs new mythologies, and, for both, an overman—or master-poet—will be required to sing these mythologies into existence. The left, says Bloom, realised that it could combine the Marxist mythology, oppressed classes in a struggle through history, with psychologised Heidegger and Nietzsche to conceptualise itself as a revolutionary elite whose mission was to liberate people from their inauthentic repression, especially sexual repression, and previously dominant mythology—Enlightenment rational progress—and so overcome the last man, Nietzsche’s simple bourgeois man who just wants his quiet “suburban” pleasures in property.

In a sense, the Bolsheviks had already achieved the same act: the Bolsheviks jettisoned much in classical Marxism—for example, Marx maintained Russia would be the last place for proletarian revolution—and organised themselves as a hierarchical quasi-military clandestine organisation dedicated to revolution. The Bolsheviks saw themselves as “people of a special sort”; they were left-Nietzscheans, they were the overman who created his own values—the values he created were that the future belonged to a revolutionary Marxist elite who would birth a New Man, something different to mere bourgeois economic man; and this theme carried on in Marxism-Leninism right up to Che Guevara—the Bolsheviks were an elite “beyond good and evil”, and they would use “any means necessary” to step over the last man; after all, Stalin was a poet before he was a revolutionary.

Regimes like the USSR and Hitler’s Germany were what Nietzsche demanded: rule by artistic types who imposed their mythologies on the masses. The Bolsheviks created the “myth of revolution”, and the myth was re-enacted again and again in the 20th century—as Sorel, a precise engineer by trade, had observed just before the Bolshevik Revolution: the myth is worth more than any practical schemes—we live and die by myths.

So, from Bloom’s perspective, the American university—America herself—is under attack from thousands upon thousands of would-be poets and mythologisers; they all want to sing their songs—although, of course, since most people are not poets the songs they sing are trite or terrible, or very poor copies from mass culture; and yet the teacher—the supposed master—cannot question the student because it is a democratic society and it has become normative to say that one song is as good as another; anything else is discrimination or bigotry—and, as Bloom is forced to concede, this is partly inherent to the American project, America was founded on liberty and equality; it is a democratic society—a mass democratic society now; and so every man and woman should be able to have a crack at his song, poem, and myth—and please, do not be judgemental about her poem or song; well, not unless you are a bigot or something.

We now see where the contemporary conservative complaints about “snowflakes” come from: students arrive at university inculcated with an ethos that tells them they need to become authentic—true to themselves—in order to create a new personal or, indeed, general mythology; and perhaps, per Nietzsche and depth psychology, they need to reach down into the depths—filled with sex and violence—to create this mythology; they need to be transgressive, they need to shock the bourgeoisie—a class that no longer exists, and whose remnants accept this viewpoint as normative anyway.

Those people who respond that these projects or mythologies are irrational or unrealistic just want to impose their mythology on yours; per Nietzsche, there is now a power struggle—a Weltanschauungskrieg—to see whose mythology will win. In this struggle, violence marks you as sincere and so the left uses unlimited campus violence—violence more generally—to force conservatives to accept the new mythology, the current most popular mythology being a mythology of victimhood; especially around gender and race. The democratic ethos has become that everyone is a little artist and artists are neurotic and sensitive and want to cultivate their illusions, should be encouraged in their illusions—if they are any good their illusions are profound, if they are bad their illusions represent narcissism; and so the contemporary left is filled with irresponsible narcissistic people who have been told that it is normative for everyone to have “their version of reality”; and this is what the typical student “snowflake” is.

For Bloom, the corrective to this situation is for the university to function as an elite reserve; especially for it to offer Plato and Socrates to its students—enemies to Heidegger and Nietzsche; in other words, to offer “the truth” that stands above all. “The truth” is more important than authenticity and sincerity, and should be taught with irony—as Socrates advised. Further, the university should defend the Enlightenment legacy: the view that America was founded on reason to spread and increase liberty and equality in the world—there is only one form of liberty and equality, it is as good for a Zulu as a Dutchman; there is one truth, cultures and mythologies shall all be “parked” again—especially since they lead to violence.

There are a few problems with Bloom’s view: firstly, he contradicts himself; Platonism is elitist, it is not compatible with America as a realm of ever-increasing liberty and equality—or even with America as a democracy in any sense. So if Plato is to be taught as a corrective to German authenticity he should be taught against America’s founding. Bloom praises The Republic above all, and yet the state outlined in The Republic is nothing like the state America’s Founding Fathers proposed—so how will this save America?

Secondly, Bloom claims that the United States was founded “from nowhere”; it was founded entirely neutrally for rational people interested in liberty, equality, and Enlightenment reason—America, according to Bloom, has always been disembodied from race and religion. Indeed, he makes a rather spiteful remark about Christianity as a “superstition” that has thankfully vanished in America. However, if you examine America’s founding documents, it is clear that it was founded for white men who thought themselves Christian—even if in a nominal Deist sense. In other words, the United States was racially and religiously embodied, a bit like the postmodernists say; after all, the postmodernists are influenced by Nietzsche—he who called for refreshing honesty, as opposed to that rather more slippery concept “the truth”.

I think Bloom interprets America this way because he was a Jew—a Jewish homosexual, at that—and so his political outlook was basically driven by what would most threaten him (real hermeneutics of suspicion hours here); and what would most threaten a Jewish homosexual? Well, obviously, anything that remotely owed a debt to Heidegger or Nietzsche, both being implicated in National Socialism; even a left influenced by Jewish thinkers—such as Freud, Fromm, and Marcuse—who took inspiration from Heidegger and Nietzsche would be the primary threat. To feel at home in America, Bloom has to claim that there is no particularity to it: America was not founded for straight white Christians—it was founded for men who believe in equality, liberty, reason, and the Enlightenment; and these ideas work as well for the Founding Fathers as for anyone.

We are all, as humans, just rational brains that float around the world with no particularity; we make contracts to our advantage, we calculate how much money we make—we are atoms. Bloom’s America is an atomised America where mythology has been destroyed, and he is happy about that; sure, everything is meaningless and there is no poetry in life; no God, but at least he can live—as a biological unit; really, Bloom offers an existence and no more. Bloom wants to kill the gods and God Himself—and shut up the poets with his “truth”, as Plato wished.

Bloom has to interpret America this way because if he were honest about what America actually is—a white Christian country founded on Anglo-Saxon common law—he would himself, as a homosexual Jew, not be included within the American story; some might say he is only in the picture at all because that original settlement was, somehow, corrupted. The problem is that Bloom’s “view from nowhere” has become the go-to rhetorical strategy to fight off the left. So the left will say: “This country was founded on straight white male privilege and slavery!” The right will respond: “Actually, America was founded on entirely neutral Enlightenment reason that anyone—a Somali or a Frenchman—can grasp and so become happy and hedonistically fulfilled and enjoy his freedom.” Although Bloom mentions liberty, really, in a mass democracy, true liberty is forgotten—America now only offers hedonistic “freedom”, actually bondage to base animal desire.

The real response, the honest response, would be: “America was founded for white Christian men, for responsible property owners—including slave holders, slaves being a form of property; and it was based on a particular English common law tradition informed by Hellenism. Our mythology is the frontier.” This would be an honest response, instead of the lie about America being this disembodied entity with “universal principles” that can be applied anywhere—we have seen that this is not so, just look at the neoconservative project to spread those “universal Enlightenment values” to Iraq and Afghanistan; the poetry of the Koran defeats Enlightenment reason because poetry reflects reality, the poet being the mirror of reality, whereas “Enlightenment reason” is a narcissistic chimera.

America’s values actually are relative, relatively good for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants—relatively bad for homosexual Jews, who have to lie about what the country they live in actually is. Hence Bloom, in an act of staggering arrogance, manages excise the Southerners from America—it turns out Southerners and segregationists were not “real Americans”, they are in line with the relativists of the left because they defend the South’s particular culture and traditions. America “inevitably” bent towards racial justice, in Bloom’s view—to say the races are different is, of course, relativism; and so the Southerners are not “real Americans”.

However, Bloom, with no actual connection to America as a cultural entity and whose family arrived there long after the Civil War, is a bona fide American; i.e. a disembodied rational calculator with no attachments or poetry in his life. This is why American conservatives are secretly delighted when Confederate statues are toppled by BLM mobs; the Confederates are just “postmodernists”—relativists, so their statues need to be torn down. To destroy statues that celebrate a particular aristocratic racial culture is a victory for “the view from nowhere”, for “the truth”—supposedly so impartial, or is it? After all, surely Southerners are the most poetic Americans—the most aristocratic, the most poetic; and, consequently, the most relativist.

So I think Bloom’s book has been a disaster; it is actually a leftist book—so it misdiagnoses the situation completely, and it already concedes that equality and its advance is a great good. Conservatives become very excited at the fact Bloom attacks pop music—Madonna and Boy George—in the book; and yet they miss the fact that he attacks the family constantly; he really seems to hate the family—although, admittedly, he does condemn divorce. I suspect that Bloom hated the family because he was homosexual; he could never have a family, and he resented others for the intimacy they enjoyed in it. His interest in Socrates and The Symposium was probably motivated—as with ugly old Socrates himself—by the desire to get close to beautiful boys he could bugger; seduce them with philosophy, tell them the family is nothing, and then use them for sexual gratification. This story has been played out many times before.

The central contradiction within Bloom’s book is that he knows really that the Enlightenment, “reason”, and liberal democracy destroy the elitism that he claims to defend. If he were consistent, he would say that the American Revolution itself was a milder version of the French Revolution—and the Bolshevik Revolution was modelled on both of the above. The American Revolution was a bad thing in itself, an act of betrayal against Britain. It inevitably led, as its elitist representative democracy decayed, to mass democracy—to mob rule. There is no need to blame Freud, Fromm, Nietzsche, and Heidegger for the fact Americans insist that, as Bentham put it, “poetry is as good as push-pin”.

The parsimonious explanation is that the equality that Bloom celebrates as being central to the American project has led, as Aristotle observed, to a democracy where the mob is ruled by a corrupt oligarchy and one thing is as good as another—standards are “discrimination” and “bigotry”; it is undemocratic to have standards. Perhaps what Adorno called “the jargon of authenticity” has been taken up by Americans, but it is not causative; in a mass democracy people are changeable—today they talk about authenticity, tomorrow they talk about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; the nice man on YouTube told me all about it, and the experts all endorse it…

Ironically, the impulse to authenticity found in Heidegger and Nietzsche that Bloom condemns is anti-democratic, it is against the mob—against the left, and the snowflakes. If you practice a radical honesty, you will elaborate values that are hierarchical, martial, elitist, and undemocratic; you will take responsibility for your self, and Bloom is against “the self”. Nietzsche called for honesty, not the truth—honesty destroys narcissistic illusions; and, of course, it was Bloom who lived in narcissistic illusions—he had created an imaginary America that did not exist because his main terror was that the National Socialists might revivify in America; he endorsed the civil rights movement—he endorsed the left. Really, Bloom was a man of the left, not the right at all; his main concern was to conceal and to stop people from saying what American really is: a white European Christian country—as the postmodernists say. He also wanted to stop poetry and mythology, since Socratic philosophy is against poetry and mythology; in other words, he wanted to stop the revivification of the gods.

Hence Bloom advises people to “read Great Books” as a corrective to relativism because the idea of a “Great Book”—developed by another child of Jewish immigrants, Adler—holds that there is no particular work that appeals to a particular people. Wagner is only meant to speak—or primarily speak—to Germans, whereas “Great Books” posits that a “great book” can speak to anyone equally, since they are just a disembodied rational calculator with no particular attachment to English or German. It is all “great art” that is “good for you” in some nondescript way; hence “read Great Books” is egalitarian, and, as even Bloom concedes, Adler was not overly worried about the translation quality in his series; it sold well and gratified his narcissism, so that was enough—key concerns for Adler, as a journalist he was happy to put out a shoddy product that gratified his narcissism and made money.

The idea that national poetry or fiction might speak to a particular people is inadmissible for Bloom, people who say it is so are relativists—supposedly leftists, although it is Bloom who homogenises here and says all people are just the same thing. So the so-called American right is, in some ways, further to the left than the people they claim to oppose; the left at least admits straight white men and blacks exist, the conservative movement denies this altogether—and thinks it is “postmodern Marxism” to admit it.

This is all because, ultimately, Bloom does not understand what the soul is—though he thinks he does. The soul is actually what depth psychologists call “the self”, a term that Bloom makes out just means “selfishness” or “do whatever you like”. Bloom notes that Woody Allen is a typical American infected by psychology as strained through Nietzsche-Heidgger: Allen’s performance is basically that he knows everyone else in the world hides behind an inauthentic mask; although he maintains an inauthentic mask himself the fact he knows other people are inauthentic gives him a sense of—essentially unearned—superiority.

The Woody Allen type is what Bloom has in mind when he speaks about students who babble about authenticity but are actually selfish and superficial; the craze for irony in the 1990s—a certain knowing and detached superiority seen among hipsters and the young— characterises what Bloom speaks about. The problem is he has the diagnosis wrong: Woody Allen is inauthentic, he is a narcissist—his narcissistic mask is that he is a neurotic person who desperately searches for authenticity but cannot be authentic; he feels superior to other people, even though he is comically annoying, because, as Bloom observes, they do not know they are acting whereas Allen has some idea he is acting but cannot stop.

I think it is interesting that Bloom attributes Allen’s narcissism to depth psychology, as influenced by Heidegger; surely, Allen does not instantiate Heidegger’s authenticity—a poetic enterprise not directed to the mass “they”, as Allen’s act is—but rather the typical position of a Jewish immigrant, rather neurotic, who must fit into a new society and form a false mask; just like Zelig, a character Allen notably played, a man who can mimic any other man. Allen is a narcissist, not an authentic man; he wears false comedic masks to make people like him—and he feels superior to others, as a character anyway, because he creates a mask where he reads The Denial of Death and “thinks like an intellectual” whereas other people just eat bagels and refuse to take themselves so seriously. So you could say Allen’s character is someone who does not get what Heidegger was on about, but you could not say he is a product of Heidegger.

The narcissism, the neuroticism, and the desire to please through an act are all things that Heidegger’s philosophy cuts against; Heidegger was a man who went to a little hut in the countryside to dwell on death—he did not shoot around New York babbling about his neuroses. In other words, it is pretty weird that Bloom should blame Heidegger for Allen’s narcissism when Allen surely instantiates the Jewish immigrant experience more than anything—including a latent fear that your gentile girlfriend will find out that your relatives are all ultra-Orthodox rabbis (Annie Hall).

So I think a substantial theme in Bloom’s work is to run a kind of taqiyyah for American Jews; on the one hand, he blames German Jews for importing Heidegger-inflected psychology in the 1930s—yet their fault is that they were too German, not too Jewish. On the other hand, the Jewish immigrant experience—as represented by Allen—is reinterpreted by Bloom as a manifestation of Heidegger’s quest for authenticity and not a humorous exaggeration of certain Jewish behaviours, such as neuroticism and a desire to fit in with an alien culture.

Indeed, I think, at bottom, Bloom feared the authentic; he had no desire to “get real”; and so he hid behind Plato and “the one truth”—even though he is forced to concede in Closing that scientific progress itself makes it all but impossible to teach a “one truth”, all science is specialised and provisional; and, of course, Nietzsche would pop up and say: “Yes, it is impossible to teach the ‘one truth’ you are after, because it was never real—there is no being, God, “out there” and there is no soul as Plato means to go on to an afterlife; it was all a fraud by that ugly man Socrates; for over two thousand years we have lived with the fraud—please stop perpetuating it, you do not even believe it yourself.” Hence, thanks to the rise of the scientific method, people do look upon all cultures comparatively; and even Bloom does not have the confidence to say that his Platonic truth should cancel science, as it must if “relativism” is to really be destroyed.

The self is the soul; yes, obviously people can become confused and think this means that they should concede to what they feel in the moment and act selfishly—yet to say that is what depth psychologists or people inspired by Heidegger mean by “self” is a gross distortion. “Oh you say you like the self, you must be selfish then. Nah-nah.” This is roughly what Bloom says and it is just asinine; either he never looked into what people mean by “the self” because he was too bigoted in his Platonism, or he deliberately distorted it—lame, either way. The self is more or less consciousness and that is a quality Bloom is very much against; he wants you to be lost in “reason” and narcissistic illusions about “the truth” and “the Enlightenment”—a truth he supposedly possesses but can never show you.

We want to come back down to Earth, back down to body and soul together—back to poetry, back to God; time to turn away from these guardians of “the truth”, whose watchword is “dishonesty”. Time to understand that we are embodied, the “view from nowhere” is a fraud—race and sex are real; and insofar as America is, as Bloom has it, a project to increase equality it defies those truths we need in order to live—she defies the very gods.

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