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The Failure of the University, Alan Bloom

The Failure of the University, Alan Bloom

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The Failure of the UniversityAuthor(s): Allan BloomSource:
Daedalus,
Vol. 103, No. 4, American Higher Education: Toward an Uncertain Future,Volume I (Fall, 1974), pp. 58-66Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & SciencesStable URL:
Accessed: 20/02/2010 12:50
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ALLANBLOOM
TheFailure oftheUniversity
//Pascalhadenvisagedonlysomegreatprofit,orifhehadevenbeenmovedbythe
desirefor gloryalone,Icannotbelieve thathewouldhave beenabletomarshal,as
hedid,allthepowersofhisintelligenceinorder bettertodiscoverthemosthidden
secretsofthe Creator.WhenIseehimtearhissoul,asitwere,fromthe midstoflife'scaresinordertoattachitexclusivelytothisstudyand,prematurelybreaking
thebondswhichkeepitinthebody,dieofoldagebeforeforty,Iamstruck
dumb,andIunderstand thatitisnoordinarycausewhichcanproducesuchextraordinaryefforts.Thefuturewillproveifthesepassions,sorareandsofecund,arebornanddevelopsoeasilyinthemidstofdemocraticsocietiesasinthebosomofaristocracies.I,for
mypart,avowthatIfindithardtobelieve.
Tocqueville,DemocracyinAmerica, II,i,10.
Tocqueville,democracy'sgreatfriend andadmirer,remindsusinthispassageofthe Platonictripartitedivisionofthesoul?desire,spiritedness,andreason.Accordingtothatunderstandingof humanpsychology,each of thesepartsprovides
itsspecificmotivationtoactionand has itsownproperend. Desireseekspreserva
tionandcomfort;spiritedness,honor,particularlyinpolitics;andreason,knowledgeforitsownsake,orthecontemplationofbeing.Theeducatedmanistheoneinwhomeachofthese three elements hasdeveloped properlyandfullyandinwhomtheyaremostharmoniouslybalanced,particularlywithrespecttotheir self-evidentorder of rank.NowinTocqueville's analysis,asinPlato's,differentregimestendtoencouragetheflourishingofonepartofthe soulattheexpenseofthe others.Theydosoby givingpowertomenwhose dominant motive derives fromoneofthosepartsandwhobytheir authoritativepositiondeterminepubliceducationandtherespectableobjectsofaspiration.The characterofpubliclife thusestablishedreinforces,inturn,the tendenciesofthecitizensonwhom theregimeisbased.Aworldisconstituted withhorizonsthat excludeordistort the other alternativesinsuchawaythattheynolongercometosightasreal alternatives.Highereducation,totheextentthatits intention istocultivatemansimplyandnot tomakethemansuitabletothistimeorplace,mustcounterpoisetheprevailingintellectualviceof theregimeandpreservewhatittendstoneglect.Democracy,ortheegalitarianregime,must,accordingtoTocqueville,perforcehaveutilityasitsprimarymotive: itisfoundedonthe rule ofall,andthevitaldesires andthefearofdeatharesharedbyall?asopposedtothe desires forgloryandpureknowledgewhicharerare.This devotiontoutilityisparticularlytrueofmoderndemocracies,thetheoryof whichwaspreciselytoencouragetheselfregardingpassionsas a suremeanstopoliticalconsensus.Disinterested love of the58
 
THE FAILUREOFTHEUNIVERSITY59truthisparticularlythreatenedindemocracy.Themotivesof honorandglorywhichusuallycharacterizearistocracyarenotinthemselvesanymoreakintothelove oftruththanisutility,buttheyfreemenfromtheconcernforpreservationandhence
from thenecessaryattachmenttoamercenaryuseof the mind.Aristocratsaremore
inclinedtoadmire?perhapsinafrivolousway,butonewhichcanbeusedtotheprofitofthetheoretical?beautifulanduselessthings.APascalis,therefore,more aproductofsuchasocietyandmorelikelytofindahomewithinit.Thus,inadditiontothe otherreasonsadduced,the intellectuallifeinademocracyisprofoundlyinfluencedbythe absenceofatrulyleisuredclass whichwouldpatronizeandprotectitfrom thedemands of the market.Inmoderndemocraciestheuniversitieshavetaken theplaceofsuchaclass andattemptedtoprovideabasisforthecultivation of the theoretical lifewhichfindsonlythinsoil elsewhereinthesociety.Theirsuccesswouldhaveenableddemocracytocombinetheadvantagesofequaljusticewiththeadvantagesof thepeaksofspeculation.Forthesakeof theregime,ithadto resisttheregime'stendencytouseeverythingforitsimmediateends. Andtheregimehaspowerfulweaponsinmoney,publicopinionand,aboveall,theappearanceofmoralprinciple.Inthe lastyearswehave witnessedthefailureof theuniversity.Ithas becomeincorporatedintothesystemof ideas andgoalsofthesocietyaroundit.The multiversity,withitsdedicationtothe usefulasdefinedby society'sdemands,hasjoinedhands withwhatappearedtobeitsenemy,thepassionforcommitmentandsweepingsocialchangewhichwasthe childofthe late sixties.Nowquietlythey,worktogether,notbecause thefloodtidehasreceded,butbecauseithassweptawaywhat obstructedit.Theuniversity,totheextent itrepresentedthe theoreticallife,is
moreamemorythanareality.
Verysimplyput, youngAmericansnolongerliketoread,andtheydonotdoso.Thereare nofundamentalbooks which formthem,throughwhichtheyseetheworld and educate theirvision.To theextenttheyusebooks,it isbecauseschoolrequiresthemtodoso,oritisfor the sakeofinformation. Booksarenotasourceofpleasure,norwouldmanystudentsimaginethatold bookscouldcontaintheanswerstotheproblemsthatmostconcernthem.Theuniversitydoesnotrepresenta communitythe bondsof whichareconstitutedbyasharedliteraryheritage,andfriendshipsarenotformedbythecommonstudyoftheimportantissues.ProfessorsWernerJ.DannhauserandL. PearceWilliamsatCornellUniversityposedthisquestiontothat institution'spresident:
IfweprovetoyouthatanArts andSciences studentcannowreceiveaB.A.degreeatCornell,andthus bepresumedtohaveacquiredaliberaleducation,withouthavingbeenrequiredtoreadalineofPlato,theBible,Shakespeare,MarxorEinstein,wouldyouconsiderthistobeevidencethatthereisacrisisineducationatCornell?
Ananswer wasneverreceived.It isnotknownwhetherthispresident,orotheruniversitypresidents,wouldregardthissituationas aneducationalproblem.Butthatsuchuniversitycareersarepossible,andevencommon,isafact.Nolongerdoes theuniversityhaveacontentorafocus. Ithas accommodated itselftoall demands andtastesfortoolong.Thisisthelegacyofadecadeofacademicupheaval.Whatpromisedtobeagreatnewopenness,aliberation fromartificialconstraints,hasresultedinemptiness.Tosaythesamethinginadifferentway,the windowwhichopenedoutontoEuropehasbeenclosed.Americanintellectual lifewasalwaysintutelagetothatofEurope.Therewasnotmuch heretoinspirethe bestminds.Totheextentthatwe

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