Thursday, August 19, 2004

Alan Keyes: Allan Bloom’s “Gentleman”:

Most people who know of Alan Keyes know that he is a devout Catholic and his extremist views on social issues are informed by a very dogmatic belief in Catholic doctrine (but then again, one wonders why Keyes has only two children).

Even though I find him a bit nutty & extreme, anyone hearing him speak knows that he is smart (as many nutty & extreme folks are); what is less well known is that he is the product of a very refined education. He has studied at both Cornell and Harvard and has his Ph’d from Harvard. Folks might not also know is that Keyes has a Straussian connection. He studied with Harvey Mansfield, under whom Keyes completed his doctoral work. And before coming to Harvard, Keyes studied with Allan Bloom at Cornell. Not only did he study under Bloom, but Keyes considers Bloom to be his most important intellectual influence.

Keyes chided George Bush when the prospective Republican candidates were asked something like, “who is your favorite or most influential philosopher?” and Bush answered Jesus. Jesus, according to Keyes, is the Truth, whereas a philosopher is someone who searches for the Truth. While Keyes noted that the Founding Fathers were his favorite philosophers, he answered that Allan Bloom was the most important single philosophical influence over him.

From a CSPAN interview:

Q: Along the way, greatest influences among your teachers?

A: I think that, without any doubt, the greatest influence among my teachers was Allan Bloom, who was a professor at Cornell when I started there, went to the University of Toronto. I think ended his life and career at the University of Chicago, was well known as the author of a book called The Closing of the American Mind, which enjoyed some popularity a few years ago. Without doubt, Allan Bloom was, in terms of my academic and intellectual formation, the most important teacher I had.

Q: Can you explain why?

A: I think because, in a way that ended up, really, capturing my both interest and serious thought, he understood the moral foundations of politics--at least the importance of those moral foundations. And instead of approaching a political life and the questions that we are involved with in politics and morality, as is often popular these days, as if it is all somehow a consequence of material relationships, he took seriously what had been the view of societies and eras before our own, which saw a self-subsistent basis for moral things, and therefore for political life, and which took that seriously, going all the way back to ancient times with Plato and Aristotle and others. And I just felt, and still deeply believe, that there is more truth in that than in those approaches that try to reduce human things to some kind of sum of the material forces that operate upon us as material beings.

Keyes was such a big fan of Bloom’s that he followed him from school to school. They both sort of left Cornell together. And what many don’t know is that Keyes & Bloom were involved in a series of “incidents” that led them both to leave Cornell (no, it’s not what you are thinking).

It was the 60s and these were tumultuous times at Cornell. Student demonstrations had shut down campus operations, and the militant black students in particular had come in literally with guns a blazing.

Here is Bloom from Closing:

I became fully aware of this when I went to Cornell’s then provost…concerning a black student whose life had been threatened by a black faculty member when the student refused to participate in a demonstration. The provost was a former natural scientist, and he greeted me with a mournful countenance. He, of course, fully sympathized with the young man’s plight. However, things were bad, and there was nothing he could do to stop such behavior in the black student association. He, personally, hoped there would soon be better communication with the radical black students (this was a few weeks before the guns emerged and permitted much clearer communication). But for the time being the administration had to wait to hear what the blacks wanted, in the expectation that tensions could be reduced. He added that no university in the country could expel radical black students, or dismiss the faculty members who incited them, presumably because the students at large would not permit it.

I saw that this had been a useless undertaking on my part. The provost had a mixture of cowardice and moralism not uncommon at the time. He did not want trouble…The case of this particular black student clearly bothered him. But he was more frightened of the violence-threatening extremist and also more admiring of them. Obvious questions were no longer obvious: Why could not a black student be expelled as a white student would be if he failed his courses or disobeyed the rules that make university community possible? Why could the president not call the police if the order was threatened? Any man of weight would have fired the professor who threatened the life of the student. The issue was not complicated. Only the casuistry of weakness and ideology made it so. Ordinary decency dictated the proper response. pp. 316-7.

The black student was, of course, Alan Keyes. This incident prompted Keyes to drop out of Cornell, finish up his BA at and go onto get his Ph’d from Harvard. And this incident in particular, and the general way in which Cornell had handled itself amiss the campus turmoil, prompted Bloom to resign in protest.

Bloom went onto to become a visiting professor in Paris France, and then at Harvard. And Keyes followed Bloom to both places. Bloom went onto the University of Toronto and then Chicago while Keyes stayed at Harvard to finish up his Ph’d.

Okay. Now to the irony: During all of this time, Bloom was a practicing homosexual. And his students knew this. Paul Wolfowitz described Bloom’s relationship with his students as sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But as a gay man with no wife and children, Bloom could, and in fact did take a more active role in mentoring and nurturing his students.

Bloom’s homosexuality may have been “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but at some point in his life, Bloom partnered with a live in lover—Michael Wu. And from reading Ravelstein, when Bloom invited his students over to his apartment, Wu was right there helping to prepare the food for the “get-togethers.” When Bloom died, Wu was his chief mourner and in fact, his heir.

Now consider some of the cruel rhetoric that Keyes has used against homosexuals:

Gay marriage, Keyes warns, will cause "the destruction of civilizations," and he has equated the "homosexual agenda" as "totalitarianism." In fact, Keyes claims, "Hitler and his supporters were Satanists and homosexuals." To Keyes, "The notion that is involved in homosexuality, the unbridled sort of satisfaction of human passions," leads to totalitarianism, Nazism, and communism.

Says Keyes, "Since marriage is about procreation, and they can't procreate, it is a logical requirement that they can't get married." Never mind that heterosexual couples incapable of or unwilling to have children can get married, or that many gay couples have children. Keyes seems oblivious to this reality: "Homosexuals are not haunted by the prospect or possibility of procreation – because they're simply not capable of it. I think this is pretty obvious, isn't it?"

One other thing worries Keyes about homosexuality: lesbian couples having children by means of artificial insemination. Why? Well, because the children of lesbians who don't know their fathers might meet and be unknowingly related: "That means that an incestuous situation could easily arise in our society; it's more than likely to arise – not to mention every other kind of incestuous complication."

At a May 14 rally in Boston against gay marriage, Keyes even declared that gay and lesbian couples don't have sex: "It's not entirely clear to me you can call them sexual, because in point of fact, sex is no part of what they do. Real sexuality is about the distinction between male and female, as expressed in the body and its differences."

I wonder if Keyes attended Bloom’s funeral (based on his high regard for Bloom, I'm sure he did). I wonder how he consoled Bloom’s chief mourner—his partner.

Something else that’s a little odd: (Again, according to Ravelstein) One thing Bloom liked to do in Paris was cruise male prostitutes. I’m sure they spent much personal time together when in Paris; I wonder what Keyes would be doing while Bloom was off cruising guys over there.

Still, from reading Closing, Bloom supported folks like Keyes. That is, even though he was an atheist nihilist who lived an “unconventional” life, just like the other East Coast Straussians, Bloom wholly supported the religious conservatives and fundamentalists and their public policy positions. The Closing of the American Mind was, at heart, a support for Dan Quayle’s “Family Values” agenda and a rejection of the 60s. For all of the extravagances of his “esoteric” life, Bloom, in his politics (or at least in the politics of Closing—I haven’t read his work Love & Friendship, and I understand that his views there come off as more unconventional) was a 1950s style social conservative.

I termed Keyes a “gentleman” because, according to Straussians like Bloom, “philosophers” must make alliances with “gentlemen.” Philosophers are inherently nihilistic; they know there is no God; they are capable of gazing into the abyss without flinching; but they ought to keep philosophy secret. They should publicly support the “gentlemen,” those who believe in “noble lies” like orthodox Christianity. The public needs religion and it needs eloquent spokesman on behalf of religion, hence Alan Keyes. Bloom may have helped to create this “gentleman” Keyes. But in reading Keyes’s above mentioned screed against homosexuals, one wonders if Bloom helped to create, not a gentleman, but just a crank.


Anonymous said...

I don't beleive all that story about Bloom homosexuality. Not even that he didn't beleive in God. I have read his writings and you can know more that what people has to do. Bloom being Ravelstein is something that is not proof. Maybe Ravelstein was inspired by him, but it wasn't his life

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Anonymous said...

Much of your article appears well-researched and written.

Regarding your wondering how Keyes would console Bloom's surviving partner at Bloom's wake, I'm confident that a Catholic would easily know how to console someone regardless of their dead partner's sins. This is one of those damned-either-way behaviors where a Christian is accused of hypocrisy if he doesn't chastise someone publicly to stay consistent.

It's the behavior, not the person, who's condemned. Keye's or any practicing Catholic would know that God, not Keyes, is the ultimate judge.

With this correction, your article is otherwise enlightening.

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