Thursday, September 02, 2004

One of the nice things...:

about getting linked by Andrew Sullivan is that the quantity and quality of my email goes way up. Here is a nice one:


I was just directed to your website -- very good work!

It was great to see such a nuanced, well written piece
on Bloom and Keyes, and special thanks go to you for
not just "reacting" to the name Strauss or Bloom, as
do so many (sadly). One thing I would like to add,
however, is just a mild caution on drawing such a
close line between Bloom and the modern theocrats --

First, the book was of course published before
Quayle's "family values" campaign, before he even
reached office; but that is a minor point. I am quite
sure that a well-read Constantinian Christian (the
moral majority folks) would recoil if they confronted
Bloom. On the surface, it appears to be merely a
demand that we distinguish license from liberty, which
is in part the aim of the theocrats. However, where
their revealed religion points the way to scriptural
guidance for the law, Bloom's argument is a bit
different. For Bloom, American liberalism was eating
itself from within (his point would require a larger
discussion for which I regrettably don't have time
right now). He taps into many critics of American
liberalism by claiming, in essence, that liberalism
cannot perpetuate itself, for it needs guidance from
outside, something to tell it (and tell us!) "what is
good? To what end should the laws work?" For much of
our history, religion had supplied a moral compass,
but with its demise -- or at least its contested
nature -- the need for a liberal education took root
(I'm playing a little loose with the timeline, because
even Locke himslef saw the need for liberal

Thus if we lose liberal education, and the capacity to
teach us "what is good", we lose America itself. For
this reason, Bloom saw that the stakes were quite
serious in sounding the alarm about education's
demise. What's interesting is that if you read critics
of liberalism on the left (take your pick) they TOO
lament liberalism's effect on the soul, and its
inability to offer a vision of "the good" for which we
should all strive. Indeed, it is often amusing to see
how similar the critiques are between say, Strauss and
Sandel, yet how deep the hatred remains for Strauss.
It seems then, in a very simplistic way (!), that much
of the conflict is over where these critics look for
society's guidance -- Bloom looks to "The Great
Books", for example, but that would appease a theocrat
only so long (can you imagine Pat Robertson thumbing
through one of the homoerotic scenes from Plato's
dialogues? And of course, critics on the left often
seek guidance from democratic principles (that is,
from deliberation or majority rule).

By way of disclosure: I teach Constitutional law and
American politics at a large (too large) northeastern
university. I respect Bloom and Strauss, though I'm
not a member of any group that would call themselves
"Straussians" (for the record, I also like Sandel).
I'm also so orthodox in my Christianity that I'm a
flaming liberal on many religious issues. Such is life

Sorry I don't have more time to write ... must get
back to work ...

p.s. -- Keyes is out of his frickin' mind, in my
sober, unemotional, scholarly opinion (I hope you
appreciate sarcasm...)