Thursday, April 14, 2005

Saul Bellow, RIP:

Saul Bellow recently died. I'm not much into novelists; the only book I've ever read of his was his last, Ravelstein -- and that was only because it was about Allan Bloom, whose work on political philosophy I have read and greatly enjoyed even as I disagree with some of it.

Ravelstein should be read after reading Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind.

That's because Bloom, as a Straussian, either writes in code or otherwise beats around the bush regarding what he really believes. For instance, in Closing, Bloom makes a big deal over how post-modern Nietzschean philosophy had seeped down all the way to the masses in America, who didn't fully understand it. And that we were living in an age where relativism, both cultural and moral, was such a strong public virtue that everyone knew, elementary, that (captial T) Truth was relative.

And this was not good, for a variety of reasons. The public needed to believe in Truth and Good and Evil.

And Bloom in Closing adopts a veneer of a 1950's style social conservative; like all of the other Straussians, he/they were publicly social conservative philosophers who supported religious conservatives and their public policy positions.

But in Closing, Bloom hints that he's really not sure that religious conservatives possess the Truth, even though they have the right to assert that they do. In fact, towards the end of the book, he sort of lets it be known that he is a non-believer, in not so many words.

Ravelstein's usefulness is that we hear Bloom speaking in "private" and we observe his private life. And thus, what he was "beating around the bush" in Closing, becomes more apparent. Bloom states categorically that he is an atheist because "no true philosopher can believe in God." Moreover, he is an unapologetically promiscuous homosexual.

The Truth that Bloom hinted at in Closing was this: For all of his hemming and hawing about How Nietzsche Conquered America, Bloom was an atheist-nihilist philosopher who believed that Nietzsche and Heidegger were correct as to the ultimate nature of reality.

Now, much has been written distorting his and his fellow Straussians' belief in this regard. For instance, while it's true that Bloom thought that this ultimate Truth was not fit for mass consumption, it was not because, as Shadia Drury argues, that giving the masses the Truth was like giving "pearls" to the "swine."

The Truth, according to Bloom and Strauss, was hardly a "pearl" but rather a horrific reality. Moreover, if the masses understood the implications of nihilism -- which they didn't because what they got was a watered-down, happy and ultimately false, "nihilism without the abyss" -- they would reject it. The philosopher can accept the horrific Truth of nihilism, because the philosopher loves discovering the Truth, even if that Truth is not a lovable one.

Moreover, Heidegger's ultimate support for the Nazi's demonstrated that you cannot found a political order or Nietzschean nihilism, that following the abyss will just as likely give you Nazi Germany as it will liberal democracy.

Bloom likened the Truth of nihilism to "playing with fire."

Ultimately, according to Bloom, that's why nihilistic-relativism was so dangerous and why only philosophers should be in possession of that Truth.

See also my past post My Understanding of the Straussians;

and this post by John Coleman;

and this article by (Bloom and Bellow's former student) John Podhoretz.

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