Professor Allan Bloom in his South Side home, Chicago, Illinois, 1987. (Photo by Steve Kagan/Getty Images)

Things Worth Remembering: Allan Bloom on the ‘Charmed Years’ of College

In 1987, the political philosopher warned an audience of freshmen of the perils of not thinking for themselves.

Welcome to Douglas Murray’s column, Things Worth Remembering, in which he presents great speeches from famous orators we should commit to heart. To listen to Allan Bloom deliver his September 1987 speech at DePauw University, scroll to the end of this piece.

Watching the breakdown on American college campuses in recent days, I can’t help thinking—like almost everyone else—what went wrong? 

These beautiful institutions, such as Columbia and Yale and Harvard, used to be places of learning. How did they end up being the American epicenter of Jew-hate and everything else that is moronic? How could a place of learning become a place where automatons shout and repeat phrases just taught to them, and think that screaming the same thing over and over is any kind of persuasive tactic?

Such actions are, in fact, the antithesis of what the university is meant to be about. One reason that intelligent, educated, civilized people do not spend their spare time screaming the same slogans over and over is that it is the opposite of intellectualism. It is the opposite of dialogue, inquiry, and rationalism—all things that the universities were meant to encourage. 

How did this happen?

One person who explained how it went wrong was the political philosopher and writer Allan Bloom, whom Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote about so beautifully for The Free Press last month. 

It is strange to think that Bloom’s masterpiece, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, is now almost four decades old. Bloom anticipated and diagnosed everything that is going wrong on campus today—in the 1980s. Of course, since then, the situation has only become worse. Indeed, when we recall the university of the 1980s and 1990s, it seems like a vague, halcyon memory that bears little, if any, resemblance to our current, more dire straits. (It is also a reminder that simply diagnosing a problem cannot by itself solve that problem.)

When I first read Bloom’s book almost 25 years ago, it made a huge impact. Bloom explained clearly and plainly things I already sensed were happening. I should add that my usual habit when reading is to have a pencil in my hand and underline passages that stand out to me. My copy of Bloom’s book is so heavily underlined that it would have been easier to have only not underlined the important parts.

But it got me fixed on Bloom, and I went on to read as much of his work as I could, including his translation of Plato’s Republic.

I would have given anything to have studied under him, but, sadly, he died in 1992, at just 62, and over the years I’ve had to make do with listening to the few lectures of his that are online. They are worth it. Bloom had a mesmerizing, languorous speaking style. One of his tics was picked up by his friend, the novelist Saul Bellow, in his fictional depiction of Bloom in Ravelstein. Bloom had a sort of stuttering tendency to say “the-a,” “the-a,” “the-a” before or between phrases—prompting the sharp-eared Martin Amis to point out that this made it nearly impossible to interrupt him.

In any case, there is a speech of Bloom’s that I think of often that captures the spirit of The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom gave the speech at DePauw University, in Indiana, in September 1987, just five months after the book was published. 

This post is for paying subscribers only


Already have an account? Log in

our Comments

Use common sense here: disagree, debate, but don't be a .

the fp logo
comment bg

Welcome to The FP Community!

Our comments are an editorial product for our readers to have smart, thoughtful conversations and debates — the sort we need more of in America today. The sort of debate we love.   

We have standards in our comments section just as we do in our journalism. If you’re being a jerk, we might delete that one. And if you’re being a jerk for a long time, we might remove you from the comments section. 

Common Sense was our original name, so please use some when posting. Here are some guidelines:

  • We have a simple rule for all Free Press staff: act online the way you act in real life. We think that’s a good rule for everyone.
  • We drop an occasional F-bomb ourselves, but try to keep your profanities in check. We’re proud to have Free Press readers of every age, and we want to model good behavior for them. (Hello to Intern Julia!)
  • Speaking of obscenities, don’t hurl them at each other. Harassment, threats, and derogatory comments that derail productive conversation are a hard no.
  • Criticizing and wrestling with what you read here is great. Our rule of thumb is that smart people debate ideas, dumb people debate identity. So keep it classy. 
  • Don’t spam, solicit, or advertise here. Submit your recommendations to if you really think our audience needs to hear about it.
Close Guidelines