Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Food For Thought From Allan Bloom

The following is from Allan Bloom's book, "The Closing of the American Mind"; Simon and Shuster, New York, 1987.

"The very expression dignity of man, even when Pico della Mirandola coined it in the fifteenth century, had a blasphemous ring to it. Man as man had not been understood to be particularly dignified. God had dignity, and whatever dignity man had was because he was made in God's image (as well as from dust) or because he was the rational animal whose reason could grasp the whole of nature and hence was akin to that whole. But now the dignity of man has neither of those supports; and the phrase means that man is the highest of the beings, an assertion emphatically denied by both Aristotle and the Bible. Man is elevated and alone. If this is to be plausible, man must be free--not in the sense of ancient philosophy, according to which a free man is one who participates in a regime where he rules as well as is ruled; nor in the sense of Hobbes and Locke, according to whom a free man is one who can follow his reason without having to obey God or man--but free in a much grander sense, that of legistlating to himself and to nature, hence without guidance from nature.  
     The complement to and explanation of this view of freedom is creativity. We have become so accustomed to this word that it has no more effect on us than the most banal Fourth of July oratory. As a matter of fact it has become our Fourth of July oratory.  But when it was first used for man, it had the odor of blasphemy and paradox. God alone had been called a creator; and this was the miracle of miracles, beyond causality, a denial of the premise of all reason, ex nihilo nihil fit. What defines man is no longer his reason, which is but a tool for his preservation, but his art, for in art man can be said to be creative.  There he brings order to chaos.  The greatest men are not the knowers but the artists, the Homers, Dantes, Raphaels and Beethovens. Art is not imitation of nature but liberation from nature. A man who can generate visions of a cosmos and ideals by which to live is a genius, a mysterious, demonic being. Such a man's greatest work of art is himself.  He who can take his person, a chaos of impressions and desire, a thing whose very unity is doubtful, and give it order and unity, is a personality. All this results from the free activity of his spirit and his will. He contains in himself the elements of the legislator and the prophet, and has a deeper grasp of the true character of things than the contemplatives, philosophers, and scientists, who take the given order as permanent and fail to understand man. Such is the restoration of the ancient greatness of man against scientific egalitarianism, but how different he now looks!  All this new language is a measure of the difference; and reflection on how the Greeks would translate and articulate the phenomena it describes is the task of a lifetime, which would pay rich rewards in self-understanding...........

...........So the effects of Rousseau and his followers are everywhere around us, in the bloodstream of public opinion. Of course the use of words like "creativity" and "personality" does not mean that those who use them understand the thought that made their use necessary, let alone agree with it. The language has been trivialized. Words that were meant to describe and encourage Beethoven and Goethe are now applied to every school-child.  It is in the nature of democracy to deny no one access to good things. If those things are really not accessible to all, then the tendency is to deny the fact--simply to proclaim, for example, that what is not art is art.  There is in American society a mad rush to distinguish oneself, and, as soon as something has been accepted as distinguishing, to package it in such a way that everyone can feel included. Creativity and personality were intended to be terms of distinction. They were, as a matter of fact, intended to be the distinctions appropriate to egalitarian society, in which all distinction is theatened. The leveling of these distinctions through familiarity merely encourages self-satisfaction. Now that they belong to everyone, they can be said to mean nothing, both in common parlance and in the social science disciplines that use them as "concepts".  They have no specific content, are a kind of opiate of the masses.......".

(Part Two. Nihilism American Style; Creativity, pages 180-184)

And so we have spawned an entire generation of people who become contestants in tv singing contests, for example, who neither understand, nor accept, the reality that they have no musical talent no matter how much they choose to believe they do, who genuinely believe they have the right to be treated the same way as those who have true creative ability......we have an entire generation of people who define "equal rights" as the elimination of all distinctions, not understanding that to do so removes the meaning and celebration of their own particular distinctions and takes away their freedom to be who they truly are.  I'm just sayin'..... 

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