Bloom admires Nietzsche for his ‘profound philosophical reflection which broke with and buried the philosophical tradition’. Nietzsche finds that man is left without an overarching reason to be; that objective knowledge, truth and morality are all fictions. To both Nietzsche and Bloom, this is a profound problem. But to the countercultural American left of the 1960s onwards, it is seen as something to celebrate. Nietzsche and Bloom stare at the abyss in horror; American students say ‘party on dude!’. Bloom writes: ‘American nihilism is a mood, a mood of moodiness, a vague disquiet. It is nihilism without the abyss.’
This is what bothers Bloom about the left: they don’t truly appreciate Nietzsche. It is significant that Bloom’s chapter is called ‘The Nietzscheanisation of the left or vice versa’ (my italics). The left may have been informed by the insights of Nietzsche, but he in turn has been co-opted by the left’s leading representatives. Bloom is irked because they don’t struggle with the Nietzschean existential moment, and join him in re-establishing the questioning spirit of Socrates as a means of grappling with it.
This anti-Enlightenment, anti-modernity strain is a serious impediment to Bloom’s objective. He wants to uphold liberal education, and yet our modern notion of such an education was the product of the Enlightenment, of which he is highly suspicious.
I’ve long been aware of Bloom’s book as a touchstone in the culture wars, but I’ve never read it. I came away from one of Richard Schacht’s books with the impression that Bloom was just another reactionary critic of Nietzsche’s godless destructiveness, and never paid it much mind. But this review is intriguing throughout; I guess I’ll pick up the next copy I happen across.