GIANTS AND DWARFS: Essays: 1960-1990 by Allan Bloom

GIANTS AND DWARFS: Essays: 1960-1990

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Variations in the key of Bloom. Eighteen learned--often brilliant--but harping philosophical essays, most published in assorted journals before Bloom's 1987 bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind. Here again, the Univ. of Chicago professor demands that we read ""books of the wise men"" and ""search for the lost, profound possibilities of human life."" A fiery self-defense addressed to ""Fellow elitists"" at Harvard in 1988 denounces the American university's retreat from ""Eurocentrism"" and argues that ""the true canon aggregates around the most urgent questions we face."" (""The quarrel is not about Western and non-Western but about the possibility of philosophy."") So goes the intellectual battle, more pressing now, Bloom contends, as Eastern European revolutionaries are ""breaking the chain of a barbarous jargon."" After this opening, Bloom offers enlightening readings of two Plato dialogues, The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, Rousseau's Emile, and Gulliver's Travels (the source of his title). A teacher, he writes vividly of his own teachers--Leo Strauss, Alexandre Kojeve, and Raymond Axon (""the last of the liberals""). Then he turns to ""the fate of books in our times,"" with a critique of John Rawls' Theory of Justice, and essays on the crises in political philosophy and education. Powerful and persuasive is his constant call to keep the university as ""the highest expression of liberal democracy and a condition of its perpetuation."" But often he goes too far. Read The Prince as though it was contemporary, he insists, seeming to deny the possibility that modern scholarship could look at Machiavelli under any new light. Calling Tocqueville ""the last delicate bloom of that brilliant aristocracy of the ancien rÉgime,"" he offers to the present an image compelling, yet impossibly distant. Again and again in this impressive scholarly collection, Bloom sounds his theories, like a Greek chores. Disciples will savor the record of his evolving thought, but the rest may wish for a plainer, more accessible debate.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1990
Publisher: Simon & Schuster