Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Allen Bloom and Alan Keyes

Jon Rowe has written an absolute must-read essay on our favorite intrepid campaigner, Alan Keyes, and our favorite nihilist-who-sounds-like-a-fundamentalist philosopher, Allan Bloom. I was not aware until I read it that Keyes was the person that Bloom was referring to in his book The Closing of the American Mind, when he told the story of a black student at Cornell who had been threatened by radical black students and the administration would do nothing about it. In fact, other than the fact that they both are social conservatives, I had no idea that Keyes was a student of Bloom at all. As Rowe notes, this does make for a rather twisted situation.

Bloom, you see, was precisely the kind of person that Keyes rants and raves endlessly about – atheist in belief, homosexual in orientation, nihilist in philosophy, and hedonist in his personal life. But Bloom was also convinced that those beliefs were only safe among the elite and the initiated, that the masses needed religion to keep them in line and keep society docile and stable. In short, he supported the authoritarian policies espoused by men like Keyes (who presumably actually believes it) because he thought it was required to control the passions of others, while flaunting and violating what he publicly supported in his own life.

Am I the only one who finds this terribly fascinating? Here’s a question for my readers who are also fascinated by it, and by political philosophy in general: how many of our own founding fathers took a similar position? I think one can certainly make a case that Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Hamilton, at least, believed something very much like this, that religion was useful as a control on human passions regardless of whether it is true or not. I’d very much like to hear the thoughts of some of my readers on this one, especially Sandefur and shulamite, both of whom have a fairly obvious association with the Straussians.


  1. #1 eon
    August 23, 2004


    Are you planning on porting the comments on this thread from the old site?


  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    August 23, 2004

    Are you planning on porting the comments on this thread from the old site?

    I don’t know how I could import them directly, but what I may do is post a message with the text of all the replies attributed to the correct person so the discussion could continue over here. I’ll work on that tonight or tomorrow.

  3. #3 eon
    August 23, 2004

    Thanks, Ed.

    No rush; I’d just like to see revived what promised to be an interesting conversation.


  4. #4 DannyNoonan
    August 24, 2004

    I’m reminded of this quote by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. from “Sirens of Titan”:

    “It was Rumfoord’s intention that Mars should lose the war – that Mars should lose it foolishly and horribly. … He wished to change the World for the better by means of the great and unforgettable suicide of Mars.

    As he says in his Pocket History of Mars: “Any man who would change the World in a significant way must have showmanship, a genial willingness to shed other people’s blood, and a plausible new religion to introduce during the brief period of repentance and horror that usually follows bloodshed.” (p. 174)

  5. #5 Jonathan Long
    October 19, 2004

    “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

    One needn’t believe nakedness to be wrong just because he or she always wear cloths when out of the house and insist on others doing so. Clothes are a convention of civilized society. Similarly, one needn’t believe homosexuality to be wrong just because he or she espouses heterosexuality in to the public.

    We all curse. And we all tell our kids not to curse. Is this hypercritical? No! It’s socialization. It is teaching children that everything has its time and place.

    The truth is, we all know that our children are, or will soon be, cursing. Does this leave us believing that our children will have done something evil? No! A prohibition on cursing serves as a definer of social roles and boundaries. It divides the children from the grown-ups.

    Good manners and polite customs are the basis of civilization. They are arbitrary and meaningless (other than through knowledge revealed to us by parents and peers, who can prove that the showing one’s middle finger is bad?). We find it a pleasant curiosity to visit other cultures, in part, because we are amused by the difference in manners and customs. This does not at all mean that good manners are relative within our own culture. If you show up to work in a loin cloth you should be fired.

    The leap that most people are not willing to make is that every aspect of ethical behavior and morality is relative (without referring to any revealed knowledge, who can prove that murder is wrong?). This is a dangerous idea since many would use this as an excuse to kill their neighbors and steal their property. Only those who realize that killing and theft are detrimental to society should come to the realization that killing and theft are morally relative actions.

    Lest you think I am a closet killer, secretly killing people when I am not at work and out of public view, I should point out that all of us (with the exception of the true pacifist) accepts the idea of moral relativity when they support a just war or providing a defense attourney to someone we know good and well murdered someone.

    But how do we know when it is appropriate to curse or come out of the closet or kill our neighbor? The Bloom’s true heresy is that society can not answer these any of these questions for the individual. Society must impose social and ethical control on the uninitiated. And society must have a process for initiating individuals to become ethically mature citizens. This, Bloom argues, is the job of the university.

    Only through moral initiation (the process of soul searching thought and meditation) rather than moral instruction (by police or church) can man escape the bonds of societally imposed morality. And until one has done this, and unless one continues to do this at every moral juncture, the idea that morality is relative will tear society apart.

    Once we are initiated we are able to identify the higher morality implied in a just war and the social role that is played in protecting the rights of the accused. And we know the proper time and place to express ourselves freely.

    It is no more inconsistent to be an atheist, homosexual, nihilistic, hedonistic public figure to espouse a god-fearing, heterosexual, values-oriented, work ethic than it is to be a weekend nudist who wears a suit and tie to work everyday.

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