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7.11.15

The idea of a crisis of the Enlightenment is not the sole product of Allen Bloom. [I think the original person that noticed it was Max Weber.]
The problem of this crisis was the main subject of Allen Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind.

I think that book is  a major masterpiece and recommend it for everyone. In any case the basic idea was there were two opposing currents of the Enlightenment. And these two opposing currents came to collide in the USA in the lifetime of Allen Bloom. That is the idea of this book in a nutshell.
This same problem was faced by Max Weber.


One part of the Enlightenment was give everyone education (i.e. enlightenment). Teach them reason, and then Utopia will result. And make governments do this. The Enlightenment  was an attempt to take power from Kings and the Priest and give it to the intellectuals.
The other part of the Enlightenment was the intellectual revolt against  reason, a celebration of subjective will and intuition, and a neo-Romantic longing for spiritual wholesomeness.
So far I have said nothing new. Just read Allen Bloom and Max Weber.


The Middle Ages were in spirit was very different from everything that came before or after. It is a time that is almost impossible to understand. And yet one thing stands out from that time--the attempt to combine reason with spiritual wholeness.  This same attempts still continues today in Lithuanian yeshivas. We know learning Rishonim [Mediaeval authorities] has always been the bedrock of Lithuanian yeshivas. Recently this idea has gained in force by the example of some yeshivas that expressly commit to this approach and on purpose avoid Achronim (anyone after the Middle Ages). In some places you can see a similar approach  when then spend their efforts on Thomas Aquinas.  In any case Allen Bloom certainly noticed this because he mentioned in his book that some of his relatives who were observant Jews had as much and better understanding of life and the world just based on their reading the Old Testament and Talmud as others who read the New York Times. But Allen Bloom's answer was to tell people to learn the Republic of Plato and other great books. This seems to me to  lack the numinous, and holy aspect that makes something compelling as opposed to mere intellectual exercise.

The reason Allen Bloom did not think going back to the Middle Ages was a good idea was because of the very problems themselves that had produced the conditions  and problems which made the Enlightenment necessary.  What happens in practice is ad hoc justice, ad hoc adjudication. and widespread injustice. If laws are not equal for all, then they become very unequal. 

The model I have thought best is a kind of continuation of the Rambam approach. The Rambam thought learning Torah was a necessary prerequisite for learning Physics and Metaphysics. That is he saw learning (not knowing) Physics and Metaphysics as the fulfillment of the commandments to love and fear God. But that they don't accomplish this with the proper background of the Oral and Written Law. That is the approach that I take myself even though I have never seen anyone take Rambam approach  seriously. I simply decided not to wait until others wake up. [I am not claiming expertise in any of these fields. Rather it is just my claim that it is proper and important to spend time each day in each of these three areas.]

This longing for spiritual wholeness I think explains the Baal Teshuva movement, and the widespread revolt against reason in those circles and in fact the general seeking of spirituality we see since the 1960's. I certainly have seen my share of this in different cults.