Here's the Prologue and the Table of Contents. You can see that it incorporates a lot of material from this blog.
Augustine’s City of God
"But the students who have succeeded that generation of the late fifties and early sixties, when the culture leeches, professional and amateur, began their great spiritual bleeding, have induced me to wonder whether my conviction--the old Great Books conviction--was correct. That conviction was that nature is the only thing that counts in education, that the human desire to know is permanent, that all it really needs is the proper nourishment, and that education is merely putting the feast on the table. At the very least, it is clear to me now that nature needs the cooperation of convention, just as man's art is needed to found the political order that is the condition of his natural completeness. At worst, I fear that spiritual entropy or an evaporation of the soul's boiling blood is taking place, a fear that Nietzsche thought justified and made the center of all his thought. He argued that the spirit's bow was being unbent and risked being permanently unstrung. Its activity, he believed, comes from culture, and the decay of culture meant not only the decay of man in this culture but the decay of man simply. This is the crisis he tried to face resolutely: the very existence of man as man, as a noble being, depended on him and on men like him--so he thought. He may not have been right, but his case looks stronger all the time. . . . The soil is ever thinner, and I doubt whether it can now sustain the taller growths." (51)So Bloom doubts the Great Books appeal to nature and the permanent natural desire to know. He fears the cultural flattening of the human soul that was at the center of all Nietzsche's thought, and he understands Nietzsche's concern that the creation of a new nobility would require philosophic creators like himself. Without openly embracing Nietzsche's position, Bloom points in that direction: "He may not have been right, but his case looks stronger all the time." Originally, Bloom wanted the title of his book to be Souls Without Longing, and his book is all about the Nietzschean lament that liberal democratic culture has created people with flat souls, and that the creation of a new nobility requires creating a new culture of noble values.
"I do not believe that my generation, my cousins who have been educated in the American way, all of whom are M.D.s or Ph.D.s, have any comparable learning. When they talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing but clichés, superficialties, the material of satire. I am not saying anything so trite as that life is fuller when people have myths to live by. I mean rather that a life based on the Book is closer to the truth, that it provides the material for deeper research in and access to the real nature of things. Without the great revelations, epics and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there, and eventually little left inside. The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished." (60)Notice that the Bible is identified here not as a divine revelation of truth but as only one of many "revelations" or "epics" without which "there is nothing to see out there." As Jaffa observed, "to say that without books there is nothing to see is nihilism" ("Humanizing Certitudes and Impoverishing Doubts," 117). But then, as Jaffa noticed, Bloom contradicts this nihilism by referring to "natural vision" and "the real nature of things," a contradiction that runs throughout Bloom's book.
"Stripping away the illusions about values was required, so Nietzsche thought, by our situation, to disenchant all misleading hopes of comfort or consolation, thereby to fill the new creators with awe and the awareness that everything depends on them. Nihilism is a dangerous but necessary and a possibly salutary stage in human history. In it man faces his true situation. It can break him, reduce him to despair and spiritual or bodily suicide. But it can hearten him to a reconstruction of a world of meaning. Nietzsche's works are a glorious exhibition of the soul of a man who might, if anybody can, be called creative. They constitute the profoundest statement about creativity, by a man who had a burning need to understand it." (198)In understanding philosophy not as the will to truth but as the will to power, as the artistic creation of values through creating culture, Nietzsche must overturn the Socratic understanding of philosophy as the quest to know the truth about nature.
"Nietzsche's psychology concerns the impulse toward God, for in that impulse the self arrays and displays all its powers; and his influence brought a new burst of religious interest, if not religion, to the intellectual world. God is myth, Nietzsche taught. Myths are made by poets. This is just what Plato says in the Republic, and for him it is equivalent to a declaration of war between philosophy and poetry. The aim of philosophy is to substitute truth for myth (which by its very definition is falsehood, a fact too often forgotten in our post-Nietzschean fascination with myth). Since myths are thee first and give men their first opinions, philosophy means a critical destruction of myth in favor of truth for the sake of freedom and living naturally. Socrates, as depicted in the Platonic dialogues, questioning and confuting the received opinions, is the model of the philosophic life; and his death at the hands of his countrymen for not believing in their myths epitomizes the risks of philosophy. Nietzsche drew precisely the opposite conclusion from the same facts about myth. There is no nature and no such freedom. The philosopher must do the contrary of what Socrates did. So Nietzsche is the first philosopher ever to have attacked Socrates, because Socrates' life is not the model life, but a coruupt and monstrous one lacking in all nobility. The tragic life, which Socrates defused and purged, is the serious life. The new philosopher is the ally of the poets and their savior, or philosophy is itself the highest kind of poetry. Philosophy in the old mode demythologizes and demystifies. It has no sense of the sacred; and by disenchanting the world and uprooting man, it leads into the void. The revelation that philosophy finds nothingness at the end of its quest informs the new philosopher that mythmaking must be his central concern in order to make a world." (208)But even as Bloom sets up this conflict between Socrates and Nietzsche, he also hints that they might have been in fundamental agreement about philosophy as a creative art. He identifies Socrates as "the complementary man" (268). This unusual expression is Nietzsche's term in Beyond Good and Evil (section 207) for the value-creating philosopher. Unlike the "objective spirit" of a scholar, who is only a mirror of reality and who "does not command," the true philosopher is a "complementary man," who is "the Caesarian cultivator and power-man of culture." (If Strauss thought Socrates was actually a Nietzschean philosopher, that would explain why he put his essay on Nietzsche at the center of his Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy.)
"Liberal education is the counterpoison to mass culture, to the corroding effects of mass culture. . . . Liberal education is the ladder by which we try to ascend from mass democracy to democracy as originally meant. Liberal education is the necessary endeavor to found an aristocracy within democratic mass society. Liberal education reminds those members of a mass democracy who have ears to hear of human greatness." (LAM, 5)After the publication of this lecture, Strauss was asked by The Fund for Adult Education to prepare another essay on "Liberal Education and Responsibility" that would explain what he meant in the preceding passage about liberal education being the effort "to found an aristocracy within democratic mass society."
"The philosopher as philosopher is responsible to the city only to the extent that by doing his own work, by his own well-being, he contributes to the well-being of the city: philosophy has necessarily a humanizing or civilizing effect. The city needs philosophy, but only mediately or indirectly, not to say in a diluted form. Plato has presented this state of things by comparing the city to a cave from which only a rough and steep ascent leads to the light of the sun: the city as city is more closed to philosophy than open to it." (LAM, 15)Similar to this ancient conception of the mixed regime is the modern republicanism manifest in The Federalist Papers. "In the best case, Hamilton's republic will be ruled by the men of the learned professions. This reminds one of the rule of the philosophers, but only reminds one of it. Will the men of the learned professions at least be men of liberal education? It is probable that the men of the learned professions will chiefly be lawyers" (LAM, 17).
"Just as liberal education in its original sense was supported by classical philosophy, so the new education derives its support, if not its being, from modern philosophy. According to classical philosophy, the end of the philosophers is radically different from the end or ends actually pursued by the nonphilosophers. Modern philosophy comes into being when the end of philosophy is identified with the end which is capable of being actually pursued by all men. More precisely, philosophy is now asserted to be essentially subservient to the end which is capable of being actually pursued by all men. . . . In this respect, the modern conception of philosophy is fundamentally democratic. The end of philosophy is now no longer what one may call disinterested contemplation of the eternal, but the relief of man's estate. . . . Philosophy or science was no longer an end in itself, but in the service of human power, or a power to be used for making human life longer, healthier, and more abundant." (LAM, 19-20)Originally, in the seventeenth century, this modern project of Enlightenment was executed by "the philosopher-scientist" working through "enlightened princes." (Here Strauss was implicitly referring to Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes.) But since then, Strauss indicated, philosophy and science have been separated, so that philosophers do not need to be scientists, and scientists do not need to be philosophers. Science has become supreme in its authority, although it no longer has any essential connection to wisdom.
"What then are the prospects for liberal education within mass democracy? What are the prospects for the liberally educated to become again a power in democracy? We are not permitted to be flatterers of democracy precisely because we are friends and allies of democracy. While we are not permitted to remain silent on the dangers to which democracy exposes itself as well as human excellence, we cannot forget the obvious fact that by giving freedom to all, democracy also gives freedom to those who care for human excellence. No one prevents us from cultivating our garden or from setting up outposts which may come to be regarded by many citizens as salutary to the republic and as deserving of giving to it its tone. . . . We are indeed compelled to be specialists, but we can try to specialize in the most weighty matters or, to speak more simply and more nobly, in the one thing needful. As matters stand, we can expect more immediate help from the humanities rightly understood than from the sciences, from the spirit of perceptivity and delicacy than from the spirit of geometry. If I am not mistaken, this is the reason why liberal education is now becoming almost synonymous with the reading in common of the Great Books. No better beginning could have been made." (LAM, 24)Reading Strauss's essays on liberal education brings to mind at least five questions that also come up in the reading of Bloom and Deresiewicz.