Opinion

Rock and roll suicide: How Allan Bloom killed conservatism

Photo of Mark Judge
Mark Judge
Author, A Tremor of Bliss

Almost 25 years ago, a catastrophe befell American conservatism. University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom wrote about rock and roll.

His words came in the book “The Closing of the America Mind,” which was published in 1987 and became a bestseller and cultural touchstone. Most of “The Closing of the American Mind” is brilliant, a careful and poetically delightful assessment of the takeover of academia and American culture by Marxism and nihilism. Its upcoming 25th anniversary should get it a new round of attention.

Sadly, Bloom included rock and roll in his critique. In doing so, he 1) embraced Marxism, 2) failed to recognize one of the 20th century’s great art forms, 3) banished conservatives to a cultural wilderness from which they have yet to emerge, and 4) made it seem like the right doesn’t care about the soul.

By far my favorite passage in “Closing” is the following. It’s a bit long, and I spent a couple days trying to figure out where to trim it. But that’s like trying to chip a few inches off of Michelangelo’s “David.” I also have found that reading this passage can be a therapeutic, yogic exercise. You just say it out loud while standing at attention and facing Graceland:

Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse. That is why Ravel’s Bolero is the one piece of classical music that is commonly known and liked by them.

In alliance with some real art and a lot of pseudo-art, an enormous industry cultivates the taste for the orgiastic state of feeling connected with sex, providing a constant flood of fresh material for voracious appetites. Never was there an art form directed so exclusively to children.

Ministering to and according with the arousing and cathartic music, the lyrics celebrate puppy love as well as polymorphous attractions, and fortify them against traditional ridicule and shame. The words implicitly and explicitly describe bodily acts that satisfy sexual desire and treat them as its only natural and routine culmination for children who do not yet have the slightest imagination of love, marriage or family. This has a much more powerful effect than does pornography on youngsters, who have no need to watch others do grossly what they can so easily do themselves. Voyeurism is for old perverts; active sexual relations are for the young. All they need is encouragement.

The inevitable corollary of such sexual interest is rebellion against the parental authority that represses it. Selfishness thus becomes indignation and then transforms itself into morality. The sexual revolution must overthrow all the forces of domination, the enemies of nature and happiness. From love comes hate, masquerading as social reform. A worldview is balanced on the sexual fulcrum. What were once unconscious or half-conscious childish resentments become the new Scripture. And then comes the longing for the classless, prejudice-free, conflict-less, universal society that necessarily results from liberated consciousness — “We Are the World,” a pubescent version of Alle Menschen werden Brueder, the fulfillment of which has been inhibited by the political equivalents of Mom and Dad. These are the three great lyrical themes: sex, hate and a smarmy, hypocritical version of brotherly love. Such polluted sources issue in a muddy stream where only monsters can swim. A glance at the videos that project images on the wall of Plato’s cave since MTV took it over suffices to prove this. Hitler’s image recurs frequently enough in exciting contexts to give one pause. Nothing noble, sublime, profound, delicate, tasteful or even decent can find a place in such tableaux. There is room only for the intense, changing, crude and immediate, which Tocqueville warned us would be the character of democratic art, combined with a pervasiveness, importance and content beyond Tocqueville’s wildest imagination.

Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.

Ole! Virtually every word of it is wrong, but it was the part of “The Closing of the American Mind” that got the most attention. Robert Asahina, Bloom’s editor at Simon and Schuster, shrewdly convinced Bloom to put the music chapter up front in the book, where it would get the most attention. The book became a sensation and something of holy writ for conservatives.

  • toomuchinfo

    I love good music too much to have been swayed by Bloom, but always enjoyed his books and essays. He did make me think. I loved his Republic and Emile as well. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Judge. Now I know I was right.

  • J Baustian

    I enjoy rock music, sometimes, some of it. But I recognize that Bloom was mostly right and Judge is mostly wrong. Judge’s perspective covers a few decades, while Bloom’s transcended millennia.

  • mdvirgilio

    Liberals love to point out how the younger demographic tends to be more liberal. But young people get older, take on more responsibilities, start families, and tend to become less stupid and thus less liberal and more conservative.

  • Alex 0_0

    I swear reading Judge is like visiting a retirement home. Some 1987 book about “rock and roll, MTV and Walkmans” is the reason Republicans are unpopular with 2/3 people born after 1980? Hint: that’s not the reason.

    • MarkJudge

      You’re not going to win the gay argument by calling everyone who disagrees with you old. Ironically, it is this tactic itself that has gotten old. Sure, younger people are more liberal on these issues. But that doesn’t make them reasonable or right.

      • Alex 0_0

        You’re the one seeing ‘gay’ everywhere. There is no argument here, you just sound ancient when you site an 23yo book as the cause of your 25 year-long “cultural exile.” Bloom is totally irrelevant except for the fact that you dusted off your grad school copy and decided to nostaligiate about it.

        have you read Ravelstein? It describes Bloom’s last days, full of lament for cultural decline….

        • MarkJudge

          Sigh. Learn another pitch.

          • Alex 0_0

            Sigh. Look yourself up in actuarial tables.

  • lonecracker

    This sounds more like a description of rap with its lewd lyrics(?) than rock and roll. As anybody can tell you, rock and roll is just good clean fun compared to rap and hip hop. If indeed rock and roll is about sexuality, then rap and hip hop are about degradation and the coarsening of culture. My, my, what would Tocqueville have to say about rap and hip hop? Most of what Bloom says is horse manure.

  • fabricejensen

    Ahem. The paranoid conspiracy theory laden rest of the book is just as ridiculous as the rock-n-roll part.

    The book harmed Conservatism for the same reason the Tea Party is harming it today. By taking seriously loopy theories and abusing terms such as Marxism or Nihilism.

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