The year of the stock market crash, 1987, was also the year of the intellectual crisis. Afterward the stock market seemed to right itself, but that can’t be said about the world of thought. Intellectual crises tend to be that way. Disorientation is never momentary.
The intellectual crisis has been amazingly
widespread. The debates over curriculum at Stanford and Duke universities, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural Literacy with its famous list of five thousand items every educated person is supposed to know—these show the crisis merely in its American pedagogical form. The debate in France over Martin Heidegger and his Nazi enthusiasms (conducted in an endless number of books and articles), along with the debate in this country over Paul de Man, reveals a deeper philosophical version of the same crisis, since the sudden worry about Nazi backgrounds bespeaks, I think, a loss of confidence in several of the main ideas that pass as most “advanced.”...
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