A quarter century ago, in The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom wrote:
This popularization of German philosophy in the United States is of peculiar interest to me because I have watched it occur during my own intellectual lifetime, and I feel a little like someone who knew Napoleon when he was six. I have seen value relativism and its concomitants grow greater in the land than anyone imagined. Who in 1920 would have believed that Max Weber’s technical sociological terminology would someday be the everyday language of the United States, the land of the Philistines, itself in the meantime become the most powerful nation in the world? The self-understanding of hippies, yippies, yuppies, panthers, prelates and presidents has unconsciously been formed by German thought of a half-century earlier; Herbert Marcuse’s accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsch label has been replaced by a Made in America label; and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family.
That paragraph was preceded by a personal observation from Bloom:
A few years ago I chatted with a taxi driver in Atlanta who told me he had just gotten out of prison, where he served time for peddling dope. Happily he had undergone “therapy.” I asked him what kind. He responded, “All kinds— depth-psychology, transactional analysis, but what I liked best was Gestalt.” Some of the German ideas did not even require English words to become the language of the people. What an extraordinary thing it is that high-class talk from what was the peak of Western intellectual life, in Germany, has become as natural as chewing gum on American streets. It indeed had its effect on this taxi driver. He said that he had found his identity and learned to like himself. A generation earlier he would have found God and learned to despise himself as a sinner. The problem lay with his sense of self, not with any original sin or devils in him. We have here the peculiarly American way digesting Continental despair. It is nihilism with a happy ending.
Flash-forward to this weekend, where in “Mark Joseph Stern’s Immaculate Conception,” Rod Dreher of the American Conservative catches a puffed-up Slate columnist exulting on Thanksgiving that he without sin:
The effortlessly humble Mark Joseph Stern, who writes about homosexuality for Slate, wrote a Thanksgiving column saying how happy happy happy he is to be gay. Excerpt:
What if I had been straight, and I had gone really, really wrong? What if, given the privilege of heterosexuality, I turned against all the vulnerable and disadvantaged people, who, as a gay man, I inherently empathize with? As part of my job, I regularly read the writings of people in whom something has broken or withered—people who have lost the ability to see the humanity in others. I put myself in the mindset of people who dehumanize and vilify and hate. I become intimately acquainted with the twisted beliefs of those who, encountering a person they don’t quite understand, lash out with cruel loathing and immoral rage.
Because I am gay, it is basically impossible for me to become one of these people.
Yes, because he is gay, Mark Joseph Stern was born without original sin. Mark Joseph Stern cannot, by definition, dehumanize, vilify, and hate anybody. He could never lash out with cruel loathing and immoral rage.
Except when he’s savaging the interesting 23-year-old gay writer Brandon Ambrosino, when he was had been hired by Vox.com:
Read the whole thing. If he was still living, I wonder what Bloom would have made of the above quote, or of an American embracing a rookie senator running for the White House who when asked in 2004 by a Chicago Sun-Times reporter covering religion-themed topics, “What is sin?” memorably responded, “Being out of alignment with my values.”