Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbU3yW2xIGE
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wASCruPzPY
LECTURE THREE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGrsAGh2tzE
LECTURE FOUR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWvboYpmhgs
LECTURE FIVE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL2dcCaCKDk
LECTURE SIX: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Y6L1CvJKR4
LECTURE SEVEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV9qoyhEUUQ
LECTURE EIGHT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uh7ZpefUxiQ
LECTURE NINE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Npu_rxNLw0
LECTURE TEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nn7K-WFRIYA



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Thursday, August 25, 2016

MILESTONES

It is my understanding that “blog” is a contraction of “web log,” which carries with it the implication that a blog will be someone’s account of matters personal.  This blog, for the most part, has failed at that effort, including instead extended discussions of intellectual and political topics that can only by the loosest construction be called “personal.”  Still and all, I feel a certain residual obligation to adopt the confessional voice, so I am happy to announce that today Susie and I mark our twenty-ninth anniversary.  We shall celebrate by trying out a restaurant called St. Jacques in Raleigh that bills itself as offering authentic French cuisine.  Inasmuch as it is located in a mall, I am perhaps understandably a trifle skeptical, but the on-line menu does list frogs’ legs, which Susie particularly likes, so perhaps the evening will go well.

Twenty-nine years is a good run, but hardly remarkable.  Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that later on in the fall, we shall reach the sixty-eighth anniversary of our first date.  I was fourteen and smitten with the pretty girl sitting at the desk in front of me in home room in Forest Hills High School.  I got up the courage to ask her out on a date [a revival of Marcel Pagnol’s pre-war film C├ęsar], and we went steady for five years.  It then took me another thirty-two years to marry her. 


Nobody ever accused me of being a fast worker.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

OUR REVOLUTION

Like Chris and others, I am disturbed by the turmoil in Bernie's new organization, even though I  agree completely with I. Wallerstein's diagnosis of the Left.  I am not fearful that some big donations from left-wing billionaires will soil the purity of the movement.  That way of thinking is essentially religious and I have no patience with it.  Rather, I think Weaver is misreading the nature of the movement he is attempting to fund.  Bernie's run for the Democratic Party nomination demonstrated convincingly that in a huge rich country like America, it is quite possible to raise all the money one needs for a movement or a political campaign from on-line contributions by small donors, so long as their level of enthusiasm is sufficiently high.  Five million faithful donors giving ten dollars a month will contribute six hundred million dollars a year, year after year, more than enough to underwrite a real Progressive movement.  If a fifty million dollar buy-in from a billionaire chills that enthusiasm, it could easily cost two or three times as much in lost donations.

I was equally disturbed by the unrepresentative character of the top leadership of the new movement.  Bernie failed to win the nomination because he could not draw a healthy share of the non-White Primary vote.  The eggregious Wasserman-Schultz had nothing to do with it.  If Bernie has not learned that lesson, then he is a very flawed vessal. 

However [or "that said," the latest talking-head cant phrase], in the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the army you have.  Bernie is the best thing to come along in a generation, warts and all, and I plan to support him as best I can.  When I get to heaven, I will hold out for perfection.

To quote yet another of my favorite TV opinion makers -- Kermit the Frog -- it's not easy being green.

OTOH

This is.

UH OH

This is not good.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED?

Clinton is far enough ahead to begin to put together her transition team.  This story tells us all we need to know.  It is a team straight out of the old Bill Clinton Democratic Leadership Committee, the folks who brought us NAFTA and mass incarceration and Don't Ask Don't Tell and are on board with fracking and TTP.  In short, a Clinton presidency will be exactly what we anticipated.  Which makes all the more important a vibrant progressive movement to elect as many leftie Senators and Representatives as possible and to keep the pressure on the White House.

Donald Trump must be defeated, but that will be the beginning of our efforts, not the end.

I am weary.  If I may quote the Bible, as is my wont, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from me."  [Matthew 26:39.]

Monday, August 22, 2016

IDLE SPECULATION ON A SLOW MONDAY

If recent cycles are any evidence, we can expect roughly 130 million people to vote in this election.  They will constitute about 60% of eligible voters.  In off years, when there is no presidential contest, roughly 40% of eligible voters vote.  Therefore simple math tells us that 43 million or so of those expected to vote this year are what Donald Trump would call “low energy” voters, people who cannot be counted on to turn out in off years.  Experience also teaches us that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to vote in off-year elections.  That is why the Democrats keep winning the White House but nevertheless lose the House big time [leaving aside gerrymandering and residential clustering].  Let us take a flying guess, powered by nothing but unfettered imagination, and assume therefore that 23 or 24 million of those 43 million low energy fair weather voters are Democrats and the remaining 19 or 20 million are Republicans.

Conventional wisdom among professional bean counters has it that House incumbents can hope to run six or eight points in their district ahead of a losing presidential candidate of their party, but that they are not likely to survive a “wave” election in which the presidential candidate of the opposing party wins by as much as ten percentage points.  This far out, it is difficult to predict, but the polls suggest that this year is shaping up as a 5-7 or 6-8 point victory for Clinton, more than enough for a big Electoral College win but not a wave that could be expected to win back the House.

HOWEVER:  Suppose the polls are misleading, in the following way.  There might be a rather large group of Republican voters who find Trump unacceptably distasteful but would never consider voting for Clinton.  Asked their preference now by a pollster, they might grimace and select Gary Johnson [the Libertarian Party candidate] or simply say “don’t know.”  When polled about Senate or House races, they will choose the Republican.  If these folks are reliable off-year voters, then they will show up even if they hate their presidential choices and, while they are in the voting booth, they will vote for down-ticket Republican candidates.  But some of them will be “low energy” voters who may not bother to turn out this year if they are sufficiently turned off by Trump, and their votes will be lost to the down ballot Republican candidates.


QUESTION:  Will there be enough of these lost votes to turn a 5-7 or 6-8 point Clinton win into a down ballot wave that wins the House back for the Democrats?  We had better hope so, because the fate of all the progressive legislation we yearn for depends on it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

DUMBED DOWN

I have several times observed on this blog that the rise of modern social science can be viewed as a series of brilliant attempts by imaginative thinkers to wrest interesting and important insights from materials considered at the time to be beneath the notice of serious scholars.  The first example of this phenomenon is the development of economic theory by Adam Smith and others in the eighteenth century.  The “higgling and jiggling of the market place,” as Smith called the bargaining over the price of commodities, was widely thought to be infra dignitate, but Smith and his successors, most notably Ricardo and then Marx, wrested from this unpromising material theories of great power, beauty, and world historical significance.  E. B. Tylor transmuted the popular reports of seventeenth and eighteenth century South Sea travelers into the discipline of Anthropology.  Freud made dreams, jokes and slips of the tongue a highway to the unconscious.  And literary scholars, long restricting themselves to the elevated genres of poetry and tragedy, descended into popular culture to find profundity and beauty in the novels that served as light amusement for the middle classes.

With all of these inspiring exempla, I feel that I ought to be able to find Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the daily reports of the current political campaign, or at least – as Esther Terry, my friend and former Chair of the W. E. B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies, would have put it – to make Chicken Salad out of chicken shit. 

But I do not have the greatness of spirit that allowed Smith, Tylor, Durkheim, Freud and so many others to transmute the commonplace into the ennobled.  This political cycle, I fear, is making me stupid.  Day after day, I listen to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – and Joe Scarborough and Mika Bzrezinski and Chuck Todd and all the other commentators and surrogates and opinion makers – and my mind turns to sludge.  Each morning, as I walk, I try out in my head themes for a daily blog post, striving for insight, for depth, or at least for wit, and like as not I come up short.  The election is too important to ignore, but too debased to inspire.

This morning, I carried out elaborate mental numerical calculations in aid of a hopeful revision of Sam Wang’s rather discouraging discussion, but by the time I had returned home, my elaborate bandwagon and parade of facts and figures had dwindled to “just a horse and a cart on Mulberry Street.”

This too shall pass, as in fact it does not say in the Good Book.