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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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 ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A TREE ROLLS DOWN THE HILLSIDE

As you all know, I shall be attending the Women’s March in Washington DC this Saturday, the day after the Inauguration.  Rain is predicted for the Inauguration, but our march will have partly sunny weather.  A sign?  If a lightning bolt comes out of the rainy sky and kills Trump and whichever Supreme Court justice is administering the oath, that will be a sign.  Should that happen, I will forego my lifelong atheism and start attending mass. 

From time to time, I check in with the official webpage of the march to see what’s up. So-called Sister Marches will be held around the nation.  At last count, 386 Sister Marches are scheduled, and an “estimated” 735,070 people have said they will attend one or another of them [what it means to estimate something to the fifth place, I do not know.]  The Mother March, which I shall attend, now predicts roughly 200,000 attendees, so we are closing in on one million nationally.

This is huge, and this morning, as I walked, I ran over in my mind the various ways in which these marches will matter.  Let me remind you, by the way, of my oft-repeated observation that political change is like a landslide, not like brain surgery.  This does not yet qualify as a landslide, but it will certainly alter the hillside a bit.

The first and most obvious significance of the march will be its size relative to the crowd at the inauguration.  Crowd sizes are notoriously difficult to estimate, but if the nation-wide marches equal or surpass the Inauguration crowd, that will be the top story on television, and it will contribute to the delegitimation of Trump.  It doesn’t matter who marches. I guarantee that some of them will be people who voted for Trump, and some will probably be people who wandered in thinking it was a crowd going to a football game.  It does not matter.  It will be a thing, an event, one more uprooted tree rolling down the hillside.

The second importance of the marches will be their effect on already elected officials.  That many people marching in your district will have an impact.  Once again, it does not matter very much which slogans and signs the marchers carry.  Politics is a blunt instrument, rather like playing the piano with mittens on.  If a Representative has a big march in his or district, it will have an effect.  In Republican districts, it might even encourage a potential candidate to run for office.

And finally, the third and biggest significance of these marches is that they are recruiting tools for political action.  All across the country, they will put people in touch with one another who want to mobilize on the left.  Lists will be created, relationships established, ideas shared. 

As for me, I will be the old guy lingering on the fringes of the crowd, cheering from time to time and trying to take a few pictures with his cellphone.


I shall report when I get home.

MYSTIFICATION

Look, here's the thing.  I have already written about mystification.  What I have to say can be found in Chapters Two and Three of Moneybags Must Be So Lucky.  Speaking without a smidgen of false modesty, I will say that I think that little book is, pound for pound, the best thing I have ever written.  It is readily available with four mouse clicks:  First, a click on the link to box.net, then a click to get to Archived Essays and Tutorials, then a click to get to page two of the listed items, and finally a click to open the .pdf file of the entire little book.  It is really, really good.  If you are interested in mystification, take a look.  To make the medicine go down easier, by the way, I open Chapter Three with an old Jewish joke about Mrs. Feinschmeck's blintzes.  It is an easy read, as these things go.

Monday, January 16, 2017

IT IS A SIGN

Rain is predicted for noon in DC on Inauguration day, but no rain for the protest march the next day.  The number of people who say they are coming on the 21st is up to 194,000, and twice as many bus permits have been issued for that event as have been issued for the Inauguration itself.   Up to 700,000 people are expected at "sister marches" around the country, and there will be 55 marches overseas.  Donald Trump may turn out to be the best mobilizer of the Left ever.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

HOW TO RUIN A GOOD JOKE

Now that you have all had a chance to view the three minute clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, let me ruin it for you by explaining its deeper meaning [yes, Virginia, it has a deeper meaning.  For serious Marxists, everything has a deeper meaning.]  What makes the scene work, comedically, is the utter failure of the Anarcho-syndicalist cowflop collecting peasants to understand King Arthur, and his utter inability to understand them.  The source of the missed communication is that they exist at different stages in the historical development of the social relations of production, and hence their understanding of social reality is encoded in different and incompatible ideological rationalisations of the ruling class.  [of course, what also makes the scene work comedically is that the writers of the Monty Python sketches have pitch perfect senses of humor, but that goes without saying.]

The impossibility of someone living in Feudal England understanding the laws of motion of a capitalist economy also, by the way, demonstrates that the knowledge conditions posited by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice under what he calls the "veil of ignorance" are epistemologically incoherent, as I demonstrated in my book Understanding Rawls,  But the Monty Python crew, being essentially overgrown Oxbridge undergraduates, probably did not realize that.  [If they studied at Cambridge rather than Oxford, they might have taken their understanding of anarchism from my In Defense of Anarchism, because for some while it was required reading for the Moral Science Tripos.]

if you would like me to ruin one of your favorite Marx Brothers sketches, feel free to ask.

EVERYTHING I KNOW, IN ONE 3 MINUTE MONTY PYTHON CLIP

Watch this and you can skip my Marx lectures when I record them.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A STATEMENT BY PROFESSOR TOBIAS bARRINGTON wOLFF

Take a moment to think about what it must be like to be a Black American right now.

In 2008, after nearly 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow, resistance to integration and the rise of mass incarceration -- of America assaulting the dignity and bodies of Black people -- the country elects Barack Obama as President of the United States. He is a man who exemplifies many of the highest virtues of that office. He is brilliant, decent, moral and compassionate, a man who has spent his entire life in public service. And he goes on to have an extraordinary presidency. He is not perfect, to be sure. He has some shortcomings, makes some judgments that are debatable, exhibits some areas of moral compromise for the sake of expediency. But his bold action immediately upon taking office saves the United States from a catastrophic depression, his presidency is a transformative force for good in many ways, he and the First Lady display personal virtues that inspire the American public, and he consistently exhibits a grace and a calm under fire that most of us will never achieve.
Through it all, this singular and historic President is subjected to the most relentless torrent of hostility from his political detractors in the modern history of the office. They engage in scorched-earth nihilism, seeking to thwart his efforts at every turn even when he is advancing policies they have championed. They commit flagrant acts of disrespect that would have been unthinkable with previous Presidents. They encourage the extreme elements of their base to embrace open racism against him. The GOP responds to the first Black President, this talented man of virtue, by treating him like a trespasser.

And perhaps the single worst offender, an individual whose high-profile actions are a mix of outrage and clownishness, is the reality TV personality and con-man real-estate developer with the ill-fitting suits and the ill-fitting wives who whips up a fact-free fervor about the President's birth certificate, launching salvo after salvo at the legitimacy of the man's election by exploiting unease about his non-White skin and his non-White name. With gleeful disregard for the dignity of every person of color who sees him- or herself reflected in the First Family, this grifter demands an act of ritual humiliation from President Obama and then claims victory when the President finally produces his papers in order to spare other people the harm and expense that this campaign has produced.

And then that ugly clown of a man runs for President, basing his campaign on the worst forms of racist demagoguery and threats of mob violence. He is the single most unsuited, unfit, and unqualified candidate for President in the modern history of the office. He runs a campaign of shameless cruelty in which he defiles every virtue that President Obama has exemplified. And then White American elects the man to be President Obama's successor.

Imagine a people who have endured a four-hundred year history of indignity, cruelty, murder and torture, a history requiring the most extraordinary perseverance and faith in what is to come. Imagine the apotheosis of that perseverance and faith in the personages of Barack and Michelle Obama ascending to the highest House in the land and doing singular honor to that House -- the symbolic redemption of four centuries of suffering and struggle. Imagine holding firm to your dignity, following the Obamas' example, through eight years of unrelenting ugliness. And then imagine the worst perpetrator of that ugliness, a man who has not performed a day of public service in his life and has betrayed every virtue that the Obamas have championed, this sociopath who waged a campaign to humiliate President Obama because humiliation is the weapon he uses to shore up his pathetically fragile ego. Imagine a broken narcissist who has managed to turn cruelty and brutality into a pyramid scheme that allows him to live in luxury while inflicting wreckage on the people around him. Wrap your mind around the figure of that appalling human being who made it his mission to turn denigrating President Obama into a profitable brand.

And then imagine White America electing that degenerate thug to be President Obama's successor on an explicit campaign to undo all that President Obama has accomplished.

It should come as no surprise that Barbara LeeJohn LewisCory BookerKamala Harris and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are emerging as leading voices in the resistance to the compromised and illegitimate presidency of this appalling man. It should come as no surprise that William J. Barber, IITa-Nehisi Coates and Van Jones are emerging as leading voices in articulating an alternative vision for America. They do not have the luxury of failing to see what is in front of their eyes.

Take a moment to think about what it must be like to be a Black American right now. Then thank every Black American you know for having the courage and generosity to walk out their front doors each day. Ask for the wisdom of their experience as we organize to protect our values and preserve the rule of law in America.


LET US PAUSE TO TAKE STOCK

Barring a miraculous intervention by a thus far absent deity, Donald Trump will be inaugurated next Friday.  The focus of our attention needs to be on diminishing his ability to do harm.  Trump has already done great damage to this country, for example by nominating the despicable racist Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to be Attorney General.  The office of the President carries with it enormous power, and Trump will inherit that power in six days.  But there are a number of ways in which his power can be circumscribed or limited.  It might be useful to list some of them, simply to clear our minds and focus our efforts.

1.  Far and away the greatest power we have is the ability of the already elected Democrats [and, on occasion, a sprinkling of Republicans] simply to block or derail actions that require Congressional approval.  Our first effort, therefore, must be to bring all possible pressure to bear especially on the Democratic Senatorial caucus to stand firm.  They must filibuster any Supreme Court nomination -- anyone whom Trump might conceivably put forward.  The present 4-4 split is infinitely preferable to a return to a 5-4 right wing majority.  We must aso stiffen our representatives' resolve to oppose the dismantling of the social safety net.  I think if the Democrats stand absolutely united and force the Republicans to own all the damage they inflict, we may be able to block a good deal of it.

3.  Second, by all available evidence, we have an energized left wing in America that is eager to find ways to oppose Trump.  It is vital that this sentiment and energy be mobilized and channeled not only into protests but also into local support for candidates up and down the ballot.  If the mobilization is sufficient, it will encourage viable candidates to decide to run for office.  It is even conceivable that we could retake the House in 2018, which would completely alter the power balance in Washington.

3.  Although none of us, I assume, is able to contribute directly to the ridiculing and delegitimizing of Trump in the public sphere, we can hope that these efforts continue, because, as I have suggested in this space, that ridiculing will make it much more difficult for Trump to actually use the vast and cumbersome Administrative bureaucracy to accomplish his ends [assuming he actually has any ends, other than cozying up to the Russians and making money for himself.]

4.  What can each of us do today, this week, in the next month?  Well, as you know, I shall be flying up to Washington for the Women's March the day after Inauguration.  Few of us have the leisure and money for that sort of gesture, but there are satellite Women's Marches scheduled in many cities around the nation.  Try to go to one of those, if you happen to live in one of the cities where a coordinated demonstration is planned.  Choose an organization that speaks to your convictions and donate a bit, maybe only a few dollars on a monthly basis.  If, like me, you have the habit of stopping in to Starbucks for coffee and a biscotti, forego one such treat a month and donate the $5 you save to a political organization.  Write to or call your Senators and Representatives, urging them to act appropriately on whichever issue concerns you.  Again and again, I read that several hundred calls to a DC office make a disproportionate impression on Senators and Representatives.

Most important, get into the habit of doing these things.  We are at the very beginning of a long march.  It will take countless steps, repeated endlessly, to get us there.  A habit of small political actions is more effective than a single heroic gesture.