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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.
NEW: A Collection of Pebbles from The Philosopher's Stone
Volume I: 2009 Now Available at box.net
Volume II: 2010 Now Available at box.net
Volume III: 2011 Now available at box.net
Volume IV: 2012 Now available at box.net

Total Pageviews

Sunday, August 30, 2015

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP

Scott Walker, Governor of a state that shares Lake Superior with Canada, was asked by a mischievous reporter whether he thought the United States should build a wall on the Canadian border.  Walker got that constipated look on his face that he thinks signals deep thought and said that the question deserved serious consideration

Chris Christie, the fat bully floundering in single digit land in the Republican presidential race, suggested that undocumented Hispanic immigrants should be kept track of the way Federal Express keeps track of packages -- presumably with bar codes tattooed on their arms.

I think it is time to reverse Clint Eastwood's decline into senility and prop him up as the sane alternative to the current crop of clowns.  There are worse things than talking to an empty chair.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

YOU CAN TAKE IT TO THE BANK

One of the less appealing characteristics of the blogosphere is its ephemeral nature.  Posted today, out of mind tomorrow.   Had Abraham Lincoln blogged the Gettysberg Address, his famous disclaimer, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here," might have been literally true.

There is nothing to be gained from fighting the zeitgeist, but I am going to make a prediction about Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential campaign, and I invite you to recall it in twelve months' time in order to judge whether I am correct.

Here it is:  If Donald Trump is nominated by the Republican Party next July [no longer an Alternative World impossibility], I predict that he will move sharply and unapologetically to the center of the political spectrum, rediscovering his Pro-Choice inner self, embracing the undocumented eleven million, calling for higher taxes on financial types, and leaving Hillary Clinton no room to move to her right.

Why do I make this apparently implausible prediction?  Because Trump is a deal-maker with absolutely no ideological convictions whatsoever.  When he was wheeling and dealing in New York City, which is a Democratic town, he was a Pro-Choice Democrat in favor of universal health care -- whatever it took to get his foot in the door and make his deals.  Now that he is running for the Republican nomination, he is the scourge of the undocumented, ready to round them up and throw them out of the country with their citizen children.

My first father-in-law was a bush-league version of this sort of business man -- a chameleon who was a Vice-President of Sears, Roebuck, Chair of the Catholic Boy Scouts of America and a Knight of Malta, and yet could chat with David Riesman at  my wedding reception as though he had been a Harvard Square leftie all his life.

Trump is a hollow man without convictions or even prejudices, but he is no fool, and he will immediately discern where the votes lie.

Just wait. You'll see.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

FAIRY DUST


Bernie Sanders is not on track to win the Democratic Primary race for the Presidential nomination.  He will win a good many delegates, he will compel Clinton to talk substantively about topics she would rather slide around, he will warm the hearts of all good lefties, but he will simply not pile up enough delegates to win the nomination. 

It is not entirely clear that Bernie Sanders really desperately wants to win the Democratic nomination.  Now mind, I do not hold this against him.   Quite to the contrary.  Wanting desperately to be president is not a particularly admirable character trait.  It is a character trait that has been shared by some of the most despicable people in American public life.  But be that as it may, I am not sure Bernie has this particular fire in his belly.  Still and all, let us suppose that he really does want to be president.  As things now stand, he is not going to be.

What can be done?  I have been brooding about this, and I have a possible solution.  It partakes liberally of fairy dust, but those of us on the left have for some time now been resigned to  believing in the political version of pots of gold at the end of rainbows, so bear with me.

Bernie Sanders needs somehow to persuade Elizabeth Warren to be his running mate on an insurgent ticket.  If, mirabile dictu, he were able to accomplish this feat, he would have a good chance of snatching the nomination -- if I may borrow a phrase from Charlton Heston -- from Hillary Clinton's cold dead hand.  Think of it as the New England two-step, the revenge of the Northeast corridor.

Bernie already has the progressives and the young, but he does not have the African-Americans or the women.  With Warren by his side, he could peel off large chunks of the unmarried women's vote and quite possibly a share of the Black and Hispanic vote as well.  At the very least, he would have a shot.

Would Warren do it?  Good question.  She would rather not, pretty clearly.  But if Clinton looks weak and there is real danger of a Republican victory, she might be persuaded.  They would be a powerhouse team on the stump.  Warren would dismantle whatever doffus the Republicans nominated for the number two spot.  And if Bernie started to look like a possible winner, I suspect a number of Clinton supporters would switch, so long as they  could believe that a Sanders presidency would be followed by a Warren run.
Just thinking

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

WHO LOVES TRUMP? AND WHY?


Why do Republican voters like Donald J. Trump?  That is the question of the moment in the blogosphere.  The polling data suggest that substantive policy is not the answer.  With a phenomenon of this magnitude, there are clearly several correct answers.  Let me call attention to one answer that has cropped up in the discussion of the Trump phenomenon.  It is, I find, both plausible and especially disturbing.

Trump's rambling free-form public speeches give people permission to say openly things they have long wanted to say but feel they have been bullied into not saying -- things like "nigger" and "spic" and "anchor baby" and "illegal rapist drug-dealing Mexicans."  Trump has liberated, in millions of Americans, ugly, hateful, despicable sentiments that have been bottled up and forcibly suppressed.  It feels good to them to bring those sentiments into the sunlight, to hear a rich man say them unapologetically. 

What would Jesus say, were he to return to earth and walk once more among us as a natural man?  When I ask myself that question [as I often do], I am reminded once again of Matthew, Chapter 23, verse 27:  "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."  That is a remarkably accurate description of many of the good White Christian folk who flock to Trump's gatherings and cheer him to the echo.

Will Trump win the Republican nomination?  I suspect not.  If he does, he will guarantee a Democratic victory.  If he does not, he will so damage the successful nominee that the same result is all but certain.  But that is not the end of it.  Freud and the Sixties to the contrary notwithstanding, there is much to be said for repression.  The sentiments whose expression Trump is legitimating deserve to be repressed, they ought to be repressed, and no good can come from exposing them to the light, for although real sunlight may indeed be an effective disinfectant, metaphorical sunlight does not have that cleansing property.

There are fifty-five million registered Republicans in the United States.  Let us suppose roughly 30% of them support Trump, as recent polls suggest, which is to say more than sixteen million adult Americans.   That is a whole lot of whited sepulchres out there filled with uncleanness and dead men's bones!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

VERY TROUBLING

This very troubling long article in the latest New Yorker about Trump and his supporters is worth taking the time to read.  Trump has lifted up a large rock, and slugs of all sorts are crawling out into the sunlight.

BODY LANGUAGE


Americans are not stupid.  Many of them are ignorant, some are bigoted, most are inattentive to public affairs, but they are not stupid.  They are quite as good as Germans, Chinese, Bulgarians, Brazilians, or Vietnamese at sizing people up and reading their self-presentations and body language.  If we abstract from such arcana as policies and just concentrate on how people respond to those seeking a party's presidential nomination, we can, I suggest, gain some understanding of the polls with which we are inundated.

Why is Trump trouncing all of his opponents by double digits in polls of Republican voters these days?  Well, lean back, veg out, turn off the higher functions of your intellect, and just watch him on the tube.  He is clearly having fun!  He loves being on the podium, draws energy from the crowds, jokes, laughs, sneers in turn.  He is playful, he cannot get enough of it.  Once on stage, he does not want to leave.  He is having  fun.  And everyone who watches him can feel it.

What about his rivals?  Jeb Bush is diffident, uncomfortable, ruminative.  His body and his voice both say that he would really rather be elsewhere.  He acts frustrated with reporters' questions.  Trump says he is a low energy guy, and Trump is right.  We can all feel it.  Jeb does not act as though he is having fun.

Scott Walker acts as though he has never had fun his entire life.  Just glance at his face as you are on the way to the refrigerator for a power drink.  He is morose, discomfited, a real Eeyore.  Cruz is stuck-up, the annoying kid in the class who thinks he is smarter than everyone else.  Christie is a fat bully.  Fiorina is a scold.  Paul is petulant.  Santorum is the repressed prig who pretends never to have masturbated.   And Jindal is just weird.

These are not political judgments or ideological evaluations.  They are gut reactions  -- the sort we all have every day when we meet people.  This is how the public sizes up candidates, and I have to say, their reactions are pretty shrewd.  [The fact that they are also politically disastrous is a subject for another post.]

What about the Democrats?  Clinton is irritated.  She is irritated by reporters' gotcha questions that ignore her carefully crafted policy papers.  She is irritated by the hoofaraw surrounding her e-mails when she knows that her motives are as pure as the driven snow.  She is irritated that she must work for a nomination that was hers for the asking six months ago.  In front of a crowd, her body and face say that she is doing her duty.  She smiles a lot and gives full-throated laughs from time to time, but she is clearly not having fun.  She never seems to want to stay on the podium just a little while longer, and then a little while longer still.  She is utterly unlike her husband, who never saw a group of people he did not want to rub up against and charm.

Bernie is angry.  It is a righteous anger, a policy-driven anger, but it is anger nonetheless.  He is the only candidate in either party who actually cares more about his policies than he does about getting elected.  He is the most earnest candidate to have come along since Adlai Stevenson.  Bernie probably could have fun if the world were ever what it ought to be, but right now there is no time for having fun.  Be serious!  his body language says.

Joe Biden is always having fun.  Put him in front of a crowd and his face lights up.  If he could patent that and sell it to Clinton, it would be worth every penny she has raised from her rich friends.  She would win in a landslide.

Which of these folks would be a good president?  Ah well, that is quite another matter.  When it comes to answering that question, I do not have quite so much faith in the Great American Public.

 

 

 

Monday, August 24, 2015

DOWN MEMORY LANE


Tomorrow Susie and I will celebrate our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary.  I will take her to dinner at  a lovely upscale Durham, NC restaurant on West Main Street called Revolution [you can't make this stuff up.]  At dinner this evening, we were reminiscing about our first dates, in 1948 and 1949, when we were students at Forest Hills High School in Queens.

Our very first date [a story I tell in my Autobiography] was a movie outing.  I took Susie to the Thalia Theater in Manhattan, an early art movie theater, to see a revival of César, the third in a pre-war film trilogy made by the great French director Marcel Pagnol.  [For musical buffs, the entire trilogy -- Marius, Fanny, César -- was turned into the Broadway show Most Happy Fella.]  At about the same time, I started taking Susie to performances of the newly formed Bach Aria Group, which performed arias from the Bach cantatas at venues such as the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan.  It was there that I first heard Bernard Greenhouse, the marvelous cellist who was later a mainstay of the Beaux Arts trio [with the inimitable pixie Menahem Pressler on piano.]  The violinist was Maurice Wilk, the very best student of my violin teacher, Mrs. Irma Zaccharias,

Somewhat later, I took Susie on a big date to the Cherry Lane Theater in the Village, where we watched a performance of T. S. Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes with the curtain raiser Desire Caught By The Tail by Picasso.  We even went to the Davenport Free Theater , a weird and wonderful place in Manhattan where one could watch terrible performances absolutely free.

But our fanciest date was in the summer of '52, when I was working as a Copy Boy at the New York Herald Tribune.  I took Susie to the Blue Angel, a New York cabaret named after the dive in the famous Marlene Dietrich film.  The cover charge was five dollars per person -- a fortune -- but the show was quite memorable.  There were three acts -- Orson Bean, who opened, Josh White, and Eartha Kitt.  Josh White and Eartha Kitt were spectacular, of course, but I still remember Orson Bean's opening joke.  He came out, took the microphone rather diffidently, and said, "Hello.  My name is Orson bean, Harvard 48 ... Yale nothing."  It got a big laugh.

I wonder sometimes.  Do young people today go on dates like that?