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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, January 20, 2017

THERE IS A FRESH WIND BLOWING, WATSON

[A line from an old Sherlock Holmes movie.]

Even as I was writing the warning I have just posted, several of you were putting up splendid comments that give me hope.  Matt and David, thank you.  And to Barry Levine, thank you for the historical reminder.

I too take hope from the extraordinary outpouring of resistance to the new regime.  This will be a long struggle.

TAKE NOTE

I cannot watch the televised coverage of the Inauguration, so this afternoon my wife and I will go to the movies and see Hidden Figures.  Then I will return home, print out my boarding passes for tomorrow’s flights, make dinner, and return to my crossword puzzle book.  This morning, however, I should like to spend a little time writing about my first visit to South Africa, thirty years ago.  I have written about this experience here before, but it bears repeating.  I learned a lesson that speaks directly to what we face from 12:01 p.m. today.

A word of background, for those of you who are unfamiliar with South Africa’s apartheid past.  When the National Party took control in 1948, it passed a series of laws designed to separate the different racial groupings, as they conceived them, both legally and spatially, a program rationalized by a pretentious pseudo-philosophical rationale claiming roots in the theories of, Edmund Husserl, of all people.  The African linguistic groups, eleven or so in number, were consigned to “homelands” ruled by puppet governments.  The mixed-race Afrikaans speaking Coulereds of the Western Cape and the Indian or Asian populations of Natal Province were relocated into so-called townships established outside the White cities.  The theory was that each race would live autonomously, but of course that was impossible, because most of the work, and all of the physical labor, required by the economy was performed by non-Whites, who had to live close enough to the mines and factories to show up for work each day.  In addition, the household servants had to be available for dawn to dusk service to their White masters and mistresses.  So Black townships came into existence, such as the SOuthWEstTOwnship near Johannesburg, Soweto. 

Many of the men who worked in the mines had been relocated with their families to the Homelands, far from their work sites, so single-sex hostels were built near the mine pits, where for months on end those men lucky enough to get the dangerous, exhausting, dirty jobs lived, separated from their families.  But even all of these living arrangements were inadequate for the 80% and more of the population that was non-White, so large, ramshackle squatters’ camps, or “locations,” sprang up on unused land, filled with corrugated tin hovels and serviced, fitfully, by electricity stolen by dangerous, illegal exposed lines tapping into power mains.

When I arrived at Jan Smuts Airport in the Spring of 1986, to spend five weeks teaching the thought of Marx to White undergraduates at the English-language Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, I was driven to the city along broad, impressive six-lane highways, arriving in Melville, a tree-lined, elegant suburb of the city, where I would stay.

In the following weeks, I taught at the University, went to dinner in lovely restaurants, and chatted with academics who all seemed to read New German Critique and The New Left Review.  I felt completely at home intellectually and culturally, and also racially, though I would not have been so crude as to say that.  The National Party had arranged things so that Whites could enjoy the labor of the non-White population without actually seeing the people providing it.  There were no “inner city ghettoes” that they might drive through or past on the way from one academic gathering to another.  Five-sixths of the population had been made invisible to the other sixth.  

To be sure, on the drive in from the airport, I had passed stretches hidden from view by fences, but if one did not already know that behind the fences were sprawling shack settlements, there were no signposts or other indications.  And a trip to Soweto, which I arranged for myself one evening, was an expedition.  When I traveled to Cape Town to speak at the University of Cape Town, I stayed with a philosopher friend in his lovely house in the suburb of Oranjezicht, just under Table Mountain.  My closest friend, Sheila Tyeku, stayed with her relatives in Khayetlitsha, a township southeast of the city.

What is the point of this extended stroll down memory lane?  It is this:  Only in movies or history books is fascism front and center, all nicely labeled so that one cannot miss it.  If one happens not to be inclined to express opinions that the State forbids, it is quite easy to go through the day imagining that one is free, and that the protestors fitfully observed from your car window are simply malcontents or young people feeling their oats.  And if you are not a member of a sub-population targeted for suppression or elimination, you can live an easy, comfortable life.  You may even find that the trains run on time.

We are entering a dangerous time.  The media will present it as normal, amusing, gossipy, suitable for light commentary.  Do not be fooled.  Fascism can be quite attractive to those not made the object of its repressions.  Most of us go from one year to the next without having need of the Rule of Law.


Right now, today, is the time to start resisting.

HISTORICAL CAUTIONS

I will remind you that both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini came to power through legitimate democratic elections and only then transformed their regimes into one-party dictatorships.  Both men were quite popular.  Am I being melodramatic or hysterical.  I do not believe so.   

Trump attempted, unsuccessfully, to arrange for a Soviet, North Korean, or Nazi style military parade, complete with tanks and rocket launchers, to commemorate his ascension to power.  He had to settle for an air force fighter jet flyover.  It would be a very bad mistake to adopt an air of superior, passive amusement.

A SAD DAY

Seventy-five years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, calling on the Congress to declare war on Japan in response to its attack at Pearl Harbor, called December 7, 1941 a “date that will live in infamy.”  Not since then have the democratic practices, traditions, and institutions of this country been in such danger as they are today, when a despicable man will assume the powers of the office of President.  I beg of you all not to post heated comments about the inadequacies, the failings, the hypocrisies and betrayals of American democracy.  I am well aware of them, and have been speaking publicly about them since before many of you were born.  Nor do I need to be reminded that I am, as I declare on this blog, an anarchist.  But I am a socialist as well, and my conception of socialism is of a genuinely democratic polity regulated by shared norms of humane behavior and a respect for the rule of law.  Our only realistic chance of transforming this large, rich, powerful, deeply flawed country is to strengthen those practices and traditions of democracy and use them to change the social relations of production.  Failing that, we must use the institutions as they have been given to us and as we can improve them to protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us.  Donald Trump holds these traditions and practices in contempt and he will do everything he can to undermine them, violate them, mock them, and destroy them.


We must not allow him to succeed.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

THE MARCH

Here is the official list of speakers at the Women's March in Washington on Saturday.  I suspect I won't get close enough to hear any of them, but I will be there.

Cecile Richards, president, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Erika Andiola, activist
Ilyasah Shabazz, activist
J. Bob Alotta, activist and filmmaker
Janet Mock, activist, writer, and television host
LaDonna Harris, activist
Maryum Ali, activist
Melanie Campbell, activist
Rabbi Sharon Brous
Rhea Suh, activist
Sister Simone Campbell, attorney
Sophie Cruz, activist
Zahra Billoo, activist
America Ferrera, actress
Angela Davis, activist, scholar, author
Gloria Steinem, activist
Ashley Judd, actress and activist
Scarlett Johansson, actress
Melissa Harris-Perry, television host
Michael Moore, filmmaker
Amanda Nguyen, activist
Randi Weingarten, attorney
Van Jones, television host
George Gresham, activist
Mothers of the Movement (Sybrina Fulton, Lucia McBath, Maria Hamilton, Gwen Carr), activists
Hina Naveed, activist
Judith Le Blanc (Caddo), activist
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, author and activist
Aida Hurtado, psychologist
Melissa Mays, activist
Raquel Willis, activist and writer
Rosyln Brock, activist
Sister Ieasha Prime, activist
The Honorable Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C.
Ai-jen Poo, activist
Wendy Carrillo, activist
Dr. Cynthia Hale, pastor

Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, Women’s March co-chairs

MORNING WALK

This was a Frege morning:  a bright half moon, and right next to it, the Morning Star.  As a boy, I called this a Quine morning, but I have since learned better.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

SHAKESPEARE, MEDICINE, AND ME

The responses to my question about American foreign and military policy were quite interesting, and I shall try to add to the discussion with some reactions, but first, let me take a moment to make some purely personal remarks.

Well over a year ago, I developed severe pain in my arms and legs.  After two frustrating months with my doctor, I gave up on him and found a new doctor, who took one look at me and diagnosed me as suffering from something called Polymyalgia Rheumatica, or PMR.  The principal test for PMR, odd as it may sound, is to prescribe a drug called Prednisone.  If the pain goes away, the medical profession concludes that you have PMR.  [How this differs from Hopi rain dances, I do not know.]   So my doctor prescribed 20 mg of Prednisone a day, and in thirty-six hours I was pain free.  Bingo.  I had PMR.  The treatment consists of slowly going off the Prednisone by very small stages, a month at a time, until, magically, one walks away cured.  The diagnosis was confirmed by a rheumatologist, whose name is Reumy Ishizawar.  [I am not making this up, honest.]  I went from 20 mg a day to 17.5, then to 15, then to 12.5, then back up to 15 [a setback, not uncommon, apparently], down again to 12.5, then 10, then 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and finally, last December 23rd, to 3 mg a day.  I had three months to go.

Five days ago, my arms started to hurt, and by Sunday I was in real pain.  Yesterday [Monday was a holiday], Dr. Ishizawar told me to take 5mg that day and then continue with 5.  Today, the pain is almost entirely gone.  Presumably, I shall continue my march to zero, delayed two months by the setback.

Last night, at about 1 a.m., I was lying in bed thinking about the fact that I was not being kept up by the pain [this is not a contradiction – I always wake up in the middle of the night], and I found myself trying to recall the opening lines of a beautiful and very famous Shakespeare sonnet.  I got as far as “When in ***** with *** and men’s eyes/I all alone beweep my outcast state…”  My inability to recall the rest is not a consequence of my advanced age.  I have never been able to remember poetry or prose, even though I can recall a complex line of Baroque music thirty bars long without difficulty.  Seventy years ago, when I was in high school, my English teacher made us memorize ten lines of our choice from Julius Caesar.  I chose the opening lines of Marc Antony’s famous speech, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.”  I repeated those lines over and over for a week and managed to spit them out on the test, after which they fell out of my brain, never to return.

Anyway, I finally got up and Googled the line “beweep my outcast state.”  Up popped Sonnet 29.  Here it is:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings. 


Why have I told you all this?  I don’t know, except that it gave me an excuse to reproduce this exquisite sonnet.