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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, July 22, 2017

A CANARY IN THE MINE SHAFT

There have been several news stories in the past forty-eight hours that have received a good deal of attention and about which I should perhaps comment.  The first, which is really quite unimportant, is that Sean Spicer has resigned as Presidential spokesperson, apparently because he had been sidelined by the appointment of a scrimy character named Anthony Scaramucci as head of the White House press operation.  One of the relaxing features of the present Administration is that it is possible, with no close study, to despise them all.   We will miss Melissa McCarthy’s send-up of Spicer on Saturday Night Live, but beyond that, out of sight, out of mind.

The second story, rather less attended to, is that the Senate referee [who knew they had one?] has ruled a number of elements of the Senate health care bill ineligible for a process called Reconciliation that permits bills to pass with only 51 votes.  Among the clauses not permitted is one stopping women from getting health care from any organization that supports abortion.  Since without this clause, several extreme rightwingers will not vote for the bill, it is now effectively impossible for it to pass.  To be sure, the chances of passage were already slender, but this kills the Republican health care effort dead in its tracks.  This is very good news indeed, since any version of the Republican health care legislation would be devastating for millions of people.

Meanwhile, the reliably execrable Jeff Sessions is in deeper trouble than before, always a good thing.


Mind you, one must be an utterly incorrigible Tigger to take any comfort from this news at all, but I have only one life to live, and I insist on celebrating anything that offers even the slightest warmth to my cold heart.

A MESSAGE FOR JERRY

Jerry, your response to my brief post about my trip to the Musee d'Orsay has prompted a number of interesting comments.  Would you want to write a guest post on some aspect of art and politics?  Remember, if it should result in any significant sales, I get the usual agent's ten percent.  :)

Friday, July 21, 2017

DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU

Well, folks, here we go.  The Washington Post reports that Trump's team of lawyers are now discussing the scope of the President's power to pardon, including even whether he can pardon himself.  And it isn't even August!  So much for the Impressionists.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A CULTURAL MORNING

Susie and I went to the Musée d’Orsay this morning, the grand museum fashioned out of what was once a train station.  I am not much for museums, I confess, but this one has a special place in my heart, in part because it was there, several years ago, that we heard an exquisite performance of Allegrhi’s Miserere by the Tallis Singers, one of the truly great experiences of my life.  The d’Orsay’s collection of Impressionist paintings is of course world famous.  Surrounded by masses of tourists [Paris has overcome its terrorist attacks and is again the premier destination in the world for tourists], I took these IPhone shots of a pair of famous paintings by Renoir.  I am not sure you can see it in my amateurish pictures, but the treatment of the dresses by Renoir is breathtaking.


Dance in the City:



Dance in the Country



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

AROUND THE FIFTH

While I was taking my morning walk [along the circumference of the 5th arrondissement], I reflected on several very significant recent developments in American domestic politics.  [I shall reserve to a later post my responses to the wealth of interesting comments about morality and international affairs.]  I refer first to the revelations regarding the meeting between Kushner, Trump jr., and Manafort and an ever expanding roster of characters, and second the collapse of the efforts of Senate Republicans to do something, anything, about the Affordable Care Act.

The daily revelations about the meeting make it more and more likely that there was a sustained, extensive, conscious, deliberate attempt by Trump himself and his closest advisors to work hand in glove with agents of the Russian government to defeat Hilary Clinton, in return for which assistance Trump would deliver a lifting of economic sanctions and other desiderata of the Putin government.  You may adopt any evaluative stance toward this effort you wish, but it is becoming more and more implausible to deny that it occurred.  Since Clinton was an historically awful candidate, she would no doubt have contrived to lose the election all on her own, but pretty clearly laws were broken, and Robert Mueller will, I should imagine, prosecute a number of the members of Trump’s family, unless, as I expect, Trump intervenes and issues a raft of plenary pardons.  I rather doubt there could be revelations sufficiently awful to prod the Republican House to vote a bill of impeachment.  We shall have to wait and see.

The failure of Senate health care initiatives is splendid news, for two reasons.  First, it stops the Congress and President from doing terrible, terrible harm to tens of millions of people.  Second, it establishes the political truth that health care is now indeed the third rail of modern American politics, as Social Security once was.  [For the youthful among you, when subways powered by electricity were introduced, the trains ran on a pair of parallel rails through which no electricity flowed.  The power was delivered by a third rail.  You could jump down onto the tracks and touch the first two rails with impunity, so long as you got back up before the next subway train ran over you, but if, when doing so, you touched the third rail, you got electrocuted.]  The third rail became first a metaphor and then a cliché for a legally established right or program it was political death to touch.

The Democrats, even those suicidally bent on resurrecting the Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council’s Third Way, have taken notice of the spontaneous upswelling of resistance to the Republican efforts to repeal the ACA and seem collectively to possess the wit to make opposition to those efforts the centerpiece of their 2018 campaign.  By one of those bizarre turns that makes politics so hard to predict, in the midst of this ground level resistance, Single Payer seems to be gaining support.


By the way, merely flying to Paris seems to have made it possible for me to squelch the tendency to view American politics as the natural center of the universe.  Very liberating.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY

This will be an extended post, beginning with the personal and grandparental and ending in an extraordinary and really unforgivable bit if self-congratulation perhaps justifying an intervention or clinical help.  I apologize for this in advance, but have decided that the confessional has a place on the web.  Put it down, if you wish, to my advancing age.

My granddaughter Athena will be nine on the first of August, and I asked her mother for suggestions for appropriate presents.  Apparently on a recent family trip to Tokyo, Athena bought a little treasure box and has now begun a collection of objets d’art.  Could I find in Paris an appropriate addition to the collection?   I had not a clue, but went on a ramble in our Place Maubert neighborhood and ended up some while later in front of a shop at the end of our street called Avanti Musica which is stocked with all manner of little knick-knacks.  There I found what I hope will be the perfect gift, a decorated miniature treasure chest cum music box with a dancing ballerina.

Buying presents for my grandchildren is difficult because their doting parents have given them virtually everything that is both age appropriate and available.  Last December, faced with the same problem for Samuel, who was turning eleven, I decided that instead of asking his mother and father for guidance, I would give him a present that no one else in the world could give to him:  a copy of In Defense of Anarchism, inscribed by the author.  Now, I may be self-absorbed, but I am not yet totally dotty.  I had no thought that Samuel would welcome this present or even look at it.  But I wanted him to have some physical evidence that his grandfather was not just the old guy back East.  Perhaps in future years, even after I had passed away, he would be moved to read it.  I had the fantasy, I confess, that in nine or ten years, when he was in college, he would take a course in which the book was assigned, and could bring in his copy to show the professor.

When you have spent your entire adult life writing books and have arrived at the age of eighty-three, perhaps it is natural to wonder what it all amounts to.  Will anything you have written survive your death?  Is it all fated to blow away like autumn leaves?  I found myself thinking that perhaps this one little book, no more than an extended essay, would somehow manage to live, that it might even become, in a small and subsidiary way, a part of the canon of works in the Western tradition of political theory.

The works that have acquired that relative immortality are, in at least one way, quite similar:  although each book was written at a particular moment in reaction to a particular constellation of contemporary texts, it rises above that situational embeddedness by setting forth an argument that lays claim to universality.  No one anymore reads John Locke’s First Treatise on Civil Government, which, for those of you who have always wondered, is a devastating attack on Sir Robert Filmer’s defense of the divine right of kings.  At the time, Filmer’s position was widely held, but it very quickly was overtaken by history.  Locke’s Second Treatise, on the other hand, although manifestly a work of the late seventeenth century, is read to this day by every serious student of political theory.  The same is true of Rousseau’s Of the Social Contract and Mill’s On Liberty

Because of the peculiar circumstances under which In Defense of Anarchism was written, it contains almost no references to contemporary philosophical debates.  It is virtually devoid of scholarly footnotes and addresses a single fundamental philosophical question sub specie aeternitatis.  It could have been written two hundred years ago, not fifty-two, or indeed one hundred years from now.


Will it live?  I would like to think so.  In the nature of the case, I shan’t be around to find out, but perhaps eighty years from now, Samuel’s grandson will tell his old grandfather about a little book he has just read in college, and Samuel will take out a present from his grandfather and offer it to the young man for show and tell.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

ENFIN!

Went to airport to fly to JFK, on the way to Paris.  After clearing security, had leisurely snack at 42nd Street Oyster House.  Strolled to gate.  Discovered flight to JFK was cancelled.  Panic.  Re-routed to direct London flight, then flight to Paris.  Major agita.  This would mean going through Heathrow, the world’s worst airport.  Got to Paris, went to baggage claim.  Waited.  Last bag came off flight.  Not ours.  More panic.  Went to baggage office.  Told by distracted young woman that our bags would arrive from Philadelphia.  Philadelphia?  What on earth were our bags doing in Philadelphia?  Took taxi to apartment, unencumbered by luggage.  Good news, everything worked.  Bad news, computer was in luggage.  Called.  Was told luggage would be delivered the next day.  Gave voice at other end the building code.  Was called next day, told luggage would arrive between one and five in the afternoon.  Waited.  Got a call.  Luggage would be delivered between five and nine p.m.  Got cranky.  Meanwhile, jets flew low overhead in Bastille Day display for Trump.  Considered emigrating to Canada.  Luggage arrived at 7:30.  Walked to Brasserie Balzar.  Assigned to table 37, my favorite.  Had a dozen snails.  Equanimity restored.  Bonjour Paris!