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Friday, November 27, 2015


In my on-going effort to find some way to present my thoughts on Ideological Critique, it occurred to me that perhaps I could deliver a series of lectures from my study and post them on YouTube.  I would need a good video camera and a lapel mike so that the audio is clear.  Above is a photo of one corner of my study, taken from my desk [which in this tiny study is only seven or eight feet away.]  The "podium" is a music stand, and the ladder to the right is used to access the top shelves, which hold the complete works of Marx and Engels [English edition -- the German is in the Paris apartment] and lots of extra copies of the books I have published.

If I had the energy, perhaps with each posted lecture I could also write and post on my blog a formal version of the lecture [not a transcription] for the folks who would prefer to read rather than listen.

If any of this proves feasible, I hope to launch the lecture series next January.  I will consider the series to have gone viral if half a dozen people watch it.  Hey, I have taught courses with that few students!


OK.  Let me see whether I have this right.  We must all hope against hope that hordes of shoppers flood the stores and buy heaps of stuff they do not need and did not know they wanted with money they do not have so that some of the millions of men and women who cannot find work will be hired for poverty wages to sell it to them and thereby perhaps be able to feed themselves and their children.  And this system is what  makes this the greatest country in the history of the world.


Thursday, November 26, 2015


I keep reading opinion pieces [by Nate Silver, among many others] explaining why Donald Trump cannot get the Republican nomination.  I have several times put up posts explaining how I think that awful eventually could come to pass.  There is obviously no point in my arguing about a future I cannot influence.  I propose to wait until after the South Carolina primary, which will take place on Saturday, February 20, 2016, a little more than twelve weeks from now.  The next morning [for us early to bed types] we will know whether my analysis makes sense.

Wait for it.


Many commentators have written well and forcefully about the incipient fascism now gripping the Republican Party and the nation at large.  Take a look at Harold Meyerson's piece today in the Washington Post.  [The Post informs me that I have "read my limit of free articles" in the Post for this month and since I refuse to pay for the privilege, I cannot go back and copy the URL for a link in this post.]   Other authors have drawn suggestive comparisons between Trump and Francisco Franco or have called to mind the many shameful episodes in American history when the country succumbed to xenophobic lawlessness. 

I have become more and more persuaded that there are dangers here that in their potential for genuine harm outweigh the understandable and pleasurable schadenfreude we on the Left experience at the prospect of a Trump candidacy.  I have no idea what Trump actually believes, and quite possibly neither does he.  But then, I have no idea what Hitler really believed.  It is worth recalling that Nazism did not begin with a proposal for the Final Solution.  It swept through Weimar Germany, arguably the most sophisticated and intellectually advanced European country at that time, fueled by the resentment of the German people at the punitive provisions of the Versailles Treaty and their longing for lebensraum.  The resentments giving life to Trump's assault on American legal and moral norms are different, of course, but the sentiments are quite similar. 

Could Trump defeat Clinton in the general election?  Not as things now stand.  The polls are quite reassuring.  But imagine a Paris-like attack somewhere in America in September or October 2016. 

What is to be done?, to echo someone to whom I do not often look for inspiration.  We need to speak out, although that will have little or no impact on those whose thinly veiled fascist leanings are given legitimacy by Trump's campaign.  Beyond that, I fear that when the Primary season is done, if Trump has indeed captured the nomination [as I have argued, in a recent post, he well might], we will have no choice but to do everything we can, individually and collectively, to ensure a Clinton victory.  America can survive yet one more President in thrall to Wall Street.  I am not so sanguine that it can survive full-grown nativist fascism.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


The Philosophy Department at UNC did not think there would be sufficient interest in a lecture series, so that idea is dead.  I shall explore the possibility of doing the videos in another way and posting them, or if not that, then perhaps my original idea of a series of lecture/essays.  Disappointing.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Jerry Fresia, thank you for a lovely response to my idea of videotaping lectures on Ideological Critique.  As I turn this over in my mind, the following thought now emerges.  I could announce a lecture series, perhaps under the auspices of the Philosophy Department, if they were willing.  "A series of twelve public lectures on Ideological Critique by retired Professor Robert Paul Wolff, open to all members of the UNC Chapel Hill community."  That sort of thing.  Maybe on Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.  I would invite those who show up to follow along with the readings if they wish, but craft the lectures so that they do not require reading to be understood.  If the Department were to make a classroom available, I would somehow arrange for the videotaping, and each Wednesday, the lecture would go up on YouTube [one can do this sort of thing, yes?] 

Of course, someone would have to show up to make it work, but perhaps I could count on at least that.  Maybe I should offer door prizes. 

If I felt enormously ambitious -- this may be a bridge too far -- I could write up each lecture and post it on my blog.

Of course, if no one at all shows up, I shall have to allow my light to flicker and go out.  [I am trying to think of some way to work in a remark about not giving a Tinker's damn, but inspiration fails me.]


Inasmuch as this is my blog, I figure I get to write about what obsesses me, so here we go again into the weeds.  It goes without saying that this has been an authentically weird primary season on the Republican side.  For almost five months, which is an eternity in politics, Donald Trump has led the mob of aspiring governors, senators, and odd balls, with the strangest candidate of many decades, Dr. Ben Carson, nipping at his heels.  Readers of this blog know that I have been looking into the details of the primary selection process, and it now is clear to me that Donald Trump could really be the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2016.  Indeed, I think it is reasonable to say that he not only can be nominated, but is at this point very close to being the odds on favorite to be nominated.

Despite sitting for so long atop the polls, Trump still clocks in at only 30-35% of "likely Republican primary voters."  How on earth can I say, on the basis of these facts, that he is close to being the odds on favorite to win the nomination.  Ah, well you may ask, little grasshopper.  [Reference to an old TV show.]  I will now plunge into the weeds, and those of a more balanced temperament can turn their attention to the pressing question, "Will the New England Patriots remain undefeated this evening after their Monday Night game against Buffalo?"

Let me review some numbers I have bored you with in past posts.  A total of 2484 delegate votes will be cast at the Republican Nominating Convention in Ohio next July.  To win, a candidate needs a majority, which is to say 1243 votes.  The delegates will be selected in two quite different ways.  1865 of them will be selected by the voters or attendees in caucuses and primaries, beginning in Iowa on February 1, 2016 and ending with a group of five primaries [including the biggest, California!] on June 7, 2016.  The remaining 619 delegates, sometimes referred to as "super delegates," will be allocated to the several states by a strict formula and chosen by party leaders in those states.  The super delegates tend to be state and local elected officials and party officials who worry a great deal about down-ticket candidates [including, in some cases, themselves.]  Since it is widely believed that a Trump candidacy would be a disaster for the Party, not many of them are likely to vote for him at the Convention.  So if Trump is to get 1243 votes, he is going to have to win almost all of them in the primaries and caucuses. 

A little arithmetic tells us that 1243 is two-thirds of 1865.  With barely a third of the vote, how on earth can Trump win two-thirds of those delegates?  The answer lies in some reasonable assumptions about what the field will look like when the voting starts in a bit more than two months and in the details of the delegate selection process.

Assumptions first.  Right now, Trump and Carson are getting roughly 50% of the vote in polls, with Cruz and Rubio together getting perhaps 20% and the other 30% scattered among all the other candidates and "don't know."  But that is going to change rapidly after the Iowa caucuses on February 1st and the New Hampshire primary on February 9th.  A great winnowing will take place, and when the grim reaper has done his work, the field will probably consist of Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, and a few other die-hards who cannot quite believe they are not loved by their fellow Republicans.  At this point, the absolutely most crucial single factor is the Carson vote.  Either he continues to pull 20 -25%, or his utter and bizarre weirdness finally becomes too much even for Evangelical Christians, and he sinks to 10% or so. 

If Carson remains at the higher figure, there are two possibilities.  The first is that Cruz and Rubio advance, side by side, each one getting maybe 15-18% or so of the 50% left over after Trump and Carson have eaten their fill.  The second is that one of them [probably Rubio] emerges as the Establishment favorite, getting enough votes to challenge Trump for the lead.  I think the first possibility is far and away the more likely, but all the serious and knowledgeable people who comment on politics on TV, in newspapers, and on-line, seem to be assuming that the second will happen, putting an end to Trump's run.

If Carson tanks, that frees up a good many more votes, and if Trump does not scarf up a goodly portion of them, there is plenty of room for a Rubio to overcome Trump and go for the gold.  Since I find Carson beyond weird, I just cannot tell whether he is going to nose dive, but he sure hasn't thus far.

But this stills leaves the original question:  How can Trump win the nomination while only taking a third of the vote?  Now for some details.  According to Republican National Committee [RNC] rules, all the primaries and caucuses held on or before March 15 -- so called Super Tuesday -- must allocate their delegates "proportionally."   Many states holding primaries after March 15 2016 will also allocate delegates proportionally, including the biggest of them all, California.

However , "proportionally" does not mean that a candidate who gets 7% of the vote gets 7% of the delegates.  Not at all!  There are several different systems of proportional allocation, but most of them are one of two variations.  An example will make this clear.

A state gets three delegates for each Congressional District, or CD, plus some at-large delegates.  South Carolina, the third state to choose delegates, is typical.  South Carolina has seven CDs, so that is 21 delegates.  It also gets 24 at-large delegates, for a total of 45 South Carolina delegates.  In each CD, the leading candidate gets all three delegates.  In addition, the candidate with the most votes state-wide gets all 24 at-large delegates.  Well, supposed Trump is still leading the pack, and manages to get the most votes in four of the seven CDs, as well as the most votes in the state as a whole.,  In that case he gets (4 x 3) + 24 = 36 delegates.

Which means that with only 30-35% of the vote, Trump wins 80% of the delegates!

Some states are not quite so lopsidedly favorable to the front-runner, using what is called a "winner gets most" system.  But even this system is biased in favor of the leading vote-getter.  This is no accident, of course.  The system was devised by the RNC to make sure that a front runner would emerge as a winner without a long, bitter fight leading to an open Convention.  The RNC just did not imagine that Donald Trump would be their front runner.

We are now entering the Thanksgiving-New Year's hiatus, when Americans go shopping and forget about politics.  By the time all the unwanted presents have been returned and all the after-season sales have concluded, there will only be a few weeks before actual delegates get chosen and the frenzy leading up to and beyond Super Tuesday erupts.

The schedule, heavy on Southern states early on, favors Trump and Carson.  I believe it is possible, bordering on likely, that well before Americans have to file their taxes, Trump will be on his way to a lock on the delegate selection process.  The prospect of that in March will drive the Republican Establishment bonkers.  I think [I am not sure] they could actually cancel their Convention and retreat to an Electronic Smoke Filled Room.  But that may just be a politics junkie's wet dream.