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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

DO FOREIGNERS KNOW SOMETHING WE DON'T KNOW?

One of the most familar conceits of a certain kind of American intellectual is the belief that foreigners understand America much better than Americans do. This is a long tradition, of course, going back at least to Tocqueville, and for all I know to General Lafayette. There were probably Seneca and Iroquois who thought that Henry Cabot understood them better than their local shamans did.

I have always been rather doubtful of this particular instance of xenophilia. I certainly never imagined, during my visits to England, that I understood the arcana of British politics better than the journalists who made their living at it. This morning, when I went out to have a coffee and brioche au chocolat at the secondary Keyser bakery up the street from the big one, I picked up today's copy of LIBERATION, the socialist newspaper, to read their big multi-page spread anticipating Obama's speech this evening. I can read French, but it is enough of an effort to encourage me to confuse difficulty with depth. [I might add, as an aside, that I discovered, by reading cover to cover a book of mine that has been translated into French, that everyone sounds like Descartes in French! What I took for Descartes' spare prose is mostly a consequence of the fact that there are many fewer words in French than in English.]

Naturally, LIBERATION included at the bottom of page 2 a little chart showing that America's health system costs 45% more per head than France's, even though France's system is rated first in the world and America's is rated 37th. Fair enough. But the news story, which I dutifully plowed through, read like boiler plate lifted from a NY TIMES article or a TalkingPointsMemo blog post. I have, on occasion, followed American presidential elections in French newspapers, and they NEVER know something that any reasonably alert American news consumer wouldn't know. This is not at all surprising. If you are the LIBERATION stringer in Washington D.C. [I am not sure they can afford an entire news bureau, as LE MONDE undoubtedly can], how will you decide what to write? You will read the TIMES and the WASHINGTON POST, you will surf the blogosphere, and if you are lucky, you will get interviews with second or third string Administration spokespersons. You may also get credentials to attend the daily White House Press briefings, and for some snark, you will watch Olberman and Maddow. Which is to say, you will do what I do, and what several million other American news junkies do.

So there is nothing for it. Either I must stay up until three a.m., and hope my TV set is working, or I must wait until tomorrow morning and see what Arianna Huffington has to say about the speech.

But the food is really better.

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