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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Thursday, April 22, 2010

MEMOIRS VOLUME TWO SEVENTH INSTALLMENT

Political engagement led me into some odd psychoanalytical thickets. A fellow renter in my building was a psychiatrist with the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. He invited me to give a talk on psychiatry, nuclear weapons, and world peace to a seminar in which he was a participant, presided over by Roy Grinker, one of the grand old men of the Chicago psychoanalytic scene. I had no idea what to say, but I cobbled together something on rationality and the danger of accidental nuclear war, and went along to their headquarters. When I walked into the seminar room, my first thought was that the event was an elaborate charade staged by Groucho Marx. Seated at the head of the table was Grinker, a stoop-shouldered old man smoking the largest cigar I had ever seen. Ranged around the table on both sides were younger men smoking smaller cigars. I was aware that Freud had once said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," but I did not think this was one of those times. I soldiered through my little talk, at the end of which there was a dead silence, while all eyes were turned to Grinker. After a pause, he asked a question that was not transparently hostile, and with a collective exhalation of relief, the rest plunged in for what became a lively discussion.

Cindy and I were married on June 2, 1962 [more of that below], and the marriage was almost immediately in trouble. I spent part of the '62-'63 academic year in therapy with Dr. Frances Hannett, a psychoanalyst who was married to Maxwell Gittelson, then the President of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute. In my once a week sessions with her, she advised me that I ought to consider a full-scale psychoanalysis, and in an effort to get a second opinion, I made an appointment with Dr. Jules Masserman, a big deal analyst who later served as the President of the American Psychiatric Association. After I had talked for a while about my problems and concerns, he said with a brutally dismissive condescension, "Well, I think you are going to go from doctor to doctor, complaining about your life, but you will never actually go into analysis." I walked out of his office stunned and feeling rather crushed [although I must acknowledge that feelings of that sort don't last very long in me.] Some while later, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion of psychiatry and nuclear disarmament, and who should turn up on the panel but Masserman! He spoke first and said some really stupid things, revealing that he knew absolutely nothing about the subject. But he was politically on the same side of the issue as I was. I knew that I could make him look like a horse's ass if I wanted to, but after a bit of soul-searching, I decided that the cause was more important than my bruised feelings, so I went easy on him. Forty-eight years later, in preparation for writing this paragraph, I googled Masserman, and discovered that in 1984 he was forced to pay damages and terminate his practice for sexually abusing three female patients. I blush to admit I was thrilled.

There were political things to worry about on as well as off the campus. Hyde Park, for those who are unfamiliar with Chicago, is an almost all-white enclave in the middle of a large and very famous Black community. This is the community that was the object of the ground-breaking urban study, Black Metropolis, by Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake, published in 1945. In an effort to preserve the whiteness of Hyde Park, the University of Chicago had bought up a good deal of real estate around the university, which it then rented out in a deliberately discriminatory manner to control the influx of Blacks. Some students got wind of this practice at just about the time I arrived, and carried out a classic test, sending first Black applicants and then White applicants into the rental office to ask about available apartments. They demonstrated not merely that the University was discriminating against Black Chicagoans, but that it was actually discriminating against Black U. of C. students! A whole lot of us howled with outrage. The President of the University, a Nobel Prize winning geneticist named George Beadle, admitted the truth of our charges and defended the practice, on the familiar grounds that it was necessary to protect against White Flight. I was flabbergasted. But then, I was young, and still filled with a roseate view of the Academy.

I actually thought the fears of White Flight were, in this case, a trifle exaggerated. The University was filled with faculty who had been born in Hyde Park, had attended the famous Laboratory School as children, had remained to do their undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Chicago, had then secured untenured teaching positions, gained tenure, and had every intention of becoming professors emeriti there in the fullness of time. The danger was not that they would leave Hyde Park if a few Black families moved in, but that they would never make it all the way from Hyde Park to downtown Chicago.

Because of my interest in the connections between military strategy and foreign policy, I applied to the Political Science Department for permission to offer an undergraduate course on military strategy and foreign policy. A young Assistant Professor name Morton Kaplan, a neo-con avant la lettre, protested the idea, but fortunately for me I had Hans Morgenthau in my corner. Morgenthau was then a very senior, very distinguished old style political realist who had made major contributions to our understanding of the complex international politics of the Eurasian land mass. He backed my request to teach the course, and it was approved. Kaplan was a acolyte of Leo Strauss, whose paranoid interpretation of political theory has had a malign effect not only within the Academy but also in America's foreign and military policy, thanks to the determine efforts of his disciples. For many years, Strauss held a private seminar in his home, at which, little by little, he would reveal the esoteric truth that only he was privy to. Since there was no logical connection between one element of that truth and any other, there never came a point at which the disciples could deduce the remainder of the message for themselves, so they kept coming back. [Lest the uninformed reader think I am being a trifle harsh with Strauss, suffice it to say that according to him, the real meaning of Machiavelli's The Prince was to be found not in the text of that famous work, but instead in the middle chapter of Machiavelli's Discourses on the First Ten Chapters of Titus Livius, more particularly in the numerically middle sentence of that chapter -- I am not making this stuff up.]

My studies of the new deterrence debates had led me deeper into the Game Theory literature, and although I was still more than ten years away from the time when I would master the formal mathematics of John von Neumann's brilliant work, I had learned enough to become convinced that the impressive looking matrices that decorated the writings of Kahn and others were nothing more than an attempt to lend their partisan arguments an air of scientific impartiality. This core idea, that the appeal to formal methods in political debates, and also in political philosophy, too often conceals an unacknowledged ideological agenda, became a theme of much of my teaching and writing. It led later on to my offering graduate courses on "The Use and Abuse of Formal Models in Political Philosophy," and undergirded my critique of books by Nozick and Elster, as well as my book on Rawls. My first effort along those lines was a short book that I wrote in the summer of '62, called the Rhetoric of Deterrence. I tried without success to get it published. Harvard thought it was too polemical, and the next publisher I tried said it was too technical. I put the manuscript aside and moved on to other things. Several years later, I sent it to Noam Chomsky, whom I had known during his days as a Harvard Junior Fellow. Noam made some useful comments and encouraged me to try to publish it, but I never acted on his suggestion, and the typescript sits to this day on my shelf, next to several other books for which I have never found publishers.

In the Spring of '63, I repeated the course at the downtown adult education operation run by the U. of C. Those were tense times, because Khrushchev had agreed with Castro to install short-range missiles in Cuba in response to America's installation of missiles in Turkey, across the border from the Soviet Union. America responded in turn with a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent the missiles from being off-loaded, and the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis was on. I was terrified. My studies had made me hyper-sensitive to the mortal danger of a nuclear exchange triggered either by miscalculation or by the mutual intransigence of Kennedy and Khrushchev. My little VW bug was loaded with dried food and a Geiger counter, and I had plane reservations to both Canada and Mexico, depending on the prevailing winds when things got too hot. I can still recall teaching the theory of all this downtown to a group of adult students, while listening to the radio reports of the Russian ships approaching the picket of American ships on station around Cuba.

As we all waited, intensely apprehensive, I had a call from Marc Raskin in the Executive Office Building. Marc asked me what I was doing to try to stop the impending Armageddon. I told him about my contingency plans and he was scathing in his scorn at my pusillanimity. "What are you doing?" I asked. Leaning into the phone, he said in a hushed voice, "We are trying to reach the Pope." My heart sank. I knew we were doomed.

3 comments:

David Berry said...

Hi

You should 'publish' your manuscripts from the shelf online as PDFs. Better that they be read in their draft state than never read at all. Nowadays it is trivial to get documents scanned in to the computer - and if they are typed you can use OCR to automatically turn them into usable text.

This is the beauty of the Internet and if nothing else they might open up interesting avenues for research.

:-)

Best

David

Robert Paul Wolff said...

You sure I can do this without the help of a twelve year old girl?

David Berry said...

At worst you should be able to go into Kinkos (or any other print shop) hand them the manuscript and they'll zip it into a PDF file. You can then upload to your blog (or post to the Internet Archive for posterity).

I am sure the library at your University would have this now (if not your department) as most photocopiers have this function built in!