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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, August 4, 2010

A PROPOSAL FOR A CONVERSATION

I would like to start a conversation, through the medium of this blog, about the fundamental presuppositions of competing ideological perspectives -- Conservative, Liberal, Radical Marxist. I do not have in mind an argument about political candidates or party platforms, but an exploration of the assumptions about rationality, habit, sentiment, human society, economic organizations and the like, and a debate about the plausibility, the defensibility, of those assumptions. I am moved to suggest this conversation because the public discourse in this country has become hopelessly debased and deeply confused. I have no illusions at all that such a conversation, even if it should attract a sizeable circle of participants, will in any future available to me result in a change in our politics. But I feel the need at least in this space to strive for a higher level of clarity than I find anywhere on the left or the right today.

Let me know whether this proposed conversation holds any interest for you, and especially whether you might be willing to contribute guest posts, short or long, at some point, so that I am not simply talking to an imaginary circle of interlocuters.

13 comments:

Chris said...

I've always found the label 'Marxist' a bit too ambiguous to really find fundamentals in. Since, from my understanding, Marx and Marxist are almost always two separate philosophical systems. I have a hard time pinpointing what a Marxist is - beyond a reader and head-nodder of Marx - over what Marx outright said.

Also you should consider adding discussions of Anarchism/Libertarianism to the discussion. And all the branches that go with it. I always found Anarcho-Communism/Libertarian-Socialism to be the ideal political structure...

Arbitrista said...

I think that's a fantastic idea. There's far too much sloppy thinking about the bases of contemporary politics. The conversations have principally been dominated by sloganeering. Count me in.

M said...

I would be interested --- definitely as a reader and, if I can, as a contributor. (I'd even be willing to use my real name; Blogger doesn't let me do so in general.)

English Jerk said...

I'd be happy to contribute to the conversation, assuming, as Chris says, that you also want positions to the left of Leninism in the mix. (Maybe it's better just to distinguish authoritarian socialists like Lenin and Trotsky from libertarian socialists like Bakunin and Pannekoek, regardless of whether they consider themselves "Marxist"? As Chomsky says, surely everyone on the Left assumes the basics of Marx's critique of classical political economy, so to that extent we're all Marxists.)

Also, thanks for the memoir, which I found both thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable.

Stephen Bank said...
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Noumena said...

I, too, would be happy to contribute -- in a very (very!) indirect way, these sorts of issues are related to my dissertation.

David Kane said...

I would be interested in participating. Least I can do after your kind teaching 23 years ago at Williams.

Scott said...
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Scott said...

I'd love to contribute in any way I can. Do you mind if I notify some academic philosophers who might be interested?

Marinus said...

I am willing to contribute in one of a few ways. My big thing in this area is labour politics. So, I'm willing to contribute on the role of trade unions in politics (and public life in general), why labour politics is important, how labour politics measures up against other parts of political life -- especially in comparison with representative politics -- and, as an interestint extreme case (and maybe the politics we should all adopt), syndicalism: the view that trade unions and similar structures should be the main structure of government.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Great. It is starting to look as though there is enough interest to keep a discussion going.

GTChristie said...
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GTChristie said...

[revised from 08/05]
The quality of argumentation in political, legal and economic debates (all of which belong to the "moral" class) has deteriorated into mere polemics. Position statements, not arguments. Justification seems to have gone out of style. In the absence of "universally recognized principles" it seems that resolution of any moral disagreement can be decided only by power; it matters not who's right in that case, but only "who gets to decide." Those are Nietzsche's criticisms, as I read him -- and he shouldn't have been right, but that is the de facto situation.

But do we need to return to root-words or concepts, the historical beginnings of the liberal and conservative traditions, to understand our modern political selves? Or do we need to transcend it all and make new? (I search for the latter. My question is not whose vision should succeed? but rather what vision transcends/transforms?)

Nonetheless the conversation Dr. Wolff proposes here is important: our understanding of various terms has degenerated so much in this decade, analysis itself is at risk.

Today in American politics we hurl simplistic fallacies at each other & polarize ourselves into tribal groups; unfortunately the question has become merely which tribe rules.

Meanwhile in the thinktanks that really matter to tomorrow, scientists are planning the next socially engineered society, hopefully sans the limitations of flawed human gray matter: a future designed to favor the survival of cyborg ubermenschen.

It demeans our relevance as philosophers if the future slips into port like fog while we debate the past. But we can't transcend what we don't understand, and right now we barely understand our own history.

Count me in.