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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, August 28, 2010

A RESPONSE TO A QUESTION

Noumena [love that handle] asked me a question in his/her comment on my previous post [as well as saying from very kind things, for which I am extremely grateful], and replying requires more than just a few words in another comment, so I shall try to address the question here in a separate post. The question is, What was it like during the early post-war period when left-wing intellectuals seemed to all turn anti-communist and more right-wing, and what were the root causes of this shift?

I am not sure I am the best person to answer this question, for a curious reason. While the world was busy moving to the right, I was moving steadily to the left. I was a Harry Truman supporter in '48, and during my wanderjahr, '54-'55, actually got into debates with European students defending American policy and attacking the Russians. By the time I had earned my doctorate in '57, I was being driven to the left by my fears of nuclear weapons, and, as I have recounted in my Memoir, the breaking point, when my leftward drift became a firm commitment, was the day after Kennedy invaded Cuba.

Several peculiarities of my personal history help to explain why I was not part of the general transformation of ardent socialists into cold-war liberals and Communist Party members into neocons. First of all, because my grandfather sided with the Norman Thomas Mensheviks in the great Bolshevik/Menshevik split in '17, I grew up in a fiercely anti-communist pro-socialist home. I was not illusioned by Stalin, and therefore I was not disillusioned by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939, nor by the Moscow show trials or any of the other critical moments when former communists broke with the Party. Second, although I am Jewish, in some sense of lineage, I grew up in a secular home, was never Bar Mitzvah'd, and had no special attachment to Israel [or, as my anarchist tendencies evolved, to any other nation state.] As I have often remarked, Freud says somewhere that if there is any subject that it is not permitted to discuss openly in an analysis, sooner or later the entire analysis comes to be about that subject. For several generations of Jewish intellectuals, Israel has been the subject it is not permitted to discuss openly, and so the politics of those intellectuals has become nothing but a more or less well concealed brief for the State of Israel. A great many seemingly cosmopolitan, highly literate, well-educated American Jewish intellectuals are really tribal apologists dressed up in their doctoral robes and passing themselves off as free thinkers [and if that doesn't get my blog banned somewhere, I don't know what will!]

Finally, I have never been an ideologue. My radical politics grew slowly and more or less autonomously. I did not start studying Marx seriously until I was in my middle forties, and to this day I have not the slightest idea how to distinguish a Schachtmanite from a Rosa-Luxemborgeois, or why it matters. Since I am not a joiner, I never was confronted with the question "whether to leave the Party." I am also, as I have several times observed, intellectually arrogant, with the consequence that it never occurs to me to doubt my own opinions simply because a party or a movement or some prominent left-winger disagrees with me.

I look back with a powerful nostalgia at a time in America when serious people took it for granted that socialism was a genuine alternative to capitalism, and a desirable one -- at a time when the political sentiments of large numbers of vocal and respected people were radical and socialist, not conservative and apologetic for capitalism. There have always been right wing loud mouths among us. Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly are no where than Father Coughlin and Westbrook Pegler, to mention only a few.

Noumena, I do not know whether that is any sort of answer to your question, but perhaps it is the beginning of one.

2 comments:

Noumena said...

Thanks very much.

I think you're right, and Sidney Hook's disillusionment with communism is probably especially important. I've read several things pointing out that Hook moved from ardent communist to nearly-violent neo-con between 1925 and 1950 or so but I can't recall ever reading an explanation of why he made this switch. And he was certainly largely responsible for bringing the Red Scare to philosophy. So here, in Hook, we have an influential philosopher who's politically powerful and seemingly paranoid about the merest hint of socialism in the academy.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

On a purely personal note, Hook, Ernest nagel, my father, and my Uncle Bob, were all students together at CCNY in about 1920, and knew one another. So I have always thought of Hook as a sort of crazy uncle in the attic.