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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

I went door to door canvassing last weekend, trying to get out the vote for the Democrats here in North Carolina. I hate door to door canvassing. I am basically a shy person, contrary to my public image as a show-boater, and knocking on a stranger's door, a smile plastered on my face, every pocket stuffed with campaign literature and early voting information, is my idea of hell. Still and all, I did it, though I doubt I had much effect on anyone.

The highpoint of the afternoon came on a sunny, lovely suburban street with large houses and well-kept lawns. In the driveway of one house on my Obama-For-America list, three young men were hard at work with welding torches and such, constructing a huge iron contraption. Since the whole idea of door to door campaigning is to be friendly, I chirped up with a hearty hello and asked what they were doing.

It seems they were preparing for a competition in Delaware. Their hope was that their machine would throw an eight pound pumpkin at least two thousand feet.

No kidding! When I told Susie this, incredulous, she said, "Oh yes, I read about it in the newspapers. It is a very big sport in these parts."

I guess not everyone is as focused on the election as I am.

13 comments:

Chris said...

What an enigma. I'm still fascinated and perplexed that the author of text on marx and anarchism is a canvasing democrats.

Anyway, don't let Glenn Beck find out an economic Marxist is tracking down people on an Obama-For-America list!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I know, I know. Show me a viable Marxist candidate, and I will spend all day campaigning for her! The dangers posed by the Republicans to millions of defenseless Americans is enormous. I am comfortably protected by my pension and medicare, but that does not give me the right to ignore the pain of people whose security and healoth are threatened.

Chris said...

Oh, I remember our discussion; and the reasons why you're drawn to do what you do, but, I still reserve the right to be shocked every time I hear about it!

Although this does raise to mind two particular questions. One, while not a Marxist, what do you do when Ralph Nader is running? I mean there's little doubt in the radical left's mind that he's truly the superior candidate, incapable of being bribed, or showboating an audience. He's a morally driven candidate, not a candidate of party power. Or, I guess, he's just not viable, albeit well-known?

Two, how do you rectify your Anarchism and your Marxism? The two political philosophies have been in an esoteric intellectual battle for over a century (and in some cases physical battle), and having a Marxist come to office would fundamentally encroach on one's Moral Autonomy (Don't get me wrong, although I'm an anarchist, I'd vote for a Marxist too, but I can't justify it all too well).

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am less enamored with Nader than many on the left, because I think he has become self-absorbed and self-rightous. After all, he gave the election to Bush in 2000.

AS for the relationship between anarchism and marxism: I do not believe that the state is legitimate -- i.e., I do not believe I am obligated to obey its laws simply because they issue from the will of a democratically elected legislature. But as a moral individual,I believe very strongly that some of the actions of a state can have good consequences and some can have bad consequences, and I weigh that when asking myself whether to support or oppose a particular regime. My Marxism is first a theory of the nature of capitalism, and secondly a hope for a socialist society. Even in a socialist state, I would have to weigh the consequences of each regime's actions, because a socialist state would be no more legitimate than a capitalist state. But its actions would most likely have better consequences, in which case I would support it.

I am not by nature a believer, either in divine or in secular deities.

Chris said...

Fair enough.

One small comment though. I watched a documentary on ralph nader that you may or may not be interested in. In it, the questioner stated to him "What about your critics who say you gave the election away to Bush." He had several replies, I can't remember them all; although I must say it seems logically facetious holding one man responsible like that.

Anyway, the one I do remember was that had everyone that voted for Ralph voted for Gore, Gore would have won. Ralph however, meticulous as he is, kept documents of all third party voting records and pointed out that the 5,000 vote difference, or whatever it was that was needed to make Gore win, was also just as displaced for at least a half dozen other third parties. Therefore, had anyone, of any of the other third parties voted Gore instead, Gore would have won. So he was no more/less to blame than any other third party, and yet the Democratic party smeared him the hardest for it. It's of course not hard to figure out why, he's extremely articulate at pointing out just how corrupt and complacent they are in a corporate financed government.

His final reply was of righteous of course. He said, roughly, "look, most people that make this argument say the Democrats should have won because that's the lesser of two evils. Well, I'm not conforming to evil."

M said...

Here in southern Indiana, there's a similar pumpkin-launching contest every year. I have yet to witness it, but I'm told it's quite the spectacle.

Angus said...

They call it "punkin chunkin" in slower lower: http://www.punkinchunkin.com/

Anonymous Philosophy ABD said...

After one talk by Chomsky, I think in the late 1990s, a woman from the SWP or one of the other Trotskyist sects accused Chomsky of being a milquetoast liberal and called for "working class revolution" -- the usual. I think Chomsky's reply was something like: "Then why are you yelling about it here? Go to the nearest factory. I'll pay your cab fare."

I don't know how one could be an anarchist and not canvass for democrats. What's the alternative? Go to a factory and try to get a national general strike started while the Tea Party takes over Congress?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Noam, even though I haven't seen him in decades.

jeff house said...

If the pumpkin is properly targetted, it may well fit into the campaign.

Chris said...

Professor,
he's (chomsky) still active giving lectures, writing books, doing interviews etc.

JaneyG said...

In defense of that SWP member, I actually think she's on to something. Revolution's not a possibility but whatever else would be a start (riots, sit-ins, strikes, vandalism, your own fake-grassroots organizations to mirror the tea party etc). These kind of things aren't -that- hard to put together. The left in America really needs to be thinking about doing something else and something significant to start influencing American politics outside of trying to shape Democratic policy and get them elected (yes, yes, I know saying it won't make it happen and that that was the point of the story).

I say all this as a Brit, so not one in the best position to accuse others of being politically inert, but it's really getting past the point where I can see working class Americans as victims of the political establishment. They're great people, but they're also grown adults who should be able to do something about this - and if they think that means voting in the Republicans then it's genuinely getting really hard to feel any sympathy whatsoever for a very significant portion of the population.

Some monster, one who happened to be a two-term president, is out there joking about how he had people tortured for reasons he has clearly fabricated. The House of Representatives is going to be led by a party committed to the destruction of any meaningful social progress - against health care, against nuclear arms reduction, against climate care, for and only for tax cuts for the very least deserving. And the expectation seems to be that if the Democrats can't do anything about it (and I think in many contexts, certainly concerning the ex-president, the appropriate word is "won't" rather than "can't") then well nothing can. What are you going to do?

I'm not saying campaigning for the Democrats is a waste of time by a long shot, but there really has to be something else. Why won't Americans defend themselves against this crap, regardless of which party it is that's doing it?

Chris said...

JaneyG,
Just to emphasize your point, I believe your government is trying to hike up tuition to something like $4,000 a year? That's approximately what I pay a semester, at an average school. When the hikes take place in your country, riots take place. For us, that's just perfunctory, and if we even suggested free-education, you'd see riots of people shouting communist, and stomping on female heads :/