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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Monday, September 5, 2011

CRAWLING OUT FROM UNDER ROCKS

Some of you no doubt missed the little opinion piece by Matthew Vadum which appeared yesterday on the web but is actually dated today. It is a vile attack on efforts to register poor people to vote. You can find it here: http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/09/registering_the_poor_to_vote_is_un-american.html

Here, as they say in the blogosphere, is the money quote: "Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote? Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians. Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery. Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country -- which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote."

There is no need to comment on the substance of this despicable bit of right-wing rhetoric. I freely confess that it inspires in me an urge to punch this wretched twerp in the face. Views like this have been widely held for at least as long as people have been voting. What I find interesting is that it is now considered acceptable to utter them in public. I do not think this is simply an instance of what quasi-thoughtful people on the right call "epistemic closure" [which is living in an intellectually closeted world in which your most extreme thoughts are echoed back at you so reliably that they come to seem commonplace and not in need of defense.] Rather, this marks a genuine and frightening shift in the character of the public discourse.

Many of my friends blame this change on Obama, or at least charge him with being complicit in it. Others blame the Democratic Party for allowing the right to "set the agenda." I think that is far too simplistic and, in an odd way, comforting. After all, if this change is the fault of Obama or the Democratic Party in general, then all that is needed is for them to wake up and start saying all the things we want them to say, and then the "agenda" will change.

I wish that were so, because not only would it be easy enough to do, it would even be in their own political interest to do so, and therefore presumably one can count on their self-interest to produce the change. But I take a darker and more pessimistic view. If one goes back and looks, one can find countless strong statements by progressive politicians pushing back against this tidal wave of vile assaults on the poor, the non-White, on immigrants, documented or undocumented, on gays and lesbians, and on those who simply want to protect the vulnerable from life's tragedies. The failure of those statements to gain traction must be explained by something deeper.

We are living in ugly times, and those of us old enough to recall the unraveling of the Weimar Republic and the onset of Nazism find it hard to be sanguine that nothing at all like that can happen here.

4 comments:

Scott said...

I agree that this piece was vitriolic garbage but there is something to be said for getting people to think twice about voting (no, NOT the poor, to clarify).

The American population, both rich and poor, is largely apathetic to politics and knows little to nothing about how our system of government actually works. Even most college students are highly ignorant of politics. If you really want to read all the depressing details go here: http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/2008/major_findings_finding1.html

Democracy only works when informed citizens make informed decisions. So shouldn't you be telling your friends and neighbors "make sure you're well enough informed before you vote" instead of "go out and vote! It's your civic duty!"?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

"Be informed" actually has two quite different meanings, depending on whether you subscribe to Rousseau's conception of democracy or that of the Founding Fathers. But that is a topic for another post, some time in the future.

formerly a wage slave said...

I heard about this bit of nastiness at Leiter's blog, and had a visceral reaction similar to your own. But I wonder: is there that sort of nastiness-- or is it so common-- in France? I know there is nastiness in Europe, but my overall impression is that there is a sort of political awareness -- broadly speaking-- that is largely absent here ( in the USA) I would be curious to know what you think.
PS: my own favorite. -- if I can use that word-- piece of nastiness appeared recently in the readers' comment section in a Czech daily. When it was reported that thousands of elderly Czechs would have to leave their apartments inPrague, due to the ending of rent controls, one reader complained that the article was insufficiently objective, and overly emotional. Another wrote that those unproductive people should move adide for those who are productive. But myself I am inclined to see such extreme attitudes as something of an abberration in Europe as a whole-- though I make no claim to certainty or even social science accoracy.

formerly a wage slave said...

I had to leave some typos in the above post because I find Ipad unfriendly to revising a blog text.