A Commentary on the Passing Scene by
Robert Paul Wolff
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 Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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It is a lazy Saturday afternoon here in Paris, and I have some time now to respond to a few of the comments that have been piling up on my various posts.Marinus offers some interesting thoughts about Swift, and in particular about the Fourth Book, concerning Gulliver’s travel to the land of the Yahoos and Houyhnhnms.What he says strikes me as quite plausible, but I shall hold off commenting until I have re-read it.I must say up front, however, that I am no sort of literary critic, and my opinion will be of corresponding value.
Scaling Factor asks me to say something about Christopher Hitchens, who died the day before yesterday at the age of 62, after a long struggle with cancer.I never met Hitchens, and so cannot reminisce about him as have many of the people who were his friends or colleagues.His death has occasioned a re-posting of some of his most acerbic and brilliant disquisitions, including one memorable take-down of Mother Teresa.What follows is rather a free-form meander through the undergrowth of my mind, and is offered not as a comment on Hitchens but as a bit of shameless self-revelation.
My only contact with Hitchens came some years ago when, out of the blue, I received a letter from him asking me for a copy of or reference to my review of Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind.I have already described the review on this blog, so I shan’t repeat what I said.The review, despite appearing in a rather obscure publication [the house organ of the American Association of University Professors] became something of a cult classic.
As I thought about Hitchens’ early death, a line came to mind: ”Only the good die young.”I mistakenly thought that it was a line from John Dryden’s great poem, Alexander’s Feast, written to be set to music in honor of St. Cecelia.Google informed me, to my horror, that it is actually the title of a Billy Joel hit song [I am barely marginally aware of who Billy Joel is, or was.]But this bit of failed memory put me in mind of a line that I had long cherished from Gregory of Tours’ great sixth century work, The History of the Franks.[For those who have not read Gregory lately – hem, hem – I will just note that this long, rambling, circumstantial account of the doings of the godawful fifth and sixth century Franks is our best, and in some cases only, source of information abut the Merovingian dynasty that flourished after the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire and before the advent of Charlemagne, whose coronation on Christmas Day, 800 A. D. inaugurated the relatively glorious Carolingian period and eventually bestowed on Europe the Holy Roman Empire.]The line, as I recalled it, came at the end of Gregory’s narration of the appalling doings of a particularly sadistic, brutal, amoral Frankish Count, who swashbuckled his way across one bit of Middle Europe for an unconscionably long time.Gregory, who was a Bishop and always on the lookout for evidences of God’s mercy and justice, concluded his account of this malefactor by remarking [or so I remembered it] that “he died in his bed at the age of eighty-four, and so God’s divine justice was once more proved.”What I loved was of course the notion that in a society that regularly cut people off in their twenties and thirties, an evil man dying in bed in his eighties could be construed as an example of divine retribution.
By a natural process of association, this led me to think of more recent deservers of divine punishment, like Dick Cheney, who has survived three or four heart attacks and yet still lives.“Only the good die young.”Like Hitchens, I am quite sure there is no God, but I would appreciate from time to time to see some sort of balance in nature’s allocation of long life.
Well, I thought that if I were going to blog about Gregory’s pious utterance, I ought first to find it.Naturally, The History of the Franks is online [what is not?], and I spent quite a long time speed-reading all ten books, without, alas, turning up the remembered quote.
C. Rossi asks for a tutorial on Erving Goffman.I think I will do that, after I return home, where my copies of Goffman’s books are located.It will not really be a tutorial, a term that surely implies I have something to teach.Perhaps I should start a separate series called “Appreciations,” whose purpose is simply to recommend to my readers books that I have found especially suggestive or enlightening.
As for a tutorial on W. E. B. Du Bois, I think my lengthy tutorial on Afro-American Studies has pretty well done that – available on box.net.
Which brings me finally to High Arka.For some time now, this person has been hiding behind a web-handle and posting abusive comments about me on this site.A little investigation reveals that he [it is a he] has his own web site.To this person, I say:Either come out of hiding and identify yourself, or retire to your own website and say anything you please.I think it is cowardly of you to conceal yourself, and I am not amused.So if you insist on remaining anonymous, then just go away.
As I observed in one of my books, in politics I am an anarchist, in religion I am an atheist, and in economics I am a Marxist. I am also, rather more importantly, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a violist.