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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, April 16, 2012

THE FIRES ARE BANKED IN THE HOT STOVE

The comedy of errors called the Republican Primary is over, the actual major league baseball season has begun, and it is time to bank the fires and say farewell to the Hot Stove League for another year.  I am at the cusp of a possible major new gig, one that will, if it comes to pass, allow me once more to try to make a difference in the world, as opposed to merely offering opinions.  I cannot say more now, but quite possibly in the next two or three weeks I will be able to describe in some detail what I shall be doing.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Recently, I spoke with an old friend from Amherst, MA, whose occasional lunches with a circle of senior academics was, for me, a highlight of my rather low-key social life.  He reported that at a recent lunch, those present, several of whom, like my friend, are professional historians, expressed the opinion that not in a hundred years had an American political party moved so far and in so determined a fashion to the right.  That set me thinking, and I formulated two alternative and incompatible hypotheses to explain this movement, between which I am unable to choose.  I shall sketch them here, and invite any interested readers to offer their judgment.

One hypothesis is that the reality-denying conspiratorial crazies have always been a subordinate element in American politics, that there really are not more of them now than at previous times in the memory of those as old as myself, but that for a variety of structural reasons these types, of whom there are, after all, some scores of millions in this large country, have managed to take control of the Republican Party.  Their success is in part a consequence of a long stretch of redistricting exercises that has created unusually large numbers of safe seats, in which crazy views can survive;  in part a consequence of the election of a Black president, which has driven them wild; and in part a consequence of the rise of alternative communications media in which an "echo chamber" of reality-denying bizarreries flourishes.  In support of this hypothesis, one can cite Richard Hofstadter's famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," which was first a lecture at Oxford, then a 1963 Harper's Magazine essay, and then the title essay of a collection of essays.

The alternative hypothesis is that something genuinely new is taking place, something unlike what has gone before in American politics.  A determined and deadly serious effort is under way to reverse three quarters of a century of social progress, to destroy the signature achievements of the New Deal, and to undo the successes of the Women's Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the LGBT Movement.  This effort is bankrolled by wealthy corporate types who seek to protect what they have already stolen from the American economy and to facilitate future thefts;  it is supported both by a large segment of the American population who have never accepted the consequences of the LIberation Movements;  and it derives its especial passion from participants in yet another of America's periodic Great Revivals, born again Evangelical Christians, many of whom genuinely expect the imminent arrival of the Rapture and the End Times.

So, same old same old. or something really new.  Which is it?

6 comments:

JP said...

Here is another hypothesis (and no more, though I do think there is something to be said for it):

What we are seeing is the death of the social conservative (religious) right. They have woken up to the fact that mainstream culture is leaving them behind and that demographics (little, and decreasing, support among the young) ensure that they will be increasingly marginalized. They realize that, in the long run, they have lost, and hence have gone a little crazy.

In short, they have realized that 'their America' is dying, and aren't happy about it. Hence the sudden passion, visibility and extremism of a group that has always been part of US political life. To summarise the summary: what we are seeing is the beginning of the end for religion in America.

Too optimistic? (Note, this hypothesis is supposed to be about religious, social conservatives, i.e. Santorum, and not the libertarian part of the Republican Party, despite their uneasy alliance.)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Lord, I hope you are right. I am tempermentally inclined to optimistic hypotheses. As my fiends are wont to observe, I am a Tigger, not an Eeyore.

Kewball said...

C: Both of the above.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Whoops. That is my friends, not my fiends. :)

Superfluous Man said...

I'm of the opinion that the first is the correct one. One instance that I think I can say might certainly represent this is the "Know Nothing" party. We are simply at a period when there has been such dramatic change in such a short period of time that the electorate responds in a crazy manner. One must not discount the rise of television, which brings a great deal of made to order stupidity to the table, on top of which has been the rise of a pervasive and manipulating corporate media, which we have always had but which seems particularly potent and powerful in uncertain times like our own. i.e Fox News We must also remember that at one time for any media to have any influence, the population had to be at least literate. This is not true with television. So my latter point might speak to the latter hypothesis, although I think the former is the most potent. We have always had the crazy element in our society, which has been in a constant state of flux since the beginning of the country. To get a sense of how this has been true since the founding of the country, get a copy of "American Aurora" to read how media has always been able to stir Americans as well as American leaders to true levels of insanity and paranoia. i.e. The alien and sedition acts of John Adams' presidency circa the late 1790s.

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