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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Sunday, July 24, 2016

A FURTHER REPLY TO ROBERT SHORE

Despite the sneering tone of his comment [“(Professor Wolff) cannot bear to have readers desecrating the sanctity of his blog…”], Robert Shore raises a question of the very greatest urgency, viz which of the two major candidates poses a greater threat of nuclear war, and I should like to address that matter at some length.  Dr. Shore is quite correct that this question takes precedence over all others.  Indeed, if I may invoke the jargon of rational choice theory, it is lexicographically prior to all other questions – which is to say, if one candidate poses even the tiniest greater threat of nuclear war, that consideration alone should outweigh any benefits, however large, in other realms.  Dr. Shore says that as he lives in a safely blue state, he plans to vote Green.  But that is hardly sufficient, if he is not simply using me as the occasion for blowing off steam.  He lives next to a battleground state, and I assume that in addition to donating to the Trump campaign and publicly supporting it, he will also go on weekends to New Hampshire to campaign for Trump.  Anything less would be a confession of unseriousness in the face of what he believes to be a mortal threat to civilization.

Let me note before I begin that I do not come late to a concern for this matter.  I first took an active public stance against the threat of nuclear war and the policies of the American government that increased that threat in 1959, some fifty-seven years ago, which, if I am not mistaken, is well before many readers of this blog were born.  I argued against Henry Kissinger and Zbigniev Bzrezinski at Harvard, where I joined forces with David Riesman and Erik Erikson and many others.  I debated Herman Kahn at Jorden Hall in Boston, I wrote, I published, I spoke on the radio, I served for several years on the Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, I lectured on military strategy and foreign policy at the University of Chicago, I chaired a protest meeting at Harvard seeking to reverse America’s Cuba policy.  Struggle against the threat of nuclear war has been a part of my private and public life for nearly six decades.  As we think through this vitally important topic, let us never forget that the United States invented nuclear weapons and is the only nation ever actually to kill people with them.

Historical perspective is useful in thinking about the present presidential campaign.  Some modern powers have pursued their imperial ambitions by seizing and holding territories far from their borders.  Great Britain and France come to mind.  Others, like China and the Soviet Union, have enlarged their empires by absorbing contiguous weaker nations, exhibiting great hesitation about sending their military forces to regions not connected to the homeland by a land bridge.  The United States has pursued an imperial project that is something of a combination of these two approaches.  Its principal imperial expansion has consisted of the absorption of contiguous lands to the west and southwest of its original borders, expanding to the Pacific Ocean and the boundaries of Mexico and Canada, but it has of course also extended its empire militarily overseas as well – one thinks of the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and so forth.  The distinctive feature of American imperial expansion is that, unlike China, Russia, France, and Great Britain, Americans sought to exterminate rather than incorporate the indigenous peoples they conquered.

At the end of the Second World War, Germany and Italy were defeated and Great Britain and France, despite being part of the winning coalition of forces, began to lose their empires.  The two principal beneficiaries of the war were the Soviet Union and the United States.  The Soviet Union responded to the changed international balance of forces in characteristic fashion by incorporating territories in Eastern Europe.  The United States undertook to replace Great Britain and France as world hegemons, forging alliances with a wide array of states and stationing its troops permanently in every sector of the world not already claimed by the Soviet Union.  These efforts were of course not all successful.  The Soviet Union was several times compelled to use force to stop its Eastern European imperial appanages from breaking away, and its disastrous adventure across its southern border in Afghanistan led eventually to the collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union.  The United States, for its part, came close to destroying the cohesion and effectiveness of its military in its failed attempt to take the place of France in Southeast Asia, forcing it to bring the military draft to a close and substitute a professional army that could function effectively and without major political cost as an instrument of empire.

For a time, the collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States as the sole unchallenged imperial power in the entire world.  As one would expect, America responded to the Eastern European vacuum created by the breakup of the Soviet Union by expanding its sphere of influence eastward, using the device of membership in NATO.  Now, we see Vladimir Putin seeking to recapture some of the territory lost in the breakup, annexing Crimea, nibbling at Ukraine, beginning to make eyes at the Baltic States.  The fall in the price of oil has put severe strains on the Russian economy and hence on Putin’s ability to pursue his ambitions for a revived Russian empire.  But he does have some arrows in his quiver.  He has been offering financial and other support to extreme right-wing European political parties, such as the National Front of Marine le Pen in France, and Russian oligarchs allied with Putin have made several hundred million dollars in loans to Donald Trump [which may perhaps explain the fulsomeness of Trump’s praise for Putin.]  And of course, Putin has at his command a sizeable nuclear arsenal, even though it does not compare with the Soviet military force in Russia’s heyday.

All of which brings me to the question with which I began:  As between a President Clinton and a President Trump, who is more likely actually to get the United States into a nuclear exchange with Russia?  For seventy years now, American presidents have embraced and implemented the American imperial project.  Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, I have watched them all, and all have pursued essentially the same project.  [We must not allow ourselves to be misled by their rhetoric, which is usually quite high minded and selfless.  Let us recall that it was not an American who coined the memorable phrase, “the white man’s burden.”]  Some presidents have been rather more belligerent, some less.  Only one, John F. Kennedy, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Clinton would clearly be rather more belligerent than Obama, rather less than George W. Bush.  She would resist Putin’s expansionist efforts, and would deploy American forces and weaponry in that resistance.  If she did not, Putin would push further.  Let me emphasize this point, as it is crucial to everything I am saying.  It is a left-wing fantasy to suppose that the United States is the source of conflict in the world, and that if it were to give up its imperial project, the world would be a peaceful multi-polar harmony.  Whatever room America leaves for Russia’s imperial expansion Russia will take.  And whatever room Russia leaves for America’s imperial expansion America will take.  And should both America and Russia, in a fit of self-abnegation, retreat from the field of imperial struggle, China and other nations will take their place.

Both Clinton and Putin, I think it is clear from the available evidence, would be as careful as possible to avoid a nuclear confrontation, but I am well aware of the dangers of miscalculation.  Clinton would not act rashly, precipitously, or without thorough consultation with the military.  Everything we know about her makes that clear.  Would she be more likely than Obama to start small wars?  Pretty clearly yes, but that is not the subject of this discourse.  It is not small wars against real or imagined enemies that risk nuclear war.  The threat comes from a miscalculation by Clinton or Putin in a confrontation involving American and Russian troops.

What then of Trump?  This is a much more difficult problem to work out, and that fact by itself is significant.  When it comes to nuclear confrontations, uncertainty is an even greater danger than belligerence.  Trump has no ideological commitments or beliefs on the basis of which we might make a prediction of his behavior, and he has no track record on these issues, nor any experience on which he could draw as president in making decisions.  He is vain, ignorant, and narcissistic, and exhibits no capacity for impulse control even when it is in his self-interest to rein in his impulses.  He is desperately in need of constant ego-reinforcement, and what is more, he is in hock financially to Putin.  I find this combination of traits and defects terrifying.

Nor can we calm our fears by telling ourselves that the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military would not permit Trump to make disastrously dangerous decisions.  That is a fantasy that ignores the realities of the bureaucratic character of American government.  A President Trump could quite well plunge us into a civilization ending nuclear exchange.


Therefore, I am for Clinton.  I look forward to hearing Robert Shore’s reports of his experiences on the campaign trail in New Hampshire working for the election of Trump.

34 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

Another great blog. Prescient, informative, funny!

(I'm curious. In your family - ripe with scholars too - how are you perceived? The wise old sage, scholar above all
else? or the guy with the sharpest wit? do they read your blog?)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you Jerry. I am, as you might imagine, seen as the nifty dancer. :)

K.I. said...

Thorough and well-thought-out post, Professor Wolff! Also: an important sobering note regarding 'left-wing fantas[ies]'.

I should note one disagreement, however--one, moreover, that I think is given far too little attention by people in general in this election. I disagree that the threat of nuclear war is the single most important issue in this election--ye, it represents a possible (but ever so remote) apocalyptic situation. A much *much* less remote apocalyptic situation is climate change that threatens to put much of human civilization underwater within the next century, and utterly change the conditions of life on this planet. And on this mark--although Clinton herself is far too little far too late--she at least is most likely to continue President Obama's path towards incremental change for the better. Trump, on the other hand--along with most other repugs--either doesn't acknowledge that it's happening, or just doesn't give a damn. It seems clear to me that *this* is the most crucial difference between them, and gives the best reason for supporting Clinton over Trump.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

K. I., I accept your emendation, with one caveat. Nuclear war and climate change are both civilization threatening dangers, a fact that makes them both theoretically and politically very difficult to weigh against one another. But climate change is a much longer range threat than nuclear war, though not therefore less serious. Furthermore, there are at least ways for non-government actors to try to address the threat of climate change, but I can see no practical steps that non-state actors could take to counteract the threat of nuclear war in the presence of a reckless, careless, ignorant president with full access to nuclear weapons. In this election cycle, at least, there is no conflict between them. Trump is also a climate change denier.

wallyverr said...

FWIW, Trump also seems to me to be far more reckless and unpredictable than Clinton, so he would be more dangerous in terms of US-Soviet confrontations.

A minor historical quibble -- the purchase of Alaska was a mutually agreeable transaction between consenting sovereigns, so doesn't really belong in the same category as Cuba, Philippines, the northern part of what had been Mexico, etc (an all too long etc).

Finally, this blog has been remarkably free of sneering. I hope it stays that way. Large doses of Kant would perhaps have the same effect as Tolkien's sunrise in the Hobbit.

Acastos said...

Robert Shore is so obviously an attention-seeking troll that I simply ignore his infantile posts.

But you, Bob, have treated him with a kind of respect and seriousness I would never have troubled myself to summon, and produced a brilliant, compelling, and passionate essay that - though it probably won't do anything for Shore - has persuaded me, and I'm sure others as well, to become actively engaged (for Hillary) in this election. (I really shouldn't let Obama spoil me into voting only for politicians I actually like.)

I've had occasion to say this before, but you continue to inspire me and model for me the best characteristics of the teacher I profess to be. Thank you.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Acastos, I am more deeply touched by your words than I can say. Thank you.

Bernard Molyneux said...

Thank you for an excellent article. I do have a couple of polite objections, if I may. At the end, you hint that Trump's financial ties to Putin (I haven't read about that, but I suppose that's on me) made it more likely that he would get involved in a nuclear confrontation with Russia. That seemed like a leap. Especially since, earlier in the article, you suggested that those same ties might explain why Trump praises Putin so much. Why would you expect Putin's business buddy (Trump) to be more likely to escalate to nuclear war than a person (Clinton) who never has a good thing to say about Putin?

I was also a bit puzzled as to why you think Clinton is "clearly" likely to be less belligerent than Bush. Clinton is openly committed to implementing regime change in Syria. In other words, she wants to do exactly the same thing to Syria that Bush did to Iraq. In what way is this less belligerent?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

As for the first point, I am fearful that his ties to Putin would make his behavior more erratic and unpredictable, not that he would do Putin's bidding. As for the second, I am not at all committed to that judgment, so we shall have to see. You may very well be right. I may have been seduced by the balance of the sentence.

Tom Cathcart said...

Thank you, Bob, for the sanity. If I may, I'm just catching up with Chris's comments of a few days ago. You are, of course, correct, Chris, that center-left parties can be pushed to the right. That is because that's where they perceive the center of the electorate to have moved. 1992 is the most obvious example, but there are many others. And sometimes they move to the left for the same reason: 1932 ff., 1964 (because liberal voters didn't foresee what LBJ would do about Viet Nam), 1972. We could debate the wisdom or morality of moving more to the right because that's where the voters are perceived to have moved (and the accompanying justification that without getting elected, no part of the liberal agenda will be implemented.) But my concern about your analysis, Chris, is on another tack. You fear that if we keep compromising, we'll just keep moving further to the right. My fear is that if Trump is elected, the temptation will be to move MUCH further to the right next time.

s. wallerstein said...

So you debated Kissinger. What was your personal impression of him in general? We all know his war criminal record in Viet Nam and Cambodia and his nefarious role in backing and instigating military coups in Chile and Argentina as well as his rather masterful move to pact with China, but what drives him? Who is he? Is he just a pure opportunist in search of someone to sell his soul to?

Daniel Muñoz said...

Thanks for this—timely, morally urgent, and utterly terrifying. May Trump's tiny fingers stay forever distant from The Button.

Roger Albin said...

Prof. Wolff - A cogent argument. A couple of points for you to consider.
1) In one of the comments above, you state that climate change is a longer range problem. We don't, however, have a longer time frame to address it effectively. The window for keeping global temperatures below a safe threshold will close in the next few decades and we need substantial action now to mitigate this threat to our civilization. We can debate who is safer, Trump or Clinton (and I largely agree with you), but it is indisputable what would happen to US climate policy if Trump were elected - any chance of keeping global mean temperature rise below 2C will evaporate. In this context, Trump is a certain, not a theoretical threat to our civilization.
2) The biggest threat in terms of nuclear weapon use isn't a major exchange with Russia or China - its smaller scale use of nuclear weapons. It is easy to imagine Trump and his supporters incinerating a bunch of cities in the Middle East or North Korea. Even smaller scale nuclear arms use, on the scale of a war between India and Pakistan, would have dire consequences by producing a nuclear autumn that would substantially reduce world food production of many years. Look up the more recent work of Toon and Robock.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Roger Albin, Both points are well taken, and I agree with them both. As Freud would have said [and as Althusser would have mis-said], the decision to oppose Trump is over-determined.

s. wallerstein said...

Why should one dismiss the statement of "it is clear" as bullshit?

One might be a bit skeptical whether what is being affirmed is really so clear, but from something being clear to it being bullshit is a long stretch and there are lots of positions in between.

Yan said...

I agree with the conclusion, but think it's a far less certain and obvious one than presented.

Everyone mentions Trump's unpredictability, but I don't think people are taking it seriously enough. Trump strikes me as almost *literally* unpredictable, almost arbitrary in his opinions and statements. And so I think it's almost impossible to gauge his dangerousness: he could be far more, or far less, dangerous than anyone imagines. I think that is, in itself, an almost decisive point against him, but it still doesn't justify claiming he is almost certainly more dangerous, only that we are probably better off with a danger we know and feel confident we can overcome than with an unmeasurable possible danger.

That is, I think we must factor in the unknown qua unknown into the assessment, not pretend that because it's unknown it's quantity is great. But we can still draw a weaker version of the same conclusion.

I'm also uncertain about the claim that Clinton would not take military action rashly or without consultation with the military--except in a superficial sense. My impression of Libya (but maybe Syria and Honduras too)--as recounted in various sources, but the big NYT article is the main one I have in mind--is that it was rash, based on the opposition feeding them lines they wanted to hear, and not really carefully considering expert advice: everyone was split, the president was hesitant, and she pushed it through.

Finally, my impression is that Hillary is every bit as much a narcissistic sociopath as Trump is supposed to be. (Maybe more so, I'm not sure Trump fits the sociopath diagnosis so obviously. I'm no psychologist, but would find it strange if the disparate over the top boastfulness that is his dominant trait is typical of sociopathy: it seems like a desire to be loved, admired, approved of of a kind that presupposes a kind of empathy, if a perverted, narcissistic form.)

Anyway, the point is I think Clintons personality makes her more unpredictable than we think. I suspect her choices on both Iraq and Libya were a mix of career expediency (avoid looking like a weak on terror presidential candidate, add presidential FP experience to the resume) and a pathological need to prove she's tough (not unlike GWs pathological need to finish his fathers work while also besting it).

Both trait are dangerous because decisions are not made in the national interest, but I'd say she's less dangerous precisely because she's more of a sociopath. She doesn't care enough about others to get into war to prove her worth. She'll only make war to advance her career, and that suggests more of the kind we've had for 15 years, not civilsation ending ones.

hopelessmisanthrope said...

"Why should one dismiss the statement of "it is clear" as bullshit?"

Being bullshit doesn't mean that it isn't true. It means that the bullshitter doesn't have solid reasons to believe it to be true. So when someone says that it is "clear" that something is true even when it isn't clear and he provides no evidence to make it obviously clear, that is likely bulllshit.

As for reading, Brian Leiter ought to reread my comments. His response is based on not reading carefully or perhaps not understanding what I wrote. I was talking about what Trump will be like in regards to his policies as a president (and how that it isn't clear what they are from his views expressed on his campaign since they are not reliable and often contradictory). Leiter mistook this as saying that we don't know what Trump's character is like. This is just inexcusably dense.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Yan, I think your psychological evaluation of Clinton is almost entirely wrong, regardless of what you think about her politics or her decisions on particular issues.

hopelessmisanthrope said...

Is Trump a narcissist? Possibly. A pathological liar? Again, very possibly. But Clinton also has shown repeated mendacity. Look at her lying to the FBI on her emails. Look at her lying about being shot at by snipers or about how she has always supported gay marriage. So on the character question, if we are to judge someone's character based on mendacity as some do, we cannot be certain that Trump's overall character is worse than that of Clinton's.

But obviously character is far more than just mendacity and narcissism so it's rather simplistic to do so. I don't know why I should even have to make this point. All I am saying is that it seems that for many Clinton voters, they make claims using "clear" and "obvious" too often without solid evidence on these tricky issues. I don't think it's that obvious that she will be far worse than he will be. I'm sorry if that demand for higher standards of debate comes off as "ignorant".

hopelessmisanthrope said...

Here's another good example of bullshit: Claiming that someone is a "sociopath" as Brian Leiter does when Leiter is not a trained psychologist/psychiatrist, and without supplying a certified psychological evaluation as evidence. In my opinion, both HRC and Trump show some signs of being a sociopath such as narcissism and mendacity. Those aren't all the traits or even the most distinctive traits of a sociopath from what I have read. But I don't know, I'm not trained to make that evaluation. That may just be hyperbole on his part but it doesn't seem to be because he's basing his argument on why voting for HRC is "clearly" the better option on that character evaluation.

s. wallerstein said...

Hopeless misanthrope,

I think that you're confusing games.

This is a blog, not a philosophy seminar and Leiter writes in another blog, not a psychiatric hospital.

Blogs are more informal than philosophy seminars or psychiatric hospitals. In blogs people express their opinions as citizens or as bloggers, not as professionals. We all know that Leiter is not a psychologist or psychiatrist and when Leiter gives his opinion (in his blog, not in one of his academic papers), he assumes that all of us know that he is not a psychologist or psychiatrist and that he is giving his informal opinion about Trump's personality. That's the way the blogging game works.

Brian Leiter said...

S. Wallerestein concecdes too much to the ignorant misanthrope: psychology isn't rocket science. Trump is obviously a sociopath and obviously suffers from what the DSM used to recognize as narcissistic personality disorder. I'm only agnostic on his other possible mental illnesses, which would require more intimate details about him. But I encourage our blog host to delete all of the misanthrope's comments, so he goes away and doesn't disrupt the usually high quality of discussion here. Again, my apologies, but linking always risks bringing cranks out of the woodworks.

hopelessmisanthrope said...

s. wallerstein,

You are right about one thing. In blogs, it's common for people to be careless in their claims. And people use hyperbolic speech. That doesn't make it any less BS though. Of course many of us including myself have called people sociopaths before in a way that's exaggeration. But some people base their political views on such slapdash psychological evaluations. I don't do that and neither should you. I base mine on facts. What has he said and done specifically to make the claim that HRC is "clearly" a better candidate? Trump has shown a long history of lies, narcissism and probably even ripping many people off. Clinton has shown a long history of wanting to bomb other countries even when hundreds of thousands of innocent people are killed and then not taking any responsibility for that and not learning from her actions.

I am a Jill Stein supporter. I don't like either HRC or Trump. I also don't like bullshit whether that be from politicians or philosophers claiming that they in the business of rational discourse and are supposedly pros at it.

s. wallerstein said...

Hopeless misanthrope,

Informal speech is not hyperbolic or careless or slapdash. It's informal.

Leiter is probably right in insisting that Trump is a sociopath, but he's doing that informally, not as a professional psychologist. That does not make his opinion hyperbolic or careless or slapdash.

As a matter of fact, you yourself have made a series of affirmations about Professor Wolff and Professor Leiter, about Trump and Clinton. For example, you claim that Clinton has not learned from her actions. Can you give a source for that besides your own informal opinion? Can you footnote that? Are you privy to what goes on in Clinton's head or to her private conversations? No, so if you give your own informal opinions in this blog, why do you object when Professor Wolff and Professor Leiter do?

hopelessmisanthrope said...

Of course informal speech is informal. But it is also often exaggerated and careless. You say that he is "probably right" that Trump is a sociopath. Are you a psychiatrist? Have you given Trump Hare's inventory? If not I suggest you check out what bullshit means (see Harry Frankfurt's 'On Bullshit').

"Can you give a source for that besides your own informal opinion? "

That is the difference. I can supply facts. She advocated for the war in Iraq. It took her many years to admit that that was a mistake and eventually she did (it took Trump far less time, only a matter of a few months to reverse his position on the war). But she has also advocated for many other disastrous foreign interventions such as Libya since Iraq. Again, these are facts. They are not slapdash psychological evaluations by non experts such as yourself or Leiter. That's the difference. I base my political views on these kinds of facts, not bullshit.

s. wallerstein said...

Hopeless misanthrope,

You sound a bit self-righteous yourself. Why this crusade against Professor Leiter?

Yan said...

Professor Wolff,

My general position on this question and this election generally is that we should all be much less certain than we are, and should decide our course of action primarily in light of that (I think) unprecedented uncertainty rather than primarily on our confident predictions, which have been so often wrong throughout the primaries.

So I gladly accept the possibility that I might be very wrong about HRC, but doesn't your claim about Trump depend somewhat on armchair psychological evaluation of Trump, which is equally contentious?

And you must admit that many other commentators (like Leiter) rely on very strong non-professional psychological claims in their arguments against Trump. Isn't that asymmetry a possible problem for a reliable or at least strong conclusion about who is a greater nuclear risk?

In any case, I would sincerely be interested in your further thoughts about the psychology of Clinton's decision making--on where I'm wrong and your own interpretation of her decisions like Iraq and Libya.

I don't think my general claim is extremely controversial or outlandish on its face: that she makes many decisions out of political expediency (e.g. endorsing marriage equality only after it stops being a political liability).

When that includes possibly supporting an illegal, unnecessary, and very poorly justified war out of expediency, knowing that thousands of civilians will die, that strikes me as arguably symptomatic of a higher than average degree of sociopathy. (I'm assuming she's too intelligent to have believed the shoddy evidence or to have trusted the administration's claim of unseen better evidence.)

I don't think the claim she's narcissistic is so outlandish or unusual as to not deserve counter argument either. To be sure, a higher than average degree of narcissism is probably necessary for politicians, and she may not be as bad as Trump, but I'm honestly surprised you would insist it's an almost *entirely* wrong diagnosis. (It seems a bit uncharitable to reject a view so sweepingly without further explanation.)

But I sense there's a kind of temporary almost apocalyptic madness that has taken hold of us all of late, myself included. From every party and wing on every side of the political spectrum, we are anxious to assert, defend, and entertain maximal views. Every danger is unprecedented, every evil is diabolical. The surprising though probably not coincidental side effect of this is that we become excessively charitable, cautious, and nuanced in our judgements of those we'd otherwise be much tougher on. Held up against a world of so many Devils-than-which-there-can-be-no-greater we all come off as almost angelic or at least (and this is what counts to save us from self hatred and despair for our future) just good enough.

I'm still afraid we may perish from being merely good enough, and from placing our trust and lives in the merely good enough. Which isn't to imply we will won't perish either way.

Tom Cathcart said...

I'm not an expert on either jurisprudence or Trump's mentality, so do I "know" that Trump's Supreme Court picks would guarantee reactionary opinions for the next 20 years? Nope, but as a voter I'm charged with making my best guess. My best guess is he's a sociopath. My best guess is he's a narcissist. My best guess is that ISIS could get under his skin and trigger his worst impulses. My best guess is that Hillary, while flawed and to my right, is more predictable. If one's assessment, hopeless misanthrope, is that there's no significant provable difference between the two, that doesn't remove the risk of taking one's best, semi-educated guess, and voting for Jill Stein doesn't get one off the hook.

hopelessmisanthrope said...

That's awesome, Tom, that your "best guess" is that he's a sociopath and that she isn't. Would you, however, say that that is "clear" and "obvious"? By "best guess," I take it that you don't think that is the case. I also take it that your best guess isn't any more informed than mine (despite that you might very well believe with complete certainty so). I suspect she's just as duplicitous and possibly even more sociopathic than he is. So armchair speculation aside, nothing I have seen suggest it's clear or obvious. Read my posts again if that last part wasn't made clear.

Tom Cathcart said...

I guess my best guess seems clear and obvious to me. I hope your view is clear and obvious to you too, because it's not enough to just think my view isn't clear and obvious.

Karl Young said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karl Young said...

With my tongue only part way in my cheek, and noting that as scary as Barry Goldwater was, he was a career politician and at least somewhat more deliberate than Trump (I acknowledge what a low bar that is), why doesn't Hillary's cadre update something like the highly effective little girl and the flower commercial ?

Karl said...

Professor Wolff,

Thank you for another interesting post. I agree with your conclusions, but was hoping you could elucidate what you mean when you say "imperial" and bring both the US and Russia under that term. Historically, hasn't this been associated with foreign control over a country's economy, most often foreign ownership of a country's natural resources? The term is fuzzy for me, and I'm certainly not an expert on the matter, but to argue against Russia being an imperialist power couldn't one point to large sectors of the unindustrialized Russian Empire being foreign-owned, and, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and introduction of neoiiberal policies, the Russian economy being opened up to Western corporations? Russia strikes me as a big and powerful third world country with its economy based mostly around the export of natural resources. The oligarchy (another third world characteristic) seems to be a clear consequence of the neoliberal policies that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Perhaps I'm looking at the question the wrong way. In any case, I would much appreciate comments from you, professor, or other readers with thoughts on the topic.

Gildas Hamel said...

My first reaction to the argument is that the time scale for a nuclear war is entirely different from that of the traditional narrow pursuit in foreign policy of reciprocal arrangements and re-arrangements based on the horror vacui principle. The question for me is not so much the destabilization a Trump may be quicker to bring as the moves towards a destabilized world that both Clinton and Trump might willy nilly perform in the pursuit of what they understand to be their interests---those of their class as well as their own. Can't the argument that the unreadibility and unpredictability of candidate Trump is a destabilizing factor and makes it imperative to vote for Clinton by default be reversed? In the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, couldn't a lack of stability be considered an advantage in allowing US imperialistic forces to continue to operate and exploit opportunities maximally, whereas the need seen by Obama and perhaps also by Clinton to climb down from a perceived notion of agressive military posture (no matter the armament policies and NATO positions) might increase the dangers? I'm thinking mostly of China and its rising role in the world economic system. The US have been monitoring its borders in a very intrusive fashion for decades. It seems clear the US will have to negotiate and back off, and China will expand its own empire, financially and militarily. Which presidential candidate is likely to take the better decisions, meaning, to create a path for an orderly withdrawal from positions US imperialism cannot keep forever? The answer is not clear to me. A first impression is that the predictability of a Clinton in shoring up the presently triumphant capitalistic imperial project is as dangerous as Trump's predictable unpredictability. After four or eight years of Clinton, will the US be on a course of smart retreat while using its power to enjoin more just arrangements in the use of labor and capital, or will it be on a confrontational course? --Gildas Hamel