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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, April 30, 2016

A REPLY TO CHRIS

Let me now respond to Chris’s comment, keyed to a passage in my little book In Defense of Anarchism.  Since it has been a while, I will start by reproducing the comment:

“Professor Wolff,
In In Defense of Anarchism, you provide a great argument against representative democracy infringing on autonomy when you point out that if a set of candidates were running on just 4 issues (an impossibly small world!), our two party system would be painfully inadequate to accommodate real representation:

"Simplifying the real world considerably, we can suppose that there are three alternative courses of action seriously being considered on the first issue, four on the second, two on the third, and three on the last. There are then 3 X 4 X 2 X 3 = 72 possible stands which a man might take on these four issues." -RPW

So in just a 4 issue world, we need 72 possible candidates, in order for each voter to at least have the possibility of voting for her preferred candidate. We have two “strictly consider these people” presidential candidates.

It seems to me the error being made when people say "you really must vote Democratic candidate X [cause it never matters who X is for the past 60 years], over Republican Y [in this case real names are used, e.g., Trump]", is that you assume somewhere on the hypothetically limited spectrum of 72 possible choices, the Democrat is 'closer' to our position.

Again, keeping the world simple, let's say that of all 72 possible candidates, Trump really is 72nd, i.e., in last place in terms of my hypothetically preferred representatives (not sure this is actually true). That is, he takes the maximally possibly wrong stance on every issue. But if Hillary Clinton is 71st, or 70th, hell 69th or 68th, and not something like 35th or 10th, does "vote for the Dem" really make sense?

It seems to me the error being made in vote Dem X judgment, is the presumption that the Dem is substantially closer to ideal candidate 1, than the republican. But when the distance is oceanic, covered with barbed-wire, and patrolled by ogres, at what point does this argument break down, If ever? At what point are you asking people to compromise on SERIOUS and autonomously decided moral principles, just to get their 71st choice?

Just as we wouldn't ask a serious pacifist to kill in the name of less killing, at what point are we commanding of people a serious moral albatross, to the point that the Dem vote is unwarranted?
Maybe I’m a literally crazy person, but the distance between Trump and Clinton is extremely minute compared to the distance between my conscience and either of them. And it can’t just be presumed a priori that the Dem fits well enough into my preferred choices.

And on an entirely pragmatic note, if all the independents (which I am registered as) really do commit Bernie or Bust, and that’s registered by party strategist, you better believe that could go some way toward restructuring the democratic party to be more progressive in 4-8 years. I sincerely DOUBT that will happen when we all just hop in line and vote Hillary without a fight.”

The first thing to recall is that my example concerns voting for someone who will represent you in the legislature that enacts laws.  The logic of the argument is this:  The de jure legitimacy of democracy derives, supposedly, from the fact that those who are bound to obey the laws make the laws, and hence are autonomous [literally “giving laws to oneself” or being self-legislating.]  In a representative democracy, the person I choose, by voting, to represent me may not win, but at least I had a chance to be represented by someone who, in the legislature, is pledged to act as my agent and work my will.  But if I am not even presented on the ballot with such a person, then I have no chance to be truly represented in the legislature, and hence I am not by any stretch of reason obligated to obey the law.  But if there are even as few as three or four issues of importance before the nation, and two or three logically independent possible positions on each issue, then the ballot would have to list as many as 72 candidates, each holding a different combination of possible positions, in order for it to be guaranteed that that I am at least offered a suitable representative of my will.  And nothing like this ever happens.

But in the American political system, a president is not a representative in the legislature.  He or she is an executive.  So my little argument is not really apposite.  Given the conclusion to which I come in that book, I begin with the assumption that no American government is de jure legitimate.  My problem is to decide, in a situation of total governmental illegitimacy, what it is best for me to do.  And that requires me to make uncertain estimates of the probable future behavior of whatever candidates for the presidency are offered to me on the ballot, along with estimates, equally uncertain, of the legislative and other consequences of one person or the other occupying the office of president.

Let me sketch my reasons for thinking Clinton is to be preferred to Trump by myself or someone holding roughly my political beliefs.  I hope it may go without saying that my judgments, involving as they do very uncertain predictions, are hardly offered as incontrovertible.

I think it is very clear what sort of President Clinton would be.  She has been a public figure for decades, and there is really very little mystery about her beliefs, her administrative style, or her character.  The same cannot be said about Trump.  I believe him to be deeply psychologically unstable, as I have indicated.  [Robert Shore calls that “a cheap shot,” which strikes me as a truly bizarre comment, but I shall let that pass.]  He is working hard to arouse, intensify, and legitimate ugly, fascist tendencies in the population of which I am genuinely frightened.  Perhaps I am too powerfully influenced by the world’s experiences in the 20th century, but I am not at all confident that America is safe from those dangerous political passions.  Might Trump be a pacifist sheep in wolf’s clothing?  Perhaps, but I doubt it, and I am loathe to take that risk.  Might he prove to be a champion of the interests of the dispossessed and down-trodden?  Perhaps, though that really does seem to me to be a stretch.  Collecting up and examining his assorted public statements is pointless, in my judgment, because they are contradictory, episodic, and manifestly not thought through.

Some things are more certain.  First, if he is elected, then in all likelihood he will have a Republican Senate as well as a Republican House.  That will mean a reactionary Supreme Court for the next thirty years, in which case voting suppression, the repeal of LGBT rights, gerrymandering, and the complete triumph of corporate capitalism in the courts will be a certainty.  Under those circumstances, a progressive movement will be strangled in the cradle.

Will Trump actually be less hawkish than Clinton?  It is impossible to say.  He is so utterly ignorant of everything having to do with foreign policy that he will be completely at the mercy of his advisors, and from the little evidence we have, those advisors do not inspire me with hope.

What of Clinton?  She will pursue an aggressive foreign and military policy, and she will do little, if anything, to rein in the power and freedom of the financial sector.  She will pursue a Center-Left economic policy, with emphasis on reproductive rights, economic rights for women, some incremental strengthening of the Affordable care Act, and a continuation of the Obama Administration’s solid work addressing climate change.

Under a Clinton Administration, there will be a chance, just a chance, of a progressive movement in America, if Bernie chooses to lead the charge and establishes an ongoing organization to fight in local, state, and federal contests for the election of truly progressive office holders.  That, in my judgment, is our best hope, our only hope, for real change in this country.  Will Clinton support such a movement?  Of course not.  Will she undercut it?  I do not think so, since she will need its support for her re-election.

Is it worth taking a chance on Trump for the possibility of a surprisingly progressive presidency?  I do not think so, and my reason is that I remain genuinely frightened of the emergence of real home-grown American style fascism.


Now, all of this is unavoidably speculative, although I am pretty confident of my expectations concerning a Clinton presidency, if not for a Trump presidency.  So Chris may disagree with me, after looking at all of the same facts.  But I would urge all of us to think about this coldly and calculatedly.  We are a long way from a situation in which we can feel joy about our alternatives.

A HEAD START ON SUMMER READING

Ten Books Worth Reading

              Erich Auerbach, Mimesis

      Sǿren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments

              Marc Bloch, La Société Féodale

              Paul Goodman, Empire City

              Leon Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long

              Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

             W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction

              Jacqueline Jones, American Work

              Any of the books by the evolutionary biologist Nick Lane

              Irving Finkel, The Ark Before Noah

Friday, April 29, 2016

PUT UP OR SHUT UP, ROBERT SHORE

I am getting sick and tired of being the punching bag for other people's distress.  So, Bob, put up or shut up.  Next November, you will have a choice:  You can vote for Trump, vote for Clinton, vote for a third party candidate if one happens to appear on your ballot, or not vote.  Choose one and explain right here why you have made that choice.  Those are the only choices you will have.  I don't want to hear about how upset you are at having those choices.  That is the way it is.   Leave me out of it.  I won't be in the voting booth with you, and I won't be printing up your ballot or handing it to you.  Just explain, TAKING EVERYTHING INTO ACCOUNT, what you propose to do, and then justify that choice. 

Let's hear it.

FREUD FOR THE MASSES

Freud teaches us, Jung to the contrary notwithstanding, that there are no universal symbols in the processes of the mind [“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”].  It is therefore necessary to follow the unpredictable course of free association to gain access to the unconscious.  For this reason, armchair “psychoanalysis” of historical figures or persons one does not personally know is valueless.  Literary critics too are aware that the significance of symbols is peculiar to each author.  In the novels of Edith Wharton, for example, thresholds play a special role [see the frame structure of Ethan Frome].  For another novelist, they may hold no special significance whatsoever. 

It is therefore fruitless for me to speculate about the primitive unconscious thought processes of Donald Trump, someone I have never met and, it goes without saying, have never led through a process of free association.  But the temptation is irresistible, and as I have never been particularly adept at resisting temptation, here goes.  To preserve a semblance of scientific rigor, I shall cast these idle fancies in the form of predictions.  As the Fall campaign unfolds, you may check to see whether my expectations are confirmed.  Since, as we all know, post hoc, ergo propter hoc, the success of my predictions will confirm my speculations. 

Trump gives every evidence of being, at a very primitive level, both fascinated with and repelled by women.  He is frightened by strong women and flattered by submissive, conventionally attractive women.  He is obsessed with women’s sexuality as a prize to be won and worn on his sleeve, and he is deeply disgusted by women’s bodily functions.  Judging by his comments about Megyn Kelly and Hillary Clinton, he does not sharply distinguish between urination or excretion on the one hand and menstruation on the other, which suggests that he is fixated at roughly the stage of psychosexual development of a three year old.  He is also morbidly sensitive about the size of his hands and the folk wisdom concerning their connection to the size of his sexual organ.

None of this is especially unusual, of course.  All of us are in the grip of these sorts of infantile obsessions, which through a process of sublimation we convert into socially acceptable adult passions.  [Think, for example, of the extraordinarily aggressive psychosexual language in which mild-mannered mathematicians talk about their proofs – driving through a proof, ramming home a conclusion, dismissing the proofs of competitors as “trivial.”  Anyone who does not feel the aggressive thrust of a logical demonstration, which compels acquiescence, is not paying attention.]  What sets Trump apart from the general run of human beings is his utter inability to control the eruption of these primitive thought processes into speech, unmediated and unfiltered by the workings of an adult ego.  It is as though he is perpetually engaged in free association.

After watching Trump and listening to him for months, I have become convinced that he is going to find it psychologically intolerable to compete on the public stage with a strong, self-confident woman.  If, as I anticipate, the polls show Clinton beating him, Trump will find this simply unbearable, and his outbursts will become ever more bizarrely inappropriate.  He has already begun making disparaging remarks about Clinton “playing the woman card” and about her “shouting” when she gives public speeches.  Soon, he will bring up Bill Clinton’s sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, and, I predict, will say that Bill strayed because Hillary could not satisfy him sexually.  Unthinkable! you say?  Wait for it. 

He will be compelled to engage in at least one or two public debates with Clinton.  If, as I hope, she responds to his personal attacks by laughing at him, this affront to his amour proper will be intolerable to him.  He is an insult comedian who has unexpectedly risen above himself.  Along about middle October, when it becomes clear that he is going to lose badly, and to a woman, I predict that he will go seriously bonkers.

I trust all of you to hold me accountable.



Thursday, April 28, 2016

WHO KNEW?

I have now altered my settings so that people who are not Google users can comment.  Who knew?

ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL

I just learned that Judge Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee for Scalia's seat on the High Court, was a '74 graduate at Harvard in Social Studies, the program of which I was the first Head Tutor in 1960-61.  Suddenly he seems like a more acceptable choice.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

The die is cast.  Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee; Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.  I leave it to each of you to go through the five stages of grieving at your own pace.  The time has come to ask, What is to be done?  I am going to argue that each of us must do whatever possible to ensure that Hillary Clinton wins the election, and also whatever possible to transform Bernie’s campaign into a genuine movement.

I ask a favor of each of you: spare me the impassioned and accusatory list of reasons why Clinton is horrible.  I know them all, and agree with them all.  What is more, I am older than almost everyone who reads this blog, in many cases fifty or sixty years older.  If Clinton is elected, and if her Wall Street soulmates will refrain from again crashing the American economy, she is likely to be re-elected, which means that I will be ninety-one when she leaves office.  Don’t talk to me about despair!

First of all, it is essential to defeat Trump in the general election.  He is a hateful, narcissistic, rabble-rousing sociopath.  Might he make decisions as President that would be objectively better than those made by Clinton?  Of course.  Mussolini made the trains run on time.  Might he appoint Supreme Court justices that would set this country back half a century?  Almost certainly.  You don’t care about that?  Well, I have a proud gay son, and I do.  Suck it up.  Nobody guaranteed you a world full of happy choices between the good, the better, and the best.

But that is just the short term desideratum.  What we need in this country is a progressive movement, and as Bernie is fond of saying, change always comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.  That means everyone must vote in off-year elections.  Everyone must join and in some way support a movement from below in cities, in states, as well as in the nation as a whole.  You don’t like “bathroom bills” like North Carolina’s HB2?  Then work to defeat the governor who signed it into law.  You want to do something about income inequality?  That will require progressive majorities in both Houses of Congress, and even then it is hardly guaranteed.  You thrill to the news that millennials have a favorable opinion of socialism, even though they haven’t a clue what it is?  Then start organizing.

There is no end of the things needed to bring about change.  We need people who will march, and people who will sit down and link arms.  We need people who will run for the local School Committee and people who will fold and stuff envelopes.  We need people who will go door to door, and people who will set up information tables at the local supermarket.  The first rule of all political change is: Choose something you like to do, because you will have to keep on doing it even when the excitement evaporates and the media move on to the next Big Thing.  And you will have to still be doing it thirty years from now.  Finally, take to heart the advice that Paul Newman gives to Robert Redford about how to play the Big Con against Robert Shaw in The Sting:  If you win, it will not be enough, but it is all you are going to get, so you will have to accept it for what it is.

What will I be doing?  Well, I hate going door to door and talking to people I do not know, but I can give money, and that is something, even if it is not the most important thing.  So I have given $2,500 to Bernie’s campaign, and I will give regularly to a movement if he will start it.  I can write, so I will do that.  Lord knows, writing is pretty low on the list of desiderata, but somebody needs to do it, and I am pretty good at it.  What matters is doing something rather than nothing.  If we are to be successful, we will need, at a minimum, ten million people marching together.  Don’t worry if you are not one of the parade marshals.  Think of social change as being like a landslide.  If one big tree becomes uprooted and rolls down a mountainside, that is an interesting event, but it does not change the mountain.  But when a hundred thousand trees, bushes, boulders, and pebbles roll down the same side of the hill, the mountain is changed forever.


So much for my sermon.  Can I get an amen?

Monday, April 25, 2016

BLISS WAS IT IN THAT DAWN TO BE ALIVE/BUT TO BE YOUNG WAS VERY HEAVEN

Among several very kind and encouraging comments about the possibility of my attempting a full-scale book-length integration of half a lifetime's work on the thought of Karl Marx was Jim's allusion to my facetious remark about books falling from my sleeves like tribbles.  [To those of you who are not trekkies, that was an illusion to a classic episode of the original Star Trek called "The Trouble With Tribbles."  Tribbles were the interstellar version of schmoos, from the old Al Capp comic strip L'il Abner.]  I thought I would spend a bit of time talking about the good old days, when I was a young aspiring academic.

In the late 60's and into the 70's and 80's, it was actually easier to publish an academic book than it was to fall off a log, since there were not many logs on the typical college campus but there were always editors eager for book proposals.  There were two reasons for this happy state of affairs:  The GI Bill and Sputnik.  Let me explain.

Until Word War Two [or "the big one," as Archie Bunker liked to call it], very few young men and even fewer young women went to college.  But the GI Bill offered financial aid to returning vets, and in response the higher education sector exploded in growth.  State universities sprouted satellite campuses, state college systems metastasized, and community colleges popped up like summer flowers.  Each of these entities needed a library, a fact that drove up the market for academic books.  At the same time, the Cold War became an obsession with politicians, and when, in 1957, the Soviet Union beat America in the race to be first in space, launching into orbit a tiny satellite nicknamed Sputnik, the demand grew for America to "do something."  [I was engaged in Basic Training at Fort Dix in New Jersey when Sputnik was launched, and we could see the tiny dot of light move across the sky as we stood in formation in the pre-dawn.]

The next year, the National Defense Education Act was passed by the Congress.  As the title suggests, the goal was to enlist the newly expanded higher education sector in America's imperial plan for world domination [although it was not quite put that way], so much of the money went to fund Centers for the Study of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and anywhere else that America saw an enemy or the possibility of an ally.  But some of the money slopped over into the budgets of campus libraries.

The result of all this expansion and funding was that for several decades, a publisher who brought out an academic text couldn't lose.  By the time the author's family and friends had bought copies and a sizable fraction of the nation's college libraries had added it to their collections, the sales were enough to break even.  If anyone actually read the damned thing, the publisher would make a profit.  Editors of respected presses started hanging out on street corners like pimps and drug pushers, soliciting manuscripts.  Those of us who were the beneficiaries of this happy state of affairs, needless to say, attributed it to our intellectual brilliance, but the truth was that we were in the seller's market to beat all seller's markets.  

Now, at this time, during much of the 60's, both I and my wife were in full-scale psychoanalysis.  A fifty-minute analytic hour only cost $25 then, but since, as a senior member of the Columbia faculty, I was only making about $13,000 or $14,000 a year, that took a large bite out of my salary.  I was tap dancing as fast as I could to pay the bills.  I was moonlighting, I was teaching summer school, and I was grabbing every publishing opportunity that offered an advance.  When New American Library approached me to edit a little number to be called Ten Great Works of Philosophy, all I asked was "What's the advance?"  The editor replied "A thousand on signing, a thousand on submission of the manuscript."  I did the job so fast that before they could send me the thousand on signing I handed in the finished book.  [That was 1970.  Forty-six years later, the wretched thing is still in print.  At last royalty statement, it had sold a total of 196,215 copies -- my most successful "book."]  When I gave a talk at a college in '71, the young professor who introduced me said, "Professor Wolff recently joined the Book of the Month Club, but he misread the instructions.  They required him to buy a book a month, but he thought he had to publish a book a month."

Was this an evidence of intellectual brilliance, of virtue, of creativity?  Of course not.  It was, to use a locution from horse-breeding, from desperation out of opportunity.  As Ann Richards famously said of George W. Bush, we were born on third and thought we had hit a triple.

That is how it used to be.  Now, alas, it is a trifle more difficult to bring out a book.  Editors have stopped behaving like drug pushers and have started behaving like the maitre d' at an exclusive restaurant, responding with a mixture of hauteur and scorn when you approach them, manuscript in hand, to ask piteously whether they would consider publishing it.

So, should I write yet another book, a big-shouldered integration of half a lifetime of work on Marx?  We shall see.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

THERE AND BACK AGAIN

I have returned from the Northland.  The trip was a delight.  Aside from the two talks, which I shall say something about in a moment, I saw an old, old friend, Sylvain Bromberger, who at ninety-one is bright, lively, and as delightful as ever;  I spent an hour and a half with Charles Parsons reminiscing about old times at Harvard; and Charles and I ran into Amelie Rorty in the street in Harvard Square -- I have not seen Amelie in decades.  All in all, a real homecoming.

The Brown and MIT events were great fun  -- a good turnout at both, with lively conversation.  Alex Gourevich of Brown organized the first event, and arranged to have it videotaped, so once it is posted on the Brown site I will share a link, should anyone want to watch it.  Alex then came to the MIT event the next day [he lives in Boston], although that one was organized by Lucas Stanczyk of MIT, so Alex had to listen to my stories twice, poor soul.

The young people -- doctoral students at Brown, MIT, and Harvard -- were bright, intense, and asked good questions.  One especially nice thing -- the distinguished Kant scholar Paul Guyer. who teaches at Brown, came to that event.  I had never met him and was quite touched that he showed up.

The Brown talk started at 4 p.m. on Thursday, and the MIT talk ended [including lunch] at 2 p.m. on Friday, so in the space of twenty-two hours, I engaged in more high-level discussion of my work than I have experienced in the preceding twenty-years or more.  Remarkable.

I have started brooding about the possibility of undertaking an extended book-length integration of the extensive work I have done on the thought of Karl Marx in the past forty years.  I am not sure anyone would want to read it, and I cannot imagine that any press would want to publish it, but I shall think about the idea for a bit.

Now, about Donald Trump ...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

M. DO SAINTE-COLOMBE GOES TO VERSAILLES

I am off in a few minutes to the airport for my trip to Brown and MIT.  I return late tomorrow evening, and shall report on Saturday.  It should be fun [five or six hours of talk about Karl Marx :) ].

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

WHOOPS

I just took a look at the Constitution, and it looks to me as though the old Congress would choose the president from the list of the five people with the most electoral votes in case no one had a majority.  Does anyone know for sure whether this is right?

FANTASY TIME

David Ehrens, a faithful reader of this blog, sent me the following comment in an e-mail [for reasons beyond my feeble powers of comprehension, Google will not let him post the comment directly]:  “I truly hope others will see it is time to create an alternative to the Democratic Party -- perhaps one that can coordinate and work with the Democrats, but one that will call its own tune and have its own conventions.  What say you?”

I have long had a dream of a truly progressive left party [never mind a Socialist Party like the one my grandfather committed his life to in New York City a century ago.]  But the structure of American politics, as we all know, works against third parties on the national stage, although there is a long tradition of successful left parties at the state level.  Let us think about this for a bit.

First of all, I don’t want to see us run third party presidential candidates.  The best we could do is win enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House, and there the Right has a structural advantage.  Recall from your high school Civics class [if you are old enough to have had one], that when the president is chosen by the House, because no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes, the State House delegations vote as units, a procedure that gives small states a huge advantage.  I spent a few minutes on Google checking.  In 2008, when the Democrats held the Presidency, a super majority in the Senate, and the House, the House delegation breakdown was 25 Democratic, 21 Republican, and 4 split – barely enough to take the Presidency.  At the present moment, the breakdown is 33 Republican, 14 Democratic, 3 split.  I really do not want to throw the election into the House!

What we need to think about is a fundamental realignment of the electorate.  The Republican Party is, I am coming to believe, irrevocably sundered.  The natural realignment would be for the Bernie wing to split from the corporatist, elitist wing of the Democratic Party, and woo to its ranks the non-college educated white working class Trump voters, along straight economic interest lines:  attack Wall Street, raise the minimum wage, stop sending jobs overseas, and so on.

BUT:  This new third party, which would seek to elect members of the House and local office holders and maybe a senator or two, could not be a nativist, xenophobic, racist, misogynist, homophobic party.  So the big question [what we oldsters used to call the sixty-four dollar question, before inflation hit] is:  Could an anti-elitist inclusive pitch win over the Trumpettes to a socially progressive third party, or is their hatred of everyone not like themselves really baked in?

The numerous reports of voters expressing a preference for “Trump or Sanders” suggests that the answer may be a qualified yes.  If so, then European-style coalition politics, at least in the House, might be conceivable, at least if Bernie’s hordes could gain enough traction to elect enough members of the House to bargain with the Democratic Party.

Stranger things have happened.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

NAVEL GAZING

In preparation for my brief trip north, to speak at Brown and MIT, I have been turning over in my mind what I shall be saying about my work on the thought of Karl Marx, and I have come to realize that almost everything I have written during the second half of my life is, in one way or another, connected to my attempt to come to terms with the depth and complexity of Marx's great work Capital.  Obviously, the two books and many articles I have published or have written for this blog on Marx's thought are connected.  But so too are other apparently unrelated essays:  Narrative Time,  The Indexing Problem, Notes for a Materialist Analysis of the Public and the Private Realms [which is ostensibly about Hannah Arendt], The Study of Society, and much more.

Perhaps Hegel was right that "the Owl of Minerva only spreads its wings with the falling of the dusk."

If it were not the case, as we are reminded by Ecclesiastes, that "of making many books there is no end," I might attempt a valedictory volume weaving together everything I have done these past forty years.  But then, who on earth would publish it!

Monday, April 18, 2016

MUST READ

Read this.

IT IS A PUZZLEMENT

The extraordinary Republican primary battle has forced me to brood more extensively about the formal structure of the American political system than I have ever done before.  I find myself particularly puzzled about how to think about the dispute between Donald Trump and Reince Priebus.  [Was it Aristotle or was it Plato who said that shit does not have a form?  How can a Trump-Priebus dispute possibly give rise to thoughts worthy of a sentient being?]

As my American readers will know, Trump is arguing that the candidate who gets the most votes and has the most delegates coming into the Convention should be awarded the nomination.  The Stop Trump forces are saying that so long as Trump lacks a majority on the first ballot, his claim on the nomination can be nullified by the votes of the freed-up delegates on the second and subsequent ballots.  And so on.

Here is what has me puzzled.  Political Parties in the United States are, in the eyes of the law, private organizations, not public or even quasi-public entities [I think this is right.]   Parties are continuing organizations that exist presumably for the purpose of advancing some determinate political policies or a political vision by electing local, state, and federal representatives who will then use the resources and legal powers of government to implement those policies or that vision.  To be sure, American political parties, unlike those in many European or Asian countries, tend to be broad aggregations of regional, racial, religious, economic and other interests, but at any given time, it is possible to identify some core political orientation that characterizes the party. 

It seems reasonable therefore that a party should refuse to nominate as its presidential candidate someone who does not at all represent what the party at that time stands for.  I mean, suppose Bernie Sanders had announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination and, mirabile dictu had started winning Republican primaries.  Would the Republican Party really not have the right to “ignore the will of the voters” and bar him by some arcane rule change from hi-jacking the party?  Would the Democratic Party really not have the same right if a bona fide Republican – say Hillary Clinton – were to attempt pull off the same trick on it?


I invite your thoughtful responses.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

ALL MY CHILDREN

Some of you may remember Tanya Mears, Andrew Rosa, Rita Reynolds, and Bekesizwe Ndimande, former students whom I invited to join my imaginary classroom for my ideology YouTube lectures.  All four of them were promoted with tenure this year:  Tanya at Worcester State University, Andrew at Western Kentucky, Rita at Wagner College, and Bekesizwe at the University of Texas San Antonio.  Needless to say, I am bursting with pride.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

PSYCHOLOGY 101

Question:  Why does a very intelligent person do something that appears stupid?

Answer:  Because, contrary to appearances, it is not stupid.

Question:  Why does Hillary Clinton, a very intelligent person, refuse to release the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches, even though not doing so hurts her, and is therefore apparently stupid?

Only Possible Answer;  Because there is something in the speeches the release of which would hurt her worse than not releasing them.

Question:  What is in them?

Speculative Answer:  Reassurances to the audience, in some form or other, explicitly or implicitly, that they have nothing really to fear from her as President.

Nothing else makes sense.

PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS

I just learned that the Brown appearance will be videotaped, so maybe it will be viewable by the general public and not just someone with access to Brown's stuff.  I will ask when I am there.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

Right after last night's Brooklyn Clinton/Sanders debate, Bernie and Jane Sanders hopped a plane to Rome so that Bernie could address a Vatican conference.  I think they return tonight.  How on earth do they do it?  How does anyone survive the rigors of a presidential campaign?  Forty years ago, when I was in my forties, I cobbled together three speaking invitations and went on a mini-speaking "tour" -- three cities in three days.  When I got home, I was totaled for a week.  I know Bernie is a man of the people and all that, but I hope the campaign popped for Business Class so he could get some sleep.

By the way, Clinton showed herself last night to be an awful campaigner.  What is it with those Goldman Sachs speech transcripts?  She is not stupid.  There must be something rather unsavory in them after all if she is so resistant to releasing them.  I leave it to others to speculate.

And yes, S. Wallerstein, Krugman is forcing me to reconsider my judgment that he is, under it all, an actual person.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

AT LAST

I was watching Andrea Mitchell interviewing Jane Sanders [Bernie's wife and chief adviser] during lunch a few minutes ago and finally hear her say the words I have been waiting for.  Mitchell asked her whether, if Bernie failed to get the nomination, he would feel that he had, nevertheless, achieved a good deal.  Now, all of us political junkies know that the automatic no-brainer de rigueur answer to that question is, "Well, Andrea, we are confident that we are going to win."   But Jane Sanders is an actual person, so instead she gave an honest answer, and it made my day.  "We have started a revolution," she said.  "If Bernie wins, he will expect all the people who have supported him to keep working for that revolution, and if he does not win, we will continue to lead that revolution and want all of his supporters to keep working" [or words to that effect.]  

My heart swelled.  Those are the words I have been waiting for.  I am all in.

By the way, just before this interview, Robbie Mook, Clinton spokesperson, was interviewed.  He simply could not answer Mitchell's repeated question, namely, "Is it hypocrisy for Secretary Clinton to walk the Verizon Communications Workers of America picket line when she took $225,000 from Verizon in 2013 for a speech?"  Mitchell is a class act.

PRIVATE LANGUAGES AND INVERTEBRATES

When I was a young man coming up, as we used to say, one of the hot topics in philosophy was private languages.  The issue arose in Epistemology, where everyone worried about whether I had a private language to describe my immediate sensory experience [“sense data,” we called it] and whether, if I did, I could communicate that experience by means of it to you.  It also came up in Ethics, where everyone worried about whether I could ever compare my pains to yours [or my pleasures, but we tended to be more pessimistic in those days.  It was before the Sixties.]

All of which flashed through my mind when I read about Inky, the New Zealand octopus.  It seems Inky, holed up in a Wellington aquarium, saw a tiny fissure in the wire mesh at the top of his tank, squeezed through it after hours, slid down the side of the tank to the floor, sidled over to a storm drain, slithered through that, and made his way to freedom in the Pacific Ocean.  I had always read that octopi were unusually intelligent, though I could never figure out how anyone knew. I would have liked the aquarium attendants [who wished Inky well, by the way – he was very popular] to make more of an effort to communicate with him.  Do you suppose he has a private language?


Now I understand why I have always declined to eat calamari, even though I love raw oysters.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

PUTTING ONE'S FOOT IN ONE'S MOUTH, NEW YORK STYLE

Hillary Clinton and Bill De Blasio, mayor of New York City, got in a bit of trouble yesterday because of De Blasio’s joke about “CPT.”  For those not in the know, “CPT" is a common joking expression in the Black community.  It stands for “Colored People’s Time,” and means “being chronically late.”  Here is an example of its use.  The first year of our doctoral program in the UMass Afro-American Studies Department, of which I was Graduate Program Director [or GPD] for the first twelve years, as the Graduate School deadline for applications approached, we had received very few applications.  I was a nervous wreck, and went about the department fretting.  My colleague, John Bracey, a burly Black scholar who had come out of the Chicago branch of CORE [and whose mother was a college professor] was laid back and unconcerned.  “Stop worrying, Bob,” he said one day, “they are on CPT.”  John was quite right.  At the last moment, we received a quite satisfactory pile of applications and chose our first class.

I was also surprised at first to hear my colleagues, all very smart and serious scholars, call one another “nigger” jokingly or refer dismissively to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the high profile and rather self-important Chair of the Harvard Afro-Am Department, as the “HNIC” [or, as it was explained to me, “Head Nigger In Charge.”]

I made the huge mistake of thinking that it was all right for me to speak that way, and when I referred to Gates at the first meeting of an undergraduate course as the HNIC promptly lost half of the students who had signed up.


It is not difficult to understand why de Blasio used the expression.  He has been married for twenty-five years or so to a Black woman with whom he has several children.  He probably just forgot that things he could say at home might create a problem in the hothouse world of politics.

SHAMELESS SENTIMENTALISM

As I watched Bernie addressing striking Verizon workers in Brooklyn a few minutes ago, tears came to my eyes.  That is the sort of politics I yearn for.  All right, I am just a soft-hearted sucker for old-fashioned working class solidarity.  I know, I know, he can't win, not even with a quick trip to the Vatican, but in a better world, an appearance by a candidate for the Democratic nomination at a rally of striking workers would not even be worth a mention on the evening news.  Take that, Paul Krugman!

Go Bernie!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF [TO STEAL A TITLE FROM NORMAN MAILER]

Although my recent posts on this blog would seem to indicate that I am totally absorbed by the primary contests in the Democratic and Republican parties, in fact my mind has been for the most part lately focused on the two talks I shall be giving next week at Brown and MIT.  As I have thought through the sequence of things I plan to say, it has occurred to me that two of my on-line writings, when combined, form an extremely good introduction to the work I have done on Marx these past forty years or so.  If anyone has an interest in a brief overview of that work, they might read The Study of Society and A Unified Reading of Marx, both available on box.net via the link at the top of this page.  Together, those two essays run roughly 41,000 words, which is to say, about as long as what Professors of Law call “a note.”  To that one might add Narrative Time, originally published in Midwest Studies in Philosophy and also available on box.net.


The deeper message of all three essays is that the study of society is unavoidably ideologically inflected.  Hence my statement that one ought to read great works of social theory in the original rather than as redacted in textbooks.  S. Wallerstein asks which other works, besides Capital, one should read in that fashion.  I would certainly say Max Weber’s Economy and Society, Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, Erving Goffman’s Presentations of Self in Everyday Life, and Emile Durkheim’s Suicide.  [Also many other works by Marx, but sufficient unto the day.]

Monday, April 11, 2016

GRASPING AT STRAWS

Those of us on the left have spent a good deal of time lately worrying about Trump’s prospects in a general election, seizing on early polling match-ups with Sanders or Clinton to reassure ourselves that he would not win.  Here is one small inconclusive bit of good news.  Sam Wang, a Princeton neuroscientist who runs a nerdy blog in his spare time that crunches the election numbers, and who has had spectacular success in past cycles predicting outcomes, has lately been handicapping the Republican primary battle, and he has found that although Cruz regularly outperforms his polling numbers, Trump’s actual results track his polls very closely.  In the absence of contrary evidence, this offers some assurance that Trump’s poor performance in hypothetical races against Clinton predict how he would actually do in the general.  Since Wang, after some very complex modelling, puts Trump’s current chance of the nomination at 70%, I think we must prepare ourselves for a Trump/Clinton race.  I choose, at least for a while, to take comfort in his interim calculations.

ANOTHER FANTASY SHOT DOWN

Professer Michael Froomkin is quite right.  At the Republican Convention, every delegate will have an alternate.  Oh well, it was an interesting idea.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

POSSIBILITIES

While having dinner with Susie this evening [we eat early], the following thought occurred to me.  Suppose Trump comes into the convention with 1250 pledged delegates -- a bare 13 over the 1237 mark.  Paul Ryan calls the roll, and when the all the states have been polled, Trump has 1230 votes.  Everyone in the world has been keeping track, and it is clear that 20 delegates have not voted.  A quick check reveals that they are not in the hall -- they are "sick," something they ate, and are in their hotel rooms.

Ryan has a good deal of power, either to suspend the vote, if he chooses, while they are dragged into the hall, or to wait a proper ten minutes and then declare the first ballot concluded with no one getting the required majority.  On the second ballot, 200 "Trump" delegates defect, as they are permitted to do, and Trump loses decisively.

Does anyone want to make book on what Trump might then do?

This thing is far from over.

MEA CULPA

As a blogger, I always have the option simply not to respond to a comment posted on my blog, but there are some comments that simply must be responded to, and Jim’s comment is most assuredly one of that small number, so here goes.  First, for those of you who have not read it, let me quote the entire comment:

Professor Wolff --

Your post opens up an opportunity to express something I have wanted to confront for some time. You pose a great question, which is:

"How much bad behavior, if any, should the rest of us be expected to put up with from those extraordinary individuals whose musical [or intellectual or other artistic] talents set them apart from the ordinary run of mortals?"

Based on my life experience, I would argue absolutely none. Why? Because they can do better. (Which, by the way, is a constant exhortation of the Sanders campaign, which he has borrowed -- among other themes -- from the 1988 Jesse Jackson campaign). There is no reasonable excuse for that kind of behavior. Do you think so? I certainly don't. 

Now, I did not always think this way. From my first encounter with you, Professor Wolff, I have always thought of you as an "extraordinary individual" who I could learn an amazing amount of knowledge from. For Christ sake, you would repeatedly say in class the following statement: "You can learn something from every word I say." Well, I took that statement to heart and still do to this day. Consequently, I accepted your eccentricities and at times dismissive attitude as something I should be "expected to put up with." As a result, when I later met Lawrence Foster in the philosophy department at UMass Boston (circa 1992), I proudly proclaimed that I was a big fan of yours. His blunt and dismissive response: "Hell of an ego with that guy." My absolutely genuine, sincere, and earnest response to him was: "And rightly so, since he is quite brilliant." Professor Foster shook his head and walked away. At the time, my thinking was, what is this guy's problem? But as I grew older and continued to learn more, I realized that great, talented, and extraordinary people do NOT have an excuse to belittle those "below" them. Why? Well you, as a self-proclaimed Marxist should know. We are all in the struggle of life together. Why excuse some asshole who can sing, paint, or write well? Because we culturally "benefit" from his or her work? Even so, that does not give them the privilege to belittle others. On top of that, there are extraordinarily talented people who are actually good, kind, caring, and selfless people who go out of their way to help others. It is an individual, personal trait, not a talented trait. I will never stop quoting Jackson: "We can do better."

At base, there really should be no place for diva behavior. The most genuine and sincere people know this. These kinds of behaviors should not simply be excused but should be deemed unacceptable. I once had patience for it. I certainly don't now. Short answer: I would have canned Battle. 

Keep in mind that I reached this decision based in a large part on your teaching. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Well, finally got that off my chest. Thanks for opening the door.

Your eternally sincere student,

Jim”

First things first:  If I ever was dismissive, I most humbly apologize.  I never intended that, and I am appalled that anything I said or did came across that way.  Eccentricities, to be sure.  They are the spice of life.  But not dismissiveness toward a student.  Let me be clear:  uncompromising criticism of a student’s writing or reasoning is the absolute precondition of genuine education.  But criticism of what a student has written or said is not dismissiveness of the student as a person and as a student.  Quite to the contrary.  By speaking up in class or submitting a piece of written work, the student has announced his or her desire to learn, and it is the absolute responsibility of the teacher to do whatever is possible to assist in that learning.  That is what I have tried to do for the past sixty years, and if I have failed, that failure is on my head, not on the student’s. 

Was Larry Foster right?  Oh yes, to be sure.  I do indeed have a big ego.  Why on earth do you suppose I like to reference Emily Dickinson, one of the most arrogant poets ever to write!  I may on occasion strive to hide my light under a bushel [though not with as much success as I might imagine], but no one ever accused me of thinking it was a dim light.  I leave it to Brian Leiter to judge its wattage. 

Now to the question at hand.  Of course Kathleen Battle should be ashamed of herself for her boorish and inexcusably self-involved behavior.  Nothing I said suggested there was any excuse for that.  Should she have been fired?  Well, that is an administrative decision, involving all manner of considerations, only some of which are artistic.  But I would hope that the musicians, stage hands, and front office folks, while despising her for the utter bitch she obviously was, would find a way to make it possible for her to continue singing at the Met, because the only reason any of them are there is to make music, and she simply made music better than others.  Shun her, condemn her to Purgatory after death, say nasty things about her on Twitter, never invite her to dinner or share a drink with her, but let her keep singing.

One final word, a propos politics and the struggle.  Karl Marx was, by all accounts, a rather appalling individual, at least as he comes across in Jerrold Siegel’s fine biography, Marx’s Fate.  The great theorist of exploitation exploited everyone around him unconscionably:  he cadged money from colleagues who were living on smaller incomes, he was unthinkingly cruel and unsympathetic to his lifelong colleague Engels on the occasion of the death of Engels’ love, he got the family maid pregnant – he was an all around rotter.  I am quite sure I would neither have liked him nor admired him as a man, and I do not for a moment think that his greatness as a thinker excuses his behavior.  Nor do I think, if I were presented with one of those absurd trolley car cases, that saving his life, because he was such a great thinker, would have any priority over saving the lives of two unimportant workingmen.  But he was the greatest social theorist who has ever lived, and if it had been up to me to do what I could to keep him writing, I would have done it.  I rather think that is what Engels thought secretly.


Well, once more, to Jim, I apologize for having behaved as it seems I did, and I thank you for having the greatness of soul to forgive me.

ONCE MORE INTO BATTLE

After twenty-two years in exile, Kathleen Battle has been invited back to the Met to sing a concert of spirituals.  For those of you who do not know, Battle had [and perhaps still has] one of the most beautiful soprano voices ever heard.  Her recording of Handel’s Semele is beyond exquisite.  Her CD with Wynton Marsalis of baroque arias is perhaps the greatest musical collaboration ever.  [She apparently also had an affair with him, which just makes it all the more perfect – two gods disporting themselves on Mt. Olympus.]  But Battle was such an utterly, intolerably, offensively self-importantly irrational diva that at the height of her career she was banned from the Met and never sang grand opera again.  When her banning was announced to the cast of whatever she was rehearsing at the time, they burst into applause.

Which raises, at least for me, an important question:  How much bad behavior, if any, should the rest of us be expected to put up with from those extraordinary individuals whose musical [or intellectual or other artistic] talents set them apart from the ordinary run of mortals?  I am not talking about really immoral behavior, like murder or spousal abuse or child molestation or voting Republican – just arrogant, thoughtless, self-absorbed diva-ness.  And my answer to that question is:  as much as we have to put up with to get the performance.  Grand Opera, or indeed any other form of art, is a collaboration for only one purpose, to create a moment of transcendent beauty.  An inferior musical performance from a genial, thoughtful, decent, caring, all-round nice guy with whom it is a delight to work is never preferable to a moment of true beauty from an impossible diva whom one dearly wants to strangle. 

Amadeus represents Mozart [probably inaccurately] as a scatological, perpetually adolescent buffoon who just happens to be one of the greatest composers ever to live.  Salieri hates him, envies him, plots to bring about his downfall, but is, more than anyone else in Mozart’s world, able to recognize the divinity of his music.  It is that recognition that lies at the heart of Peter Shaffer’s play.  Something similar animates Good Will Hunting


Would I have applauded Battle’s dismissal, had I been a member of the Met orchestra?  Of course.  I am human.  But would I have dismissed her, had I been the conductor?  Maybe, but I would hope not.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

TRUMP DELEGATE UPDATE

I have more or less stopped keeping close tabs on Trump's delegate count in relation to my original estimates, but it is a slow Saturday, so I thought I would check.  As near as I can tell, Trump is now roughly 40 delegates ahead of my original estimates, which would put him just over the 1237 mark at the end of the process.  He has made a number of unforced errors, and has been revealed to be woefully incompetent at the business of rounding up strays, compared to Cruz, but even so, he seems to me to be the odds on favorite to get the nomination.

Since Clinton is proving to be an awful candidate, we can only hope that Trump is her opponent, because she will crush him, however well or badly she would do against any of the other Republicans.

Meanwhile, Bernie is off to the Vatican.  And they said he wasn't really a politician!

DARK THOUGHTS

On the 21st of this month I will travel to Providence, RI and Boston, MA to speak at Brown and MIT about my work on Marx.   I genuinely believe that my work is unique.  No one else, to my knowledge, has so much as asked how one might unite the literary and mathematical dimensions of Marx’s theory of capitalist exploitation, let alone attempted to do it, as I have.  But alas, my work has received very little attention.  Brooding on this has put me in mind of a story from sixty years ago.

In 1956, when I was a twenty-two year old doctoral student in the Harvard Philosophy Department finishing up my dissertation, the Graduate Philosophy Club invited a retired Michigan professor, Roy Wood Sellars, to speak.  Sellars, father of the much better known Wilfred Sellars, was unimaginably old.  He must have been five or six years younger than I am now.  He delivered a long, plaintive, cranky, complaining speech, the message of which was that his Mid-Western version of causal realism had never received a fair hearing in the profession because the East Coast version of causal realism dominated the journals.  We all sat there in stunned silence, desperately trying to remember what causal realism is.

And here I am, preparing to travel north from Chapel Hill to complain that my version of Marx has not received the attention it deserves because Analytical Marxism is all the rage.


I hope that in half a century, when those young folks are my age and tell this story, they will be kind.

Friday, April 8, 2016

THE PANAMA PAPERS

For a century and a half, Marxists have been laboring to replace old-fashioned conspiracy theories with more sophisticated structural accounts of the functioning of international capitalism, but the sneaky bastards who run the big companies, and their allies in government, keep undermining our elegant, complex, intellectually satisfying accounts by just gathering in back rooms and conspiring.  The mother lode of all secrets, the so-called Panama Papers, is now in the process of being released to the world, and it is beyond breathtaking.  You can find an extended account of it all here.  Everyone is involved [except the Americans -- they prefer the Cayman Islands to Panama.]  Even Jean Marie le Pen and his daughter are caught up in it.  There has got to be a German word for something beyond mere schadenfreude.  

I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!

Readers of this blog will, I am sure, all agree, that I am a nice guy -- easy-going, friendly, slow to anger, an all around swell fellow.  But I have my limits, and I have finally had it with Paul Krugman's sucking up to Hillary Clinton and his ceaseless attacks on Bernie.  I mean, I understand why.  Clinton is no threat at all to the established arrangements that Krugman makes a great show of questioning but which he really cannot stand to see threatened.  Bernie, despite all his flaws and inadequacies, really is stirring up anti-capitalist emotions that no Nobel Laureate in Economics can countenance.  But I have had enough.  I am going to remove the link to Krugman's blog from my command line in Google Chrome.  That will leave him with only a zillion followers and "friends," so he probably won't notice, but I have my pride.

There, I have done it.  Now I can look at myself in the mirror each morning.  I feel so much better.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

WHILE I WAS OUT

While I was out shopping for dinner, the comments section exploded with a series of very interesting and knowledgeable responses to my defense of Bernie’s call for free public higher education.  My thanks to all of you.  Rather self-interestedly, I take it as a tribute to this blog that its readership is so classy.  J  Let me try briefly to add a few responses.

First of all, I cannot figure out where I got my original income figures, but they are totally wrong.  S. Wallerstein’s are correct.  My point remains, concerning the relative wealth of America and France.  Sorry about that.

Second, it is quite true that the federal structure of the United States and the state rather than federal responsibility for education makes the situation here much more complicated.  But the general principle that elementary and secondary education should be universal and free has gained acceptance in our system, and so could the principle that tertiary education should be free.  Bernie is not, so far as I can see, supposing that such a principle can be implemented by the waving of a wand, and certainly not by an Executive order.  He is trying, for the first time, to make this principle part of the core commitment of one of the two major political parties.  Clinton is not prepared to sign on to that principle.  If she were, a useful conversation could be initiated in the Democratic Party about how to implement it.

Third, David Palmeter is quite correct about the extraordinary inflation in tuition costs.  When I entered Harvard in 1950, tuition was $600 a year [I recall it as $400, but the distinguished logician and philosopher Charles Parsons, my classmate, graduate apartment mate, Columbia colleague, and long-time friend, recalls it as $600, and I learned long ago that in all such matters Charles is always correct.]  That is $5900 in 2016 dollars.  Tuition this year at Harvard is $57,200, almost ten times the inflation rate!!!  Why do they charge so much?  Because they can.  Then they use their enormous endowment to underwrite grants to many of their students.  It would take me a long time to begin to explain the explosion in costs, but one thing is for sure:  it is not an explosion of faculty salaries.

Fourth, there are all sorts of ways in which the French higher educational system is inferior to the American, setting to one side the so-called grandes écoles, and I am actually a big fan of the American system, though not of its cost.  To cite just one among many of its virtues, in America it is quite possible for a high school graduate to take some of the academic courses at a local Community College, then transfer those credits to a branch of the state four year college system, eventually graduate and gain admission to a post-graduate program at a campus of the state university system, and thus climb the ladder educationally.  There are many educational systems around the world in which that sort of portability of credits and steady rise is just impossible.


Once again, thank you all for a valuable discussion.

JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM

Hillary Clinton and her fans [notably Chris Matthews] have had a fine time ridiculing Bernie's proposal that public college education be free.  Matthews especially cannot control his smirk as he says, in a stagey incredulous voice, "He wants to make Berkeley and Madison, Wisconsin free!," somehow imagining that the cost of higher education bears any direct relation to its quality, as though it were a house.

Well, at two a.m. this morning I decided to check a few facts.  Here is a sample of what I found:

Gross income per capita in the United States:  $15480
Gross income per capita in France:                  $12,445

So America is somewhat richer than France.

Percentage of adults 25-34 with a B.A. in the U.S.:    43%  [higher than I thought]
Percentage of adults 25-43 with a B.A., in France:     43%

So America and France educate the same proportion of adults at the tertiary level.

Average in-state tuition at public universities and colleges in the U.S.:   $13,856
Average tuition at French universities [almost all public]:                        $    585

How can this be?  Simple.  France has made a collective public decision to make college essentially free, just like elementary and secondary education.  America has not made that decision yet.  Bernie says we should.  

Can we afford it?  Yes, somewhat more easily than France can, because we are somewhat richer.

It is that simple.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO

In my never-ending struggle to see a glass less than half-full as almost overflowing, I undertook a little experiment.  General elections are won by electoral votes, not by total popular votes or anything else.  So when Hillary Clinton has big wins during the Primaries in states that no Democrat is going to carry in the Fall, then we ought to discount those wins as having no relevance for the General Election, right?  [You can see where this is going].  I started with the list of states Obama won in 2012, and then put in Bernie’s column the states where he has already won a primary or caucus and put in Hillary’s column the states where she has done the same.  Then I looked up the electoral votes each state will have in 2016, and added them up.  Here are the results:

Not Yet Decided:  New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey, DC, New Mexico, Oregon,

Bernie has won:  Wisconsin [10], Vermont [3], Colorado [9], Iowa [3], Hawaii [4], Michigan [16], Washington [12], Maine [4], Minnesota [10], New Hampshire [4] = 75 electoral votes

Hillary has won: Florida [29], Iowa [3], Nevada [6], Massachusetts [11], Ohio [18], Illinois [20], Virginia [13] = 100 electoral votes

The next Obama state to hold its primary is New York, which has 29 electoral votes. 
Which means that if Bernie can pull out a win in New York, he will be leading in the RELEVANT electoral vote count.


So there.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

HUMPTY-DUMPTY HAD A GREAT FALL

While I was in computer purgatory, Donald Trump, whose eventual nomination I have been confidently predicting, took some major steps toward inflicting on himself wounds from which he may not recover.  I confess I simply did not anticipate the depths of his stupidity.  Serious policy wonks will focus on his bold refusal to take “off the table” the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Europe, but my attention, like that of most of America, was captured by the moment in the Chris Matthews “town hall” interview when Mr. Trump, his face screwed up in a caricature of serious thinking, offered the opinion that women who have abortions “must be punished.”  It was, both for Trump and for Matthews, a tour de force.  Trump managed in one magical moment to unite the pro-life and pro-choice forces, which have been locked in a death struggle for half a century.  Matthews managed finally to puncture Trump’s façade of imperturbability and force him to reveal himself for the blustering fool he is.

It was transparently clear that Trump had never given a moment’s thought to the question of abortion, beyond embracing what he repeatedly refers to ritually as the Ronald Reagan position – “pro-life with exceptions” [i.e., “rape, incest, and the life of the mother.”]  The anti-abortion forces for decades have been piously referring to the pregnant woman, with staggering illogic, as “the victim” in an abortion, despite insisting that the abortion she seeks and pays for is murder.  Poor Donald, who had neglected to take note of this talking point, can be seen in the video painfully thinking his way through the question whether, should abortion be illegal, the woman should be punished, and drawing the logical, but absolutely forbidden, conclusion that she should be.  At that precise moment, Donald Trump ceased to be the inevitable Republican nominee.  Mind, he may still he be unstoppable.  The next month or so will tell.  But as someone commented, he has become one of the undead – no longer viable, but possibly unstoppable nonetheless.


I have been rather critical of Matthews in this space, so I think it is only fair for me to give credit where it is due.  Matthews was brilliant, relentless, undistracted by Trump’s attempt to re-direct the conversation to Matthews’ Catholicism.  It is worth watching the entire exchange and not just the eight or nine second sound bite in which Trump utters the fateful line that there “must be punishment” for the woman.  What fascinated me was that Matthews got Trump to say those words by bullying him.  He simply refused to let Trump off the hook, as every other interviewer has thus far.  Trump could have refused to answer – by far the wiser course.  But Matthews just plain bullied him into giving a reply.  Trump was revealed, in that moment, as all bullies eventually are, as a craven coward, not at all an alpha male, who cannot stand up to someone who is simply stronger than he is.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

NORTH TO FREEDOM

On April 21st and 22nd I shall be heading north from Chapel Hill to give two lectures.  At Brown, I shall be offering the last in a series of Political Theory workshops that have been taking place every second week throughout the year.  Then on the 22nd, I shall speak to a faculty study group at MIT organized by a young Political Scientist there.  On both occasions, my topic will be the work I have done over forty years on the thought of Karl Marx.  My theme, I am a trifle embarrassed to say, is rather self-congratulatory.  I shall be arguing that my work on Marx is quite literally unique.  I am unaware of anyone else who has ever attempted to do what I have done.  Indeed, I am unaware of anyone who has even conceived the idea of doing what I have done, namely, merging a philosophical and literary critical analysis and interpretation of Capital with a mathematical reconstruction of the economic theory set forth in that text, thereby producing not simply several disparate interpretations side by side but a unified, integrated literary/mathematical understanding of Marx’s reading of bourgeois capitalism.

There is a deeper and broader thesis underlying this work, viz. that because society is inevitably and unavoidably ideologically encoded and mystified, all fully satisfactory social theory must be written in an ironic voice that acknowledges and communicates that mystification, all the while seeking to penetrate and supersede it.  One of the secondary implications of this thesis, incidentally, is that successful works of social theory, like great works of fiction, cannot be redacted in textbooks but must be read in the original authorial voice.   That is why we read Capital itself even though we can quite well acquaint ourselves with Chemistry without reading Lavoisier.

The MIT folks have promised to read the brief 25,000 word summary of my work that I posted on this blog under the title “A Unified Reading of Marx.”  [I sent it to them as an email attachment seven months ago.]  The Brown group, alas, have not made that commitment, so I shall have to try to communicate in thirty minutes some elements of what it would take me two hours or more to summarize.


I shall report on my success or failure. 

I'M BAAAACK

I have been in computer hell for three days, but I now have a new computer, courtesy of Best Buy, whose Geek Squad transferred over my files and bookmarks and such.  The only thing that did not survive was the record of my wins and losses in tens of thousands of games of Spider Solitaire and such.  Indeed, the game programs did not survive.  So I start once again from scratch.  

A good deal happened while I was in limbo.  Comments to follow.