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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

HOW TO RUIN A GOOD JOKE

Now that you have all had a chance to view the three minute clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, let me ruin it for you by explaining its deeper meaning [yes, Virginia, it has a deeper meaning.  For serious Marxists, everything has a deeper meaning.]  What makes the scene work, comedically, is the utter failure of the Anarcho-syndicalist cowflop collecting peasants to understand King Arthur, and his utter inability to understand them.  The source of the missed communication is that they exist at different stages in the historical development of the social relations of production, and hence their understanding of social reality is encoded in different and incompatible ideological rationalisations of the ruling class.  [of course, what also makes the scene work comedically is that the writers of the Monty Python sketches have pitch perfect senses of humor, but that goes without saying.]

The impossibility of someone living in Feudal England understanding the laws of motion of a capitalist economy also, by the way, demonstrates that the knowledge conditions posited by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice under what he calls the "veil of ignorance" are epistemologically incoherent, as I demonstrated in my book Understanding Rawls,  But the Monty Python crew, being essentially overgrown Oxbridge undergraduates, probably did not realize that.  [If they studied at Cambridge rather than Oxford, they might have taken their understanding of anarchism from my In Defense of Anarchism, because for some while it was required reading for the Moral Science Tripos.]

if you would like me to ruin one of your favorite Marx Brothers sketches, feel free to ask.

16 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

However, if you go back to the Greeks, while they had no theory of surplus value obviously, people like Aristotle have a fairly clear sense of the role social class and class interests play in politics. Thucydides, while not being especially aware of social class as I recall, is very perceptive about how high ideals are used to rationalize geopolitical interests.

Tom Cathcart said...

Like King Arthur, I never saw myself as an elitist---until recently. Then, today, as I was planning a plane trip, I thought about the following stats: 53% of American men voted for an obvious con man; 75% of Republicans still harbor some degree of doubt that Obama was born in the US; 50% of the population has an IQ of under 100; 33% of American high school graduates graduated in the bottom third of their class. Then I tried to picture them in charge of McDonnell Douglas and wondered if I'd still book my flight. And, yes, before anyone says it, the elites have been known to put profit before safety, but you know what? I'd still sooner take my chances on a plane built by the current corporate types than one built by the people at Trump rallies. Or even by those of my relatives who voted for Trump. They're not critical enough thinkers to run an airplane company. They're easily led by demagogues. Would they be more sophisticated if they'd had more educational opportunity? I don't know about the people at Trump's rallies, but the answer for my relatives is no. So, a humble request to those to my left: Please put off the transfer of ownership of the means of production of McDonnell Douglas until after my demise. Thank you.

s. wallerstein said...

Tom,

Don't worry. We're going to send all of those who voted for Trump to re-education camps after we take over. "Our" workers are going to run the factories, and "our" workers have your safety interests and the interests of all working people in mind 24 hours a day.

Tom Cathcart said...

Phew! I feel enormously relieved.

s. wallerstein said...

Tom,

You commit a basic error, common to those who have not read Comrade Carlos's 17 volume masterwork, The Dialectic Nature of the Dialectic, that is, you imagine that those who dress like workers, talk like workers and work like workers compose the working class, while in reality a scientific and dialectic analysis of objective and concrete reality tells us that only those who have read and assimilated the scientific and dialectic lessons of the 17 volumes of Comrade Carlos's scientific and dialectic masterpiece, The Dialectic Nature of the Dialectic, can be truly said to constitute the working class in objective and concrete terms.

David Auerbach said...

RPW: A Malthusian analysis of the stateroom scene?
A critique of markets in the Tootsie Fruitsie scene (Day at the Races)?
Ahh, and the entirety of Duck Soup -- books could be written.

David Auerbach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Auerbach said...

RPW: A Malthusian analysis of the stateroom scene?
A critique of markets in the Tootsie Fruitsie scene (Day at the Races)?
Ahh, and the entirety of Duck Soup -- books could be written.

Tom Cathcart said...

s wallerstein, : )

Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
The really befuddling and fascinating line of inquiry is why is that Rawlsians (and Rawls), who live in the same mode of production as you and I, and other Marxian inclined folks, and interact in the same social relations as us, can't see the obvious point that Rawls' veil of ignorance is in fact an entirely load veil of ideological claptrap! I mean I've amicably argued with scholars and colleagues who in any other regard are keen critical thinkers, passionate members of the Sanders-esque left, for the life of them they take the veil of ignorance and the 'facts we know' in it as purely axiomatic!

I actually even told one in exasperation to go read your book, and he did! Within days! He said Rawls dealt with all your objections pretty clearly...

Ah well...

Chris said...

I actually did once have a professor rebuff all my critiques during class, and after confide to me that all the critiques were sound, but Rawls was the best we could hope for in our not-even-pre-revolutionary society, so he felt compelled to defend Rawls tooth and nail and live in the closet as a Marxist. So there is that explanation...

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Good grief!! That is really weird. A closet Marxist masquerading as Rawlsian. I think the world has moved beyond me!

Anonymous said...

@Tom and wallerstein,

You should demand that the owners of McDonnell Douglas assemble their planes and that your airline CEO flies them.

Please, do that.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Prof, I've just been rereading your recent series of posts on exploitation (I'm sure I will continue to refer to them for a long time to come, so thank you for writing them!), and was wondering if you might now say a bit about mystification, another concept that is not entirely clear to me. Are I and your other readers no longer mystified, regarding capitalism? Are capitalists mystified in the same way and to the same degree as the working class? Is mystification even a subjective state of individuals who live under capitalism?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have written about that at length in my little book, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, but if you wish, I will try to address it in a series of posts.

s. wallerstein said...

Those posts on mystification would be very welcome. Thank you.