Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Thursday, April 19, 2018


Well, I bitched about the screw-up concerning my Columbia course next semester, and the response is extended discourses about bureaucracy and solidarity with the working class.  It recalls the old light bulb joke, "How many socialists does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer, a dozen.  Eleven to debate the hidden injuries of class, and one to go out and find an electrician."

Just to be clear, I am only being paid $8000 to teach the course [$2000 less than UNC Chapel Hill, a state university, pays], so in this situation I count as one of the exploited.  And the people I am complaining about are the College Committee on Instruction, which consists of six tenured professors, one untenured professor, and the dean of the College, not underpaid secretaries.

I mean, if we are not going to be able to complain about bureaucratic screw-ups under socialism, I am going to reconsider my commitments.

Monday, April 16, 2018


I have mentioned that next Fall, I shall be flying up to New York every Tuesday to co-teach a course with Todd Gitlin in the Sociology Department of Columbia University.  The course is an undergraduate seminar entitled "The Mystifications of Social Reality."  Today begins enrollment for the Fall ["rising seniors" today, in the jargon of the modern Academy.]  Out of obsessive curiosity, I went on line to check the course and see how many seniors had signed up.  To my distress, I could not find the course in the list of offerings, so I called the Department secretary.  She knew from nothing, so I called the office of the Chair, Shamus Kahn and left a message.  Todd emailed me to say that he had heard from Kahn who knew nothing about it.  Todd and I talked, and agreed that he would get onto the department [where he is a professor] and have someone correct the list of offerings and send a message to students about a "new course."

Now, one could speculate that  this is an act of political suppression, but that is clearly untrue.  This is by no means the edgiest course being offered in Sociology next semester.  No, alas, it is just good old fashioned incompetence, of a sort with which I am too, too familiar in the Academy.

Fortunately, Todd says, students keep signing up all Spring.  But it is a good thing I am so obsessive, or we would have had no students at all.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


It is clearly pointless to wait patiently until the political world settles down before turning to the composition of an essay I have been contemplating.  Every day, indeed every hour, brings a revelation more provocative and worthy of commentary than its predecessor.  So, I have turned off MSNBC and repaired to my computer keyboard, where I shall now spend a quiet hour hunting and pecking.

Let us suppose, arguendo, that we yearn for fundamental changes in America, for an end to its extreme inequality of wealth and income, to its imperial foreign policy, to its brutal treatment of women, African-Americans, gay and lesbian persons, and the poor.  Suppose that we are not content simply to restore some of the elements of the social safety net that have been frayed or destroyed, welcome though that would be.  Suppose, dare I say it, that we hold, in a secret place in our hearts, the dream of collective ownership of the means of production.  How might such a transformation of America come about?

There are, as I see it, three possible avenues to such a future:  violent extra-legal revolution, an electoral transformation, or the natural inner maturing, within the current economic order, of new social relationships of production that result in an immanent transformation of capitalism into socialism.

Successful society-transforming violent revolution is, in this country at this time, an old leftie’s wet dream.  Seriously, revolution?  When there are three hundred million guns in private hands, most of them owned and coddled by the opponents of significant change?  I doubt it.

As for the inner natural maturing of new social relations of production, that is in fact happening, as Marx predicted, but I am skeptical that it will lead to the overthrow of capitalism, for reasons I have detailed in my paper The Future of Socialism, available at via the link at the top of this blog page.

Which leaves an electoral transformation.  Let us recall that we have a presidential, not a parliamentary, form of government.  For well-known reasons, which my fingers are not nimble enough to spell out in detail unless someone really wants an explanation, this means that ideologically homogeneous minority parties rarely are able to achieve much legislatively, save in rather special circumstances, such as those that obtained in New York State, for example.  Power comes from gaining leverage within one of the two major parties, which in turn means that a movement must elect Representatives or Senators [or, in rare cases, a President] who share and are responsive to the concerns and demands of the movement.

Now, it does not follow from this that only electoral politics has any chance of changing the country.  Not at all.  A movement outside the two parties – a Civil Rights Movement, a Women’s Liberation Movement, a Gay Liberation Movement, an Occupy Wall Street Movement, a Poor People’s Movement, can change the political landscape and apply irresistible pressure on ambitious candidates leading them to alter their positions and even their votes in Congress in an effort to win re-election.  The key here is, as everyone understands, the astonishingly low turnouts even in Presidential elections.  One-vote-one-person winner-take-all elections give no structural expression to intensity of preference, but intensity of preference shapes turnout, which in turn determines elections.

Nor is it at all necessary or even desirable for everyone to do the same thing.  A centrist Democrat working to re-elect Joe Manchin or Heidi Heidkamp and an Occupy Wall Street activist putting her body on the line in front of the home office of a multi-national corporation are both, in their very different ways, contributing to the painfully slow process of turning the enormous, bulky ship of state in a new direction.  No bill redistributing income can pass the Senate unless the Democrats have at least fifty-one votes in the upper chamber, and no bill redistributing income will ever be sent over from the House to the Senate for debate unless millions, or rather tens of millions, of Americans march in the streets demanding such legislation and vowing not to vote for candidates for the House who do not sponsor and vote for such legislation.  Simply to say this is to recognize the height of the mountain we have to climb.

One final observation before my two forefingers give out.  Contrary to the nonsense written by Op Ed columnists and repeated by Cable News commentators, people on the far left are not at all less prone to compromise than people positioned roughly where the political landscape changes from blue to red.  If we imagine the political spectrum laid out in the familiar left/right fashion we inherited from the French Revolution, legislators on the far left are quite as prepared to compromise with legislators on the left or even the center left as legislators a tad to the left of the middle are to compromise with legislators somewhat to their right.  But because these latter are  compromising with legislators of the other party, they are held up as saints of political virtue, even though the actual range of their compromise may be narrow than that of their far left colleagues.

Friday, April 13, 2018


Michael Llenos brings up the matter of Ham and slavery.  Not Ham as in Ham and Eggs but Ham as in Noah’s three sons, Shem, Japheth, and Ham.  The curse laid upon Ham by Noah was a standard justification for slavery in the Old South.  Here is the relevant passage from Genesis, Chapter 9:

19These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread. 20And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. 24And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

Africans were traditionally said to be descended from Ham, and hence destined by God for servitude.

In the Fall of 1993, shortly after I joined the UMass Afro-American Studies Department, I offered an undergraduate course on The Political Economy of Race and Class.  I was the only White member of the department [not the first, but my predecessor was long retired by the time I showed up] and the students did not know what to make of me.  One young Black man from Springfield, who went on to have a distinguished career as a student, sat in on the first lecture to check me out for his four siblings and cousins, all of  whom were students at UMass.  I passed muster, and the rest of the gang enrolled.

Some while into the semester I got to Franz Fanon’s Black Faces, White Masks, and for some reason [I forget now why], I mentioned the story about Ham, who was, I said, “of course not Black.”  One of the cousins raised her hand and said, “But he was Black.”  ‘Now look,” I said, “if his brothers were all White, how could he be Black?”  “I don’t care,” she said, “he was.”  “What makes you so sure?” I asked.  “My grandma told me.”

I was the new boy in the department, and White besides, but I was not stupid, and I knew that you did not call out a person’s grandmother, so I just dropped the matter and moved on.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


As you all know, I am a faithful reader of the Bible, for all that I am an atheist, and it irks me when those who claim to be Christians get it all wrong.  This morning, the bloviators on Morning Joe were opining that it would be hard for Trump to find someone to take Deputy Attorney General’s position and then to fire Bob Mueller.  “Yes,” said Joe Scarborough in his usual know-it-all manner, “he would bear the Mark of Cain,” meaning that he would be in everyone’s crosshairs and would never find another job in Washington.

Well, that may be, but it would not be The Mark of Cain.  Quite the contrary.  Here is the relevant passage, from Genesis, Chapter 4:

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
12When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

In short, the Mark of Cain is a safe passage ticket from God, a warning to others to lay off.  I do not understand why the pious and faithful cannot get this right.  I mean, it is not buried somewhere in Leviticus or Second Samuel.  It is right up front, four chapters into the first Book of the Bible.  Even if you do not stick with the Good Book long enough to get to the Flood, you ought to see it.

Young people these days have no respect.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


I have been turning over in my mind a post drawing on a book I published just fifty years ago, concerning the reasons why even radicals should support Blue Dog Democrats in the November election, but the events of the past twenty-four hours have consumed my attention.  I am now clued in on the complex process required when the FBI seeks a search warrant for a lawyer’s office [something I had somehow neglected to inform myself of in the preceding eighty-four years].   I keep checking the TV to find out whether Trump has done anything precipitous and dangerous.  Obviously I am merely a bystander in this affair, but my sense is that we are rapidly approaching some sort of crisis.  At this point, our best defense appears to be the patriotism and commitment to the rule of law of people I have been inveighing against my entire adult life.  The irony is not lost on me.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


Working through my accumulated papers, sorting, filing, reading essays I wrote so long ago I had forgotten them, I have been struck by the contrast between the natural arc of the life cycle, from youth through maturity to old age, and the timeless present of the Internet, in which there is neither memory nor wisdom, but merely novelty.  As I re-read essays forty years old, I am reminded of where I sat as I wrote them, how old my sons were then, whether I was in Northampton or Belmont, or Pelham.  The essays are for me not fevered responses to the news of the moment but strata in the riverbed of my mind, laid down and then preserved by the passage of time.

I am accustomed to ask, when I read a great philosophical text, Is this an early or a middle Platonic Dialogue;  are these the words of the young or the mature Marx;  was this written by Kant before or after he encountered Hume’s critique of causal inference?  When I pick up my viola to play my part of a Haydn quartet, my first thought is always, is this one of the opus 33’s or is this a late quartet?  I love them all, but there is a difference, especially of course in how demanding the viola part will be.  But none of this, it seems, pertains to the Internet, which paradoxically preserves everything forever in the cloud but cares only for the most recent post.

My experience these past few days calls to mind a lovely passage from the writings of Michael Oakeshott, in my view the finest English conservative thinker since Burke.  In the title essay of Oakeshott’s collection Rationalism in Politics, he says of the Rationalist, “With an almost poetic fancy, he strives to live each day as if it were his first, and he believes that to form a habit is to fail.”

These thoughts are prompted by the fact that I am eighty-four, not forty-eight or twenty-four, and quite irrespective of the world’s judgment, I feel a need to shape, preserve, and reflect upon the unfolding of my mind these past sixty-five years and more.

When I was in my early sixties, I spent a good deal of time transcribing, organizing, and thus preserving the letters written in the first decades of the twentieth century by my grandfather and grandmother.  There I found the evidences of my grandparents’ devotion to the cause of socialism and to one another, a devotion captured exquisitely in a line from one of my grandmother’s letters:  “I would have loved you even if you were no socialist,” she wrote to my grandfather.

Perhaps in half a century, when my two grandchildren are as old as I was then, they will find in my carefully assembled and organized papers some words to inspire them as I have been by the words of my grandparents.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


I now live in the 6th Congressional District of North Carolina, currently served by the reliably execrable Republican Mark Walker.  The 6th CD is a plus-7 R district, rather less heavily Republican than the district just win barely by Conor Lamb.  At a Candidates' Forum hosted by the Carolina Meadows Democratic Club the other night, I saw Ryan Watts, a pleasant enough twenty-seven year old UNC graduate who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Walker.

I have decided to throw my efforts behind Watts.  If we could snatch the NC 6th away from the Republicans it would be a great victory.

You do what you can.


In the Fall of 1951, as a first semester sophomore, I took Henry Aiken’s course on Hume’s Treatise at Harvard.  The next year, as a first semester senior, I took Clarence Irving Lewis’ course on Epistemology.  For my final paper in Lewis’ course, I wrote a slashing attack on Hume, very sharp and, or so I thought, clever.  Lewis, then in his final year of a long and enormously distinguished career, wrote a comment on the paper that has stayed with me over the intervening sixty-six years as the defining statement of how one ought to approach the study of the field I had chosen for myself.  For a long time, I simply kept the term paper on the last page of which the comment was written, but as the pages darkened and began to crumble, I carefully cut off the comment and placed it gently in an envelope.  As I continue the sorting of my papers, I came across the envelope this morning.  Here is Lewis’ gentle rebuke, preserved from two thirds of a century ago. In my defense, all I can say is that I was at the time eighteen.

“The points made are individually acute.  In this paper, it would be out of place to ask that they should “add up” to something in conclusion.  However, I should hope that the general character of the paper – which is in no way a shortcoming in this case – is not a symptom of that type of mind, in philosophy, which can find the objection to everything but advance the solution of nothing.”

Today, when I am fifteen years older than he was then, I can only hope that my life has to some degree been a fulfilment of Lewis’ hope for me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


I am now awash in offprints, folders, clipped together sets of pages, and all the other detritus of a life of the mind.  Among this mass of paper, I have just stumbled on three hand-written fragments, ranging in length from two to eight pages in length, in which, purely for my own edification, I sought to think through questions raised by my work on Marx. 

While I await from Amazon the next box of file folders, I think I am going to undertake to transcribe them into my computer.  As I do, I shall post them on this blog.  They may provoke some interesting responses.  Here is the first, a two-page fragment.  It is a first and only draft, originally hand-written, some indication of the way my mind works.  It is undated, but I would guess is about thirty-five years old.

Some Random Thoughts
On Democratic Decision-making in a Socialist State

It is worth considering whether democratic decision-making is feasible in a capitalist state only because the matters of major social importance – viz, capital allocation, organization of production, etc. – are not objects of political decision at all.  The pattern of investment never becomes an object of anyone’s decision in a decentralized, private property economy, and even such large-scale decisions as are made – such as G.M.’s decision to retool, say – are not political decisions.  A major industrial union may be engaged in contract negotiations with a major industry during a political campaign, but there is no way that the outcome of those negotiations can become an object of political decision in the campaign, despite the fact that their outcome will probably have a wider-reaching and more profound on the lives of the voters than will the outcome of the issues being debated in the campaign.

In effect, the long run economic decision-making which sets the stage for public political choices takes place behind the backs of the public – not secretly, heaven knows, but exempted from inclusion in the political sphere.  This fact is, of course, structural, not accidental.  Since the corporation is privately owned, and the union is private association, the decisions of the first and contracts between the two cannot directly become the object of political decision.

I say “cannot.” But one thinks of the wealth of government laws and regulations shaping investment decisions, the bargaining process, even – as with wage and price controls – the outcome of the bargaining process.  Quite so.  But these exceptions demonstrate the truth of my claim, in two ways:  first, it is clear, I think, that although the capitalist state can seek to shape investment decisions (by its tax laws, principally_, it cannot make investment decisions – the result is a series [ed.  I wrote serious!] of distortions and inefficiencies which frustrate the aims of the state;  second, the pluralist character of the private sector defeats the state’s efforts to achieve coherent economy-wide planning.

In effect, I am suggesting that democratic decision-making (as distinguished from the operation and preservation of political liberties) flourishes only because what is decided is not structurally fundamental.  Consider:  it is feasible to make the size or existence of social welfare programs a matter of political decision, for [i.e., because  ed.] the dislocations caused by their expansion or constriction, institution and termination, are structurally insignificant, for all the personal dislocation thereby produced.  But it would be utterly impossible to make the social relationships of production objects of periodic democratic choice.  No industrial society could oscillate between collective and private ownership of the means of production.

How, then, could social decision-making in a socialist society embody what we ordinarily think of as democratic principles and procedures?  First of all, it is clear that freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of the press, private and diversified ownership of at least some means of communication (publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, radio stations [ed.  This was written thirty years ago] would be perfectly possible.  Only the fears and self-interest of government bureaucrats stand in the way of those freedoms.  How can those freedoms be preserved?  A major and difficult question, but not in principle impossible to answer.

Secondly, the content, the direction, the broad purposes of the economic plan _can_ be the object of democratic political decision, with one party, say, favoring a lower rate of growth with a higher leisure and consumption trade-off, another party favoring the postponement of present consumption, etc. (this assumes a mature industrialized economy).  In large, heterogeneous societies there will certainly be regional interests, and even in a socialist society there will be quasi-class conflicts over the structure of job compensation, etc.  But what will not be an object of political decision, in a socialist any more than in a capitalist democracy, is the basic structure itself.  Private versus collective ownership of the means of production will not be a political issue.

This, Marx is correct in his claim that the transition from capitalism to socialism must be revolutionary, for all that the transition may be bloodless.  The transition is revolutionary just in the sense that it is a transformation of the underlying socio-economic structure within which the political process takes place.  We may choose to buy off the private owners of capital, but they money they receive will no longer be capital.  It will be spendable or savable, but not investable.  Thus, it will not be, as it were, a claim in perpetuity on the resources and output of the society.  It is not difficult to see that such wealth, however great initially, will have a rapidly diminishing impact on the new society.

Might a socialist society, by a counter-revolution, transform itself back into a capitalist society?  In theory that is possible.  But consider why it is so unlikely in practice.  In a socialist society, the means of production are collectively owned and labour-power is not a produced commodity.  [See Schweickart on this.  Ed.  David Schweickart, an extremely interesting socialist author.]  It is logically possible for a mass movement to seek to re-institute private ownership of the means of production, and thereby to re-impose on themselves wage-labour.  But why would they?  And whom would they choose as the new private owners?  There would, in a socialist society, be no way for private individuals to accumulate self-expanding capital, and thus to repeat, as it were, the history of the 16-19th centuries.

But though a counter-transformation to capitalism seems in practice impossible, there is clearly the possibility for revolutionary transformations, bringing into existence social forms beyond socialism.  What they would be, one need not attempt to guess.


I may have mentioned that one of the perks of Carolina Meadows is Saturday night screenings of old and not so old movies, complete with free popcorn.  A week and a half ago, Susie and I took in Stranger Than Fiction, a 2001 fantasy/comedy featuring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson, a pretty classy cast.  It is a charming little film that raises some really profound philosophical questions [quite possibly unintentionally, although that may be underestimating the author of the screenplay, Zach Helm.]  While I await the opening of the stock market to see how big the drop will be, I thought I would talk for a bit about it.  It would make a great topic in a Philosophy seminar.

Will Farrell plays a lonely, anal obsessive IRS auditor who one day starts hearing a voice in his head – not voices, but a single voice, that of a woman.  She is not talking to him but rather about him, in the manner of the narrator of a novel.  Eventually Farrell finds his way to Dustin Hoffman, a professor of literature, who after asking a series of questions [to determine whether Farrell is a character in a comedy or a tragedy, for example], determines that he is a character in a novel being written by a quite successful but writer’s block stuck novelist, Emma Thompson, who has not published anything in ten years.  [Thompson’s publisher has sent along a professional writer’s block baby sitter, Queen Latifeh, who assures Thompson that every one of her clients has met the publisher’s deadline.]  Thompson, who writes rather dark novels, is stuck trying to figure out how to kill off her main character, Farrell, in an artistically interesting manner.  Farrell seeks out Thompson, and gets a copy of the unfinished novel, which he takes to Hoffman.  Hoffman declares it a masterpiece that can only be successfully completed with the death of the main character.  He advises Farrell to submit quietly to his own death for the sake of art, pointing out that we all die anyway sooner or later.

There it is.  The movie ends with an entirely gratuitous and completely incompatible happy ending that unites an alive Farrell with Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose sole function is to provide an irrelevant feel good love interest. 

Where to start?  I could build an entire Introduction to Philosophy out of this movie, with sections on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ethics, the Philosophy of Language, Social Philosophy, and of course Aesthetics.

Let me begin with the Philosophy of Religion.  As I have several times written [including in my essay “Narrative Time,”] the core of Christian theology is the claim that the universe is, as it were, a story told by God, with a beginning [The Creation], chapters [Eden, the Fall, the Old Testament, the Incarnation and Resurrection, the New Testament], and a conclusion [the Second Coming and the Last Trump.]  True believers believe that they are characters in this story, and that on occasion, if they are blessed, the Author and Narrator speaks to them, either directly, through a personal revelation, or indirectly through His chosen church.  Our divine calling is to play well the role that God has written for us, even if that role calls for our death.  So the movie could be viewed as a meditation on the Christian concept of a Calling.

Or Aesthetics:  many novelists say that characters come to them and demand that their stories be told.  What can we say of characters who say that a novelist comes to them and demands that they submit to the narrative strictures of the plot?  Could characters form a united front against the author and demand a different ending for the novel?  What if Natasha does not, after all, want to marry Pierre?  Or if Elizabeth Bennett, against all authorial pressure, falls in love with Mr. Collins?  What if Mitya, Ivan, and Alyosha decide to go into business with old man Karamazov?

Metaphysics:  What is the ontological status of a character in a novel?  Or of an entire fictional world?  Can Phileas Fogg meet Sherlock Holmes?  How?  Why not?  What is the relative time location of the worlds of Gandalf, Ethan Frome, and Obi Wan Kenobe?  Should a degree from Hogwarts carry any weight in a Harvard application?

Well, the market is open, so I shall stop.  Not bad for an evening with popcorn.

Monday, April 2, 2018


I am now spending hours going through mountains of file folders, papers, and offprints in an effort to subdue my life to some sort of order.  I am simply astonished to discover episodes in my professional life that I had completely forgotten.  For example, it appears that in 2004, I undertook, using my USSAS mailing list, to raise money for an NAACP voter registration campaign.  Really?  Who knew?

Along the way, I came across one delicious item that I need to share with you, if only to illustrate just how wonderful my colleagues were in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Here are the title and sub-title of a paper delivered at a 1990 panel discussion in Atlanta, Georgia.  The author is my colleague Michael Thelwell.

“Cap’n Dey Done Stole De Canon, Best We Bring Up Our Howitzer”

Or, not necessarily more precisely, but in the fashion of the day:

“The problematique of de-situating the re-marginalization of Afro-centric tropistic significations, intertextually, against the ambience of a phallo- and Euro-centric, post-Derridian canonical discourse, mediated by a post-Freudian, pre-coital detumescence and seminal exhaustion, other-ality, and the influential anxieties of race and gender.”


I had a comment on a recent post that was so wonderful I had to pause and acknowledge it.  Here is the comment in full, originally appended to my post entitled “Whew”:

Anonymous said...
I am a non-white woman from India and I have been reading your blog for more than two years. As a mother pursuing PhD in her early 40s, I could perhaps be the least noteworthy of all your readers. I decided to post a comment because in your previous post you mentioned that your blogs have very low female/non-white readership. Let me point out, I have finished watching your Youtube lecture series on Kant, ideological critique and Marx. Currently, I am on the third part of the Freud series. I can’t thank you enough for taking the effort and putting those videos out in the public domain. As a person, without any training or knowledge of philosophy and with very limited resources at hand, your lecture series, blogs and even the discussions on comments section have helped me immensely. In fact, I have recommended your lecture series to some of my friends and fellow students. So, I hope you will soon see a spurt in your non-white readership. 

Also, I can’t help but mention one point. Maybe it is cultural. I know capitalism is not the most rational form of production. But sometimes, in a caste-ridden society like India, where some people (due to their birth status) are condemned to do certain jobs like picking up garbage and cleaning sewage (with no escape at all for generations), money can help transcend barriers. In that case, a man making millions from trash (as you mentioned in your Marx series) is something to be celebrated. For millions of people out there, it gives hope and a modicum of dignity – the dignity of labour, which is hard to come by. Just a thought.”

I am thrilled beyond description by this, and I thank the anonymous writer most warmly.  No writer could ever hope for a better audience!  Google counts do not really matter, not when Rosanne Barr gets twenty million viewers for her latest TV show.  What matters is that miraculously, I have somehow reached out across half the world and found a reader.

I am of course completely aware of the existence of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of men, women, and children around the world whose only way of surviving is by picking over or collecting or sweeping up the garbage left by the more fortunate.  For those of you who have not watched the video, I was trying to illustrate the fact that capitalists are motivated solely by a search for the largest available rate of return on invested capital, regardless of the social status of the investment.  I mentioned Louis Wolfson, an American who made a fortune after WW II in the garbage collection industry.  My failure to point out the existence of people who have no other choice was sheer thoughtlessness and insensitivity, for which the writer of the comment, in the gentlest possible fashion, quite properly chastised me.

I trust that my hardy band of the usual suspects will not be affronted that I have devoted such attention to this comment, coming from an unexpected source.  I love you all!

Anonymous, if I may address you thus, dare I ask the subject of your dissertation?  I am delighted to be able to acknowledge your presence in the circle of readers of this blog.

Sunday, April 1, 2018


Well, the Avery 5160 labels arrived today from Amazon, together with a box of file folders, so, very excited, I undertook to print out the first thirty labels.  They came out beautifully, but they were misaligned.  The text of each label slopped over to the next label.  When I test printed a sheet on regular paper, they came out exactly right.  How could this happen?  I was using Avery labels and an Avery template.  

Many wasted sheets later, I realized the problem.  The labels are of course ever so slightly raised above the sheet to which they are attached.  My stupid printer "thinks" the sheet of labels begins at the raised labels, because its roller cannot sense the underlying sheet.  After deep thought and careful calculation, I concluded that if I cut off 2.5 centimeters from the top of the label sheet, it would print correctly, except that I would lose the last row of three.  

I was right!  I am deeply and absurdly proud of having solved this problem.  It is, I am embarrassed to say, far and away the most complex real world problem that has been presented to me in sixty years of high level philosophical enterprise.  Would anyone like to know how to reload a stapler?


The responses to my little pot pourri yesterday were delightful.  Professor Pigden, thank you for the bio.  I had already googled and read the official department write-up, but the family and personal data were fascinating.  Your family includes a wrestler and a croupier!  

Jerry, Google gives me all manner of statistics about where my readers are, but they are not much help.  For example, it claims, not surprisingly, that most of my readers are in America, but after that it lists the Netherlands as second, which seems wildly implausible.  Chile is down the list [thank you, S. Wallerstein], but Russia is nestled in between the UK and Germany.  All very odd.  At one point, Croatia was popping up. 

My sense is that we could put together a rich, exciting, and varied college faculty from the regular readership.  I seem to be very low in female readership, alas, and I suspect, with no evidence, that non-White readership is also low, also upsetting.  But all I can do is put myself out there and hope readers show up.

I usually draw between 1000 and 1500 page views a day, but that tells me very little, because some people [not all that many] check in several times a day, and some, I suspect, drop in periodically.  When Brian Leiter links to my blog, page views quadruple for a day and a half.  To the youngsters among you, all of this seems quite natural, but to an octogenarian like myself, it is passing strange.

Equally odd is the response to my posted video lectures.  The page views for the Kant series are eight to ten times as large as those for the Ideological Critique, Freud, or Marx lectures.  Perhaps George Lucas would like to make a movie called The Return of the Noumena, or The Antinomy Strikes Back.

Meanwhile, the advent of Easter [that phrase is, I fear, a liturgical mishmash] has, as usual, depressed me.  Several recent stories in the press have emphasized the enormous mountain that gerrymandering has created for Democrats to climb, and I have started to worry that even a blue wave will simply crash against it and recede without having remade the political landscape, leaving me with nothing save the Mueller probe to pin my hopes on.

But the sun is shining, there was a full moon this morning during my walk, and my natural Tigger is reasserting itself. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018


I hate holidays in general, and religious holidays especially, even though the music played on classical music stations during Easter isn’t bad.  Here I am sitting at my computer on the day before Easter Sunday, casting about for something to blog about, but nothing comes save idle thoughts.  Still and all, a blog is just the place for idle thoughts, so here goes.

Let me begin with the delightful fact that a high school senior has driven an A-list right wing bloviator off the air, at least for a week.  David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland massacre and a participant in the nationwide student protest against gun violence, was ridiculed by the reliably despicable Laura Ingraham, who described him as whining because he had been rejected by four colleges despite having a 4.1 GPA.  Unfazed, Hogg tweeted the names of twelve companies who advertise on her Fox news show, urging his fellow students to contact them, and so many of the companies withdrew their advertising that she has announced a one week absence from her show.  And they say there is nothing good about capitalism!

[By the way, in case anyone is mystified as to how a student could have a GPA that averages better than an A, the reason is that Advanced Placement courses for students aiming for college carry an additional point on the grade score, so 5.0, not 4.0, is the top GPA possible.  Schools with a heavy minority representation are less likely to offer AP courses, one of the countless structural obstacles facing Black and Latino/a students.]

Which brings me to a question much discussed and misunderstood by cable news commentators:  Why can’t Donald Trump fire anyone face to face or even on the phone, despite having made his name on TV by “firing” people on The Apprentice.  The answer is obvious.  Trump is a coward.  He quite literally does not have the courage to look someone in the eye and tell him or her to pack up and go.  His language is completely revealing.  He repeatedly describes people as kneeling before him, abasing themselves before him, begging him for money or a job or approval.  He is obsessed by such fantasies as only a sniveling coward would be.  Like all cowards, he is desperately insecure.  There is no amount of flattery sufficiently fulsome [in the correct meaning of that word] to reassure him.  I think we can assume without too much risk of error that as a very small boy he was ridiculed mercilessly by his father, and nursed secret fantasies of retaliation.

On a more serious note, I have been brooding about the curious strengths and weaknesses of the odd Republican form of government established by the Constitution.  Beneath the clown show of presidential politics, a group of genuinely awful cabinet secretaries and other appointed government officials have been doing everything they can to reverse eighty years of socially and economically progressive federal policies.  The latest example is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s attempt to roll back regulations limiting automotive exhaust fumes.  This is pointlessly, gratuitously terrible, but thanks to the federal structure of the United States, it is probably fruitless.  California has enacted strict pollution standards as a sovereign state, and California’s economy is so large that car manufacturers are forced to comply or lose that market.  Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, is dedicated to destroying public education, but the funding for education is so radically decentralized that there is very little she can actually do.  And so on and on.  The striking exception is Jeff Sessions, whose Justice Department can in fact inflict a very great deal of serious harm on people of color, something Sessions has lusted to do his entire life.

When progressives controlled the Congress and the White House, people like me fumed [rightly so] at the resistance put up by benighted states to humane, decent, forward-looking policies.  Now we can take comfort that those structural obstacles to centralized power are working for us rather than against us.

Needless to say, these thoughts raise interesting questions about the best form of a socialist government.

I end with a troubling thought that came to me as I was walking this morning.  I have been blogging for nine years now, and some of you have been with me most of that time.  I think of you not as an audience but as friends, as comrades, as, at the very least, reliable conversationalists.  And yet, save for a handful of you whom I knew before I started, like Tom Cathcart, I have never met any of you.  Indeed, I do not even know most of your names, let alone how old you are.  That is, for someone my age, really strange.

Friday, March 30, 2018


Several of you have gone above and beyond to help me with my label problem.  Thank you.  I just Googled "Avery 8160 template" and up it popped.  I downloaded it for free, saved it, and now once I buy some Avery 8160 labels from Amazon I think I am in business.  Not bad for an old guy.

Meanwhile, the world continues to go to hell.  I shall have something to say about that as soon as I get finished ordering my labels.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


all for the suggestions.  I shall try them and let you know what happens.


I am trying to sort out my papers.  I want to set up a file drawer in which there is a separate file folder for each of the papers I have published, labeled with the title.  I can buy a bunch of file folders, and I can buy some sheets of peel and stick labels, but I cannot find a little program that will permit me to type onto a regular WORD page the titles of the papers, and then print that on the sheet of labels so that the titles are appropriately centered on the labels.  I am supposed to be able to do that in WORD, in the Mailings section, but I cannot seem to configure it.  Obviously there must be a thousand ways to do this.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


I just watched on my computer a video of the speech delivered by Emma Gonzalez at the Washington march organized to work for gun regulation.  Gonzalez is one of the students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida who were trapped during the brief, deadly shootings there.  Her speech is the most chilling, powerful, oratorically courageous performance I have ever seen.  You can view it here.

For those who do not understand what she was doing, Ms. Gonzalez called the names of all of her classmates who died in that terrible event, and then stood stock still, absolutely silent, for the six minutes and twenty seconds it took from the first shot was fired until the last.  Six minutes and twenty seconds in front of a vast audience is an eternity.  The members of the audience, puzzled by the silence, strike up chants and call out support, but she does not budge, and little by little the efforts by the audience die away.  Finally, when the time of the shootings has elapsed, she speaks again and explains what she has done.  This, she is saying by her silence, is how long it took for all of the fellow students whose names I have called to die.

I have seen videos or films of many great speeches, but none was as powerful as those six minutes and twenty seconds of silence.


As readers of this blog know, I now live in Carolina Meadows, a Continuing Care Retirement Community, or, not to put to elegant a gloss on it, an old people’s home.  It turns out, I just learned, that one of the other residents here is Walter Dellinger, a very successful, still quite active lawyer, who once was Acting Soliciter General of the United States and has just written this Op Ed for the NY TIMES arguing that a sitting president can be indicted.

Who knew?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


And so, my long story comes to an end with this seventh and final lecture on Marx.  I hope you find it of interest.  After thirty videotaped and posted lectures, I am going to take a little break.


Monday, March 26, 2018


Well, Duke lost, the Stormy Daniels interview was interesting but somewhat disappointing, and I decided to make today’s lecture the last in the series.  So much for anticipation.

I must confess I liked Stephanie Daniels.  She came across as tough, pulled together, and utterly in charge of her life, a stand up kind of person, unlike Trump.  It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

Today’s lecture will be my thirtieth videotaped YouTube lecture, a considerable pedagogical effort when you think about it.  Even if you have not seen the first six Marx lectures, you might want to watch this one, because it will follow a line of argument that no one else, to my knowledge, has ever developed concerning Marx.

Three weeks from now I will begin a short six week course of lectures here at Carolina Meadows under the auspices of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute branch at Duke, an Introduction to the Dialogues of Plato.  Then back to Paris for the Brussels lecture, after which I will prepare for my Fall Columbia course.

I am about to score an enormous triumph here at Carolina Meadows, a first for me:  I will next month be elected to serve for two years as the Precinct Representative of Building Five.  How do I know I will win the election?  Because I am the only candidate.  I tried this once before in 1977, when I put my name in for one of two at-large seats on the Northampton, Massachusetts School Committee.  I had heard on the radio that there were no candidates, and with two seats I thought I could win running unopposed.  But after I threw my hat in the ring, two other folks did also, and it was a real race.  I played up the fact that I was the Cubmaster of the local Cub Scout Pack and also a veteran of the Massachusetts National Guard, but when the votes were counted, I had run third, losing by 16 votes.  A recount cut my loss to 12 votes, but there it was.  So unless one of my neighbors in Building Five decides to make a run, I will, at eighty-four, finally fulfill my lifelong ambition to win an election.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


After an early morning walk in ever so light mist and drizzle, I am settling in for a Sunday featuring first, a final review of tomorrow’s lecture, then a de rigeur stint in front of the TV watching Duke play Kansas for a ticket to the Final Four, and finally, the capstone of the day, Anderson Cooper’s interview with every progressive’s favorite porn star, Stormy Daniels.

The lecture is ready, but it is the most important in the series, and I want to make certain my show and tell display boards are in order.  This is the lecture in which I attempt to fulfill my promise to unite the several lines of Marx interpretation in a unified story, to introduce the irony into the equations, as I put it in a deliberately provocative preview.

The Duke/Kansas game is a civic necessity.  When I moved to Chapel Hill nine and a half years ago, I was briefed by local residents on a town ordinance that requires those living within the city limits to root first for the UNC Tar Heels and then, if they lose, for the Duke Blue Devils.  Since I am, like all theoretical anarchists, a good citizen, I shall plunk myself down in front of the tube and cheer Duke to the echo.  For me, this is simply a civic duty, but Susie, who was living in Chapel Hill when her two sons were boys, is a genuine fanatic.

Which brings me to Stormy Daniels.  I hope this interview does Trump some harm.  Hell, I hope he suffers the heartbreak of psoriasis.  But today I should like to express some sympathy for Melania Trump, or, as the Secret Service refers to her, FLOTUS.  By all accounts, Melania Trump is a beautiful, somewhat accomplished woman who has raised a son without the slightest help from her husband.  It is beyond question that she has been aware of her husband’s serial and multiple infidelities, and I leave it to the two of them to deal with that fact in whatever way husbands and wives do.  We all recall [if we are as old as I] that Ike had an on-going affair with his driver Kay Summersby while he was directing the invasion of Europe during WW II, and that  Jack Kennedy was notoriously unfaithful to Jackie, a fact used by J. Edgar Hoover to blackmail him.  Indeed, Truman, Nixon, and Carter seem to have been our most uxorious presidents of late, an unlikely grouping.  But Trump’s public behavior must be a source of constant mortification for his wife.  Try to imagine what it will be like for Mrs. Trump to walk into the White House FLOTUS offices tomorrow morning, well aware that the entire nation, including her own staff, have watched the Cooper interview.  I am not aware of anything she has done that would deserve that sort of public and personal humiliation.  Nor does her son, Barron, deserve it.  To be sure, he will probably grow up to be as appalling as his big brothers, but he is only a child now, and has not yet done anything to earn the ridicule he must suffer.

I will leave for another post my reaction to yesterday’s extraordinary Children’s Crusade.  As the prophet Isaiah tells us [11:6], “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”  Let it be so.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


The admirable activism of high school students, on display today in nationwide marches, got me thinking about the absence of activism on college campuses.  What differentiates today from fifty years ago – 1968?  The answer that came to mind was:  the draft, and student debt.

The devastating experience of the Viet Nam War, which almost broke the U. S. Army, moved military leaders to switch to an all volunteer military, with higher pay and something resembling career opportunities.  This suited America’s imperial stance in  the world, inasmuch as empires always need professional armies that can be deployed over long periods of time without excessively troubling the general citizenry.  The success of the switch is evidenced by America’s ability to engage in virtually constant military adventures without crippling objections on the political front.

The rise of student debt, which has reduced the more privileged sector of the population to a condition of modern debt peonage, is more complicated, but, I am persuaded, it is an essential cause of the political quiescence of today’s college students.

To get a handle on the situation, I decided to look at the rise in the tuition cost of my own alma mater, Harvard College.  In 1950, the year I started my education as a Freshman, Harvard tuition was $600 a year.  By 1968, when the Viet Nam War was in full flower, the tuition had increased to $2000, which is $1390 in 1950 dollars, more than double.  And in 2016, the last year I could find, Harvard’s tuition was $43,280, or $4374 in 1950 dollars.  So, adjusted for inflation, Harvard’s 2016 tuition is more than seven times as much as 1950 tuition.

In 1950, when I was a Freshman at Harvard, I got part time jobs paying sixty to seventy-five cents an hour, except for the spectacular job inventorying a Robert Hall clothing store at $1.25 an hour, which came around for one night twice a year.

To earn my tuition at that rate would have taken me maybe 900 hours of work.  A semester with exams was 16 weeks, a year was 32 weeks, so 20 weeks when I was out of school at 40 hours a week, for 800 hours, and 15 hours a week during school time for 480 hours would probably have earned me enough to pay tuition, room, and board.  In short, I could have worked my way through college at the most expensive college in America.

By 1968, working for the then minimum wage of $1.60, it would have taken me 1250 hours to earn my tuition, and more to cover room and board.  I would have had to go into debt at least somewhat to make it through.

By 2016, when the minimum wage was $7.25, it would have required almost 6000 hours of work to earn the tuition, which is to say 250 days working twenty-four hours a day!  Note that if the campaign for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour were to succeed, it would still take 2885 hours of work – 56+ hours a week year round – to earn the tuition, never mind the room and board.

Forgive me if I sound like an old fogey, but the current Harvard education is not seven times as good as the 1950 education [indeed, in some respects, I would imagine it is inferior.]

What has happened?  Young college students have been relieved of the threat of military service and burdened with a totally unmanageable debt that requires them to keep their noses clean and take safe good paying jobs.  It is not for nothing that 30% of Columbia’s graduating seniors take jobs on Wall Street.

Friday, March 23, 2018


I am very frightened by the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.  Trump may have seen him on Fox News, but he is no mere cable news commentator.  There is a real danger now that the United States will launch preemptive attacks against Iran or North Korea or both.  These will be described as limited surgical strikes carrying no threat of a ground war, but that is an illusion that will rapidly be undone by facts on the ground.  Trump is described simultaneously as giddy with the realization that he can do the job of being President all by himself without the irritation of advisors telling him “No!” and also panicked by the tightening noose of the Mueller investigation.  Bizarre thought it may appear, it may be that what agitates him the most is the danger of being exposed by three women as an inadequate lover.

All of us, myself most of all, have been putting our hopes on the November midterm elections, but things may blow up long before the intervening seven months have passed.  There is absolutely no reason to think that Congressional Republicans will place constraints on Trump, and I am very fearful that if we are in a new war, along with the old ones, when the elections come around, voters may rally behind the Administration.

It is very difficult at such a moment to think through a theoretical lecture on the theories of Karl Marx.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


I have been absent from this site for several days because I have been brooding about my next Marx lecture.  I have reached the point in my lectures at which I must make good on my promise to “put the irony into the equations” so that Marx’s literary critique of the mystifications of capitalism, his economic critique of classical Political Economy, and his historical account of the slow development of capitalism within the old order are united in a demonstration that capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class.  Yesterday, during my morning walk, I figured out how to explain this in a way that will, I hope, be both clear and persuasive.  This involves a fundamental critique of the Labor Theory of Value and an entirely new set of equations that build the mystifications of the capitalist marketplace into the mathematics.  I have no idea whether the lecture will be a pedagogical success – which is to say, whether it will make any sense to the viewers – but the lecture will encapsulate my novel interpretation of Capital for eternity, or what passes for eternity in the Cloud.  This seventh lecture will be followed by a final eighth lecture in which I look to the present and try to answer two questions:  First, what is the modern neo-classical mystification of capitalism that has taken the place of the old classical mystification; and Second, what is happening right now “within the womb of the old society,” in Marx’s pregnant phrase, that is preparing the way for the possibility, if not the inevitability, of Socialism?

Meanwhile, Trump is ensnared in the trap being laid for him by a porn star, a Playboy Playmate, and a former Apprentice contestant, and the consensus among the legal commentators is that he is in for a world of hurt.  If these three women are his undoing, I shall experience a conversion on the road to Damascus and start believing in a God with a truly divine sense of humor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


The new Marx lecture is number six, not number five.  The link just posted takes you to the correct lecture, but I must figure out how to edit the title so that it is correct.  Rats!

OK, all done.

On to Number seven.


Here it is, the sixth lecture on Marx.  No sooner is it posted than I must get to work on lecture seven.  A bloviator's work is never done.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Faithful readers will recall that when the Grand Jury handed down an indictment of a nonentity for identity theft, I speculated that someone at Cambridge Analytica would be sweating bullets.  [See February 20, 2018]  Well, it looks like Cambridge Analytica is in Mueller's crosshairs now.  We shall see.


Stephen Baraban points out that my fancy literary quote is from Wordsworth, not Tennyson.  Maybe I should stick to The Big Bang Theory!  My profound apologies, and thanks to Stephen Baraban.  So much for my pathetic effort to appear cultivated.  I shall leave the error as a testament to my innumerable limitations.


It would be impossible for me to respond to all the wonderful comments posted on this blog while I was away, but this morning, as I wait to go off and deliver my sixth Marx lecture, I would like to say a few words about some of them.

First, let me thank my old friend. classmate, graduate school apartment mate, and Columbia colleague, Charles Parsons, for his observations about the 50th anniversary of the ’68 Columbia student uprising, which happened when both of us were there.  I knew that Paul Cronin is bringing out a commemorative volume.  He asked me to contribute something, but after I did, he apologized and said it had to be cut for reasons of length.  No big loss.  Charles is of course right that since the event took place in the spring, it is this semester and not the fall semester that is the real anniversary, but I am hoping that Todd Gitlin and I will draw a few students who still want to talk about it when we teach next fall.  All I can say, quoting Tennyson, is Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ but to be young was very heaven.

To those who commented on Robert Heilbroner author of the classic work The Worldly Philosophers, Bob and I were pretty good friends back when I was teaching at Columbia.  He was heir to the Weber and Heilbroner clothing store fortune, and lived in an elegant Park Avenue apartment.  My first wife and I once attended a soirĂ©e there at which the guests were entertained by a concert pianist hired for the occasion.  He was a real class act and a wonderful person.  When I donated to the Houghton Rare Book Library at Harvard my original copy of the 30 page cablegram from John Reed in St. Petersburg announcing the October Revolution, I wanted to do so in his honor, but he modestly declined, so I donated it in the name of my grandparents, lifelong socialists in New York.

A propos the idea of taping the Gitlin/Wolff course, I thought this through with regard to the Marx course I taught at UNC Chapel Hill some years ago, and decided it was a bad idea.  There is no way it could be done without compromising the freedom and protection offered to students in a classroom setting.  Imagine a student taking the course who is considering a career on Wall Street [30% of Columbia graduating seniors!]  Would such a student, intrigued by Marx or Marcuse, want his or her voice and even face in such a setting on the Internet forever?  I suspect not.  If I permit readers of this blog to post comments anonymously [or, to be more precise, Anonymously], I cannot do less for my students.

Well, there is much more to say, but my lecture beckons, and besides, in this 24 hour news cycle, last week’s comments are old news.  J

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Here is a piece Todd published today in the NY Daily News.  teaching with him is going to be a hoot!

BY Todd Gitlin [4]
Sunday, March 18, 2018, 5:00 AM
Last week's school walkouts against school shootings will probably not suffice to jolt America to its senses about guns — even if 100,000 students walked out in New York City, by one estimate, or a million nationwide, by another.  But the students have already accomplished something important: They refuse to stand idly by. They speak with the authority of victims but also the maturity of citizens. They honor the lost, and at the same time they think forward.  So they have mobilized an unprecedented force. This is not just a matter of social media. Their energy and eloquence, conspicuous after the Parkland, Fla., massacre, has put new facts on the ground. Where those facts will take us depends on what they do next and who follows the students' lead.

This week's March for Our Lives in Washington will amplify the call.  School walkouts were with us long before the age of instantaneous clicking. High school students took to the streets in the 1960s to demand reforms.  But the current walkouts are in one crucial way precedent-making. In the 1960s, the initiative came from adults who had been campaigning against segregation for years: ministers and civil rights groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congress of Racial Equality.

This week, the students took the initiative. They were the leaders. In the 1960s, there were young leaders aplenty in anti-racist and anti-war movements, but the leaders of those movements were college and university students. I know, because I was in the thick of it, with Students for a Democratic Society. Enthusiastic high schoolers did join in, but they were troops more than officers. The most celebrated, and probably the most effective, wave of schoolchildren's protest came on May 2, 1963, when more than 1,000 teenagers trained in nonviolent action poured out of high schools in and around segregationist Birmingham, Ala., which the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the most segregated city in the country."  Dr. King's followers had been protesting segregation for weeks but had run short of adult volunteers. King himself, at first hesitant to involve the young, was persuaded to try. The students would walk downtown, hoping to talk with the mayor about segregation. Hundreds were arrested. Set free, they turned out the next day, too.   Hundreds more teenagers turned out, too, and this time, Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor ordered his police to turn high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs on the demonstrators. This was bad for public relations. The images of assault on innocent victims circumnavigated the world and fueled still more civil rights activity, which culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Connor instantly became the poster boy for brutal white supremacy.
In October 1963, Chicago's vigorous civil rights movement declared a Freedom Day boycott to protest school segregation and the practice of assigning used textbooks to black students, among other indignities. Some 200,000 students marched in the streets. Other cities saw one-and two-day sequels, all led by civil rights activists and ministers:  New York in February, with some 450,000 staying out of school; Cleveland in April, with 85% of black students staying out; Seattle in 1966, led by the NAACP among others.

In each of these cases, objections were heard. High school kids were said to be too impressionable, too easily manipulated. "Outside agitators" were accused of stirring up trouble among docile Negroes. It wasn't only white racists who looked askance at the student insurgency. During the Birmingham protest, Malcolm X, fearing violence, took a swipe at the civil rights movement, saying that "real men don't put their children on the firing line."  King, on the other hand, said that actions like Birmingham's brought children "a sense of their own stake in freedom." He later wrote, "Looking back, it is clear that the introduction of Birmingham's children into the campaign was one of the wisest moves we made. It brought a new impact to the crusade, and the impetus that we needed to win the struggle."

Birmingham's actions were the first large-scale civil disobedience under King's leadership. The confrontation in the streets made for one of his most vivid actions.  Today too, partisans of the status quo are ever eager to deem student protestors to be pawns in somebody else's sinister game. In the folklore of five decades ago, apologists for white supremacy accused "outside agitators" of being the puppet-masters of the young. Today, without offering the slightest trace of evidence, gun fanatics accuse outspoken high schoolers of being "crisis actors" paid by the likes of their favorite demon, the philanthropist George Soros.  The high schoolers' insurgency is all the more impressive in contrast with the protest habits of their college-age elders. In recent years, despite strong campaigns for fossil-fuel divestment (a good cause) and a boycott of Israeli scholars (a bad cause), a great deal of campus energy that wants the world to think it is progressive remains self-enclosed.

Their feuds are internecine. They are parochial. They do not persuade the unconvinced. Many campus activists think they strike a serious blow against racism by shaking their fists at Mike Cernovich, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and other far-right darlings invited onto campus precisely to elicit outrage — or at Charles Murray, a conservative thinker who actually makes arguments. They fixate on the view that speech with which they disagree is tantamount to violence, and therefore believe that they are entitled to prevent or disrupt it.  They are not embarrassed to embrace a slogan that would have been anathema for every previous generation of progressive campaigners: "NO FREE SPEECH." Their bullying is, they think, purely defensive.

Liberals are dismayed and a gleeful right — which supports the nastiest president in history — gets to crow that it's the left that's thuggish.  Meanwhile, the campuses whose symbolic "political correctness" is routinely deplored by right-wingers are toothless or counterproductive. Their passions are directed against objectionable words and gestures, so-called "microaggressions," and not against the far more consequential macroaggression that systematically — through gerrymandering, voter ID laws, restrictions on voting hours and other  measures that dampen the vote for people of color, city dwellers and ex-felons — punishes the poor and minorities.  So when I walk onto the Columbia campus, where I teach, I do not see appeals for students to go to nearby swing districts, or anywhere else, to register voters, or to lobby state officials to keep the polls open. There are local Democrats on the Upper West Side who do that work, but not many college students, either at Columbia or other universities I visit.

The high school activists have leapfrogged their older sisters and brothers.  They too often isolate themselves from off-campus political allies with whom they might actually make life better for most people of color. They rarely actively campaign for candidates who support affordable housing, more affordable health care, environmental justice and desegregation.  Even as the post-women's-march Resistance mobilizes to support electable Democrats around the country, and otherwise oppose Donald Trump's most unjust and pernicious policies, not enough campuses teem — not yet, at least — with volunteers who fan out to register voters in swing districts, to build a political force in behalf of democratic, egalitarian change.  We are learning a lot through this split-screen look at two forms of protest.

High schoolers in Florida and elsewhere are acutely aware that they live in a world where their enemies hold power. With amazing speed, less than a week after Nikolas Cruz snuffed out 17 lives with his AR-15, they arranged for buses to take them to the state capital in Tallahassee, lobbying to tighten gun laws. (The Republicans who rule the Florida statehouse refused even to consider a bill to ban assault rifles.)  Many of the high school leaders know they have to take political action if they are not to keep running into stone walls. They talk about the need to register voters. They know they need to keep lobbying but even more, they need to help elect congenial politicians. 

What the young activists will do for an encore is in their hands.  Will they surmount the passivity that has retarded past gun control campaigns? Will they avoid burning out?  And will the power of their example inspire those who are slightly older and not at all wiser in the ways of citizen activism? Here's hoping.

_Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia
University and the author of "Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit and
the Promise of Occupy Wall Street."_