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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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, June 7, 2018

HI JINKS ON A HIGH WIRE, WITHOUT A NET


Faithful readers of this blog are aware that I have made my long and reasonably successful career as a performance athlete, skating on thin ice.  I started, fifty-five years ago, by publishing an ambitious book on the Critique of Pure Reason, despite the fact that I could scarcely read German.  Having gotten away with this fraud, I went on to write two books and half a dozen articles about the thought of Karl Marx, even being so presumptuous as to offer a literary analysis of the language of the opening chapters of Das Kapital.  It is as though a wannabe literary theorist were to base a deep study of Dostoyevsky on the old translations of Constance Garnett.  Not content with this performance, I abruptly transferred to an Afro-American Studies department and assumed directorship of its cutting edge doctoral program.  You might plausibly describe me as the Wile E. Coyote of academia, blithely racing off cliffs, only to look down too late to discover that there is nothing holding me up.

Thus set in my ways, I started this blog, and last February 20th, on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever, I advanced a theory as to why Robert Mueller had chosen to indict an obscure young identity thief, Richard Pinedo, along with some Trump campaign bigwigs.  I got lucky, and enjoyed about fifteen seconds of fame as a consequence.  So here I go again.

This morning, while having a cup of coffee and listening to cable news before going on my walk, I heard extensive coverage of some appalling remarks made by Rudy Giuliani in Israel yesterday.  Giuliani went on for some time about the Stormy Daniels matter, stating that Melania Trump did not believe for a moment that Trump had had sex with Daniels and then proceeding to say, with much smirking and sneering, “Look at Trump’s three wives.  They are classy women.  Just look at Daniels.  I mean, really [smirk, smirk], can you imagine it?” and so forth.  This came on the same day that Trump wrote a bizarre long tweet repeating all the conspiracy theories someone or other had advanced to explain Melania’s month long absence from public view.  Giuliani went on to claim that after Trump’s cancellation of the summit with Kim Jong-un, Kim had been “on his hands and knees” begging for a summit, “which is just where you want him,” Giuliani said.

All of this was bizarre, even for Rudy.  The bloviators on Morning Joe tut-tutted and tsk-tsked but offered no coherent explanation for Rudy’s behavior.

Enter the thin ice skater.  As I prepare to leave for Paris tomorrow, where I will be without access to my blog, save to read comments, I herewith offer two explanations and a prediction.  If I am right, I shall return to cheers of the Cloud.  If I am wrong, by the time I return everyone will have forgotten.  Win-win.

First, Melania and Stormy.  I think [on the basis, you understand, of absolutely no evidence] that Melania is livid over the public humiliation caused by the endless public discussion of her husband’s affair with a porn star.  I think she has threatened to take her son and walk out of the marriage, invoking the clause in the pre-nup that gives her big bucks if Trump cheats.  [How do I know there is a pre-nup?  I don’t, of course.]  I think behind the scenes Trump and his inner circle have been desperately trying to dissuade her from this action, and Trump’s tweet plus Giuliani’s remarks are part of a deal struck to keep her in the marriage.

Now, Kim.  Giuliani’s language was pure Trump.  You recall his outrageous statement about Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.  In Trump’s narcissistic pre-adolescent brain, the ultimate victory is to have your enemy on his hands and knees begging.

Well, it is an absolute certainty that Kim heard of these statements by Giuliani within ten minutes of their being aired.  But thus far he has not responded.  Herewith my prediction:  Kim will say nothing.  The planning for the summit will proceed.  Trump and his entourage will board Air Force One with much hullabaloo and fly off to Singapore, where he will make a big show of deplaning.

And Kim will not show up.  Trump will be left high and dry, stood up, humiliated, made to look the fool with the whole world watching.  At this point, my crystal ball grows cloudy.  Perhaps Kim will show up after an excruciating delay.  Perhaps he simply will not show up.  Either way, Trump loses.

Well, I am now so far over the edge of the cliff that there is nowhere to go but down, so I shall return to packing and tweaking my Belgian talk.  I wonder whether I am right.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

GOOD READ

In an email, Professor David Auerbach sends me a link to this clarifying and valuable essay on the subject of norms.  It is worth reading.

My post has, as I hoped, provoked a stimulating discussion.  Let me expand on one point that I think was not at all clear in the original post.

My discomfort does not arise from the hypocrisy of those who piously profess a commitment to the rule of law all the while undermining and violating it.  As Jesus did not say but might have [see Matthew 23:27, for example], the hypocrites we always have with us.  I was troubled by the thought that the norms themselves are ideological rationalizations and mystifications of the exploitative structure of capitalism, and hence have no independent status.  Although it is, alas, much too early for such thoughts, we need to think through what the norms of a socialist society would be, grounded in a collective, non-exploitative economic order.

In the meantime, I am enormously relieved that the California Democratic Party has survived the jungle primary and has a serious chance of contributing six, seven, or more flipped seats to the 23 we need in order to take control of the House.

Sufficient unto the day.

Monday, June 4, 2018

NORMS


I remarked several days ago that there were two things on my mind that seemed to call for blog posts, one about which my thoughts were clear, the other not.  I have blogged about the first – the deep state.  Now Todd Gitlin’s reminder of C. Wright Mills’ observation that an independent civil service is necessary for a liberal democracy has prodded me to address the second.  The topic, in a word, is norms.

The assaults by Trump on the Justice Department, his calls for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton, his egregious and seemingly endless efforts to monetize the office of the Presidency, and of course his bullying tweets, have all provoked a wide-ranging discussion among the commentariat about Trump’s violations of long-established norms of public conduct and decorum, norms that are not codified in federal law but which are appealed to as universally acknowledged constraints on the actions of public officials.  Now, I am constitutionally sympathetic to any attack on Trump, but this appeal to norms has made me uncomfortable.  For some time now I have been trying to articulate to myself just precisely what causes this discomfort, and although I am not at all satisfied by what I have told myself during my early morning walks, I am going to try to put my thoughts in some order in hopes of stimulating a discussion in this space.

The problem, in a nutshell, is this:  For virtually my entire adult life, reaching back now more than sixty years, I have been calling out and condemning the hypocrisy of public officials who wrap themselves in the flag and congratulate themselves on their embrace of the ideals of “The American Experiment,” all the while spying on Martin Luther King, buying the nomination of JFK with ten dollar bills passed out in the West Virginia Democratic primary, overthrowing governments, covertly or overtly in the Old and New Worlds, torturing captives, lying the country into wars, gerrymandering Congressional districts, and generally violating every principle of justice and humanity ever articulated.  Over time, the invocation of norms has come to trigger a gag reaction in me.

And yet, and yet. 

Do I really reject the very idea of an impartial system of justice that protects the rights of the accused and imposes standards of evidence and due process in legal proceedings?  Oh, I am well aware of the ways in which ostensibly impartial laws are crafted to protect the interests of the wealthy.  Do not tell me that the rule of law is a bourgeois mystification of the class interests of capital.  I have written books about that.

And yet, and yet.

Would I want to live in a society, even a socialist society, that dispensed with blind justice and instead dissolved all questions of law into debates over public policy?  Do I imagine that once the excitement of the transformational moment had passed, routinized revolutionary fervor would serve as a satisfactory substitute for a public spirited commitment to norms of fairness, objectivity, and due process?

The answer is no.  A liberal democracy does indeed need an independent civil service, a liberal socialist democracy more than any other.

And so I am left with my problem.  How can I embrace the current condemnation of the violation of norms while at the same time insisting in calling to account those norm celebrators who were themselves, in better days, violators of those same norms?  How on earth do you put an essay in a tweet, let alone on a bumper sticker?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

QUICK ANSWER TO SOME QUESTIONS


One of the anonymati [is that even a word?] asks this:

 “What is the best Marxian argument for affirmative action?

Is there a Marxian response (or how would one approach if making one) to the current health-care system in the U.S.?”

In their different ways, these questions pose interesting problems for someone like myself who finds Marx’s analysis of capitalism insightful, powerful, persuasive, and in its central thesis true.  By “Marxian argument” or “Marxian response” I take it the reader means either “Marx’s argument,” “Marx’s response” or else something like “an argument implied by Marx’s arguments” and “a response likely to be given by someone who finds Marx’s analysis of capitalism persuasive.”

I say this, clunky as it sounds, because I reject the widespread tendency to treat Marx as akin to a religious prophet, as though one were asking “What is a Christian argument for affirmative action?” or “Is there a Muslim response to the current health care system in the U. S.?”

The simple reply to the first question is that Marx has no argument for affirmative action and his critique of capitalism does not seem to imply one.  Why not?  For two reasons:  First, Marx was convinced, on the basis of his deep study of the development of capitalism in England, that capitalism was rapidly destroying the distinction between the city and the country, between craft labor, agricultural labor, and factory labor, between the roles of men and of women in the working class, and between national, religious, and ethnic identities.  This root and branch revolutionizing of established society, along with the absorption of small businesses into large ones, was rapidly replacing the complex status divisions of pre-capitalist and even early capitalist society with a stark confrontation between big business and a working class.

Second, the modern movement for affirmative action or “liberation” of African-Americans, of women, of gay and lesbian Americans is, at base, an attempt to perfect the transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist social formations, not to move beyond capitalism.  The fundamental demand of African-Americans is that they be treated legally, politically, economically, and socially exactly as White Americans are treated, and analogous demands are made by women and by the LGBTQ community.  These demands are thoroughly legitimate, but they have nothing to do with Marx’s critique of capitalism.  [The reality is a bit more complicated, I know, but I am not trying to write a book, just a blog post.]

An analogous response would be given by Marx or by someone like me to the second question.  Affordable, available, guaranteed health care is one element of what has been called The Welfare State or the Social Safety Net.  It is pretty clearly a capitalist effort both to buy off the working class so that it will not revolt and to handle one aspect of the problem of inadequate market demand that has bedeviled capitalism since its inception.  Marx was not interested in proposing fixes designed to shore up capitalism.  Since I have no expectation of a socialist transformation of capitalist society any time soon, alas, I am deeply committed to making capitalism as livable as possible for the mass of human beings, but I do not imagine that I am doing this in Marx’s name.

Does any of that help to answer the questions?

Friday, June 1, 2018

QUICK RESPONSE


S. Wallerstein remarks, a propos my post Deep State, “I'm no fan of the FBI, but in general, they may well be generally conservative people …”  This called to mind the hilarious old 1967 film, “The President’s Analyst,” starring James Coburn.  The FBI agents are portrayed as uptight boy scouts in coats and ties and hats, and the CIA agents are portrayed as laidback academic types in tweed jackets with elbow patches smoking pipes.  Spoiler alert:  the real villain turns out to be AT&T.

THE DEEP STATE


We have heard a good deal lately about the Deep State, a cabal of career government officials in the Justice Department, the State Department, and other federal agencies who are opposed to the presidency of Donald Trump and are using their powers secretly to undermine his authority and resist his executive will.  The term “Deep State” seems to have been given currency by Steve Bannon, although I am sure it predates him.  References to the Deep State apparently abound in right wing media circles and form a part of conspiracy stories circulated on the Right.

Is there in fact a Deep State?  Of course there is, but not only in the Federal Government.  There is also a Deep State in the military, in the Catholic Church, in every university, in every corporation, in the Boy Scouts, in every state government, even in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and of course there is a Deep State in the Internal Revenue Service.  All of these Deep States, and many others besides, have a name, made current in intellectual circles by the greatest sociologist ever [save for Marx], Max Weber.  They are called bureaucracies.

Let us remind ourselves of the etymology of the term “bureaucracy.”  A Democracy is a state ruled by the Demos, the people.  An Aristocracy is a state ruled by the Ariston, the best [never mind the truth.]  An Ochlocracy  is a state ruled by a mob.  And a Kleptocracy is a state ruled by thieves.  A Bureaucracy is, by extension, a state ruled by the Bureau, which is to say by the faceless occupants of government offices, or bureaus, the career employees, the paper pushers, the rule promulgators, interpreters, and enforcers.

A charismatic leader may succeed by force of personality in bending a band of followers to his or her will.   But inevitably, ineluctably, as Weber shows in brilliant detail, there is a regularization of decision making, what Weber calls in an exquisite turn of phrase the routinization of charisma.  It could not be otherwise.  Consider.

In an organization of tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals, an extensive division of function becomes necessary in order to achieve and maintain an acceptable and sustainable level of coordination.  Some people in the organization make their careers by filling the positions charged with keeping track of procedures, codifying them into organizational rules, applying the rules, answering questions about the rules, enforcing the rules, interpreting the rules.  Efficiency and fairness require that these rules in general be applied uniformly.  Otherwise, others in the organization would not know what to expect in any given operational interaction.

The rule keepers, interpreters, and enforcers stick around for thirty years or more, as senior management personnel come and go.  Some top managers come up through the ranks, and along the way acquire experience in using the rules to advance their policy preferences.  Other senior managers come in at the top from other bureaucratic organizations and are forced to rely on the advice of the career bureaucrats.

From time to time a senior manager adopts a new policy to which the career bureaucrats are opposed [either for ideological reasons or simply because the policy is a break with settled practices with which the career bureaucrats are comfortable.]  The careerists, the members of the Deep State, have enormous on-the-ground power to frustrate the new manager, either by slow walking the objectionable policy, or by invoking obscure regulations that undermine its implementation.  Rather like the mountains in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, who measure time in eons, they are in the organization for life, and know that if they can stall an unwanted innovation long enough, the senior manager will retire or move on and a new senior manager will be appointed, at which time the entire process starts anew.

All of this has been well known and understood for a century or more.  It is true of the American government, it is true of the British, French, German, Chinese, and Indian governments, and it would, alas, be true of a socialist government were one ever to come into existence.  Mao tried to inhibit the routinization of charisma by a policy of permanent revolution, but he failed, predictably and inevitably.

At the moment, we can all be grateful for the Deep State.  When we take power, it will be our sworn enemy.  Such is life.

FORTHCOMING

Well, I have told the NY TIMES and the post office to hold my paper and mail, I have alerted my credit card company that I am going abroad, and my Brussels talk is prepared, so a week from today I can fly off to Paris.  Later today, I should like to write about two subjects I have been turning over in my mind during my morning walks, one of which is clear in my mind, the other of which is quite murky.  But first, an observation about the supposed tribalization of American political discourse.

As I watch cable news discussions, I sometimes wonder idly what I would say if I were invited to be a guest on one of them, but I realize after a bit that it would be hopeless.  I would feel like a modern astrophysicist invited to engage in a discussion with a group of Ptolemaic astronomers having a vigorous debate about the precise arrangement of the epicyclic structure of the heavens.  This morning on Morning Joe the discussion centered on Trump's disastrous undermining of America's leadership of the Free World.  Had I been at the table, I would have raised doubts about the phrase "the Free World" and the others would have looked at me uncomprehendingly and continued with their discussion.  Then, as actually happened, Mike Barnacle would deliver a moving speech about the American Experiment, and when I called that phrase into question, I would have been politely but firmly removed from the table during the next commercial break.

Any useful discussion rests on a set of background or foundational shared understandings about the world.  You can only call those assumptions into question so many times before everyone else gets exasperated and tells you to shut up.  So, if you are a Copernican in astronomy, you start talking only to other Copernicans, because it is exhausting and fruitless to keep saying, "But the sun does not revolve around the earth."  And if you are like me, your eyes glaze over when yet again someone refers in passing to the obvious and unquestionable fact that America is the Leader of the Free World.  Oh, I try, I really try, but you cannot get supposedly serious people to think openly about a set of world-defining assumptions that shape every moment of their deep engagement with the surfaces of American public life.  Nothing short of a Pauline conversion on the road to Damascus is called for, and an argument, no matter how powerful, is not likely to trigger such a bouleversement.

Phooey.  I am going to trim my beard.  I will be back later.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

ANOTHER GOLDEN OLDIE

A regular reader of this blog emailed me with a link to a Frank Bruni Op Ed column that I had in fact already read.  In this column, provocatively titled "Aristotle's Wrongful Death," Bruni bemoans the recent trend of downsizing or cancelling liberal arts majors at colleges in favor of job-related training.  Bruni breaks a lance for the traditional liberal education while endorsing suggestions for ways to combine it with more marketable skill acquisition.  My reader wondered what I thought of the column.

Well, I turned the matter over in my mind, and then bethought myself of something I wrote eight years ago.  I actually posted it here in April 2011, but I like it, and seven years is several generations in the blogosphere, so for those of you have joined this conversation since that time, here it is.  The rest of you can pass the time qvelling over the summary canning of Rosanne Barr.


Some Heretical Thoughts on the Rat Race for the Top Jobs
Robert Paul Wolff

          A society is an articulated structure of roles occupied by, and functions performed by, adult men and women.  Every society, in order to continue in existence, must endlessly reproduce itself by preparing the young to occupy or perform those economic, governmental, religious, medical, legal, military roles and functions, so that in time they can take the place of persons in their parents’ generation.  Some of this work of social reproduction takes place in the family, some of it takes place in the workplace, some of it is carried on by formal and informal social groupings and organizations, and, especially in societies like ours, much of the work of social reproduction is assigned to the schools.
          In an agricultural economy, young boys and girls learn to grow crops and tend flocks.  In a hunter/gatherer economy, the young are taken along on foraging and hunting expeditions so that they can acquire the skills necessary to obtain food.  In some societies, the young apprentice to carpenters, masons, wheelwrights, or silversmiths.  They serve as pages to knights while they master the sword and mace.  As acolytes, they learn the religious mysteries of the temple.  They are articled to barristers so that they may be initiated into the arcana of the law. 
          Now it happens, from time to time, that a young man or woman comes along who has a special gift for one or another of the adult social roles in his or her society.  Some young women take naturally to the sword; some young men have a special gift for tending to the sick.  Some people have green thumbs.  Others are able to craft beautiful furniture with a chisel and saw.  But no society can survive if it depends on a regular supply of outstandingly talented young people.  A little reflection will make it clear that every society must define its adult social and economic roles so that averagely gifted young people can fill them.
          How could it be otherwise?  If the food supply were to depend on the talents of outstanding agronomists, the society would likely starve before those young Luther Burbanks appeared.  If the governance needed for survival absolutely required the gifts of a Thomas Jefferson or an Elizabeth Tudor, then a society would be doomed, for even if such a leader were to appear, he or she would not likely be followed by another, and another, and another.  Sooner or later, and probably sooner, a Millard Fillmore or George W. Bush would appear.  The legal institutions of a society must be so fashioned that lawyers of average ability can manage their essential functions.  The society will of course celebrate an Oliver Wendell Holmes, should one appear, but it cannot depend on a regular supply of jurisprudential giants.
          The truth of these observations is reinforced by the fact that almost every society systematically excludes large portions of its population from whole ranges of adult roles and functions.  Most societies before the present day excluded women from the military, the law, medicine, government, and major portions of the economy, and some still do.  Similar exclusions have regularly been imposed on groups identified by race, class, religion, or ethnicity.  The effect of these exclusions is dramatically to decrease the pool from which young people will be drawn to fill adult roles, thus making it ever more unlikely that outstandingly talented boys and girls will be available.  In effect, the more exclusionary a society is, the more it depends on its institutions being manageable by average talents.
          In American society in recent decades, formal education has taken the place of almost every other social mechanism for preparing the young for adult life.  The legal, medical, business, and military spheres have come to rely on schooling and the associated credentials and degrees to prepare young people and determine which among them shall be assigned to one or another adult role or function.
          There is nothing intrinsically wrong with society choosing this way of reproducing itself, although listening to lectures and taking written examinations is not always the best way to prepare for a productive role in adult society.  But the process is powerfully warped and conditioned by an extraneous factor so pervasive that many of us fail even to recognize it for what it is.  I refer to the steeply pyramidal structure of the rewards and privileges associated with the various roles our adult society.  To state the point simply, in modern post-industrial societies, there are a relatively few really good jobs with big salaries and great benefits, and lots of mediocre jobs with small salaries and very few benefits.  In a society like ours here in America, the quality of life of a young person is determined almost entirely by what sort of job he or she ends up in, and that, in turn, is very considerably determined by the quantity of education he or she obtains.
          Now, the top jobs [corporate lawyer, corporate executive, doctor, engineer, etc] are scarce, and their rewards are way out of proportion to those associated with jobs lower down on the pyramid.  Hence, there is a ferocious competition for the scarce slots.  Since we live in a society that gives lip service to fairness, justice, and equality, those who end up in the favored positions quite naturally tell themselves – and also tell those who fail to make it – that their success is a reward for their extraordinary accomplishment.  Those at the top of the pyramid, they tell themselves in self-congratulatory fashion, are the truly gifted and exquisitely trained.  But as we observed above, this is cannot possibly be true.  No society, not even ours, can survive if it must rely on finding an endless supply of outstanding lawyers, doctors, or CEOs to fill its top positions.  The simple truth is that despite the ferocity of the competition, those in the favored roles are, by and large, only averagely competent at them .  [Many years ago, a British child psychiatrist observed that nature only requires that women be “pretty good” mothers in order for their children to survive and flourish.  This wise observation can be generalized to all of society’s reproductive efforts.]
          Enter “metrics” – Grades, the SAT, the LSAT, the GRE, the MCAT, and all the other impressively mathematical devices for sifting and sorting young people, of allocating them to scarce positions and justifying that allocation.  These measuring exercises play absolutely no role at all in preparing young people for productive adult life.  Indeed, they do not even play any sort of role in preparing young people for the education that is, in turn, supposed to prepare them for productive adult life.  Their sole purpose is to decide, in an ostensibly objective and neutral fashion, which small number of boys and girls will be allowed to ascend to the heights of the job pyramid. 
          Now, in a society that depends on sheepherding, all the young boys and girls learn to herd sheep.  Some do it better than others, of course, but virtually all of them learn how to tend sheep sufficiently well to become shepherds.  If someone were to propose that the boys and girls be tested every two years to determine their progress in sheepherding, he would be laughed out of the village. 
          But in our society, every stage from infancy to young adulthood is accompanied by batteries of “objective” [which is to say machine graded] tests, and at crucial junctures – the completion of secondary school, the transition to college, and later the transition to graduate study – success on these tests, however that is defined, is treated as an absolute precondition for advancement to the next, more exclusive, stage of education, and thus for admission to the ever more lucrative jobs.
          After this system has been in place for a while, it quite naturally comes to be the case that the adults occupying the most favored social roles turn out to be the ones who performed unusually well on the various tests at each stage in their growing up.  After all, since performance on the tests determines whether they are admitted to the cushy jobs, it is self-evident that those in the cushy jobs will be the ones who did well on the tests.
          And now, by a flagrant bit of circular logic, society concludes that success on those tests is evidence of the outstanding ability absolutely required by the cushy jobs!  This circular argument is virtually forced on us by considerations of elementary fairness.  After all, if the cushy jobs do NOT require outstanding ability and accomplishment, then how can we possibly justify their cushiness and their scarcity?  And if the tests do not actually identify those special few capable of performing at the heights of the economy and society, then how can we explain the fact that those at the top have all done so well on the tests?
          All of this is dangerous and arrant nonsense.  And it is the nonsense on which our entire educational system rests.  There is very little evidence that success in pre-school, in elementary school, in high school, on SAT exams, in college, on GRE exams, and in graduate school is intimately linked with the ability actually to perform well the jobs  that are won by these strings of successes.  It is of course true that the senior partners of the most prestigious law firms graduated from the most prestigious law schools.  How could it be otherwise?  Those are the schools from which the law firm’s young associates are recruited.  But has anyone ever done an objective, double-blind evaluation of the work of such lawyers and of their counterparts at less prestigious firms who graduated from less prestigious law schools?   We are no better able to carry out such evaluations of the performance of lawyers, doctors, and corporate executives than we are to evaluate the performance of auto mechanics.  In the end, the “evidence” of the superiority of those in the privileged positions is the fact that they accumulated all the grades, degrees, and other markers that we have chosen to use as filters in allocating scarce desirable positions to an excess of applicants.
          Since all of this flies in the face of received wisdom that is as firmly entrenched in the collective mind of our society as the truth of the theory of the bodily humours once was, I want to spend a few moments elaborating on what I have just said.  Suppose, to continue my example, that we wish to test the hypothesis that a high score on the LSAT, admission to one of the prestigious law schools, and academic success in one's legal education are all good predictors of one's eventual successful performance as a lawyer.  How would we actually test that hypothesis? 
          Well, the first thing we would have to do -- this is absolutely fundamental to any scientific test -- is to define objective measures of successful legal performance that are logically independent of the LSAT scores, law school admission, and law school grades whose relationship to that success we are trying to measure.  How could we do that?  One thing we might do is select a group of graduates of Harvard Law School now working at prestigious New York or Washington law firms, all of whom, we may suppose, are former clerks of Federal District or Appeals Court judges or Supreme Court Justices, and count their percentage of successes in the multi-billion dollar corporate law suits they have prosecuted.  Then we could collect the same figures for a comparison group of graduates of Suffolk Law School working at small low-prestige Boston law firms.  If the first group has a significantly higher success rate than the second group, that might tell us something about the objective merits of the LSAT and the prestigious law schools in identifying or producing legal excellence.
          There are two difficulties with assembling this body of data.  The first is that on any big multi-billion dollar corporate law suit, there are hordes of lawyers on each side, so that it is really virtually impossible to identify the measurable contribution of a single lawyer.  The second problem is that graduates of Suffolk Law School working at small low-prestige Boston firms don't ever get to try multi-billion dollar corporate law suits, because the corporations demand a team of lawyers from the most prestigious and expensive law firm staffed by graduates of the most prestigious law schools, all of whom, of course, have done very well indeed on the LSAT.  I leave it to you to work out on your own the comparable tests that would be required to measure the relevance of SATs, GREs, MCATs, Ivy League degrees, and all the other markers by which we select young men and women for the best paying jobs.
          To be sure, there are times when the pressure of circumstances impels us to look past the stigmata of educational success and reach for some reliable measure of actual competence.  One story may perhaps serve to point the moral.  Some years ago, the then Dean of Yale Law School, a very bright, charming man named Tony Kronman,  became engaged to be married, and on the wedding day, his wife to be went to have her hair done at a local salon.  There was some problem with the procedure [the story as it has come to me does not include this detail], and the bride collapsed in tears.  When she called her fiancĂ©, he came steaming into the salon and proceeded to make a considerable scene.  The upshot was that the New Haven police were called and the Dean of Yale Law School was hauled off to the police station.  [One can only imagine the malicious pleasure the police took in this.  Had they been the recipients of a Yale education, they might even have called it schadenfreude.]  When Dean Kronman was allowed his one phone call, he chose to call his colleague Owen Fiss, one of the most brilliant and respected Constitutional Law scholars in America.  Kronman told Fiss where he was, and begged Fiss to get him out in time for the wedding.  Fiss is reported to have replied, "Tony, I don't know what to do.  Call a lawyer."  There are after all some objective measures of professional competence.
          Let me repeat what I have been asserting:  Virtually all of the boys and girls in our society are capable of learning how to perform well-compensated jobs in a perfectly adequate fashion, and most of them could perform creditably in even the most demanding jobs, if given half a chance and the proper preparation.
          I know that this is educational heresy in modern America, so let me pull together the strands of my argument with two stories from my own life.  The first is an experience I had not in education, where I have spent my entire life, but on active duty in the Army, where I spent six months, more than sixty years ago.   I am of the generation that faced a military draft, and I chose to satisfy my obligation by six years in the Army National Guard.  The first six months of those years were spent on active duty, and the first eight weeks of that were devoted to what the Army calls Basic Training.  As the name implies, this is the time during which the Army teaches young men [and now young women] to march, salute, polish their boots and make their beds, disassemble and assemble a rifle, even to shoot it a bit at targets, and generally to become soldiers.  I did my Basic Training at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
          On the first day of Basic, an angry, mean-looking sergeant started to yell at me and he pretty much kept on yelling for the entire eight weeks.  Everything I did was wrong.  I marched out of step, my salute was feeble, my fatigues were messy, my shoes were not properly shined, my bed was not made tight enough to bounce a quarter, and I did not stand up straight.  He threatened to make me get up at three a.m. to GI the barracks if things were out of place, to clean the latrines with a toothbrush, and to march me until I dropped.  He was not yelling only at me, of course.  He said he had never seen a sorrier collection of recruits, and he doubted that any of us would make it to the end of the eight weeks.
          Somehow, miraculously, and to my great relief, I made it through Basic, and so did every single one of the men in my company!   What is more, virtually every man and woman in every eight week cycle in every year of the modern Army’s existence makes it through Basic.  You can count on the fingers of one hand the recruits in any cycle who actually are drummed out of the Army for failing to meet its strenuous, rigorous standards. 
          The explanation of this astonishing record of success, so dramatically in contrast to the rather poor record of our country’s educational institutions, is two-fold.  First of all, the Army, in its great wisdom, demands of its recruits only what long experience has shown they are capable of.  Despite all my sergeant’s threats and harangues, all of his brow-beating and chest-thumping, the tasks in Basic are aimed roughly at the lower end of what is average for the recruits.  The Army’s task is to motivate us to do what it already knows we are capable of doing, and to make us feel good about achieving what is, after all, an average performance.
          The second reason for an almost perfect rate of success is that the Army holds those in charge responsible for the successful performance of the men they command.  If recruits start dropping out of a Basic Training company, the Company commander will get a black mark on his record that will effectively ruin his career.  That angry sergeant yelling at me will be raked over the coals by his commanding officer if I fail to do the requisite number of push-ups.  The result, of course, is that those in charge do everything in their power to ensure the adequate performance of those whom they command. 
          My second experience, which stands in complete contrast to the first, occurred twenty-five years ago in South Africa, at the University of Durban-Westville, an historically Black university which I visited regularly in conjunction with a scholarship organization that I started called University Scholarships for South African Students.  I was meeting with a self-assured, rather smug young White man who chaired the university’s Economics Department and taught their big first year introductory course.  Data I had obtained from the Registrar showed that in the previous year, only eleven percent of the students taking the course had passed.  I expressed dismay at this appalling performance, and he agreed sadly, saying that the Black students were very poorly prepared.  I asked him what made him think he was a teacher, if only one in ten of his students could pass his course.  He was genuinely astonished at the suggestion that he had any responsibility to help his students master the material.  I suggested that if he were the head of a hospital in which ninety percent of the patients died, he would be brought up on charges as a quack, but he remained thoroughly unrepentant. 
          The lesson I glean from these two stories, and from a lifetime in the Academy, is very simply this:  Any group of averagely intelligent young boys and girls, given the proper support, socialization, assistance, and opportunity, can prepare themselves to fill successfully one of the good jobs in American society.  If a large proportion of the young people of some racial, ethnic, religious, or gendered group are failing to do this, the fault lies with the society, not with the boys and girls.  Performance on so-called objective tests is neither evidence of, nor a prerequisite for, the ability to succeed in contemporary society.  The boys and girls of every city, town, or village in every society in the world are capable of becoming averagely competent and productive members of their adult world.  If they are failing to do so, it is the fault of the adults in the society.  With attention, guidance, and with the unshakable conviction on our part that they are going to succeed, they in fact will succeed in becoming averagely successful. 
          Our job as educators is to prepare young people to take their place in the adult world -- all young people, not merely those who score well on SATs or get high grades or attend prestigious and expensive schools.  It is not our job to weed out the unfit, nor is it our job to raise the national scores on tests designed to satisfy the ignorant prejudices of reactionary politicians.  If our students fail, it is our fault, and our responsibility.   In our professional lives as educators, we must act like Basic Training sergeants [without the yelling], not like the Chair of the Durban-Westville Economics Department.
          What does this mean, concretely?  Since, as you will have gathered by now, I am an inveterate story teller, I will end these remarks with two more stories that suggest, anecdotally, how we ought to act toward our students.  The first concerns a very promising young man in the University of Massachusetts Afro-American Studies doctoral program that I ran for its first dozen years.  This young man had done some extensive,, solid archival research, but was simply unable to turn it into a dissertation.  I called him into my office, after several unproductive years had gone by, and told him to bring me everything he had written.  He produced a hundred pages or so of alternative drafts of bits and snatches of this and that chapter.  I sat him down and spent an hour or so sorting out the narrative structure of the project, dividing it into chapters and cutting it off at about the halfway mark, since what he had originally imagined was a long book, not a doctoral dissertation.  When all of this was clear, I said to him:  "I want you to go home right now and write page one of chapter one.  When you are done, send it to me as an email attachment.  I will read it and send back any comments or corrections.  Tomorrow, you will send me page two, and I will respond in the same way.  You will send me one page a day, every day of the week, from now until you have a complete dissertation.  If you start wandering off course, I will alert you to that fact.  If you are getting ahead of your story, I will slow you down.  One page a day is 30 pages a month.  In eight months, you will be done."  And so he was.  He now has tenure and will soon publish his dissertation as a book.  That is the sort of commitment to our students that I have in mind.
          The second story, with which I will end, is about one of my very favorite people, Esther Terry.  When these events occurred, Esther was the Chair of the Afro-American Studies Department in which I was the Graduate Program Director.  It was she who invited me to join the department in 1990.  Esther was a student at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina when she and other students from Bennett and NCA&T carried out the famous Woolworth's Lunch Counter sit-in that helped start the modern Civil Rights Movement. 
          One semester, Esther and our colleague Steve Tracy co-taught an undergraduate course on Southern Literature.  I happened to wander into Esther's office just after the first class in the course had ended.  While we were chatting, a young Black man knocked on the open door.  "Dr. Terry," he said, "I was just in your class."  "Yes," Esther said, "I know."  "I am afraid I am not going to be able to take the course," he went on.  "Why not?" Esther asked.  "Because you have assigned a lot of books and I just don't have the money to buy them."  Without missing a beat, Esther said, "Now look, young man, I want you to stay in the course.  I have just had a fence put up around my house.  I want you to show up this afternoon and start painting it.  I will pay you, and then you will be able to buy the books."  With that, she took out some money as an advance on his wages, and sent him off to by the first book they were to read in the course.
          Esther is a very shy woman, and does not like me to tell that story.  Indeed, if I had not been there when it happened, I would never have known about it.  But she has been doing things like that for forty years, unbidden, without expecting or seeking recognition.  She simply views it as a normal part of her role as teacher.  She is my model for what a university professor should be, and it would make me very happy if she were to become yours as well.
         

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

BIBLE READING FOR THE DAY


Well, I called the Washington office of Representative Mark Walker and asked whether the Congressman had spoken out publicly against the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] practice of separating little children from their parents.  The young thing answering the phone did not know.  I then asked her to take a message for Mr. Walker, who was for twenty years a pastor before running for Congress.  I asked her to suggest to Mr. Walker that he remind himself of Matthew chapter 19 verse 14, after which he should re-read Chapter 23 verse 27 of the same Gospel and reflect on whether Jesus was there speaking of him.

For those of you who do not have a Bible ready to hand, here are the relevant verses:

 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

IRONIES

It turns out my Representative, Mark Walker, was a pastor before becoming a Congressman.  I shall suggest to the aide who answers the phone that Walker consult Matthew 19:14 and 23:27.  I might as well troll him while I am at it.

ONCE MORE INTO THE FRAY


I am eighty-four years old.  I have been fighting the good fight, one way or another, for seventy years, ever since I went to Yankee Stadium to hear Pete Seeger sing at a Henry Wallace rally in 1948 and ended up, across the river, watching Rex Barney pitch a no-hitter against the Giants.  I ought to be able to relax, organize my files, watch old movies, and leave the fighting to my sons and, one day, to my grandchildren.  And then I read this story of border guards separating children from their parents and I think, “Maybe one more fight.”  It is not as though separating children from their parents is anything new in America.  For the first seventy-eight years of the United States, it was standard operating procedure.  It was called the Slave Market.  There is not a single obscenity, foreign or domestic, now practiced by the U. S, government that is not as American as apple pie.  But when I was younger, I had hope.  Now, in my dotage, I think I am just too mean and stubborn to let it go.  So come Tuesday, when Memorial Day is behind us, I will call my senators and my Representative, and tell some hapless staffer that I protest.  Will they care?  Of course not. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

PAYING ONE'S DEBTS


Over a long life, I have accumulated debts to many persons.  To Willard Van Orman Quine, I owe an immutable grasp of the distinction between use and mention, which he hammered into my head in 1950 when I was a sixteen year old college freshman.  To Benoit Roland, the great Franco-American achetier, I owe the magnificent viola bow that now, alas, sits unused in its case in my study.  To Humphrey Bogart, I owe the immortal phrase, “We’ll always have Paris.”  But to none do I owe so great a debt as I do to Sergei Brin, the co-founder of Google.

Brin is the savior of persons my age, those of us who suffer from what we delicately call “senior moments” so as not to have to confront the possibility of incipient dementia.  Many times each day Brin guides me, whether it is to the actress whose name I have forgotten, to the capital of California, which has slipped my mind, or to the name of the man whose refusal to obey Richard Nixon led to the elevation of the egregious Robert Bork.

I was reminded yet again of this debt earlier today.  Having taught my last Plato class, I turned my attention to preparations for the lecture I shall give three weeks from now in Belgium in commemoration of the bicentennial of Marx’s birth.  My theme will be the deep explanation for the extraordinary language of the opening chapters of Capital, and this morning I began locating and marking the passages I wish to read out.  Quite the most striking of these are the passages in which Marx compares ordinary marketplace commodity exchange to the Catholic miracle of transubstantiation, the focus of the ritual of the mass.  I was quite sure Marx had drawn that comparison but I could not put my finger on the passage.  Increasingly frustrated, I turned to Google.  I entered “Karl Marx transubstantiation” and in less than twenty seconds I had the passages, right where I had left them, in Chapter Three, section 2.

Everyone knows a great many things that are not, at any given moment, being held in consciousness – one’s social security number, mailing address, cellphone number, the name of one’s last pet, the names of one’s children or parents.  We know these things and can access that knowledge as needed, but we do not walk about repeating them aloud endlessly, rather like the Laputians of Gulliver’s third voyage.  Since it takes me very little longer to find things on Google than to recall them to mind, I have often thought that I should consider everything on Google simply a part of my own mind.  Looked at that way, I am quite impressively learned.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

THE HALF TIME SHOW


I think the time has come to step back from the daily frenzy of news and form some judgment of where things stand in the investigation of Trump, his campaign, and his administration.  Mueller and his team are investigating four possible violations of law:  a criminal conspiracy by Trump and his campaign to seek, abet, and receive illegal foreign assistance in the 2016 presidential campaign;  criminal efforts by Trump and his administration to obstruct the lawful investigation of that conspiracy; criminal efforts by Trump and his family to use the office of the presidency for personal enrichment; and criminal efforts by Trump and his family to solicit foreign monies in return for specific official policy decisions of the United States.  What do we now know about these investigations?

1.         The criminal conspiracy is established by facts now public.  The Russian government offered assistance of various sorts.  Trump’s son welcomed the offer.  The Russians provided the assistance. Trump publicly asked the Russians to provide additional assistance.  The Russians did so.  That by itself is enough to establish a conspiracy.  In addition, the Trump campaign altered the Republican platform to conform to Russian interests.  As President, Trump sought to shape official American sanctions policy to favor Russian interests, and for many months refused to enforce new sanctions voted overwhelmingly by the Congress and signed into law by Trump.

All of that is on the record.

2.         The criminal effort to obstruct the investigation into the conspiracy has been confirmed by Trump’s public statements, first to Lester Holt on national television, then to Russian government officials in the Oval Office, on national Russian television.

3.         There is a good deal of suggestive evidence of the efforts by Trump and his family to use the presidency for personal enrichment but until bank records are made public the evidence is not decisive.

4.         There is a good deal of evidence, as yet not decisive, that Trump has sought to shape official U. S. policy in return for monies paid to Trump, to his company, and to his son-in-law.

That is what we now know, beyond doubt.  In the vernacular current on cable news, Trump, his campaign, and his administration are guilty of collusion and obstruction at the very least.  What will happen in the future?  The future is notoriously difficult to predict in politics, so what follows are my speculations and gut instincts and should be considered as such.

1.         Prior to the 2018 election, the Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress will do nothing to sanction Trump in any way, regardless of what further evidence emerges, up to and including video and audio evidence of Trump explicitly stating that he has engaged in a conspiracy, obstructed justice, enriched himself by the presidency, and sold US policy to foreign bidders.

2.         If the Democrats take control of the House in the 2018 elections and impeach Trump, he will be tried in the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding, and he will be found not guilty, regardless of the evidence presented.  There is no way in the world that enough Republican senators will vote for conviction to bring the number to the constitutionally required two-thirds.  Even though some may be tempted to swap out Trump for Pence, they will be fearful that an ousted Trump and an aroused phalanx of Trump supporters will cost them their seats in 2020.  Trump will treat the failure to convict as a vote of confidence and will run for re-election in 2020 as an insurgent man of the people.  He will be difficult, but not impossible, to beat, unless the Democrats run a centrist, in which case Trump will be re-elected.

3.         If the Democrats take the House in November 2018, there will be two months between the election and the swearing in of the new House.  During that time, Trump will abruptly emerge as a progressive Democrat.  In return for not being impeached, he will offer to support stabilization and expansion of the Affordable Care Act, legalization of abortion on demand, imposition of a $15 an hour minimum wage, re-establishment of Obama era clean air regulations, increased taxes on the rich, nomination of liberal judges, and anything else the Democrats want.  He will sign a DACA bill, drop his demand for a border wall, and do anything else Chuck Schumer wants.  The Democrats will then be faced with a terrible choice:  Either to pursue an impeachment process doomed to failure in the Senate and pin all their hopes on 2020, or take everything they want as public policy in return for legitimating and normalizing Trump.

That, in a nutshell, is where we are at, in my view.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

MILESTONES


Philip Roth died yesterday.  He was nine months older than I am, very much a writer of my generation.  Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J. D. Salinger were all older, already established by the time I was old enough to read novels other than Sherlock Homes.  I am not a serious reader of novels, and I think I only read two of Roth’s books, Portnoy’s Complaint and a curious novella called The Breast, but his death at the age of eighty-five reminds me once again of my own mortality.  As a young teenage high school student, the writers who meant the most to me were Steinbeck, e. e. cummings, Carl Sandburg, and Bertrand Russell. 

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Monday, May 21, 2018

HAVE PEN, WILL TRAVEL


Like one of the old Greek sophists, I go to any city state that will have me and talk on anything I am asked about.  My first publication was in the Harvard Crimson, my second in Astounding Science Fiction.  Over the years, my words have appeared in many settings, but this morning is a first.  I have been asked to contribute to a comic book.  A scholar at UPenn is soliciting one sentence statements about Herbert Marcuse for a comic book on him to be introduced by Angela Davis [I am not making this up.]  Naturally, I agreed.  There seem to be thirty or more others.  Here is my sentence:

“Herbert Marcuse, the imposing presence who teased me, just after I had published my first book on Kant’s Critique, by proposing to Barrington Moore and me A Critique of Pure Tolerance as the title of our little volume, reassuring me when I objected that “No one will ever read it,” the Germanic philosopher who sat on the floor with my three year old son twirling a toy globe to show him the countries of the world, the world-historical presence who was that rarest of beings in the exalted realm of high theory and kulturkritik, a good friend.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

STRANGE TIMES


This a strange time politically.  It feels oddly unsettled, fractured, uncertain.  The report of a second meeting with Don Jr., this one with representatives of countries other than Russia, gives the feeling of an investigation that is metastasizing.  Recent Democratic Party primaries suggest that at the moment the party is moving to the left, which I welcome, despite the risk it poses in the November elections.  Inasmuch as turnout is everything in the midterms, this may be a conjuncture when the left can make real gains.

Meanwhile, as I prepare for my last Plato class, I am struck again and again by how extraordinary it is that the Gorgias, one of the most topically current of Plato’s dialogues, was written two thousand four hundred years ago.

As soon as the course is ended, I must prepare my Marx lecture for Brussels [or actually Gent – the location has been moved.]  Like Gorgias himself, I will travel to any city state where there are a few gathered to hear me orate.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

ARM CHAIR SPECULATION


I assume readers of this blog are aware of the main outlines of the unfolding negotiations between North Korea and the Trump Administration, leading to North Korea’s abrupt cancellation of a projected meeting with South Korea and threatened cancellation of the Kim-Trump summit.  Prominent in North Korea’s announcement was a direct attack, by name, on John Bolton, Trump’s new National Security Advisor.  Bolton had gone on TV not merely to lay out the demand that North Korea completely give up its nuclear weapons, but also to explicitly reference the Libyan example as America’s model for North Korea.  Inasmuch as Ghaddafi ended up being shot dead in a drainage ditch some years after giving up his nuclear weapons, Kim not surprisingly expressed discomfort with that model.

John Bolton is a thoroughly despicable human being, but he is far and away the smartest, most knowledgeable, most experienced member of Trump’s administration.  I suggest that it is an absolute certainty that Bolton made that statement as a deliberate effort to scuttle what he patently considers Trump’s wrong-headed decision to seek out and agree to one-on-one talks with Kim.

It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WHAT PUBLIC REPRESENTATIVES SOUND LIKE IN SOME PLACES

Take the time to watch this, courtesy of William Polk.

WHAT I AM DOING TODAY


This afternoon, I shall give the fifth of six lectures on Plato’s dialogues, this one on the Gorgias.  Out of curiosity, I looked back over my extensive files of the courses I have taught during my long career, and found that I first taught the Gorgias in the Fall of 1955 as a twenty-one year old Teaching Fellow in Harvard’s Philosophy 1.  There were four Teaching Fellows in the course taught by the grand old man of the department, Raphael Demos.  Each of us covered two sections.  In my file for the course was a copy of the mimeographed sheet listing the questions each of us posed to his sections on the mid-term hour examination.  Mister Raymond, Mr. Schiller, and Mr. Chacon asked serious, probing questions, suitable for so elevated a subject.  Then there was me.  Here is my first question:

There once was a rhetorical man
Who said, “Flatter the public I can.”
He boned up on knick-knackery,
All four forms of quackery,
And for Ruler of Athens he ran.

Outline Plato’s theory of true and false arts, and explain how a false politician would use the “knacks” to gain power in a state.

Ah, those were the days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

IT NEVER STOPS

I was all set to write a light-hearted post about the class I will teach tomorrow on Plato's Gorgias when I came across this story on The Daily Kos.  The first paragraph reads:

"Michigan isn't the only state where Republicans are pushing a Medicaid work requirement that’s blatantly racist. Ohio and Kentucky are running the same play, passing a work requirement for Medicaid but exempting mostly white, rural counties. The claim is that the exemptions are for places with high unemployment rates where people simply can’t find work—but cities with high unemployment rates often don’t get the same treatment, because they’re surrounded by (and within county lines of) wealthy suburbs that pull the county’s overall unemployment down. The end effect is that, in what a health law scholar described to TPM as “a version of racial redlining,” work requirements apply to poor black people but not poor white people."

The unrelenting ugliness of the Republican Party drains the energy out of my body.  There is nothing to do but fight back at the ballot box, and I will, but I do not want to live in this world, I really do not.

A RESPONSE TO JERRY FRESIA

I suppose, Jerry, that I could say it was April 17, 1961 when I stopped feeling that this is my country.  [The Bay of Pigs invasion, for those too young to remember.]  I went to bed on the 16th thinking of myself as a progressive Democrat, and woke up the next day to wonder who I was and what I stood for.  I am thoroughly American, despite my Paris apartment, but I do not think of myself as a loyal American.  It was not until I wrote Autobiography of an Ex-White Man that I was able to tell a story of this country that was a substitute for the familiar story of a City Upon a Hill and American Exceptionalism, and I learned that new story from my Black colleagues in Afro-American Studies.  But I have never been a rootless citizen of the world, and that is the source of my despair.

A RESPONSE TO HOWARD B.


Before moving on to the outrages of the day, I need to respond to Howard B.’s thoughtful and passionate comment.  I come from a Jewish background, but I have never had any connection, even as a child, with Judaism.  Indeed, although I am an atheist, I resonate more deeply to the mythology and imagery of Christianity, as readers of this blog no doubt have discerned.  Let me be very clear.  My comments about the recent events in Israel were political, not religious or ethnic.  I oppose the policies of the state of Israel, just as I oppose the policies of the United States, even though I am through and through an American.  I am indeed aware of the presence in Israel of men and women who, often at great risk, have spoken and acted strongly against Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.  Not for one moment would I countenance the suggestion that the state of Israel has no right to exist.  I am also aware, thanks in part to the writings of William Polk, to the internal divisions and conflicts in the Palestinian population that have stood in the way of their ability to form a united and effect self-government.  Leaving aside problems of language, I suspect I would find Israel a more pleasant and familiar place to live than Palestine.  But none of that has anything to do with my political judgment that Israel – against the opposition of many of its own citizens – has played the role of conquering and occupying army for decades.

Monday, May 14, 2018

TRUMP'S FINEST HOUR


For more than three generations, the Israeli government has been holding more than one million Palestinians captive while pretending to be searching for an acceptable “two state” solution.   Ignoring United Nations directives, Israel has steadily been absorbing, dividing, walling off, and otherwise undermining the Palestinians.  Today, with the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, the long charade has come to an end.  To celebrate their victory, the Israeli army has killed three score Palestinians and wounded an additional two thousand.  It is only appropriate that the celebration should be graced by the President’s son-in-law.

This is not my country.