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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

SOME BRACING WORDS FOR THE NAY-SAYERS

I was, I confess, surprised and a little disturbed by the responses to my sunny post of yesterday.  I find hope a more powerful motivator than despair, and so, in advance of a battle, I concentrate on what can be won rather than on the likelihood that we will not win everything.  The history of popular progressive uprisings makes it clear that even when they are successful, they fall short of the aspirations of those who make them.  I have written about the deeper reasons for this, most recently in my Columbia talk, so I shan’t repeat them here.  But it is worth reminding ourselves of the consequences of the movements we have been a part of in our lifetimes.  The Black Liberation Movement accomplished an enormous improvement in the daily life chances and experiences of African-Americans.  But it was unable to overcome institutional racism deeply embedded in the structure of the American economy, and of course it left capitalism untouched.  Was it worth the effort?  I think the answer to that question should be left to Black respondents.  The Women’s Movement made astonishing changes in the life chances of women, and seems poised to dramatically shift American politics leftward.  But as the #MeToo movement makes clear, women continue to suffer daily assaults on their bodies, on their dignity, on their very lives.  Has the Gay Liberation Movement been worth the effort?  As the father of a proud gay man, I have seen close up the changes in the status and acceptance of LGBT men and women in just his adult lifetime.  I will leave it to him to say how much remains.  If we cannot recognize, acknowledge, and bear up under the disappointments attendant upon these victories, we might as well leave field and repair to our studies, where we can daily remind ourselves of the vast evils and injustices of this world.

Do liberal votes count for less than conservative votes?  Of course they do.  The sainted Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to guarantee that result.  Just to be extra careful, they made amending the Constitution to change that fact almost impossible.  Does Gerrymandering systemically diminish the power of Democratic votes?  Of course it does.  The only remedy is to turn out extra-large votes for state Democratic candidates.  Are liberal votes wasted by being cast in coastal urban enclaves?  To be sure.  Unless a quasi-religious movement catches fire among Liberals exhorting them to move to West Virginia and Utah “for the good of the party,” there is nothing to be done but suck it up, order another half caf skim milk latte with two shots of vanilla, and try to persuade some of the two-thirds of Democratic voters who do not bother to turn out for the mid-term elections that they might consider spending an hour every two years dropping in at their local polling station.


So stop complaining and organize!

5 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

As one of those who engaged in yesterday's conversation, there was no despair in my comments (nor did I see despair in those with whom I had the pleasure of conversing).

I was trying to be realistic about what might happen if the Democrats take control of Congress from the Republicans.

Realism is not despair and I believe that it's Spinoza who says that hope is not a virtue (nor is despair). What is virtuous, according to Spinoza, is a rational analysis of real possibilities.

That does not in any way imply that we should retire to our studies and contemplate the evils of the world as we read Schopenhauer.

Jim Westrich said...

To add to the theme of hope, Pennsylvania's congressional map has been ruled unconstitutional and new districts need to be in place by 2018. As others no doubt know other states' districting plans(like North Carolina) have been ruled unconstitutional but have been granted seemingly indefinite amounts of time to fix them (or ignore their problems).

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I would think that being a progressive is always fraught with anxiety. A progressive is always at war, conducting war like you said. Aren't progressives at war with Nature herself?

The Roman poet Horace said, "Throw out nature with a pitchfork, and yet she shall return". Conservatives go with the flow, with tradition, customs. They are God-believers and so they are content. By nature, they are not at war--they go with the flow. Something akin to the Tao.

Progressives are never happy. The "sainted FFofA" were liberals themselves! America was a Progressive state--I point to the saying "Novus Ordo Secularum" on the seal of the US--a New Order---that's progressive. The FFofA hated the Old Order and priestcraft. They believed in equality too. They were liberals---but I guess not "liberal" enough. That is why nothing is ever "enough" for the liberal, one is constantly in a state of upheaval, in a state of destroying. A liberal is never happy unless he is destroying.

Jerry Fresia said...

Your points are well taken.

Like S. Wallerstein, I don't feel despair about the world out there not
being as I would prefer it to be; rather I feel frustration about being part of a "resistance" movement that is, in my humble opinion, is utterly naive. Yes, you are knowledgeable and understand the slow, incremental process of struggle as well as the limitations of our institutions and the Democratic Party. I get that. So I don't want to give the impression that we radicals don't know what it takes or how long to roll that damn rock up the hill. But a majority of Democrats who vote at every election want to purge people like Bernie, think Rachel is Seymour Hearsh, that the essential taint to our electoral system is Russian meddling, and fervently hope that the days of Obama return. I guess my point is is that, unlike the movements you refer to, there is no manifest Left. Okay, so let's beat the get-out-to-vote drum; I heartedly degree. But can we at least add that there is also a dire need for a systemic critique - beyond social media and fragmented actions? or at least labor unions that Dems regularly beseech and to whom regularly give the shaft? Because, in the end, we are not going to get Mr. and Mrs. Exploited to the polls unless they are excited by someone convincingly appearing to be on their side.

Jerry Fresia said...

To be clear:

The 5% advantage that Republicans have, I believe, in red states to which I referred has nothing to do with the design of the "sainted Founding Fathers" which is bad enough. It has to do with the corruption of our electoral system which the Democrats, despite elections having been stolen from them (at the presidential level in 2000, 2004, and 2016), simply refuse to challenge in spite of credible evidence and documentation. I'm referring to numerous forms of voter suppression and vote theft: specifically interstate cross-check, fractional voting, and the not-counting of absentee ballots. That these violations (of what is suppose to be sacred) are accepted and remain rather obscure suggests to me that the greatest fear of both Democrats and Republicans is democracy, or what liberals called "the crisis" thereof following the 60s.