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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, November 30, 2018

IDLE MUSINGS AT LAGUARDIA AIRPORT WHILE WAITING TO BOARD


Let me begin with a story.  Thirty years ago, I was for a time the head [unpaid] of an anti-apartheid organization called Harvard/Radcliffe Alumni/ae Against Apartheid, or HRAAA.  We were trying, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to get Harvard to divest itself of its investments in companies doing business with South Africa.  Since every share of stock sold is also bought by some other investor, divestment has no material impact [unlike disinvestment] but we hoped the symbolism would make some contribution to the world-wide fight against apartheid.  The Harvard administration was having none of it, of course.  They did not want anyone laying grubby hands on their most precious possession, their Endowment.  But the Harvard Development Office was [and I assume still is] a large bureaucratic operation, and somewhere in its bowels was a sympathetic flunky, who, one dark night, hit the “print” key and produced a complete many page list of all Harvard’s prime alumni donor prospects, which he or she [I never found out] passed on to those of us in HRAAA.  The document listed the hundreds of prospects not in alphabetical order, but in descending order of what Harvard thought it could get lifetime from them.  The list cut off at $250,000 [$546,000 in 2018 dollars].  Anything less wasn’t worth worrying about.  There were some gems in the printout.  Maestro Leonard Bernstein was down for $500,000, but a note warned “will only talk to the president.”  But the printout, delicious as it was, didn’t help us any, and in the end we failed to budge Harvard.

All of which got me thinking.  Donald Trump started his college career at Fordham in 1966, transferring to the Wharton School undergraduate program in 1966 and graduating in 1968.  His grades and personnel file, including the transfer application, are of course private, and the University of Pennsylvania, home to the Wharton School, will quite properly keep them strictly secret.  But surely, somewhere in the UPenn bureaucracy, there must be some low-level file clerk or computer programmer ….

Thursday, November 29, 2018

WELL, WELL


In response to my response to Jerry Fresia concerning China and Marx, anonymous asks:  “What about this letter?”, linking to a letter written by Marx in 1877.  I followed the link and read the length letter, which I found very interesting, and in some ways contradictory to what I had said in my post.  I did not recall the letter at all, and wondered whether I had ever read it, so off I went to my shelves.  I found it in a deep red volume published by International Publishers called Marx and Engels Selected Correspondence: 1846-1895.  Apparently I had in fact read it for it was underlined with marginal comments.  And what had I written at the top of the letter’s first page?

“This is a very important letter – it must be used to revise the ‘march of history’ interpretation of historical materialism.”

Hmmm.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A COMMON MISUNDERSTANDING


David Palmeter asks a question that has been asked many times [and answered as well].  He writes, “If socialism is to evolve incrementally out of the womb of capitalism, as capitalism evolved incrementally out of the womb of feudalism, what is the point of working toward socialism? Why not just let it happen? Would support of health care for all, for example, or free higher education, be considered working toward socialism, or are these things that inevitably will evolve--whether we get all excited about elections etc. or not?”

But Marx does not think that things evolve behind our backs, or “inevitably.”  He thinks that at first individual merchants pursued their trades and deals, not at all understanding where these new ways of making money would lead, or how they might undermine the existing feudal order.  Little by little, they became more aware that things were changing, and networks of merchants developed.  Then individuals developed new ways of producing goods for exchange, until they became self-aware of the conflict between what they were doing and the ways things had previously been done.  Slowly, their individual actions began to form structures of institutional action, and entrepreneurs, capitalists, became a separate and more and more powerful class.

In much the same manner, workers slowly become aware, with their fellow workers, of their shared exploitation.  In the jargon of the French Marxists, they cease being merely a class in itself and become a class for itself [do I have that right?  I can never remember.]

Socialism will not result from a manifesto or a tract or a committee.  It will grow within the womb of capitalism, not spontaneously or behind our backs, but as the result of our ever more self-aware actions within the context of capitalism.  If we lean back and wait for it to happen, it will never happen, any more than capitalism would have happened if early merchants had said, “Relax, the new order is growing in the womb of the old, there is no need actually to hustle and bustle and try to make deals.”

A RESPONSE TO JERRY FRESIA, IN A MANNER OF SPEAKING


A week ago, I reported on a plea for solidarity from Chinese students here in America protesting the arrest of students in China supporting unionizing workers. Included in the plea was a request that I boycott future Chinse-sponsored conferences on the thought of Marx.  Of course I agreed, though I remarked that I was not likely to be invited.  This prompted Jerry Fresia to wonder “What do you suppose World Congresses on Marxism organized by the Chinese government would look like? What elements of Marx, if any, would be brought forward, which obscured, which misunderstood?”

Three days earlier, I had linked to an article in the NY TIMES about China’s success in raising five hundred million people out of poverty.  I failed at the time to notice that this was just the first of a very lengthy five-part series on China’s economic development.  Yesterday, noodling around the Internet, I came on the series and read it from start to finish.  If you start link and follow subsequent links, you can read it all.  [Note, by the way, the innocent fun the authors have mocking Milton Friedman’s confident predictions, all of which have proven false.  That by itself makes the series worth reading.]

Which got me thinking, not what the Chinese would say about Marx, but what Marx would have to say about the Chinese.  Inasmuch as I know next to nothing about China beyond what I have just read in the TIMES series, but do know a fair amount about Marx, I thought I would try to answer the second question.  So, here goes.  This is of course not idle speculation about what Marx the man would have to say about modern China [he would have had a great deal to say, of course, and it would have filled at least one thick volume, for starters], but rather informed speculation about what Marx’s theories can tell us about China.

The simple answer is that Marx’s theories tell us virtually nothing about what is happening in China. 

Let me explain.  In his major writings, Marx undertook to study the social relations of capitalist production, as he called them, and to identify the “laws of motion” of capitalism.  He did this by a deep study of the development of capitalism, principally, though not exclusively, in England.  His greatest insight, which distinguished him from all of his predecessors and contemporaries, was that capitalism developed slowly, incrementally, “in the womb” of feudalism, until the new system of relations of production came into conflict with the existing system, producing a series of violent upheavals and confrontations [the French Revolution, the English Revolution, and so forth] that led ineluctably to the death of the old order and the birth of the new.  Marx saw that the philosophical and ideological conflicts accompanying this great historical transformation were no more than relatively superficial manifestations of the deep, broad economic changes taking place in Europe.

Marx wrote almost nothing about socialism, despite his conviction that it would be the next stage in the evolution of the social relations of production.  His reason, I believe, was that he had no use for the speculative pronouncements of those whom he and Engels called Utopian Socialists, which, he thought correctly, were not grounded in any analysis of the forces within capitalism generating new and contradictory relations of production that would lead to the next great transformation.  My essay, “The Future of Socialism,” to which I have many times referred, is my very preliminary and inadequate effort to begin that analysis.

Marx, of course, thought he could see in the existing form of capitalism some indications of how it would develop, and in certain fundamental ways he was quite correct.  But – and this is the central idea of this post – he believed that one could only find the anticipations of the future by analyzing the internal conflicts and tendencies of the advanced sectors of capitalism.  He failed to anticipate that one of the most undeveloped pre-capitalist sectors of the world economy would be transformed by fiat, ostensibly in accordance with his writings, although of course not at all actually in that fashion.

Marx’s entire life work rested on his belief that each stage of economic development – Feudalism, Capitalism – grew within the previous stage until it burst its bounds and became the dominant form of its age.  This was the heart and soul of his theoretical work, and he was right when it came to European feudalism and to capitalism.

It is not quite seventy years since the Chinese Revolution – a blink of the eye in the history of the development of capitalism, which spanned four centuries in Europe – and yet in that time, by fiat, not by slow growth within the old order, China has become an advanced industrial economy whose size and productivity is second only to that of the United States or the European Union taken as a whole.

As the NY TIMES makes clear, there are complex forces at work in the Chinese economy crying out for the sort of analysis Marx first undertook and which he carried out with respect to the emergence of European capitalism.  But while Marx’s great work shows us how such an investigation might be undertaken, it will have to be left to some modern Marx, probably Chinese, to actually do the work.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

CORRECTION

LFC is correct.  The course I taught was Soc Sci 5.  I actually took Soc Sci 2 with Beer my Freshman year.  It was a great course, and he was a dynamic lecturer, with red hair and a big red mustache.  The next year I scrubbed his floors to earn money for my trips to New London to see my girl friend, Susie, now my wife.  Beer's wife told me a wonderful story as I scrubbed, but that is for another day.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE


On Tuesday, I shall travel once more to New York City for the penultimate meeting of the course Todd Gitlin and I have been teaching at Columbia, after which he and I will appear at the panel discussion on graduate student unionization.  It has been a rewarding experience, albeit tiring and sometimes stressful [apparently no flight into or out of LaGuardia Airport is ever on time.]  The question naturally arises, Now what?

The Sociology Department at Columbia has been agreed that we shall teach the course again next Fall, but that leaves the two Spring semesters, of 2019 and 2020.  This coming semester, I shall give a videotaped lecture at UNC entitled “A Game-Theoretic Critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice,” and in the fullness of time, it will appear on YouTube.

I have also proposed, in a preliminary way, teaching a course at UNC in the Spring of 2020 entitled “Marx, Freud, Marcuse.”  No indications yet whether there is any interest in the Philosophy Department.

Retirement is a drag.

DOWN MEMORY LANE


Yesterday was the fifty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I thought I would take note of it by telling several stories.  I can recall vividly where I was when I heard the news that Kennedy had been shot.  I was in the catalog room of Widener Library at Harvard.  This was before the catalogues were put on line, and to find a book, one went to the long room, just to the right when you had climbed the stairs from the entrance of the library to the second floor, and walked up and down the rows of card catalogue holders until you found the right drawer to pull out.  In the far corner of the room was the checkout desk, behind which, up two or three steps, was the entrance to the stacks.

On November 23rd, I was flipping through cards looking for a book when I noticed four or five people at the checkout desk, bent over a small radio.  I walked over to find out what was up, and heard the news.  I rushed home to my apartment and turned on the little black and white TV set with the rabbit ears antenna that one moved this way and that to pick up the signal.  I was glued to the set for several days, and was actually watching Lee Harvey Oswald being hustled out of the jail on his way to a more secure location when Jack Ruby shot him.  You couldn’t actually see Ruby or the gun.  It was all a scrum of people obscuring the view.

As luck would have it, my wife’s parents showed up from Chicago a few days later for a visit, and they took the two of us to a well-known Italian restaurant on the North Side reputed to be a mafia hangout.  The other guests at dinner were a rich pistachio nut importer and his wife, daughter, and prospective son-in-law.  The nut man was politically connected with the family of Speaker of the House John McCormack.  The McCormacks were long time political rivals of the Kennedys, and were beside themselves with delight at the assassination, which they figured would tilt the Boston balance of power away from the ascendant Kennedys.  The dinner was my introduction to the realities of tribal politics.

It was that evening that I first ate Fettuccini Alfredo. 

While I am at it, I guess I should note the passing of James Billington, 89, long time Librarian of Congress.  In 1958-59 and 59-60, I taught with Jim Billington in Social Sciences 2, one of the Harvard General Education courses in the old Gen Ed program.  There were six of us – five first-rate young historians and me – and we shared the once-a-week lectures to the entire 280 students, meeting our 30 student sections the other two days.  The course covered European history from Caesar to Napoleon, and Jim, an expert on Czarist Russia, gave the first five lectures.  We all took pretty much the standard scholarly line on the Roman empire [I, needless to say, was faking it as best I could], but Jim was a devout Protestant, and he presented the Conversion of Constantine to the students as the Triumph of Christianity, much to the dismay of the rest of us.

That was the course in which I first learned the important lesson that one’s frame of reference may not match that of one’s students.  Arno Mayer was an expert on the Versailles Conference, so naturally he got to give the next series of five lectures after Jim, on the Middle Ages.  His first lecture was on the Barbarian Invasions that brought down the western half of the Empire, and Arno had the inspired idea of linking the battles of the Huns and Goths and Visigoths with the Romans to WW II battles, which had, after all, been fought on the same plains and across the same rivers.  The five of us sat at the back of the lecture hall and marveled at Arno’s tour de raison, but when we returned to our separate classrooms, we found that the students, most of whom had been four or five when the war ended, were utterly mystified by the lecture.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

SOLIDARITY


Yesterday, I was contacted by a doctoral student at an American university with an appeal for solidarity with groups of Chinese university students whose efforts to assist workers to unionize are being repressed by the Chinese government.  He provided two links to news stories, here and here.  The gist of the matter can be gathered from this passage from one of the stories:

“Fear is sweeping through the campuses of China's elite universities following a nationwide government crackdown aimed at silencing left-wing student activists, who had been campaigning for greater rights and protections for ordinary workers.
Since August at least nine young Chinese labor advocates have been forcibly detained in major cities across the country, a sharp escalation in Beijing's campaign against student activism on university campuses.
"The whole of Peking University is like under the white terror now, (the security guards) will come after you even if you were just at the scene where the student activists were distributing leaflets," a student at the prestigious Peking University told CNN Tuesday.”

I was asked to provide a statement of support, which I will of course do, to speak out against this repression, which I am doing here, to boycott any future World Congresses on Marxism organized by the Chinese government [no problem there, I would never be invited], and most importantly, to spread the word, which I hope I am doing by this post. 

I cannot say I am surprised by these actions by the Chinese government.  Right here at home, good old Columbia University is fighting graduate student organizing tooth and nail [I shall take part in a panel discussion next Tuesday organized by the student union.]  By the way, one of Columbia’s “Global Centers” is located in Beijing.  They probably feel right at home there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

TIRED


It is my fault.  I should not have commented at all on Nancy Pelosi, since I know much less about her than Jerry Fresia, for instance.  I got up at 5 yesterday, drove to the airport at 6, got to Columbia [what with delays and all] at 11:30, saw Todd for a quick lunch, held office hours, taught for two hours, headed back to the airport, and was in bed again by 11:30.  All in all, an eighteen and a half hour day, which at eighty-four takes it out of me.  I don’t want to argue.  I want to see the new young progressive House members maneuver successfully for the sorts of committee assignments that will enable them to write progressive legislation, legislation that will probably not become law now, but may lay down a marker for the future.  I want Mueller to get off his butt and have his Grand Jury indict someone, preferably someone related by birth or marriage to Trump.  I want Mike Espy to win his runoff, I want those missing in the California fires to turn up safe, I want the children kidnapped by our government reunited with their parents.  I want something good to happen, so that I can sleep at night.    

Like Lili von Shtupp played by the inimitable Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, I am tired.

Monday, November 19, 2018

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING REALLY IMPORTANT

Take the time to read this entire story, and to look at the striking illustrations.  China has raised five hundred million people out of poverty.  The Act Utilitarian in me cannot even compute what this means in total human happiness.  Twenty years from now [after I am gone, alas] the world will be utterly transformed.

IN CASE ANYONE WONDERED

how skillful Nancy Pelosi, read this story, reporting that Ocasio-Cortez is now backing Pelosi.  It is this skill we need to translate an electoral victory into real results.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

NAVEL GAZING


While walking this morning [unusually early – I started before 5 am] I was reflecting that on my blog lately I have been wearing my heart on my sleeve.  “Where does that expression come from?” I mused.  I had a vague recollection that it turns up in one of Shakespeare’s plays, and speculated that it originated with the chivalric practice of wearing a lady’s scarf or handkerchief when jousting.  A little googling confirmed that it does indeed appear in Othello, where it is uttered by Iago.  As for medieval jousts, Google allows this as a reasonable guess, but primly reports that there are no actual texts dating from the Middle Ages in which it occurs.

But that leaves unanswered the question why I have been so open about my feelings.  To be sure, blogs are supposed to be confessional – they are, after all, web logs, or diaries – but it is my impression that the self-exposure of blogs is rather more formulaic than honest.  I suspect that in my case it has something to do with my consciousness of age, but I am not sure.  Curious.

Rather more seriously, what is this agita about Nancy Pelosi?  And why are the egregious Chuck Schumer and the readily replaceable Steny Hoyer given a pass?  I understand why the Republicans hate Pelosi.  With great brilliance and immense institutional skill, she shepherded the Affordable Care Act to passage against implacable opposition.  But after an election cycle in which the Democrats ran on health care, health care, health care, why are some of them echoing Republican talking points?  Pelosi is the most effective House Speaker of either party in several generations.  I honestly don’t get it.

Which brings me to Mueller Time.  It seems I was not alone in anticipating a Friday indictment drop two weeks ago.  I want Don Jr. to be indicted so bad I can taste it.  And a RICO-style case sweeping up Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, and First Daughter Ivanka, along with Roger Stone, and even the cartoonish Randy Credico, would truly compensate me for many defeats and disappointments.  I know these are debased desires, rather like my affection for The Young and the Restless, but I am too old to conceal my low feelings [pace wearing my heart on my sleeve.]

Well, having done the TIMES Sunday crossword puzzle, it is time to complete my preparations for Tuesday’s Columbia class.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

THANK YOU


Thank you all for taking the time to reassure me that you are there, reading and enjoying what I have written.  I feel a little like Sally Field accepting her second Oscar, who said, famously, “I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”  Your comments mean more to me than I can adequately say.

Why do they matter so much to me?  Not a trivial question for me to contemplate.  When I was young, I was more or less oblivious of the opinions of others.  I did not even read many of the reviews of my books.  I had had my say, and I was moving on, rather like an Impressionist painter [or so I imagined] who finished one canvas of sunflowers and began another.  But now, I am old.  In six weeks, I will turn eighty-five, and though that is, needless to say, only one year older than I am now, somehow the number has a certain resonance.  I want desperately to believe that the world is not quite yet ready to leave me behind, as it does all of us sooner or later.

I remarked a while back that in the building of which I am the “precinct rep” here at my retirement community, there are three people who are ten or eleven years older than I, making me feel middle-aged.  I shall try not to think of myself as old until I reach ninety.

So I shall continue writing and posting, and also teaching for as long as Columbia will have me.  In the Spring I shall give a lecture here at UNC Chapel Hill on “A Game-Theoretic Critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice,” which will be videotaped and posted on YouTube.

Now I must prepare my Tuesday Columbia lecture.  A little later today, I shall write a lengthy post setting forth a portion of what I plan to say.  It is a critical look at the received Story of America and a sketch of an alternative and true story.

But again, thank you all.

Now, what on earth is an RSS Feed?

Friday, November 16, 2018

NIGHT THOUGHTS


I have been writing this blog now for ten years.  I started shortly after retiring, when I was in my middle seventies, and I am now, though it is hard to believe, in my middle eighties.  For much of that time, my posts have received a steady but slender stream of comments, and while there are some readers who post comments frequently, rather like students in a class who can be relied on to have something to say almost every day, the range of comments has been wide, and I have regularly heard from first time commenters, often from overseas.  I have found all of this enormously exhilarating. 

Recently, things have taken an odd turn.  The comments section of the blog has come to be dominated by a small number of men [they are all men, I am pretty sure], no more than half a dozen at most, who seem not so much to be responding to what I write as using the comments section as a sort of chat room.  The comments are almost all intelligent and knowledgeable, but they have little to do with what I am posting.

This tendency reached a point this week that calls for some acknowledgement by me.  On the 10th, I posted a brief 175 word comment, intended to be light-hearted or humorous, confessing that I had been wrong in predicting that Mueller would indict some more people last Friday.  Because I have been flying up to New York to teach each Tuesday, I have been posting less often.  What is more, I have been somewhat discouraged from posting by the apparent lack of connection between what I post and what appears as comment.  In the five days since that brief post, there have been 55 comments by a handful of people totaling more than 9000 words!

I will be honest.  I have stopped reading them all.  I feel as though my little on-line class has been hi-jacked, and I do not know what to do.  I even suggested to the most prolific of the usual suspects that he start his own blog, but to no avail.

I suspect, but of course I do not know, that there are many readers who are deterred from commenting by this development.  It is certainly true that I have lost the sense that I am leading a discussion. 

Now, it is open to me simply to ignore the comments section and go on posting, but I really do not want to do that.  For me, one of the rewards of this blog has been the sense that I was conducting a grand international seminar.  And although I routinely delete comments that are nothing more than advertisements for dissertation writing services, I do not want to start deleting serious, intelligent comments, even if they have little or nothing to do with what I have written.

If there actually are more than five or six readers of this blog, I would dearly love to hear from some of you, just to know you are there!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

BUT WHEN YOU'RE WRONG, YOU'RE WRONG


I got two things wrong [among many] and honesty requires that I acknowledge as much.  First of all, I predicted that Mueller would indict someone yesterday, and he didn’t.  I remain hopeful.  Second, I called the election a blue ripple, but subsequent analysis by wiser heads reveals that it was indeed a blue wave.  The turnout was astonishing, and the scope of the Democratic victory quite reassuring.  If we can survive until 2020, we have a good chance of crushing the Trump party.

My brief post about the forthcoming panel discussion at Columbia triggered some fascinating stories about campus organizing efforts, including a comment from one of the innumerable anonymati/ae about my own campus, UMass.  I am sufficiently old school to believe that union organizing remains a valuable progressive strategy.  When I was young, the AFL-CIO was the behemoth on the landscape.  I would not then have been able to foresee that public employees, faculty, graduate students, and med techs would be the future of the labor movement.

Live and learn.

Now, about Broward County.

Friday, November 9, 2018

COMING UP


Let me begin with a story.  I kind of think it dates from some time in the middle seventies.  I was invited to take part in a panel discussion in Lexington, KY at the university there on the topic of The Political Responsibility of Intellectuals, or something of that sort.  The affair was sponsored by the National Endowment of the Humanities [I think] and was explicitly aimed not at an academic audience but at the general public.  My fellow panelists were a pair of rather distinguished scholars:  Sam Weber, an extremely raffiné UMass Comp Lit professor, and Berkeley’s Martin Jay, the author of a first rate book on the Frankfurt School.  I took the assignment seriously, and talked about the political responsibility of intellectuals.  Weber gave an incomprehensible talk on Heidegger’s essay on technology and Jay gave a comprehensible but utterly irrelevant talk on images of vision and mirrors in nineteenth century French writings [pretty obviously cobbled together from what he was then working on.]  As the discussion developed, Weber and Jay made numerous references to Marx and other left intellectuals, presenting themselves as dyed in the wool lefties.  Somewhat miffed at having been so thoroughly upstaged, I asked them both at one point where they, as left intellectuals, stood on the subject of faculty unionization.  They stuttered and hesitated, hemmed and hawed, and managed to avoid taking a position.  If their feet had been any more made of clay, I could have conducted a pottery workshop.

As you all know, I have been flying up to New York from North Carolina every Tuesday to co-teach a course at Columbia on Mystifications of Social Reality.  You may not have noticed that at the present time, the Columbia graduate student TAs have organized and have been trying unsuccessfully to get the university to enter into negotiations with them to bargain for a contract.  The students are associated with the UAW and have actually won their appeal to the NLRB [I hope I have this right] but the Columbia administration has dug in its heels and is refusing to bargain.  The grad students, who teach most of the sections in Columbia’s famous General Education program [which Columbia routinely touts when it is raising money from its alums], have called a strike for the week before final exams.  It turns out that one of the students in my course is a leader of the student union, and he has asked both me and my co-teacher Todd Gitlin to take part in a panel discussion on the subject two and a half weeks from now.  Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.

I have some personal experience with the subject, because in 1977, the faculty at UMass unionized, and in 1990 the grad students did so as well.  Faculty, especially at elite universities, tend to express worries that grad student unionization would destroy the delicate and exquisitely fragile mentoring relationship between them and their doctoral students, a relationship that they like to describe as the most rewarding part of the university teaching experience.  Now, for my first 19 years at UMass I mentored grad students who were not unionized, and for the next eighteen years I mentored grad students who were.  I can report that there was not the slightest difference for me between the two experiences.  But there was quite a lot of difference for the grad students, who successfully bargained for guaranteed tuition, academic fee, and health care fee waivers, family leave time, and even --  although UMass was dirt poor  -- pay raises.

I will let you know how the panel discussion turns out.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

PUSHING MY LUCK

Having made several predictions that turned out to be correct, I will try once more.  It is now almost seven a.m.  Today after the start of the business day, or tomorrow at the latest, Mueller will get his grand jury to hand up some more indictments, and these will strike at Trump's inner circle.  Once the indictments have been handed up and delivered to a court, they exist, and even if Trump's new AG lackey tries to shut Mueller down, the indictments will stand.

We shall see.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

WHEN YOU'RE RIGHT, YOU'RE RIGHT

One week ago, I made the following prediction, based on the assumption that the Democrats would take the House but not the Senate:

"The day after the results are in, Trump will without the slightest evidence of unease or hesitation pivot to being a non-partisan supporter of DACA guarantees, comprehensive immigration reform, infrastructure spending, guarantees for those with pre-existing conditions, and whatever else Democrats want that does not negatively affect his own financial interests.  Overtly, covertly, or implicitly, but in all events unmistakably, he will communicate it to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that he will work cooperatively with them for the next two years so long as they squelch the Democratic lust for investigations of him or his family and allow him to summarily shut down the Mueller probe. 

This will pose a terrible dilemma for the Democrats, and I fear there is a grave danger that they will succumb, in which case they will pave the way for Trump’s re-election and the death of what remains of constitutional democracy in America."

It turns out I was exactly correct.

How should the Democrats respond to Trump's press conference today?

1.  They should make a great show of cooperating with Trump while passing a series of bills, which they send to the Senate, calling for:

   a.  Guarantees of protection for those with pre-existing conditions
   b. Infrastructure
   c. Protection for DACA recipients
   d. Comprehensive immigration reform
   e. Reuniting of children separated from their parents
   f. Protection of the Mueller investigation.

Let the Senate refuse to pass these and send them to the President.  They will become the platform of the 2020 campaign.

2.  Meanwhile,  the leadership should allow the several committees to initiate whatever oversight investigations they wish.

3.  They should leave impeachment strictly alone until Mueller issues his report.  If, in effect, he labels Trump an unindicted co-conspirator in impeachable acts, they should allow that report to simmer and bubble until they see whether Republicans decide they want to get rid of Trump.  Only when they have 2/3 of the Senate should they initiate impeachment proceedings.

Why do I say this?  Because a failed trial in the Senate would be far worse than no trial at all.  Recall what Ralph Waldo Emerson said.  "When you strike at a king, you must kill him."

Recall as well that if Trump is removed from office, we get Pence.  Far better to have a weakened, disgraced, and damaged Trump running for re-election.

SECOND THOUGHTS


I have taken my morning walk and had breakfast and I am beginning to regain my cheerful demeanor.  Matt’s cautionary comment was helpful.  It put me in mind of one of my favorite movie scenes from the great 1973 movie The Sting.  I am sure I must have alluded to it before.  Robert Redford goes looking for a legendary con man, Paul Newman, to learn how to take down Robert Shaw, who has had Redford’s buddy killed.  Redford finds Newman in a whore house over a carousel, and after Newman sobers up, he agrees to help Redford.  But he warns Redford [God bless the Internet, on which one can find anything, even a forty-five year old movie script]:  “I don't want a hothead looking to get even, coming back saying......"It ain't enough."  'Cause it's all we're gonna get.”

That is one of the great truths of life, especially of politics.  We took the House and a passel of governorships.  We ousted Scott Walker in Wisconsin and here in North Carolina we won enough state Senate seats to break the supermajority blocking the Democratic governor from vetoing the godawful bills passed by the Legislature.

I’m not going to be a hothead looking to get even, saying it ain’t enough, ‘cause it’s all we’re gonna get.


THE BLUE RIPPLE


It was not a rewarding night.  The Democrats did the bare minimum necessary to stave off disastrous defeat, but not much more.  All three rising stars – Gillum, O’Rourke, Abrams – fell short, although the book is not yet closed on Abrams.  The Republicans lost control of the House, but actually expanded their razor thin margin in the Senate.  The candidate I worked for in the NC 6th CD lost, narrowing Mark Walker’s margin slightly.  There is no doubt in my mind that Trump’s frenetic campaigning helped the Republicans overall.  I got five hours of sleep, which is three less than I need.

The next move belongs to Mueller.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

AND NOW WE WAIT

The cat woke me at 4, I went for my walk at 5, I have done my last stint of poll greeting, and now there is nothing to do but wait the five+ hours until the first results come in.  Once the outcome is clear, I will of course say that I saw it all coming, and offer some confident views about what it all means.  That, as I understand it, is the fundamental task of the blogger.

Lord, I wish I could nap in the afternoon.

Monday, November 5, 2018

WHY DO I TELL STORIES?


Thirty-six hours from now, the shape of the 2018 election will be clear:  a Blue Wave, a nail-biter, or a disaster.  I will spend several hours tomorrow as a poll greeter, handing out sample blue ballots to voters as they enter the polls to vote, but aside from that, there is nothing for me to do but wait.  This seems like a good time, therefore, to talk about something rather personal that has nothing at all to do with politics, viz, why when I lecture I tell so many stories and make so many references to novels, television shows, and other seemingly unserious matters.  Some students like this about me, some don’t, but they all notice it and comment about it either in class or on end of semester student evaluations.  Why do I do it?

There is a simple answer, of course:  because I like to.  I am a natural story teller, a sort of wannabe philosophical Garrison Keillor.  But there is also a very much deeper and more important reason [wouldn’t you know?], one that goes to the heart of everything I have done for my entire life.  This strikes me as a good time to explain.

As I have often remarked, I have a visceral negative reaction to writers who seem to me to strive to make simple ideas as obscure and complicated as possible.  Hegel strikes me that way.  So does Judith Butler, to mention a more recent example.  I have spent my career struggling to grapple with complicated ideas and make them as simple as I can without losing any of their power or complexity.  That is what I did in my very first book on the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason, and it is what I strove to do with the famously difficult first chapter of Capital in my little book of lectures, Moneybags Must Be So Lucky.  The urge I feel to do this is aesthetic as well as intellectual.  I am always trying to take a difficult idea and puzzle over it until it is perfectly transparent to me, at which point I experience it as beautiful.  Then, in my teaching or writing, I hold it up to students or readers and show them how beautiful it is.  That is what I was doing when, for my students at UMass, I went through John von Neumann’s elegant proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Game Theory, even offering a proof of L. E. J. Brouwer’s Fixed Point Theorem, on which von Neumann’s proof rests.

Now, I experience arguments as stories, each having a natural beginning, development section, and end.  And since what interests me is the logical structure of the story, it does not matter to me whether the story is high art of the sort that Literary Critics concern themselves with, or a soap opera, which would be beneath their notice.  It is the structure that interests me.  So it is that only half facetiously, I sometimes compare Tolstoy’s great novel, War and Peace, to the soap opera The Young and the Restless, which Susie and I watched faithfully for the first twenty years of our marriage.  That is also why, when I am explaining to a doctoral student how to write a doctoral dissertation, I compare it to Jack and the Beanstalk.

The besetting intellectual sin of students of high social theory, and of their professors as well, is to wrap themselves in the jargon of the trade and deploy it as though it were fashionable clothing or body piercing, marking them as serious thinkers.  I hate that, I am phobic about it, and my response is to tell stories about simple events and personal experiences.  Though they often do not realize it, these simple stories have the same logical structure as the high-toned jargon-laden theories they are mouthing.  By telling my stories, I am trying to get them to see the structure of the arguments stripped of its jargon.

That is why I tell stories.  Also, of course, I like to.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

VAMPING 'TIL READY


As though waiting for the election were not hard enough, the time changed this morning at 2 a.m., adding sixty more minutes to the wait.  In addition, we forgot to tell out cat about the time change, so she hopped up on the bed and woke us at three instead of four.  I have now fed the cat, checked my email, taken my walk, worked on the jigsaw puzzle, had breakfast, and it is still not yet ten.  This must be what Purgatory is like.  [In Hell, the Devil plays Mozart, if George Bernard Shaw is to be believed, so I could stand that.]

Herewith an idle speculation.  Let us suppose there really is a Blue Wave, washing the Democrats into control of the House but not quite the Senate.  What will happen in the next two years, assuming Trump survives and runs for re-election?  I think we may be on the threshold of another major party realignment, as big and consequential in its way as the realignment that occurred more than half a century ago when the Dixiecrats left the Democratic Party and reinvented themselves as Republicans.  Over time, this transformed the Republican Party into a Southern and Southwestern party, while the Democratic Party welcomed Black and Latino voters and became a bicoastal party with outcroppings in the plains states.

Trump has completely taken ownership of the Republican Party, and no politician can choose to remain in the party without embracing his brand of racism and xenophobia.  Many are uncomfortable with that, but as things stand, there is no place else for them to go.

The natural evolution of this situation would be for the Democratic Party to move to the right, declare itself a Big Tent, and welcome into the fold former Republicans, seeking to create an unstoppable Party of National Unity that would leave the Trump base out in the cold.  This move would involve giving the energized progressive base of the Democratic Party just enough crumbs to keep them from defecting, while leaving control of the party in the hands of the descendants of the Democratic Leadership Council, Bill Clinton’s creation.  One can already see the moves in this direction, in the fight for control of the DNC, lost by the progressives, in the revival of Joe Biden’s presidential dreams, and in the writings of a goodly number of opinion shapers.

I do not think I need to say how this makes me feel, but it is, I believe, the natural structural logic of the American political system.

The war won’t be over on Wednesday.  It will just be starting.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

KANT'S THREE QUESTIONS


We are now a bit more than eighty-two hours before the first returns are reported, so it is time to draw some conclusions about the election.  Conclusions?  Am I not getting ahead of myself?  I think not.  It is certainly too early to say who won, but it is not too early to say what we have learned.

First, it is no longer possible even for the most determined both-sides commentator to hide from the truth about Trump.  He is a flat-out unapologetic racist and a wannabe fascist dictator.  Most of us knew that, of course, but it is always useful in the public arena to have manifest truths confirmed and acknowledged.

Second, there are roughly 230 million or so Americans eighteen or over, and at least sixty or seventy million of them are flat out racist lovers of fascism.  I say this because at this point, it is not possible to support Trump strongly and not be a racist who yearns for fascism.  The Republicans may lose the House.  Nate Silver even says they have a slender chance of losing the Senate.  They may lose as many as ten governorships.  When the election is behind us, Trump may be indicted, impeached, forced from office, or defeated in 2020.  But when he is finally gone, there will still be sixty or seventy million racist lovers of fascism in America.  That is the America we live in.

Third, there is a sizeable cadre of supporters of progressive policies, some of whom are even comfortable calling themselves socialists, whatever that means to them.  How many?  It is difficult to say.  As a percentage of the population, fewer than there were when my grandfather was young, to be sure, but they exist, and their numbers may actually be growing.

Fourth, the Democratic Party is threatened with a significant progressive transformation, one that the leaders of the party will resist as strongly as they can get away with.  It is at this point quite unclear how that struggle will come out, although I am pretty sure that our cause has been helped by Trump.  Does this mean socialism has a chance?  I am afraid not.  Socialism is bad for business.  Enough said.

Kant posed three questions:  What can I know?  What ought I to do?  What may I hope for? 

I can know that I live in a country founded on racism, nurtured on inequality, and committed to as much in the way of world domination as it can manage.

I ought to do what I can to make this country a little less unequal, a little less racist, a little less imperialistic.

I may hope that before I die, I see Donald Trump humiliated, impoverished, and ignored.

Now, I shall sit by the television set and await the results.



Friday, November 2, 2018

DOIN' WHAT COMES NATURALLY

In 101 hours, the very first election results will come in.  To pass the time, I am preparing my next Columbia lecture.  As in my first lecture on Marx, I shall begin by invoking the world of Jane Austen.  From there, I shall move on to the work of the historian of 18th century England Lewis Namier, then review the ethnological system of recording kinship structures of "primitive" peoples, quote a pregnant and surprising observation of Edwin Wilmsen, segue into a discussion of the property rights of indigenous peoples, and wind up this first part of the lecture with a discussion of the incompatibility of Political Economy and the Ethnographic conceptualization of of prehistoric human groups, all in the service of explicating Wilmsen's ideological critique of the field of Anthropology.  A  seamless chain of argument.

I love doing this sort of thing much more than I like troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A NEW BLOG WORTH READING

Phil Green, retired Smith College Poli Sci professor, NATION editorial board member, and life-long leftie, has a new blog, called Taking Sides.  Phil is a good deal more over the top than I am.  As they say, he gives good outrage.  [Of course, I may be biased.  When we were toddlers together in Sunnyside, Queens, it is said that on occasion we shared a baby buggy.]

Take a look at it.

AND SO I WAIT


I am now essentially dysfunctional.  I stew, I fret, I sign up for poll work, I play endless games of Spider Solitaire [two suits] and FreeCell, and I wait.  Many times each day I check Nate Silver's statistical forecast.  Nate says there is a 6 in 7 chance that the Democrats take the House and a 1 in 7 chance that they take the Senate.  But then, he said Clinton had a 95% chance of winning the Presidency.  So I wait.

My brightest moment in the recent past occurred on Tuesday, when I successfully purchased and used a MetroCard at LaGuardia, enabling me to take the M60 bus from Terminal C to 116th and Bway direct, and then take the same bus from 116th and BWay back, all for a total of $2.75 each way, instead of the $45 taxi fare each way that I have been forking over.  The bus takes maybe eight to fifteen minutes longer, but is actually rather more pleasant.  A triumph!

It was Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, who said memorably, as he launched the Second Gulf War, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.”  I take roughly the same view of electoral politics.  Is this the Democratic Party I want?  No.  Do I even want the Democratic Party?  No.  But this is the army I have, and victory is better than defeat.

There was one brief moment in my life when, seduced by despair, I contemplated voting Republican.  It was in 1968, and I thought that things could only get better if they first got worse.  In the voting booth on Amsterdam Avenue, north of Columbia University, I reached my hand out to pull the lever for Nixon rather than Humphrey.   But deep in my reptile brain was a protective circuit that closed, making my arm go rigid, and after I recovered, I found that I had voted the straight Democratic ticket.

And so I wait.