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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE

Light rain this morning, so no walk.  Instead, I did the TIMES crossword puzzle and noodled around on the internet.  The thought crossed my mind to wonder whether I had ever exchanged letters with Noam Chomsky, whom I knew sixty years ago when he was a Junior Fellow at Harvard.  In my files, I found a long single-spaced letter dated October 26, 1965.  He had written to me about a book manuscript I had sent to him.  In the summer of 1962, I wrote a short book called The Rhetoric of Deterrence about the ways in which defense intellectuals like Herman Kahn deployed putatively value neutral mathematical analyses as ideological tools to push one or another justification for the use of nuclear weapons.  I couldn't find anyone to publish it, and asked Noam to take a look at it.  It is characteristic of him that he devoted more than two single spaced pages to a detailed response.  [He liked it and thought it should be published, but it never saw the light of day.]

In those days, I was still possessed of the mad belief that reasoned argument could have some effect on important matters of public policy.  It took the better part of half a century for me to give up that fantasy.  Ah, youth.

5 comments:

RobinMcDugald said...

An aside while you contemplate the rain and look forward to going off to Paris (where you will don a yellow jacket?).

I seem to recall the question being posed, what kind of Marxism conference might now be hosted in China? In any case, here's a reference to something which is yet, I think, to make an appearance, which relates to that sort of question. It comes from another philosopher's blog:

http://www.truthandpower.com/blog/blog/karl-marx-never-looked-so-good/

Happy New Year, and a happy next birthday.

David Palmeter said...

Off topic: There is a nice piece about Sylvain Bromberger in today's NT Times magazine.

David Palmeter said...

This is from the Sousa Mendes Foundation website:

"Testimonial of Sylvain BROMBERGER, 1995
From Rhode Island Jewish Herald, March 16, 1995

As a child, I took my visa for granted. Only later, only recently, I discovered the man, and the full meaning of his signature. It is rare to stand up against wrong orders, to take matters nobly and honorably into your own hands.
Testimonial of Sylvain BROMBERGER, 1999

It really matters that people like de Sousa Mendes be remembered and their courage praised. In a world in which people can be incredibly cruel to others, they offer a few examples worth emulating.

My father, mother, two brothers, and I fled from Antwerp, Belgium on the thirteenth of May 1940, just ahead of the German armies that, three days before, had attacked Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg without warning. We left our home rather suddenly, not knowing what would happen to us next, but sure that, as Jews, our lives depended on not falling into the clutches of the Germans.

After a series of adventures and misadventures, we found ourselves on June 22 in Bayonne, France in a large crowd of refugees in front of the Portuguese consulate. Pétain had surrendered to Hitler and the part of France in which we found ourselves was going to be occupied by the German army. I can still feel our fear and despair: the line ahead of us seemed impossibly long, did not seem to move, and the Germans were presumably on their way.

The details of what happened next are somewhat blurred in my mind, but at one point our passports were taken into the consulate, and a while later sacks full of passports were brought out to the little square near the consulate. Our passports, properly stamped with visas to Portugal were among them. That moment I do remember vividly! There had been no formalities, no interviews, no delays, no conditions.

With those visas we were able to get a permit to cross Spain, to then get out of France just ahead of the Germans, and to reach Portugal safely. From there we eventually sailed to the US. About five years later I went back to Europe as an American infantryman, and had a chance to judge with my own eyes the fate that might have befallen us had we not escaped...

My parents both died totally unaware of the drama and heroism behind those visas. Thus de Sousa Mendes never received our thanks nor that of hundreds of other people who were unaware of what he had sacrificed for them, and probably never even heard his name. I know that there must have been many Belgian Jews among them since we recognized many people from Antwerp in the crowd, mostly people of my parents' generation who are long gone.

A while ago John Paul Abranches asked me to describe how receiving a visa in 1940 affected my life. I was able to answer that question in very few words: I am now 75 years old, a professor emeritus at MIT, married to a wonderful wife for fifty years, father of two sons in whom I take great joy and pride. I have had a rich life. Had it not been for de Sousa Mendes's deed, I would probably have died horribly in a concentration camp before reaching the age of seventeen.

David Auerbach said...

the NYTimes piece on Sylvain

Robert Paul Wolff said...

David Palmeter and David Auerbach, thank you both for the remembrances of Sylvain Bromberger, a wonderful man who was, in my younger days, a colleague and good friend. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see him again a year or two ago, at MIT. I did not know the story of his family's escape from the Nazis.