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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, September 19, 2020

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Well, it is not difficult to figure out what we need to do. The problem is getting enough people behind us to do it.

 

1. Win the presidency and take back the Senate.

2. Abolish the filibuster in the Senate.

3. Add two seats to the Supreme Court and while we are at it, add two more circuit courts of appeals and a raft of progressive appeals court judges. This just takes majorities in both houses of Congress and the signature of the president.

4. Grant statehood to the District of Columbia, adding two more reliably Democratic senators. This also just takes majorities in both houses and the signature of the president.

5. Then start passing a raft of progressive legislation to recapture so much of what we have lost in the last 30 or 40 years and to advance some measure of social justice and greater equality of wealth and income.

 

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? The problem is not figuring out what we need to do. The problem is getting what is basically a conservative, even reactionary, country to do it.

 

I think we will win the presidency and I am increasingly hopeful that we will take back the Senate. I think it is almost certain that Biden will try to “work across the aisle with my friends in the Senate on the Republican side,” but unfortunately for him and fortunately for us, he is going to discover what Obama never quite got through his head, that the Republicans of today are not really interested in working across the aisle. I suspect that the desperate urgency of the virus and the consequent economic disaster will put such pressure on Biden to get something done immediately that perhaps he will be forced to agree on getting rid of the filibuster.

 

If the Republicans succeed in filling the Ginsberg seat with a reactionary, the pressure to expand the Supreme Court will be enormous. Whether that pressure will be sufficient, I do not know. By the way, a fact well known to constitutional historians but of which I was until recently blithely ignorant, the size of the Supreme Court has been changed several times in American history although not, I think, in the 20th century.

 

The real problem will be getting the Senate – and perhaps the House as well – to pass genuinely progressive income redistributing legislation. We know that Biden doesn’t want to do that – he said so to a group of Wall Street bankers and I take him at his word. The House Democratic Caucus has been moving to the left lately but it is nowhere near as far left as it would need to be to pass the sort of legislation I have in mind. The fault for that does not lie with the politicians whose names we know but with the scores of millions of people who elect them. So that is what the struggle will have to focus on in the years to come. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

THIS IS A TERRIBLE DAY

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an incalculable tragedy. I will leave it to others more knowledgeable than myself to talk about her legacy. Trump and McConnell will do everything in their power to replace her now with the most right wing justice they can find. We need four votes from the Republicans to block that. Murkowski perhaps, Collins almost certainly since to do otherwise would condemn her to certain defeat, Romney conceivably, leaving us one vote short under the best of circumstances.


What can a President Biden do?  The obvious answer is expand the court.  Two additional justices would create a six – five balance with the Chief Justice, as now, sometimes coming over to the liberal side. I think Biden would have no choice but to move for such an expansion because he would face a revolt from his own party if he failed to do so. That along with the death of the filibuster would create the possibility for some sort of liberal legislation.  


This is so bad that I find it difficult to think clearly about the path forward. All we can do is make sure that Biden is elected and then try to repair the terrible damage that will be done before he takes office.

NO TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR

As I have several times remarked, Susie and I live in a retirement community just south of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is now just six months since the directors of the community closed down the dining halls, the lecture halls, the exercise room, and all the other public spaces and went on virtual quarantine. In all of that time, I have not been to a restaurant, a movie theater, a concert, a lecture, or indeed any other form of social entertainment. I have not been to a supermarket, or to any other kind of store. In fact, with the exception of several trips to doctors or to the dentist, I have not been inside any building other than the apartment building in which I live and in that apartment building, I have been only in my own apartment and in the hallways, lobby, and elevator. Even when I had to get my car inspected for the annual registration, I was able to take it to the local Toyota dealer, sit outside, and wait until my keys will returned to me. My sole concern during this six months has been to ensure that neither Susie nor I contract the virus. My best guess from the flood of information I have seen or read is that it will be the better part of another year before this changes. Chatham County, where the retirement community is located, has only suffered something like 57 deaths from the virus but because it is a sparsely populated county the rate per hundred thousand residents is among the highest in North Carolina.

 

To be sure, in those six months I have taught five meetings of my seminar at UNC Chapel Hill on the thought of Karl Marx, I have made several guest appearances in a course on the philosophy of Kant taught in Laramie, Wyoming, I have done a podcast in Sri Lanka, and I happily attended my big sister’s 90th birthday party in Southern California, all thanks to zoom.

 

This is not really how I expected to be spending my 87th year and the first half of my 88th year but, as our glorious leader is prone to say, it is what it is. Lord knows, I am immensely better off than scores of millions of my fellow Americans who now cannot put food on the table, cannot send their children to school, are losing their jobs, and are threatened with losing their homes. So I will just go on blogging and playing with my cat until I can go back to my Paris apartment.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A LITTLE SOMETHING TO CHEER YOU UP

Rachel Bitecofer – the other Rachel, as she likes to call herself – is a data junkie who achieved a certain reputation by calling the 2018 election very accurately. She doesn't post much but here is her latest analysis of the race, and it is enough to warm the hearts and allay the anxieties of such as we.  Not to put too fine an edge on it, she gives Biden a 99.5% chance of winning.  You can't ask for better than that. 

IT KEEPS GETTING BETTER

This morning, after logging in to the Chatham County Board of Elections site with my contact information, I got an automated call informing me that the post office had received my ballot and was in the process of delivering it to the Board of Elections.  Now if the rest of the country could just be as advanced and forward-looking as North Carolina, we would be in good shape.

WE DO THINGS RIGHT IN NORTH CAROLINA

I just went online to the website of the Chatham County Board of Elections to see whether I could track my absentee ballot.  Sure enough, the site tells me that they sent me my ballot on September 11 and were informed on September 16 by the post office that my ballot was on the way back.  When it arrives they will tell me that as well. I am old enough to be astonished by this degree of informational precision and I am anxious enough about the election to be reassured. I believe in North Carolina absentee ballots are opened and recorded as they arrive which means that as soon as the polls close on election day all of those absentee votes will be added to the reported totals. Now if only the rest of the country were as advanced as North Carolina we could stop worrying.


We are now 45 days from the election itself. The polls are stable, Trump is flailing, and if everybody can just keep calm and vote I think we can pull this off. The latest South Carolina polls show Lindsay Graham in a dead heat for a Senate seat that he should be winning going away. Susan Collins is down five or six points in Maine and our chances of taking the Senate back get better each day.


That is all on the bright side. The real news is that scores of millions of people cannot put enough food on the table, have lost or are losing their jobs, are threatened with losing their housing, and are facing a pandemic that is not abating. But if the election goes as now seems probable, we on the left will have the best opportunity in several generations to make fundamental changes in this godforsaken country. It remains to be seen whether we will have the will, the organization, and the energy to make that happen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

THIS AND THAT

Danny responded to my disparaging remarks about Herman Kahn in a way that, I feel, requires some comment although I really do not want to go down that rabbit hole yet again. Sixty years ago I spent a good deal of time dealing with Kahn’s big book, On Thermonuclear War. The book is a fraud, a farrago of pseudo-arguments essentially designed to justify the first strike nuclear policy advocated in those days by some branches of the military. I debated Kahn before a thousand people at Jordan Hall in Boston and I spent a great deal more time back in the day than I like to recall with the details of his book.

 

As for game theory, I have said what I have to say about it in my other blog. That blog was actually a connected series of posts over two months in 2010 that constituted a short book on the use and abuse of formal methods in political philosophy. The book is archived at box.net if anybody is interested.

 

Meanwhile, we are only 48 days from the election, early voting has started here in North Carolina and will start elsewhere as soon as Friday, and as each week goes by the polls virtually do not move. We have had July surprises, August surprises, September surprises, and very possibly we will have October surprises but I am more and more confident that none of them will do anything to change the basic shape of the election.

 

I trust most of you saw the clips of Trump’s latest interaction with reporters in which he trotted out his new shiny object, “herd mentality.” Lord, that man is an idiot. I did a little rough calculation this morning as I walked and if I understand the data that the experts have been putting out, in order to achieve herd immunity America would have to suffer somewhere more than another 1 million deaths from the virus. Trump couldn’t care less, but it is nice having him on tape pushing the idea so that the rest of us can hold his feet to the fire about it.