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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, January 15, 2021

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN THE SHINING CITY ON A HILL

I am very much encouraged by the reports of the $1.9 trillion bill that Biden wishes to rush through the Congress. It is way more progressive than anything we could have reasonably hope for from Biden when he was on his way to securing the nomination. Is it perfect? Of course not, but if passed it will make an immediate and very big difference to huge numbers of people who are in desperate circumstances. Tucked into it, by the way, is an increase in the minimum wage to $15, something that was a progressive wet dream only a few years ago. The legislative device that will be used to get it through Congress is called Reconciliation, a process which circumvents the filibuster.   In the Senate, the process gives an outsized role to the Chair of the Budget Committee. And who will that be? Bernie Sanders.

 

I mention all of this first because I am, as you know, a naturally optimistic person. Now for the bad news. When Trump is gone, convicted or not in the Senate as the case may be, those tens of millions of fanatic supporters will remain, and as I have often remarked, they are the ones with the guns. New reporting of the events in the Senate chamber as the mob approached makes it clear that the extraordinary bravery and quick wittedness of Capitol policeman Eugene Goodman may well have saved the life of Mike Pence. Think what you will of the vice president, we really could do without a vice presidential assassination.

 

I am also anxiously waiting to see whether Trump issues a blanket pardon to all of the insurrectionists on his way out the door. He could perfectly well do so and it would protect them from federal charges, which means things they did in the District of Columbia. Fortunately his narcissism is so great that he probably cannot bring himself to think about them as he struggles to protect his financial interests and plan pardons for his children. It would be too delicious if his irritation with America’s Mayor causes him to refuse a pardon for Giuliani.

 

Back to the good news. Speaker Pelosi is apparently planning to impose $5000 and $10,000 fines on members of the House who refuse to go through metal detectors and insist on carrying weapons onto the floor of the House, these fines to be deducted directly from their congressional paychecks. I am awaiting the reports of their cries of outrage.

 

I know this is all trivial but I have been in lockdown for 10 months and I have to take my pleasures were I can find them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

THIS IS HUGE

It is now reported that Mitch McConnell is said to be pleased that Trump will be impeached and considers that he committed impeachable offenses. This means that my analysis was correct and that things are moving very rapidly. It remains to be seen how the millions of Trump supporters will respond.


I can see the merit in the old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." 

INTERIM THOUGHTS

These are tumultuous, unsettled, uncertain times and it would be foolish of me to try to predict how things will go in the next few weeks, but I would like to stand back a bit while I watch reports obsessively on television, and make a few remarks about what I think might develop over the next several months. Let me say to begin that I am becoming more and more aware of how important the victories of Warnock and Ossoff will prove to be.

 

The Republican Party is clearly in crisis, triggered in part by the extraordinary fact that Republican senators, members of the House of Representatives, and even the vice president himself were threatened in the Capitol not in their role as representatives of others but in their own personal physical selves. Being rushed to safety by members of the Secret Service with guns drawn while a mob bangs on the doors really does seem to concentrate the mind something awful.

 

Here, stated briefly, is what I think may happen once we get past the present period of crisis. I think it is quite possible that several Republican senators will leave the party, declare themselves to be Independents, and vote with the Democrats in return for various political favors in legislation and the like, an eventuality made possible by the victories in Georgia. This in turn will increase the probability of statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, giving the Democrats a comfortable majority in the Senate and even making it possible to kill the filibuster. The enormous grassroots support for Trump will not disappear and there will be many Republican members of the House and some Republican senators who will continue to rely on it.  But so long as Trump (and Don Junior, his mini-me) continues to play an active role in national politics it will be impossible for the Republicans to maintain the unstable coalition of forces that has made them so successful in local and congressional politics despite their repeated failures at the presidential level.

 

If such a realignment takes place, it will have the effect, as I have observed before, of shifting Biden’s legislative program somewhat to the right. However, the way will be open for progressive forces to continue to build their strength in the party, if they have the wit and energy to seize that opportunity.

 

As an old guy who learned what he knows about politics when the mimeograph machine was still cutting edge, I am endlessly fascinated and surprised by how much information can be acquired through technology about the identity of the individuals who were part of the insurrectionist mob. I love the fact that even those rioters who were not so stupid as to take selfies and post them on social media from inside the Capitol building can nevertheless be placed there thanks to the fact that they all have cell phones that were turned on. I mean, good Lord, who needs secret police!

 

One final observation. Josh Hawley, as I noted, clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts. I would love to know what Roberts thinks about his protégé now.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

COMING TOGETHER AND MOVING ON

Let me begin by reproducing a Facebook post by my son, Prof. Tobias Barrington Wolff:

 

“One of the things that is making me so angry that I cannot yet process it is simply this: You know who has never engaged in a violent insurrection against the U.S. Capitol and destroyed and defiled the seat of Government? Black Americans. Native Americans. Chinese Americans. Female Americans. Japanese Americans. Mexican Americans. Muslim Americans. Jewish Americans. Guatemalan / El Salvadoran / Nicaraguan Americans. LGBQT Americans. Despite the decades and centuries of history that could make those groups feel, you know, “angry” or “frustrated” or “not listened to” or “not seen” or “like they cannot make politics work for them.”

We are going to talk about this, White fragility be damned.”

 

First of all, the importance of all of us “coming together.” Politics in the United States is a never ending activity of compromise, even on matters near and dear to our hearts. It Involves running for election to public office, which requires persuading large numbers of people with quite diverse interests, passions, and commitments to join in voting for a candidate who is never the ideal and perfect representation of the totality of one’s beliefs. It continues with the enacting of legislation, the drafting of which involves endless compromise with those seeking different outcomes from one’s own desired goals. All that is required to participate in this political process is the willingness to continue to fight for what one believes in.  All of that is coming together.

 

There is no coming together with those who attempt by violence to destroy the political process itself. There is only war. After one wins the war, there can be a time for reconciliation but not before. As my son rightly points out, the assault on the Capitol was carried out not by those who have for generations been abused and oppressed and exploited, but by those who feared that their dominant position in America was beginning to slip away from them and who could not bear the thought of sharing their power with those whom they had for so long dominated. Those now issuing calls for us to “come together” are the Neville Chamberlains of American politics

 

As for “moving on,” there will be time for that after we have located, charged, tried, convicted, and jailed every last one of those insurrectionists whom we can find. I see no reason why that should interrupt Biden’s ambitious plans for his first hundred days.

 

One final word before I stop. Biden has chosen for his Atty. Gen. someone who was an undergraduate majored in the Social Studies Program of which I was the first head tutor at Harvard 60 years ago. I hope he is not going to make me sorry for what I did.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

THE LAST FOUR DAYS

I assume that all of you, at least here in the United States, have spent a good deal of time watching the televised reports of the attack on the US Congress. Fairly quickly a number of the more notable participants have been identified, charged, and taken into custody. In my bighearted generous way, I hope that each of them will be found guilty of multiple offenses and required to serve the maximum penalty for each offense consecutively, not concurrently.

 

Two things have struck me about all of this, one of which I think I have already commented on. The first is that it is now part of the received wisdom of the mainstream media that the treatment of the insurrectionists was gentle because they are white and would have been brutal had they been black. This is not exactly news but it is nice to have it repeated endlessly and without question on CNN and MSNBC.

 

The second is that the participants in this failed insurrection were clearly not, by and large, working-class Americans suffering hard times and attracted to Trump because they thought he would champion the needs and interests of the working class against those of the privileged. I would be willing to bet, on the basis of what I saw these past few days, that the average household income of the participants is above the national average. I rather like the fact that one of the more striking figures identified and charged is a retired U.S. Army Lieut. Col., not exactly somebody suffering from hard times.

 

The situation is changing so rapidly that it would be foolhardy to make a series of predictions that might well be contradicted by the facts before I could get them up on my blog but nonetheless, let me sketch out as a possibility something that it seems to me is developing in the Republican Party.

 

As everybody has observed, there is a struggle underway for control of the Republican Party and for what I will call, for want of a better term, its soul. Most of the congressional Republicans in the House and Senate at this point are sticking with Trump out of fear that they will lose the votes of his supporters, but a small number of Senators and Representatives are distancing themselves from him. This is the perfect moment for Biden to do what he desperately wants to do and is probably best able to do, namely reach “across the aisle” and forge what old line communists used to call a United Front. One could even imagine Lisa Murkowski and perhaps one or two other senators transferring their allegiance to the Democratic Party or at least declaring themselves Independents while voting with the Democrats. This would have the effect of moving Biden’s agenda somewhat to the right while simultaneously making it much more likely that the agenda would become law.

 

Such a marginal realignment, combined with the steady shift in the composition of the electorate, could make the Republican Party more or less permanently a regional minority party.

 

I wish I could stick around long enough to see how this will all play out over the next 20 years.

Friday, January 8, 2021

GOOD NEWS PERSONAL

Susie will be vaccinated on January 16 and I will be vaccinated on January 18. Who knows? Some Sunday in March we might go out to a restaurant for dinner! It does not get any better than that.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

FORTY-EIGHT HOURS

This has been, how shall I say it, one of the more unusual 48-hour periods in my life. Let me try in a preliminary way to come to terms with what has happened in the past two days.

 

It started Tuesday morning when I spent a little bit more than an hour listening to the entire phone call between Trump and the Georgia Secretary of State. It was interesting in several different ways. First of all, it was obvious that Trump had spent a great deal of time absorbing conspiracies and fevered speculations from fringe media. He seemed to have them all ready to hand in considerable detail. For those who wonder how he spends his days when he is not watching Fox News or tweeting, I think the answer is that he is really quite busy seeking out and adopting any fantasy that feeds his need to believe that he did not lose the election. I thought the relatively few remarks by Mark Meadows were interesting. That must be what it was like to be a courtier in the time of Mad King George.

 

At this point I was simply passing time while I waited for the vote reports to come in from Georgia. By late in the evening, Warnock and Ossoff were behind anywhere from 80,000 votes to 120,000 votes behind. When a large dump of 170,000 votes came in from one of the Atlanta area counties, Warnock took a significant lead and Ossoff was only several thousand behind. Because of the location of the outstanding votes, it was clear that both were going to win and finally at about 1:30 AM I went to bed.

 

I staggered out of bed at about 6 AM on Wednesday, skipped my morning walk, and settle down groggily to wait for the formal declaration that the Democrats had recaptured the Senate. Meanwhile, I watched the beginning of what I thought would be a lengthy and tedious charade in Congress as Republicans challenged a number of state electoral vote reports and thereby triggered for each state challenged two hours of debate followed by a vote.

 

The most interesting and amusing part of the beginning of this affair was the touching speech by Mitch McConnell, who, recognizing that he had lost control of the Senate, suddenly discovered his inner patriotism and gave a heartwarming defense of the supposedly purely formal procedure. It led me to believe that McConnell was positioning himself to retain some fraction of his now much diminished power by indicating his readiness to work “across the aisle” in a way that has eluded him for the past 12 years.

 

Then Secret Service agents hustled in to lead the vice president away and all hell broke loose. I assume everyone reading these words knows as well as I and perhaps better what then happened. I will just make a few comments on aspects of the entire affair that struck me particularly strongly.

 

First of all and quite remarkably, it is now part of the mainstream consensus gentium that had the mob been black the response would have been totally different. Since I have spent much of the last 25 years of my life arguing and saying in print some version of this, always aware that my opinions put me on the fringe, it was quite an experience to discover that I was now firmly located in the mainstream. Joy Reed even redeemed herself in my eyes with an impassioned statement of this previously unacceptable truth without the slightest hedging or compromise on her part.

 

I get the sense that this affair has significantly weakened the Republican Party. There was unfortunately some loss of life – the latest report I have heard is that four people were killed. But the whole business could have been a very great deal worse.

 

I have no idea what we can anticipate from the last 13 days of Trump’s presidency. I do hope a lot of people go to jail for this and not just the little people but that may be too much to hope for.

 

My most fervent hope is that I can get a little sleep. I have discovered that at the age of 87 I can no longer pull all nighters with impunity.