My Stuff

https://umass-my.sharepoint.com/:f:/g/personal/rwolff_umass_edu/EkxJV79tnlBDol82i7bXs7gBAUHadkylrmLgWbXv2nYq_A?e=UcbbW0

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Monday, August 15, 2022

THE FALL SEMESTER BEGINS IN THE MIDDLE OF AUGUST

At long last, after endless preparation, at 1 PM this afternoon I will meet my class on “Marx, Freud, Marcuse: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.” At this point I have 20 students enrolled – several graduate students, several exchange students, and a group of juniors and seniors. Lord knows, I have given the first lecture in my head so often that I sometimes think I have already delivered it. This will be a very unusual course, ranging as it does over philosophy, economic history, mathematical economics, psychology, sociology, politics, and literary criticism. I will report back to let you know how it goes.

 

Meanwhile, of course, I watch the rapid unfolding of the Justice Department’s investigation of Donald Trump’s cache of classified documents in Mar-a Lago. I remain convinced that Merrick Garland has evidence of some sort showing that Trump intends or intended to monetize those documents in some way.

 

I simply adore Trump’s claim that in his mind he declassified every document that he took back to his quarters in the White House, even though he may not have actually revealed this intention to anyone until now. It reminds me of the “think method” of playing band instruments that Prof. Harold Hill articulates in that great old movie The Music Man.

 

I cannot believe that Garland would have done all of this without intending to charge Trump, nor do I believe that when the charges come down they will be restricted to a mere mishandling of classified documents. Obviously, I could be wrong, but I live each day in the hope that it will be revealed via intercepted phone messages or whatever that Trump was trying to sell state secrets to foreign governments for cash. We shall see.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

SPECULATION IS FREE

All right, speculation is free, so I will speculate. Atty. Gen. Garland has ordered the FBI to obtain a court ordered warrant for a search of Mar-a Lago.  This is the very first time that the home or possessions of an ex-president have been searched in this way. It is reported that what was being searched for was government documents illegally brought by Trump to his home.  This is, no matter what anybody says, a relatively minor infraction of the law. It is inconceivable that Garland would take so dramatic a step in order to pursue Trump for so minor a misdeed. So what on earth is going on?

 

I have heard television commentators speculate that in these documents might be something as secret as the nuclear codes. But I assume they have long since been changed several times and although it would certainly be unconscionable for Trump to bring these to his Florida playground, that cannot be why the feds searched his home now.

 

What occurred to me immediately was that the FBI had picked up evidence that Trump is offering to sell US secrets to foreign governments. Despite his bragging, Trump is, I am convinced, perpetually short of cash and hence constantly on the look for relatively small-scale grafts to line his pockets. Is there something in those papers that would be worth a great deal of money to foreign governments now? I do not know, I cannot even guess, but it strikes me as likely that what Garland is after is something along these lines. Otherwise, why break with two centuries of tradition and uncountable norms of government behavior?

 

I have to say, I am feeling more and more cheerful about the next couple of months.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

TIME FLIES, WHETHER YOU ARE HAVING FUN OR NOT

Some of you, although of course perhaps not all, may have noticed that I have not been posting as much on this blog lately, and I thought I would take a few moments to explain why. Until 2008 I was quite unaware of the phenomenon of blogging, but as I approached retirement and became concerned about what I would do with myself, my son, Patrick, suggested that I start a blog and so I did. I began blogging steadily in June 2009 and at first the floodgates opened. It had been a while since I had been writing regularly and I had a great deal to say. In those early years, I wrote a 250,000 word autobiography online, I wrote enough tutorials, mini–tutorials, and appreciations to fill several volumes, which eventually found their way onto Amazon as Kindle books. Thanks for the most part to periodic links by Brian Leiter, I eventually built a readership that seems now to number perhaps several thousand people scattered around the world. I taught adult education courses at Duke University, spent a year visiting at Bennett College in Greensboro, taught several courses close to home at UNC Chapel Hill, and even for two years traveled every Tuesday in the fall to New York to teach at Columbia. I recorded and posted more than 30 hours of lectures on a wide range of topics. In short, I have kept busy since I retired in 2008.

 

Time passes and inexorably I have grown older until now, as I am not too many months from my 89th birthday, I have finally begun to describe myself, albeit reluctantly, as “old.” Somehow along the way I managed to develop Parkinson’s disease – I was diagnosed 2 ½ years ago, but the doctor who made the diagnosis offered the opinion that I had in fact had the disease for two years before that. Almost a year ago, I was forced to give up the early morning walks that had been a part of my life for many years. I took to using what is called a “rollalator.”  What started as a tremor in my left hand has now progressed to “freezing,” a result I am told of insufficient dopamine getting to certain points in my nervous system. Last month my wife and I finally sold the little Paris apartment that has been our delight since 2004.

 

Although I shall start teaching a new and complex course at UNC a week from Monday, I am not the man I used to be and the course, which would have been, 40 or 50 years ago, a demand on my time and energy so slight as scarcely to be noticeable now consumes my days.

 

Added to my personal troubles are of course two rather larger matters that have had an unexpectedly powerful effect on my thoughts and feelings: the two years and more in virtual lockdown because of the Covid pandemic and the serious threats to the very life and continuation of such electoral democracy as we have in the United States. I find myself wondering what it must have been like to live in Germany or Italy or Spain in the years leading up to the onset of fascism in those countries.

 

I am, for the first time since the early 1960s when I was consumed by the threat of nuclear war, perpetually angry.  I have always described myself somewhat wryly as a Tigger rather than an Eeyore, but it has become more and more difficult to maintain a bouncy cheerfulness in the face of the world and my own personal disabilities.

 

I shall continue to blog, but perhaps not as frequently and not at as great length as I have been these past 13 years. As I say, some of you may scarcely notice the change but for those who have noticed I thought I should say something.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

WHEN YOU'RE RIGHT, YOU'RE RIGHT

When the Alito memo leaked, I predicted that overturning abortion rights would become the central issue in the midterm elections. Last night, I got up at 1:30 AM (do not ask) and learned that in a midterm primary with no important contests on the Democratic side, voters had turned out in presidential election numbers to defeat a sneaky effort to deprive Kansans of their abortion rights.  It is just possible that November may not be a disaster it was shaping up to be.


As I lay in bed, trying to go back to sleep, I reminded myself that in seven out of the last eight presidential elections, Republicans have lost the popular vote, lately by enormous margins.  Democrats have won 16 of the last 24 presidential election popular votes. All is not entirely lost.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

A MARVELOUS LINK

My son, Patrick, sent me this link to a 1978 Brian McGee interview with Herbert Marcuse.  I just watched it and it is so perfect for my purposes that I will assign it in my course. It was great fun seeing Herbert again. If you read along the text at the bottom of the picture you can see all the places where they get his words wrong, which fits perfectly with the story I will tell of the first time I met him.

Friday, July 29, 2022

MORE COURSE PREP

I am now almost halfway through One – Dimensional Man and the experience of re-reading it is fascinating for me. It is very dense, rather obscure, quite difficult, and will be an extraordinary challenge for my students. I am not sure when I read it the first time, but I rather think it was shortly after 1964, when it appeared. I can tell us both by the nature of my comments and by the nature of my handwriting which was then very small and very precise. A second set of comments in a much thicker pen and larger handwriting is scattered throughout the book. The first set are skeptical, even mocking, and were clearly written at a time when I was quite unsympathetic to what Marcuse was saying.  I am not going to conceal these comments from the students – I am going to read them to the students and then explain how my understanding of Marcuse evolved. What is most striking to me is the difference between the world as it was when he wrote the book and the world as it is now almost 60 years later.

 

If you include the work of Adam Smith, which I will talk about in my third lecture together with that of David Ricardo, the works and ideas discussed in the course span almost 250 years.  This will give me an opportunity to show the students the relationship between what an  author think and the way the world is when he or she is writing. This is not, by and large, something that philosophers talk about very much but it is essential in understanding their works and nowhere more so than in the books we shall be reading. (Needless to say, this is true not only of Smith and Ricardo and Marx and Freud and Marcuse but also of me.)

 

When I thought up this course it was something of a jeu d’esprit but I now realize that I have some very serious things that I want to try to communicate to the students. Will I succeed? That has been a question with which I have wrestled my entire life. I hope so.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

WELL, SO WE WON'T ALWAYS HAVE PARIS

Tomorrow morning, at 3 AM (9 AM Paris time) our Paris apartment will be sold to a tax lawyer and his wife. It has been a wonderful 18 years, and I have countless happy memories of early morning walks around old Paris, of marvelous meals in restaurants on the left bank, of dishes I prepared in our little kitchen and of the friends we made there.


We bought the tiny apartment (330 ft.²) on a lark and it was the best thing we ever did. It only remains to turn now to the next stage in my life.