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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Thursday, January 23, 2020

THE OLD BOY HAS STILL GOT IT

I started today preparing my first lecture on Book I of Hume's Treatise, for videotaping February 5th.  As I was typing the outline of my opening remarks, a lovely idea struck me regarding Hume's relation to Kant.  It was an idea that had not occurred to me in the 67 years since I first formulated my rather original and counter-intuitive story about their philosophical relationship.  So these lectures will not merely be a stroll down memory lane.

THE TRIAL


1.         Say what you will, we can all agree that Adam Schiff is doing a brilliant job.  He won’t change any minds, as he well knows, but he is a class act, and I for one enjoy watching a virtuoso performance of any sort.

2.         There has been some stupid commentary about a grand witness swap, Hunter Biden for John Bolton.  The Republicans have 53 votes and they need 51 to call Hunter Biden as a witness.  The same 51 votes suffice to refuse to call John Bolton as a witness.  They don’t need the Democrats to agree to anything.  So why don’t they call Biden?

            Two reasons: First, calling any witness would prolong the trial sufficiently to delay the acquittal vote until after the State of the Union address.  At the present pace, the prosecution will finish tomorrow, the defense will finish Tuesday, Senator’s questions will conclude next Thursday, and then will come the vote on whether even to consider documents and witnesses.  A witness must be issued a subpoena.  He or she must then respond.  Then the witness must be deposed.  Then the witness must testify, and Senators must be able to ask questions.  The State of the Union address is scheduled for a week from Tuesday.  No way they will be done by then if they have even one witness.

            Second reason: It would play badly in the states where vulnerable Republican Senators are up for re-election.

            That is why Schiff keeps maliciously taunting the Republicans, inviting them to subpoena the documents and call the witnesses Trump is refusing to turn over.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

MORE SPECULATION


We now have Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the impeachment trial, and they are, to put it mildly, bizarre.  Twenty-four hours of presentation time for each side, to be completed in two days for each.  Each individual piece of evidence that the prosecution [or the defense] seeks to introduce to be the subject of a separate vote.  Each day to begin at 1 p.m.

This is clearly nonsense.  No bathroom breaks?  No breaks for dinner?  Even the army, when it marches, takes a ten minute break every hour!  They won’t finish each twelve hour day at 1 a.m.  They will finish at 4 or 5 a.m.  Is the Chief Justice going to agree to that?  Many of these senators are rather long in the tooth.  There are a number of Republicans who will fade like week-old cut flowers well before the Chief Justice bangs his gavel to suspend for the day [and night.]

What is going on?  The conventional answer is that McConnell wants to rush the trial to a conclusion.  The slightly more sophisticated answer is that he wants Trump acquitted before the State of the Union address, which is scheduled for February 4, two weeks from today.  But seriously, folks, that seems a real reach.  And if the Fab Four [Collins, Murkowski, Alexander, and Romney] vote for witnesses, all bets are off.  McConnell knows that.  So what is really going on?

Obviously, I do not know.  But since this is a blog, ignorance is an invitation to opine, not to refrain, so here goes.  I got a clue from something I heard former senator Barbara Boxer say on some talk show.  Boxer was never one of my favorites, but she served for a long time and knows McConnell well.  She said something unexpected. She said, “McConnell is furiously angry.”

That intrigued me.  Whom is he angry at?  The Democrats?  Hardly.  From his point of view, they are just playing politics, as he is.  He expects that.  No, he is angry at the Republicans, I think, and specifically at those four or more who have refused to vote for a summary dismissal of the charges.  So he is going to make them pay!  He has the votes for acquittal.  Everyone knows that.  But by God, if these grandstanding wobbly-kneed poseurs want a trial, he will give them one they will wish they had been willing to vote to avoid.

Well, that is as good an explanation as I have heard, absurd though it is. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

PREPARING TO TEACH


Generally speaking, I do not re-read books I have written, but to prepare me for upcoming meetings of my UNC course on Marx I have been re-reading Understanding Marx, the first 88 pages of which are assigned for February 3rd.  I warned the students the first day that this would be a really hard course, but I had forgotten how compressed and difficult that book is.  Chapters One and Two are pretty easy.  The long third chapter on the political economy of David Ricardo is very, very demanding.  Well, they were warned.

Oh yes, I have found three typos, the first of which matters, although not seriously, the second of which has necessitated an entire substitute page of mathematics to clear up, and the third of which is a trivial “in” for “it.”

I have to admit, this is much more fun than obsessing about Alan Dershowitz’s underwear.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

TWIDDLING MY THUMBS


On this quiet January Sunday, as we await the start of the Senate trial of the buffoon who, for purposes of the ritual, is always referred to as Donald John Trump, I find myself idly speculating on how it will all go down.  The outcome is settled, of course, but that hardly matters.  When I saw the first, great, film version of Death on the Nile, I knew how it would come out, having read the book, but that did not diminish my pleasure in the performances of Peter Ustinov, Maggie SmithAngela LansburyBette DavisMia FarrowDavid NivenGeorge Kennedy and Jack Warden.

I confess I had not realized that the senators will be required to sit silently, stripped of their cell phones, for hours on end – for many of them probably the longest unbroken period of waking silence in their lives.  The Republicans, having already decided their votes, will be condemned to listen to the excruciatingly detailed recitation of the evidence against Trump, unable to determine, until the bathroom breaks, how it is playing on cable TV.  Jim Jordan will be absent, but even the Senate version, Lindsey Graham, will be silent on pain of imprisonment [if the pro forma warning from the Sergeant at Arms is to be believed.]

The commentariat is obsessed with the possibility of testimony from Bolton and the threat of compensatory testimony from Hunter Biden, but I must confess my hopes are pinned on a nuclear eruption in the Senate chamber that I think is at least notionally possible.

The affair will begin on Tuesday, and as it drones on, Trump will be glued to his TV, tweeting obsessively.  After days of unbroken anti-Trump presentations [at least as I understand the rules], Cipollone, Sekulow, Dershowitz and company will get their chance.  It will all be terminally boring, and as the days go on, Trump will lose what little self-control he retains from his bone spur youth.  I genuinely believe there is a chance that at some point Trump will burst into the Senate Chamber and announce that he is taking over his own defense from his idiot lawyers, whom he scarcely knows. 

Mind you, this would not change the outcome, but it would be a moment of world-historical deliciousness. 

We shall see.



Saturday, January 18, 2020

A BULLET DODGED

I had been fearful that the Trump legal team would seek to make a circus of the Senate trial, but their choice of lead litigators makes it clear that they are taking this affair with the solemn seriousness it deserves.  They have put forward a man who stated, in no uncertain terms, that when he received a massage from one of the girls provided by his client, Jeffrey Epstein, he "kept his underwear on."  I am much reassured.

Friday, January 17, 2020

SCHOLARLY REFLECTIONS


I realize that I ought to be riveted to my TV set, absorbing the non-stop bloviating about the Impeachment Trial now officially launched, but there is a limit to my interest in the inner workings of what passes for the minds of Mitt Romney, Lamar Alexander, and Susan Collins, so I have been making final changes to my January 27th lecture in my Marx course.  This one is on the 1848 Manuscripts and the Manifesto.  After marking for discussion the Maniesto’s ten point program for the Communist Party, I thought to compare it with the Platform adopted sixty years later by the Socialist Party of the United States, of which my grandfather was a leader in New York City.  Note that clause 12 of the Platform calls for the abolition of the Senate.  This was 5 years before the Constitution was amended to make Senators elected by the people.

What fascinates me is how many of the secondary proposals of both documents have been adopted or else superseded by events.  Save for the seven words that are never uttered in American public life [“collective ownership of the means of production”], these documents, suitably updated, could form the platform of a moderately progressive 2020 Democrat!


Communist Manifesto  10 Point Program

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.


THE PLATFORM OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY.
Adopted by the National Convention in Chicago, May, 1908.

GENERAL DEMANDS.

1 The immediate government relief for the unemployed workers by building schools, by reforesting of cut-over and waste lands, by reclamation of arid tracts, and the building of canals, and by extending all other useful public works.  All persons employed on such works shall be employed directly by the government under an eight-hour work-day and at the prevailing union wages.  The government shall also loan money to states and municipalities without interest for the purpose of assisting their unemployed members, and shall take such other measures within its power as will lessen the widespread misery of the workers caused by the misrule of the capitalist class.

2-The collective ownership of railroads, telegraphs, telephones, steamboat lines and all other means of social transportation and communication, and all land.

3-The collective ownership of all industries which are organized on a national-scale and in which competition has virtually ceased to exist.

4-The extension of the public domain to include mines, quarries, oil wells, forests and water power.

5-The scientific reforestation of timber lands, and the reclamation of swamp lands.  The land so reforested or reclaimed to be permanently retained as a part of the public domain.

6-The absolute freedom of press, speech and assemblage.

INDUSTRIAL DEMANDS.

7-The improvement of the industrial condition of the workers.(a)By shortening the workday in keeping with theincreased productiveness of machinery.(b)By securing to every worker a rest period of not less than a day and a half in each week.(c)By securing a more effective inspection of workshops and factories.(d)By forbidding the employment of children under sixteen years of age.(e)By forbidding the interstate transportation of the products of child labor, of convict labor and of all uninspected factories.(f)By abolishing official charity and substituting in its place compulsory insurance against unemployment,illness, accidents, invalidism, old age and death.

POLITICAL DEMANDS.

 8-The extension of inheritance taxes, graduated in proportion to the amount of the bequests and to the nearness of kin.

9-A graduated income tax.

10-Unrestricted and equal suffrage for men and women, and we pledge ourselves to engage in an active campaign in that direction.

11-The initiative and referendum, proportional representation and the right of recall.

12-The abolition of the senate.

13-The abolition of the power usurped by the supreme court of the United States to pass upon the constitutionality of the legislation enacted by Congress.  National laws to be repealed or abrogated only by act of Congress or by referendum of the whole people.

14-That the constitution be made amenable by majority vote.

15-The enactment of further measures for general education and for the conservation of health.  The bureau of education to be made a department.  The creation of a department of public health.

16-The separation of the present bureau of labor from the department of commerce and labor, and the establishment of a department of labor.

17-That all judges be elected by the people for short terms, and that the power to issue injunctions shall be curbed by immediate legislation.

18-The free administration of justice.