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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, March 23, 2019

TIME OUT

I am going to stop blogging about Mueller and what he did or did not find.  It should be obvious that I have no first-hand knowledge, and people I like and enjoy communicating with on this blog have dramatically different views on the matter.  Inasmuch as I cannot do anything at all to affect the course or outcome of the affair, and I since I do not enjoy fighting with my friends, I am going to move on.  In due course, we will see.  Or we won't.  Whatever.

There is one point I would like to make that I think is important.  For whatever reason, the election of Trump triggered a massive surge in ground level organizing and protest that started with the Women's March the day after  Inauguration, which I attended, and which continues unabated to the present day.  That energy has led unprecedented numbers of women to run for office at local, state, and national levels.  It has produced a series of by-election upsets and a big blue wave in 2018.  Although many of those elected ran on moderate platforms [and would not, in my judgment, have been elected had they not], a number of dramatically progressive candidates have emerged, and the national debate about policy has moved sharply leftward for the first time in several generations.  The media frenzy about the Mueller investigation has not, so far as I can tell, derailed or diverted that movement, and it gives no sign of doing so now.

In the presence of this movement, the best thing for all of us to do is to join it, donate to it, work for it, cheer it on, and hope it is enough both to defeat Trump and to elect legislators committed to enacting progressive legislation.

All else is persiflage, to the effusion of which I am on this blog a leading contributor.  No more.

Now, about Duke and Zion Williamson ...

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?


In advance of the release of such parts of the Mueller Report as we get to see, I am going to try to summarize what we know.  Two stipulations before I begin.  First, I am trying to get clear about what we know, not make moral or political judgments about its significance.  Second, I am going to rely on what I believe is well known.  If someone wants to say, for example, that the indictments brought by Mueller against Russians are simply invented out of whole cloth, or even that there is no one named Robert Mueller nor has there been any investigation conducted by this fictional character, I have nothing to say in response, save Go with God.

All right, let us start simple:

1.         Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.  He lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College.

2.         Agents of the Russian government sought to influence the outcome of the election to the detriment of Hillary Clinton both by hacking into email accounts and by social media efforts.

3.         There is no direct evidence at all that the efforts by the Russians swayed so much as a single vote.  There is also no direct evidence that either the Democratic or the Republican Party or the two candidates and their campaign staffs by their efforts swayed so much as a single vote.  That is the nature of the secret ballot.  There have been credibly confirmed efforts criminally to sway American elections, most recently right here in good ole Carolina in the NC 9th CD, but not in the most recent presidential election.

4.         We can infer that Mueller did not find evidence of a conspiracy involving the Russian agents and Donald Trump or those associated with him to influence the election.  We can infer that because, although Department of Justice regulations would have barred Mueller from indicting Trump for such a crime, it is impossible to imagine that such evidence, if Mueller had it, would not also have implicated those around Trump, and Mueller says there are no further indictments to come from him.

5.         Did Trump and those around him collude with the Russians to influence the campaign?  “Collude” is not a legal term of art, it is an ordinary English word.  Did Trump and those around him know about the efforts of the Russians?  Yes.  They were told so in the email that triggered the Trump Tower meeting.  There is other evidence, but that will suffice.  Did Trump approve and encourage the Russian actions?  Yes.  How do I know?  I watched him do so on national TV [“Russia, if you are listening, etc. etc.”]  Let me pause to emphasize this.  Suppose Trump had vehemently denied knowing anything about hacked emails and Russia.  And suppose Mueller and his team had unearthed a handwritten note from Trump to someone in Russia, with his DNA on it, saying “Russia, if you’re listening etc. etc.”  From an evidentiary standpoint, there is no difference between the two.  They would have dramatically different psychological effects, but that is a different matter.

            Is this collusion?  Well, that depends on how you use the word.  If you use at as a synonym for “conspire, as defined by law” then the answer appears to be no.  If you use it to mean “know about and encourage,” then the answer is yes.

6.         Did Trump obstruct justice by seeking, with corrupt intent, to interfere with or terminate Mueller’s investigation?  How do I know?  Because Trump told me so [and also everyone else in the world] on Lester Holt’s show.  And also because he tried to get Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, and he ordered Don McGahn to fire Mueller, etc. etc.

So, I conclude that Trump colluded with the Russians but did not, so far as we know, conspire with them, that Trump obstructed justice, that the Russians tried to influence the American election, and that we have no idea whether they succeeded.

Why do I care?  First, because elections are one of the very few tools that people like me have to change this country, limited though those tools are.  And Second, because I hate Donald Trump and would enjoy seeing him humiliated and brought low.

Meanwhile, I wait to see what of the Mueller Report will be released.

Friday, March 22, 2019

WRONG AGAIN

Mueller has submitted his report and apparently has indicated there are no more indictments to come.

Sigh.  We shall have to do it the old fashioned way, by winning the election.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

FOOLS RUSH IN


An old Christian superstition has it that graveyards are dangerous places because the damned souls of the departed linger there.  It was thought that angels shunned such places for this reason.  In early eighteenth century London, St. Paul’s Churchyard, which is to say its burial ground, was the center of the book trade.  In his great poetic work, An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope attacks the literary critics of his day, for whom he had a bottomless contempt.  At one point, alluding to their involvement in the book trade, he writes of them that Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

And so, despite Pope’s warning, I rush in to offer predictions.  I shall spare you the disclaimers, which would be otiose. 

Mueller’s grand jury meets on Fridays.  There has been no news that the grand jury has been dismissed.  The role of grand juries is to hand up indictments.  I infer that there are more indictments to come.  It is the practice of the Justice Department not to call before a grand jury someone who is a target of an investigation, which is to say someone who is in jeopardy of being indicted [because such a person would simply invoke the right not to incriminate himself or herself.]  Donald Trump Jr. has not been called before the grand jury, despite having participated in the much discussed Trump Tower meeting.  I infer that Donald Trump Jr. will be indicted.  It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Mueller will ask the grand jury to hand up a RICO-style set of indictments of Americans engaged in a conspiracy with Russians already indicted to defraud the United States of America by illegally interfering with the 2016 election.  If such a blanket indictment were to be handed up, it would probably be the final legal act by the Mueller team before the submission to the Attorney General of the report required by the terms of Mueller’s appointment.

Therefore, keep an eye out for news that the Mueller grand jury has been dismissed.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

AN IMPORTANT BIT OF INFORMATION

I am sure we are all interested in the lively discussion about Hegel prompted by my remarks, but we must not lose sight of what is the most important tidbit of information to emerge from the fog.

CHRIS IS FINISHING UP HIS DISSERTATION!

Congratulations to Chris.  I wrote a letter in support of his application to graduate school, and now he is about to finish up!

I hope, Chris, that in this brutal job market, you bag a good tenure track job somewhere.

I feel as though one of my children has taken a first step.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A RESPONSE TO TALHA


In the midst of a quite complimentary, indeed even fulsome [in the original sense] reference to me, Talha says this:  “Why Prof. Wolff should despise Hegel so much is a fun mystery!”  Talha goes on to note that I draw insights from and praise the work of Karl Mannheim, Herbert Marcuse, and others who were themselves deeply influenced by Hegel.  So what’s up with my hate on Hegel?

I think it is worth replying, not merely to clarify my personal preferences [a rather minor matter, after all], but to spell out my views on how one ought to do philosophy, which may be of interest to a slightly larger audience.

Personal matters first.  I hate Hegel because he makes relatively clear ideas obscure, whereas I have spent the last sixty years trying to make difficult and puzzling ideas as clear and transparent as I am able.  I freely acknowledge that Hegel had some interesting ideas.  I just can’t stand reading his exposition of them.  So sue me.  I don’t like Mahler either.

Now let me try to be a bit more serious.  I was introduced to philosophy at a relatively early age [from sixteen to nineteen] by a group of very gifted philosophers in what was then called the analytic tradition:  Willard Van Orman Quine first, then Nelson Goodman, after that Henry Aiken and Morton White, and then most importantly of all, Clarence Irving Lewis.  By the time I was old enough to get a driver’s license, I had internalized standards of clarity and precision that have stayed with me to this day.  Some were rather trivial: never to confuse use and mention, always to make sure I had the same number of left and right parentheses in a logical formula.  Some were a good deal more important: always to struggle to say what one had in mind as simply and transparently as possible, never to be satisfied with a metaphor that I could not, if called upon, cash in for a literal assertion.

Quine and Goodman and White struck me as supremely intelligent but lacking a certain moral urgency, a deep conviction that what they were doing was important as well as interesting.  It was in Lewis that I, at the age of eighteen, found a satisfying combination of intelligence and moral passion.  To this day, I cherish his comment on the term paper I submitted to his graduate seminar in epistemology.  I had written a paper on Hume, ripping various of his more questionable claims to shreds.  Lewis treated my efforts very gently, and after remarking that "in this paper, it would be out of place to ask that [the points] should 'add up' to something in conclusion," he wrote, "I should hope that this general character of the paper is not a symptom of that type of mind, in philosophy, which can find the objection to everything but advance the solution to nothing."   If I could be described, rather extravagantly, as having had a revelation on the road to Damascus, that was it.

Once I began my own philosophical work, I was guided both by the demand for clarity and precision and by Lewis’ inspiration.  My first major effort was a struggle to come to terms with the Critique of Pure Reason.  I could chop logic with the best of them, but I sought, like Gandalf in the Caves of Moria, to dive deep and struggle with the Balrog to discover the argument lying at the heart of Kant’s great work.  Like Jacob, I wrestled with the book and would not let go until it bless me.  I insisted [and here the voices of Quine and Goodman spoke to me] that what I found within it must be stated by me in clear, precise English, capable of being presented in the shape of a valid formal argument without losing the depth of Kant’s insights.

I brought the same need to Das Kapital, which was, I found, much more difficult to cope with because to succeed I needed to deploy not only the resources of philosophy, economics, mathematics, and history but also the insights of literary criticism.  I brought the same need for both clarity and depth to the writings of Mannheim and Marcuse, in  both of whose works I found insights and arguments of great power.

When I read the writings of Gerald Cohen, Jon Elster, and the other so-called Analytic Marxists, I found that they had achieved clarity and precision at the expense of Marx’s deepest insights, a disappointment I expressed in my essay on Elster [to be found in Box.net].

I can easily imagine that were I to bring to Hegel the same generosity of spirit that has animated me in the reading of these other authors, I would find much to value.

But you must allow an old man his crotchets.



Saturday, March 16, 2019

COMMENTING ON THE COMMENTS, AKA NOT HAVING ANTHING TO SAY TODAY

I have read with interest and some amusement the series of comments triggered by my remark about Paul Krugman.  I was particularly struck by one of Chris's observations, both because I think it is absolutely correct and because I do not recall having seen anyone else make it.  It is something that first crossed my mind a long time ago.  Here is what Chris wrote:


"Chomsky is a genius yes, but you know as well as I do, besides his encyclopedic memory, his genius is almost largely relegated to linguistics. His political commentary, while often correct, is actually transparently simple. I don't think the general public struggles to understand his political points. So we don't have to say genius in politics must be tantamount to Chomsky's genius in linguistics (which the general public would and should find confusing - 'merge' is infuriatingly difficult for me to wrestle with)."

Noam's capacity for absorbing and remembering factual detail is phenomenal, and since he is supremely intelligent and clear-minded, his mustering of that detail is impressive and usually overwhelming.  But he speaks and writes from the standpoint of a disillusioned moralist.  He does not seem to possess, or at least to deploy, the sort of deeper insight into capitalism that Chris and I more or less take for granted.  If I may attempt something approaching a bon mot, he unfailingly locates everyone's clay feet but seems not to grasp the distinction between base and superstructure.

On the other hand, his grasp of grammar is transformative.