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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Thursday, October 14, 2021

EXTRAORDINARY

I have just finished reading the comments on my brief celebration of William Shatner's journey to the edge of space.  I do honestly believe that if I were to reproduce here a picture of the famous element of the Sistine Chapel in which God reaches out a finger and gives life to Adam, the commentary would be completely focused on the question whether God had a little dirt under His fingernail.


Get a life!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY

Now look, I am a serious person. I made a good living for 50 years pontificating about God, Freedom, Immortality, and anything else you wish to mention. I blog, for God's sake, which means that I consider my opinions worthy of memorialization in the cloud.  But when 90-year-old Capt. James T Kirk of the USS Enterprise goes up in a rocket, my heart flutters a little.


Beam me up, Scotty

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

THE VIRTUES OF PREPARING ONE'S LECTURES - ADVICE FROM A SUPERANNUATED PROFESSOR

Rereading Rousseau in preparation for teaching next semester has had on me interesting effect that I did not anticipate. It made clearer to me the present situation in the United States. I realized that by any reasonable 21st century construal of Rousseau’s analysis, it is not accurate to say that it is uncertain whether the United States will remain a representative democracy. It is more accurate to say that the United States is not now a representative democracy, if indeed it ever was. Let me explain.

 

The United States is formally or legally a representative democracy in which one of the two major parties no longer believes that control of the levers of government should be determined by elections. Instead, right now, the Republican Party with the active support of perhaps 35% or 40% of adult Americans, believes that elections are legitimate only when its candidate wins. I do not mean this puckishly or for dramatic effect. I mean quite literally that Republicans at the local, state, and national level are right now attempting to arrange things so that they will never again “lose” an election. In this effort, they are supported by scores of millions of Americans. Now, any time you find 80 million or more people believing something, it goes without saying that there will be countless reasons why they believe it, countless ways in which they believe it, and countless ways in which they act out of this belief. 


Some of the Americans who believe that only elections in which the Republican wins are legitimate believe that because they are white supremacist racists. Others believe it because they are fundamentalist Christians. Still others neither believe it nor disbelieve it but simply find it in their interest to act as though they do. But the total net effect is that somewhat less, but not much less, than half of adult Americans no longer have any functional, operational belief in representative democracy.

 

Regardless of what happens in the 2022 or 2024 elections – regardless of whether Republicans are literally able to steal the 2024 presidential election, as they are now deliberately, openly, systematically preparing to do – it is clear that the United States is not in the usual understanding of this term, a representative democracy, Wwhich is to say a polity in which it is generally accepted that control of government should be determined by democratic elections of representatives.

 

Because I so much fear what the Republicans will do with the vast power of the American government if they succeed in seizing control of it, I believe that all of us must do everything in our power to stop them, and that may even involve pretending that we believe American democracy is at risk. But the simple fact is that American democracy no longer exists.

 

If you respond that it never has existed, I will not argue with you. After all, the next book on my reading list is a little tract entitled In Defense of Anarchism.

 

I freely confess that it was rereading Of the Social Contract that cleared my mind and made all of this transparently obvious to me in a way that it had not quite been before.

 

There is something to be said for preparing to teach a course.

Monday, October 11, 2021

COURSE PREP

I have now completed my rereading of Rousseau’s Of the Social Contract. Once again, I am astonished by how much of it I had completely forgotten. For example, in Book 4 there is a succession of chapters totaling 20 pages in my edition about ancient Rome that the students can without loss skip over. On the other hand, there is a great deal that Rousseau has to say about the political states of his day that carry with it the clear implication that he would consider the United States to be absolutely anything other than a legitimate state with a sovereign people. I can see some interesting discussions developing in class about that subject.

 

Today I will start rereading the third book to be assigned in the first segment of the course – my little book In Defense of Anarchism. It has been quite some time since I have actually reread that essay and as with the Locke and Rousseau, I will be curious to see what is in it that I have forgotten about.

 

This is fun.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

NAMES

My grandfather on my father’s side was born in Paris in 1879 and was named Barnet. The family name was Zarembowich.  In 1880 his parents emigated to the United States, entering at Castle Garden New York. A skeptical immigration official renamed his father Abraham Wolff and so, at least in America, we became the Wolff family. My grandfather was an active member of and a  leader in the Socialist party in New York City, and had a comrade named Abe Shiplacof. When my grandmother, Ella Nislow Wolff and Abe Shiplacof’s wife both became pregnant, Barney and Abe made a little agreement that the first one to have a son would name him Karl Marx. Abe’s wife had a boy, so when my father was born shortly thereafter he was named Walter Harold Wolff, a name of no significance. When the two wives became pregnant again, it was agreed that the first one to have a boy would name him Friedrich Engels, but once again the Shiplacofs won the race and so my uncle was given the name “Robert Ingersoll” after a 19th-century orator known as “the great agnostic.”

 

My parents’ first child was my big sister Barbara, who almost immediately was nicknamed Bobs.  When I was born, I was named Robert Paul, but it was impossible to have two children in the family named Bobs and Bob, so I became Rob. At some point during my growing up I declared my independence by announcing that I would be known to the world as Bob. To this day, I am known as Bob to my friends but Rob to my family – except for my cousins, the children of my father’s younger brother, Benjamin. For some reason, Barney and Ella did not give Ben a middle name and this lack apparently rankled so deeply that after Ben married Fanny, he gave his two children two middle names each to compensate.  The two of them, inheriting from their father an appreciation of the importance of middle names, always referred to me and addressed me as “Robert Paul.”

 

When my first wife was pregnant with our first child, we debated about names if it were a boy. We were both rather taken by “Jonathan Edward” but gave that up when we realized that the little boy’s initials would be JEW.  We settled, for no particular reason, on Patrick Gideon Wolff. Since I do not like the name Pat I called our son even when he was a little baby Patrick. Later on, I took to calling him by his initials PG and this morphed into “Peege” which was my special nickname for him. Nobody else in the world called Patrick “Peege” until he started as a teenager competing in high-pressure chess tournaments. The other young hotshot chess players heard me calling him “Peege” and they thought it was amusing so for a while that was what he was called in the chess world.

 

My younger son we named Tobias Barrington Wolff, the middle name coming from his godfather Barrington Moore, Jr.  Since he was a delightfully cherubic little boy, he quite naturally came to be known in the family as Toby. This ended one day when he informed me soberly that henceforward he would be known as “Tobias.” I took this as it was intended, not as a request but as a command, and from that day to this I have never called him “Toby” again.

 

So I was “Rob” to my family, save for my cousins Tony and Cora, to whom I was “Robert Paul” and I was “Bob” to the world. I became “Robert Paul Wolff” as a result of a series of comic confusions when I was a young man at Harvard. Starting when I was a 17-year-old sophomore and continuing on as a young Instructor at Harvard I made a good deal of noise about one thing and another politically and got confused with a very prominent, rather conservative, and also rather fat Professor of History named “Robert Lee Wolff.” To distinguish myself from Prof. Wolff, who by 1961 was chair of the Harvard History Department and publicly offended by being confused with a young left-wing whippersnapper, I adopted “Robert Paul Wolff” as my professional name and it has stuck to me for the past 60 years.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

SHAKESPEARE SONNET XXIX

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
   For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
   That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

DOWN TIME

Faithful readers of this blog, of which there appear to be a few, will have noticed that I have not been posting much lately. In part this is because I find the world excessively depressing and it is not, as they say, ego syntonic for me constantly to be crying “alack and alas.” But it is also that after a lifetime in the Academy I have not developed the routinized work habits so cherished by capitalist employers.

 

Sometimes words pour from me as water from the tap, filling the page and lapping over onto the margins. But then there are times when I simply am not moved to write. My thoughts never stop, but the need to express them publicly is quiet.

 

These days I am obsessed by the efforts to push myself to walk faster each morning so that my heart rate gets up to the level at which, so the doctors have told me, I shall postpone the development of my Parkinson’s disease. For amusement, I do complicated jigsaw puzzles which I find oddly satisfying. That and rereading the texts that I shall be assigning next semester keep an 87-year-old man adequately busy.

 

Never fear. If experience is any indication, I shall soon enough be troubling you, if not deaf heaven, with my bootless cries.