My Stuff

Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

Total Pageviews

Monday, August 8, 2011


"One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug." Thus begins Kafka's famous novella. Far be it from me to aspire to such heights, but something happened to me during the time I was on vacation in California, something odd that I hope does not prove to be permanent.

As I have several times remarked, I am viewed with amusement by my friends as incurably, unrealistically, irremediably optimistic. Show me a glass half full, and I think it is an ocean. Spill a drop of water on me, and I think it is a flood. During my years in Western Massachusetts, I periodically had lunch with a circle of friends with whom I would discuss the events of the day. They could always count on me to see the silver lining in every storm cloud, the upside of every downturn. I acquired the reputation of being a Tigger, if I may allude to Winnie-the-Pooh.

Now, it would seem, I have metamorphosed into an Eeyore. The fiasco surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling was the proximate cause, as we say in the Philosophy game. I was deeply disappointed by Obama's decision not to stand up to the Tea Party and invoke the 14th Amendment. Although I think I understand all the reasons behind that decision, that does not lessen my dismay.

But the larger reason for my loss of ebullience is the overwhelming sense that the future for this country is bleak. Americans are permanently committed to endless imperial adventures. They have given up any collective commitment to the amelioration of poverty or the narrowing of the gap between rich and poor. The quality of the public discourse is now so vulgar, so flattened, so suffused with ignorance and religious fanaticism that nothing resembling a public conversation can take place. Perhaps this is how it felt to thoughtful, intelligent, reflective Romans in the 2nd century A.D. I do not know.

There are some people on the left who can relax into this bleak view almost gratefully, comfortable with a stance of endless condemnation and crying in the wilderness. But that is not my nature. I need desperately to believe that there is something I can do, something for which I can hope, something to which I can commit my energies.

Who knows? Perhaps the rccall elections will go well tomorrow in Wisconsin, and my good spirits will return. Perhaps the Republicans will choose a candidate so unmitigatedly awful that I will throw myself into one more fight against the barbarians. But for the moment, I cannot even bear to read the newspapers or surf the web.

What to do? Fortunately, I am embarked on an exposition of Kant's central ideas in the Critique of Pure Reason, and that effort retains its value even in the worst of times. So tomorrow I shall continue with my series, "Reading the Critique," while I wait for better times.


Andrew Lionel Blais said...

Did you see this interview with Richard Wolff?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris said...

Obama has been a corporate shill, a basic lap dog, a one trick pony, since election. You may find optimism, please do! But I'd advise no longer looking to Obama in an effort to find it....He is not on the side of the working class, no matter how hard progressives want to believe it. And the longer they believe it, the more they hurt their cause.

Marinus said...

Great, Professor, just great. You were the last person I knew who thought there was some kind of sensible plan steering Obama's actions. Now all of this section of the internet is a parade of sackcloth (witness Chris's comment above mine). I've been an Eeyore on many topics for many years, but depressive know-it-alls we can be bloody dreary types to be around and I enjoyed the bit of variety offered by your increasingly isolated optimism re: POTUS.

Chris said...

Heh, Marinus my being a sackcloth hasn't been a new phenomena. I lost 'faith' in Obama within the first month into his presidency when the following events happened:
1. Announced his treasury and economic advisory staff, which were all financial insiders and neoliberals. Retained Robert Gates, and brought on Jim Jones as National Security Adviser. Essentially retained entirely Washington Insiders despite his campaign pledge not to.
2. Retained the Cuba embargo
3. Escalated drone strikes to a level unprecedented under the Bush Regime
4. Denied Karzai's request to stop drone strikes in Afghanistan

There's much more that has happened since, of course, but those are the events that within 31 days made me realize he wasn't the progressive we all had the audacity to hope he was.

I don't say this to be morose. I say this to strategize better, to allow for proper and more tactful optimism.

m said...

Professor Wolff,
Those of us who have the means to contemplate our present, our past, and understand, (even vaguely), the severity of our future have much to fear these days. Had I the means, I'd leave this nation; never to return. I'd leave not from hatred, but from a broken heart, as I love this country. I don't want to stay and watch her die. I feel useless; do I blow up buildings and turn police cars over? Do I run out and try to reason with those who come from an irrational, selfish, and dogmatic view of the world? Where's my bullhorn or where's my cave to hide in? Perhaps, this is not unlike Rome's fall; but who exactly is our Odoacer? I don't know who to dislike more Romney, Fox News, Christianity, Obama? It seems overwhelming. I'm sure I can't console you in any effective fashion, except to say (type); you've been a strong and positive influence in my life and I will continue to adore you. I have kids and they'll learn from you via, (a far less qualified teacher), me. So, I'll stay here in America; in Utah. I'll fear not an end of Rome, but I'll instead hope for a Renaissance. Maybe someday, there will be enough of us to really change things for the better.
Did I mention I live in Utah? I'm going for some sympathy here as this state is tied to two presidential candidate nitwits: Romney and Huntsman. Give me a break.