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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

Saturday, September 24, 2011


On November 28, 2010, I posted a statement of my fundamental beliefs, a Credo. I recently re-read it, and realized that it still says exactly what I believe about our collective human condition. I have decided therefore to post it once again, in the hope that there are new readers of this blog who never saw it. Here it is, just as it appeared ten months ago:

The latest issue of the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS has an interesting piece by Mark Lilla on Glenn Beck, taking off from a review of five books by or about Beck. Lilla spends some time on the speech Beck gave at the rally he organized in Washington, pointing out some surprising passages in it. Here is the url.

The piece is enjoyable, full of shrewd and snarky comments, just the sort of stuff someone on the left would want to read about the terrible Beck. But then I began thinking: Suppose someone offered me the opportunity to address a big crowd on the Washington mall, and asked me to state, simply and clearly, what I believe -- not what I think is wrong with Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Sharon Angle or Mitch McConnell or any of the other Republican horrors, but positively, affirmatively, to say Credo -- this I believe. Could I do it? Or would I almost immediately descend into particular criticisms of this or that governmental policy? Would I be reduced to offering a laundry list of bills I want the next Congress to pass? What, in fact, do those of us on the left actually believe? It doesn't have to be original. Indeed, it would be much better if it were not. After all, as Kant responded when it was pointed out that the Categorical Imperative was little more than the Golden Rule, How could you possibly expect originality in the fundamental principle of morality? So, after turning the question over in my mind for a day or two, here is my first attempt at a statement of what I believe. It is short [uncharacteristic for me, I know], and has not a word in it that can be called original. But it really is what I believe. Whether anyone else in American believes it I leave to others to ascertain.

We human beings live in this world by thoughtfully, purposefully, intelligently transforming nature so that it will satisfy our needs and our desires. We call this activity of transforming nature "production," and it is always, everywhere, inescapably a collective human activity. Every moment that we are alive we are relying on what those before us have discovered or invented or devised. There is no technique, however primitive, that is the invention of one person alone. Like it or not, we are all in this life together. Even those giants of industry who think of themselves as self-made men are completely dependent for their empire building upon the collective knowledge and practice of the entire human species.

All of us eat grain we have not grown, fruit we have not planted, meat we have not killed or dressed. We wear clothes made of wool we have not combed and carded, spun or woven. We live in houses we have not built, take medicines we neither discovered nor produced, read books we have not written, sing songs we did not compose. Each of us is completely dependent on the inherited knowledge, skill, labor, and memory of all who have gone before us, and all who share the earth with us now.

We have a choice. We can acknowledge our interdependence, embracing it as the true human condition; or we can deny it, deluding ourselves into thinking that we are related to one another only as parties to a bargain entered into in a marketplace. We can recognize that we need one another, and owe to one another duties of generosity and loyalty. Or we can pretend to need no one save through the intermediation of the cash nexus.

I choose to embrace our interdependence. I choose to acknowledge that the food I eat, the clothes on my back, and the house in which I live are all collective human products, and that when any one of us has no food or clothing or shelter, I am diminished by that lack.

There are two images alive in America, competing for our allegiance. The first is the image of the lone horseman who rides across an empty plain, pausing only fleetingly when he comes to a settlement, a man apparently having no need of others, self-sufficient [so long as someone makes the shells he needs for his rifle or the cloth he needs for his blanket], refusing to acknowledge that he owes anything at all to the human race of which he is, nonetheless, a part.
The other is the image of the community that comes together for a barn-raising, working as a group on a task that no one man can do by himself, eating a communal meal when the day is done, returning to their homes knowing that the next time one of their number needs help, they will all turn out to provide it.

These images are simple, iconic, even primitive, but the choice they present us with remains today, when no one rides the plains any more, and only the Amish have barn-raisings. Today, as I write, there are tens of millions of Americans who cannot put a decent meal on the table in the evening for their families, scores of millions threatened with the loss of their homes. And yet, there are hundreds of thousands lavishing unneeded wealth on themselves, heedless of the suffering of their fellow Americans, on whose productivity, inventiveness, and labor they depend for the food they eat, the clothing they wear, the homes they live in, and also for the luxuries they clutch to their breasts.

The foundation of my politics is the recognition of our collective interdependence. In the complex world that we have inherited from our forebears, it is often difficult to see just how to translate that fundamental interdependence into laws or public policies, but we must always begin from the acknowledgement that we are a community of men and women who must care for one another, work with one another, and treat the needs of each as the concern of all.

If all of this must be rendered in a single expression, let it be: From each of us according to his or her ability; to each of us according to his or her need.


TheDudeDiogenes said...

Simple but powerful: "The foundation of my politics is the recognition of our collective interdependence." I quite agree.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Simple but powerful: "The foundation of my politics is the recognition of our collective interdependence." I quite agree.

formerly a wage slave said...

I would not disagree with anything you have said. And the particular emphasis you gave makes sense given the current dismal situation. On the other hand, if you want to talk about what "the left" believes, I myself would like to mention that even when capitalism is not in crisis, it diminishes all of us by the damage it does to our ability to think and feel. Here I have in mind institutions like Hollywood and advertising----sources of the individualist imagery you mention.