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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Friday, May 31, 2013


This morning, I finished re-reading the last of the blog tutorials to be included in Volume IV of my collected papers.  It will take a while for a cover to be designed, but before the summer is over, there should be four volumes of my published and unpublished papers available on as e-books.  There is some good stuff in there, if I do say so myself [and if I do not, who will?  :) ]

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Every decently educated person has at least heard of W. E. B. Du Bois, the great 19th and 20th century African-American scholar and activist who is, in my judgment, the most important social scientist of any race that America has produced.  But almost nobody has heard of St. Clair Drake, the scholar and activist perhaps best known in a narrow circle of scholars as the co-author of Black Metropolis, a classical urban study of South Side Black Chicago.  Drake was for decades a significant scholar and also an important leader of the Pan-African movement out of which so many of Southern Africa's post World War II political leaders came.  He stands second only to Du Bois in the pantheon of Black American intellectuals.

A very great deal has been written about Du Bois, most famously David Levering Lewis' magisterial two-volume biography of Du Bois.  But virtually nothing has been written about Drake.  That is about to change.  Dr. Andrew Rosa, who wrote his doctoral dissertation about Drake in the Afro-American Studies Department at UMass while I was the Graduate Program Director there, has just secured a contract at the University of Chicago Press for his extremely important new book, St. Clair Drake:  A Biography of the African Diaspora.  Rosa is literally the first scholar to examine the 100 boxes of Drake's papers at the Schomburg Library in New York.  He has interviewed scholars who knew Drake, and has set Drake's life and work in the context of the world-wide movement for Black liberation.

When it appears, it will be a major contribution to the now rich and deep scholarship of the African-American experience.  I consider myself honored to have had the opportunity to serve as a second reader on Rosa's dissertation committee.


Change of plans.  I received this message from the doctor.

"Dear Ms and Mr Wolff,

 I first thought you could not move too easily that is why i proposed to come to your place. Actually it would be much easier  for me if you could come with two appointments to my clinic where I have my computer and the possibility to create a file.

 Could you call my secretary on: 01 49 83 94 70 and ask for 2 appointments starting monday the  3rd.

Best regards"

In an odd way, this is even better.  When I contacted her, I told her our ages [79 and 80].  She offered to come to our apartment because she thought we would be feeble.  When she received our medical records, she saw that we were functional, and decided it would make more sense for us to go to her clinic [which, by the way, Google street pictures shows me is above a café.  I love it!]

I shall call today for the appointments, and report on the visit.  With any luck, we shall not need medical attention, but at our age, one never knows.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I have just finished volume IV of my collected papers.  This is the one that contains the tutorials and appreciations that I posted on the blog.  Volume I is juvenilia, Hume and Kant essays, and essays, published and unpublished, on higher education.  Volume II is Marx and Classical Political Economy.  Volume III, which is next, will be Political Theory and early practical political writings.

New fabulous recipe, which I have just invented:  Get a large number of really fresh cherry tomatoes and cut them in half.  Chop up three or four cloves of garlic.  Chop up some fresh Basil leaves.  Melt some butter in a pan and sauté the garlic, then add the tomatoes and the basil.  Simmer for a while [ten minutes?] until the tomatoes are beginning to melt.  It is fantastically good, and looks really nice on the plate.  This evening, we had it with steamed asparagus and broiled pork cutlets, seasoned with crushed red peppercorns [Susie's idea].  Susie, as usual, had Sancerre blanc.  I had Beaume de Venise, a nice red wine.


Today, Susie and I walked from Place Maubert to rue du Four, and turned up to go to rue Princesse to visit the Village Voice, an English language bookstore in Paris.  We were stunned to find it closed.  A waitress in an eatery next door said they just couldn't make a go of it anymore.  So we bought two dozen cartons of Nespresso capsules on rue Bonaparte two blocks away and trudged home, pausing to rest in the garden of the Cluny -- the Museum of the Middle Ages at the corner of Boulevard St. Germain and Boulevard St. Michel.

When I got home, I googled  Village Voice, Paris, and closing, and up came a 2012 story in the NEW YORKER about the demise of the famous bookstore.  Susie and I subscribe to the NEW YORKER but never noticed the story.  I guess maybe I should look at something else besides the cartoons.

Radical or no radical, I hate it when some things change.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Susie and I are not spring chickens.  She is eighty, and I am a lad of seventy-nine.  We have been coming to our apartment in Paris for nine years, and by an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, we have in all that time not needed a doctor.  But clearly it is feckless and irresponsible of us not to have made some sort of connection with a doctor to whom we could turn in time of need.  So I went on line and found a list, posted by the American Embassy, of English-speaking doctors in Paris, one of whom is located rather near us off rue Monge.  I wrote to her, got a reply, had our Chapel Hill doctor fax her our medical records, and came to Paris planning to make an appointment for an initial visit some time during our stay.

Last week I wrote to her again, and today I received a reply.  I was so stunned by it that I read it twice, and then read it aloud to Susie.  Here it is, verbatim:

"Dear M. Wolff, I hope for you a much better weather for June! I could come and visit you Thursday afternoon around 3pm. Would it be convenient for you. Yes, I received your records, I will read them now you are in Paris.  Please send me everything I need to reach your apartment.
See you soon, sincerely"

I am deeply ashamed to admit that when I read this, my first thought was, "Maybe she is not such a good doctor."  I mean, who ever heard of a doctor who makes house calls?  I figure she is either about twelve, or else about ninety-five and hasn't heard about recent developments in medicine.

Obamacare indeed!

Sunday, May 26, 2013


This morning at six a.m., I set out on my morning walk.  My route today was a circumnavigation of the 5th arrondissement -- east along the river to the Jardin des Plantes, southeast along Boulevard de l'Hopital, then south along Boulevard Saint Marcel, turning east along Boulevard du Port Royal all the way to the Port Royal RER station, then north on Boulevard St. Michel to the northeast corner of the Jardin du Luxembourg, turning right up rue Soufflot to Place du Pantheon, and finally down the hill on rue des Carmes to Place Maubert and home.  I had the good sense to take my book of maps with me [and a pair of glasses to read it with], but I did not need it!

There has been a threat of a demonstration today by those opposed to the new law legalizing same sex  marriage.  I shall go out and jeer if they come by our quartier.

Yesterday, Susie and I saw The Great Gatsby [in English.]  It has been negatively reviewed but we enjoyed it.  DeCaprio was a believable Jay Gatsby.  I had only one quibble with the movie.  It represents Daisy as deeply conflicted by the choice between Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby, and even shows her calling him [presumably to commit herself to him] just at the moment when he is being shot to death.  That is certainly more tragically romantic, but it misses the whole point of the book.  Oh well.

Tonight a friend is coming to dinner, and I am cooking hazelnut encrusted rabbit with a Gigondas to wash it down.  Yummy.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Yesterday, after preparing a simple dinner of quail and caramelized zucchini, I took Susie to an early music concert by The King’s Consort at the Musée d’Orsay.  The Musée d’Orsay started life as a train station, and in its present incarnation it is a splendid space, vaulting and dramatic.  The concert, held in the auditorium, was a performance of a little-known work by Vivaldi, la Senna festeggiante.  This lovely work, splendidly performed, features a soprano, who sings the part of The Golden Age, a mezzo, who sings the part of Virtue, and a bass, who sings the part of the river Seine.  No kidding, “La Senna” is the Seine.  A French translation of the Italian text was projected on the wall behind the performers, making it possible for me to follow along.  The text is, I thought, uproariously funny.  It is an over the top sycophantic celebration and praising of the martial courage, generosity, magnificence, virtue, and general wonderfulness of Louis XV of France, who was at the time all of sixteen!  Louis, of course, managed to get through his kingship without losing his head, but his son was not so lucky.

This morning at 6:30 a.m., I decided to try a different walk – this time up rue la Montagne Ste. Genevieve, into rue Descartes, then down rue Mouffetard to the bottom of the hill, and finally up Avenue des Gobelins in the 13th to Place d’Italie, around Place d’Italie, and then home again the same way.  At least that was the plan.  But Place d’Italie is a large circle like the hub of a wheel, with avenues and boulevards emanating like spokes of the wheel.  I did not come far enough around the Place to get all the way back to avenue des Gobelins, with the result that I took off vigorously in the wrong direction and got royally lost.  I wandered a bit trying to find my way back to avenue des Gobelins, without succeeding.  I did manage to stumble on Place Louis Armstrong, in the middle of which was a big fat rabbit.  Eventually I found myself at the Seine next to the Jardin des Plantes, an old stamping ground for Susie and me, and from there it was pretty clear sailing home.  All in all, a great way to get the day started.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Paris is cold and rainy.  Parisians are very out of sorts with the weather, calling it “October weather.”  Unfortunately, Susie and I packed for late spring and early summer, so we have been scrambling to pull out the winter clothes we have stored here.  When I took my early morning walk this morning, a model in a strapless wedding dress was leaning against the railing on the little bridge leading to Nôtre Dame on the Île de la Cité, being photographed.  She must have been frozen!

The television doesn’t work, because I need a ten digit client number and a four digit code, and the number and code I have don’t work.  Is it just me?

Yesterday, a man shot himself to death on the altar of Nôtre Dame as a political protest.  The newspapers today identify him as Dominique Venner, a 78 year old veteran of the paratroopers in the Algerian War and an intellectual of the extreme right, well-known in those circles.  Needless to say, shooting yourself on the altar of Nôtre Dame is considered a no-no even among the notoriously secular French.  This is the 850’th anniversary of the construction of the cathedral [which took well over a century to build, so I am not are how they count the years], a big tourist draw.

Every country, it seems, has its characteristic right-wing extremists.  They are alike in their belief that the world they knew is disappearing and being taken over by barbarians, although they differ in the precise way in which they think the world going to hell in a handbasket .  In France, the focal point of this sentiment is the loss of the Algerian War and the influx of North Africans, which is to say Muslims.  However, the trigger for Venner’s act of extreme protest was the new law, just now going into effect, that legalizes same-sex marriage.  Although this is now the law of the land, there is a large backlash, and this Sunday a big “manifestation,” or demonstration is planned in Paris in protest. 

I shall report on it next week.

A simple meal this evening of dorade royale [fish], leeks, and mushrooms.


Monday, May 20, 2013


We are here in Paris, after an exhausting but uneventful trip, during which I read John Grisham's novel, THE BRETHREN.  He has a deliciously mordant view of the law.  Paris is cold and rainy, and apparently has been for weeks.  Sigh.

I took my long walk this morning early, in a fortunate one hour gap between rain drops.  I shall report on local developments as soon as I get settled.

a bientot.

Friday, May 17, 2013


I have now finished work on the second volume of my collected essays, although we are still awaiting some permissions from journals.   This volume will be devoted to published and unpublished essays dealing with the economic theories of Marx and the Classical Political Economists.  The centerpiece of the volume is my essay, "A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value."  After I published it, two really, really smart Marxist economists, both super math whizzes, published critiques of what I had done, and in each case I responded in print.  Both of them, John Roemer and David Schweickart, have agreed to let me reprint their critiques, so the volume will feature a little debate.   I am delighted to be able to include their work, and it was also fun getting back in touch with them.  I have learned a great deal from both of them.

Tomorrow, Susie and I fly off to Paris for six weeks, where I shall again be blogging about such arcane subjects as the proper recipe for boeuf bourguignonne.  It will be a relief to flee from the screwed-up problems of this country and spend six weeks reading about the screwed-up problems of someone else's country.  While I am in Paris, I hope to tackle volumes three [Political Theory and Practical Politics] and four [my tutorials, mini-tutorials, micro-tutorials, and appreciations.]

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


For the past ten days, I have been deeply involved in preparing a series of volumes of my collected papers for e-publication, while also taking care of an endless series of chores attendant upon getting ready for a six week trip to Paris.  But it has been impossible to ignore the appalling incompetence of the Obama White House response to the series of flaps and genuine scandals that have broken over its walls like a tsunami.  The Benghazi matter is no scandal at all, and the attempts by the Republicans to blacken Hillary Clinton's name three and a half years before she obliterates them in the 2016 presidential election will fail.  But the political slant of the IRS investigations of 501(c)(4) applications and the sweeping searches of the phone records of AP reporters are genuine scandals, violating the most fundamental constitutional protections.  Neither of them is exactly surprising, of course.  The Federal Government has been using its power to intimidate, harass, investigate, and prosecute citizens for their legitimate political actions since roughly forever.  The only oddity in the current IRS misbehavior is that, uncharacteristically, it has apparently been directed against those on the right rather than against those on the left.

In the face of these matters, the White House, which is to say the president, has been so feckless and ineffective as to be guilty of genuine malpractice.  All of this I find utterly incomprehensible.  Obama twice ran the best presidential political campaigns of modern times, exhibiting a level of efficiency, intelligence, and ruthless concentration that was truly unprecedented.  How the very same man can manage to handle routine political flaps so badly is a mystery to me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


I do not customarily attend to the news from the social pages, but certain events simply demand that notice be taken.  I have just learned that Captain Picard of the Enterprise will be married, and the ceremony will be presided over by Gandalf.  The reports did not indicate whether Counselor Troi would offer prenuptial advice, or whether Frodo would be the ring bearer.

Those who are sticklers for the literary formalities will of course protest that Captain Picard and Gandalf inhabit two entirely different fictional worlds, and can therefore no more meet than can Phineas Fogg and Sherlock Holmes, or Samuel Pickwick and the aging Elizabeth Bennett.  But it really is true, apparently, that Patrick Stewart will marry his long time partner, and Ian McKellan will officiate.  One of the charming quirks of Massachusetts is that anybody can preside over a marriage, just once, simply by applying for permission -- no clerical collar required.  I know because one of my sons did precisely that.

These are dark days for those of a progressive bent, and I think we need any little emotional lift we can come by.  I for one will lift a glass in silent toast to the happy couple this evening.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Today, I finished proofreading Volume I of my collected papers.  This volume contains my writings on Hume and Kant and on higher education, including education i South Africa.  It will be available on Amazon as soon as we get the permissions, which as usual are slow in coming.

Tomorrow, I will start Volume II, my writings on Marx and Classical Political Economy.

The volume containing the Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Economy, and a series of applications, is done but is awaiting a cover.

All in all, there will be six volumes of material, including my Memoir, some of it never before seen by anyone but me.

This is a very large project, but I rather suspect it may be completed by the end of the summer.  Then I will have to find something to occupy myself with.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 9, 2013


I have been so deeply involved in preparing the first volume of my collected papers for e-publication that I have been neglecting this blog.  [I am now proof-reading the final version of volume I, and when all the permissions are in and a cover is produced, it will go up on Amazon.]  I will simply note with sadness that Mark Sanford won his by-election.  Oh well.  It was a good try.  As for the simply incredible story of the escape and rescue of three women held captive for ten years, there is obviously nothing I can add to the breathless rapportage of the cable news commentators.

On a very much more serious note, the escalation of calls for American military intervention in Syria frightens me, but it scarcely surprises me.  There is no question that the slaughter under way in that country is appalling, but to my uninformed eye, there is no plausible intervention that would have any hope of success, however one defines that.  Too many powerful and influential people in this country are eager for us to go to war anywhere, at any time, for any purpose whatsoever.

Since I am by nature a cheerful soul, my attention naturally turns to the most delightful conspiracy fantasy conjured up by the loonies of the right in quite some time.  I refer to the theory, now being urged on the floor of the Senate and the House, that the U. S. government is deliberately buying up all the bullets in America in order to deprive gun owners of the ammunition they need for their constitutionally protected guns.  This really is precious.  Can it possibly be an advertising ploy by the ammunition manufacturers?  Perhaps, but that would introduce far more rationality into the story than it deserves or can support.

I leave for Paris in ten days, and advance reports from that lovely city indicate that my sunny hopes for the new Socialist government of Francsois Hollande have already been dashed.  Intellectual honesty compels me to acknowledge that in many respects this really is an awful world.  Sigh.  At least there is a new Tom cruise/Morgan Freeman action movie.  Maybe I should try that. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Volume I of my collected papers has now been assembled, and once we line up and check all permissions, get a cover for the book, and proof-read it, it will go up for sale on  The first volume contains Juvenilia [including some fun items], a large section devoted to my writings on the philosophy of David Hume and Immanuel Kant, and another large section of my writings on higher education.  Both of the major sections of the book include materials never published in any form, and never before available.

As always, my thanks to Michael Hemmingsen of the McMaster philosophy department for his invaluable role in this project, and also my thanks to Megan Kelly Mitchell of the UNC Chapel Hill philosophy department, who has been my research assistant on other projects as well and has done her usual outstanding work.

Monday, May 6, 2013


I am delighted to announce that my seemingly endless autobiography, A Life in the Academy, is now available as an e-book on for the bargain price of $9.99, with a cover even.  All proceeds go to the Society for Philosophy and Culture, run by Mr. Michael Hemmingsen of McMaster University, who is responsible for this and five of my out of print books being available on Amazon.

I am now preparing the first of what will be several volumes of my published and unpublished papers.  What is more, The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy, together with my essays on Rawls, Strasnick, Nozick, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and the use of formal methods in military strategy and foreign policy, will be available shortly.

The perfect summer reading!  And a splendid present for that special person in your life.

Be the first person in your corner of the blogosphere to own one.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Brian Leiter's blog informs me that St. Louis University, a Jesuit school, has won a three million dollar grant from the Templeton Foundation to study -- wait for it -- "intellectual humility."

Irony is not dead in Missouri.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


I have been hard at work for the past several days, editing and sorting the ninety or more published and unpublished journal articles, reviews, comments, political manifestos, letters to the editor, and blog tutorials, mini-tutorials, micro-tutorials, and appreciations that will eventually be offered on in a series of e-books.  In the oddly self-referential and inward-looking world that I call my life, the only thing that takes precedence over writing is reading what I have written, so I have been derelict in responding to the interesting comments posted on my blog about the future of American capitalism.  Now that I have reached a momentary stopping point in the editing, I can turn my attention to those comments.  Happily, I have also finished reading Gar Alperovitz's new book, What Then Must We Do:  Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, which speaks directly to the issues raised by my brief blog post.

A few quick responses first.  Michael asks whether I had heard of the story about the UMass Amherst Econ grad student who exploded the reputations of the two big deal Harvard economists who have been pushing austerity.  I have indeed.  I simply love the idea that a student is handed the rather uninspiring exercise of checking some published article as a way of improving his data analysis skills and ends up blowing a hole in one of the most influential pieces of research of recent years!  How cool is that!

The article linked to by JP Smit turned out to be a quite interesting review of a lot of recent work on the question why capitalist firms do not continue to grow forever, until one firm owns everything.  The reason, apparently, is that there are costs associated with too large expansion that more than outweigh the potential gains -- information costs, management costs, and so forth.  By some measures, it seems, firms have not grown larger on average in the last twenty or thirty years.

Now to the Alperovitz book.  It is written in a chatty, breezy style that gets on my nerves, but it says some very interesting and important things.  In a nutshell, Alperovitz thinks that there are a very large number of developments on the ground in the American economy that suggest, first, that many millions of Americans are already hard at work trying to create and sustain alternative economic institutions to the dominant capitalist ones, and second that the direction of development of the American economy offers some hope and some opportunities for the growth of such alternatives.  His message is that all of us, in some way or other, need to get off our butts and get involved with those developments, while also trying to articulate a coherent, systematic analysis and set of strategies for major economic change.

Alperovitz has in mind such developments as food cooperatives, state or local partnerships with collectives in energy generation and many other areas, worker-owned firms, land trusts, and many more.  A theme he repeats several times, is "If you don't like corporate capitalism and you don't like state socialism, what do you want?"  [The implication being, once you have figured out the answer to that question, start building it.]

There is a good deal in the short book, and I recommend it to you.  Let me take a few moments to put down some thoughts that it provoked in me.

Marx wrote a great deal about the transition from feudalism to capitalism, but very little about the transition, if there is to be one, from capitalism to socialism.  We are accustomed to thinking about the latter transition as coming about by way of a revolution,  but that is not at all the way in which the transition from feudalism to capitalism occurred.  Capitalism really did grow, slowly and bit by bit, "in the womb of the old," to quote Marx's famous phrase.  The men and women who brought capitalism into existence had little or no conception of any larger project in which they were engaged.  The English, French, and American revolutions were political revolutions that ratified or codified economic changes that had already taken place on the ground.  If we try seriously to ask, as Alperovitz does, what the next American economic system is going to look like, and how it is going to come into existence, his reply, which is to look at thousands of ground-up changes already taking place, seems in many ways the right way to think about such a transition.

Alperovitz is extremely cautious about making rosy predictions, and he is painfully aware, as we all are, of the powerful forces defending the existing capitalist order and the massive obstacles in the way of change.  But he makes two points that strike me as correct:  First, changes are already being instituted and experimented with, and the only way to find out what they can amount to is for all of us, in the millions, to throw ourselves into those changes and move them along;  and Second [this is, I think, the really important message], each of these changes, all by itself, makes life a little bit better for the people who are bringing it about, so the efforts they are expending are not wasted, regardless of whether they become part of a larger movement.  A food cooperative is a good thing for its members, a land trust helps to sustain a community, a worker-owned business, however small, is a benefit to the workers who own it.

It is quite possible of course, as Alperovitz clearly understands, that all these efforts may in the end be swamped by larger forces and accumulations of wealth that stand against them.  But real change will only come as the result of the efforts of scores of millions of people;  it will never happen merely as the relentless playing out of impersonal forces independently of our efforts and commitments. 

I do not honestly know whether many, many small initiatives can ever add up to major systemic change.  But I cannot see any alternative --certainly not "armed revolution," whatever that would actually be.

Take a look at the book, and others like it.