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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, March 31, 2015


A well-constructed course of lectures should have a shape, an arc, a narrative that unfolds as the semester goes by.  Creating that narrative takes thought and sometimes a good deal of work.  The course I am now giving at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has such a structure, and creating it has cost me considerable effort.  Indeed, when I look back over the sixty years during which I have been teaching, I realize that only twice before have I worked this hard to prepare and teach a course.  The first such effort was in the Spring Semester of 1960 at Harvard, when for the first of what would be many times I taught Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.  I still have the formal lecture notes I prepared then, in three binders.  Over the next two summers, I turned those lecture notes into my first book, Kant's Theory of Mental Activity.  The second effort came fifteen years later, by which time I was teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  I decided to offer a graduate course on a variety of rather forbidding formal materials, under the title "The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy."  I worked up a rigorous exposition of John von Neumann's great Fundamental Theorem in his new branch of Mathematics, Game Theory, complete with a proof of L. E. J. Brouwer's Fixed Point Theorem, on which von Neumann relies, followed by an equally rigorous exposition of Kenneth Arrow's General Possibility Theorem, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Economics.  I followed that with formal critiques of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and John Rawls' A Theory of Justice.  The lectures I wrote and delivered on Rawls became, shortly thereafter, Understanding Rawls.  The critique of Nozick appeared in the Arizona Law Journal [for reasons that now escape me.]

My present effort, offered in the Philosophy Department, bears the title "Karl Marx's Critique of Capitalism."  The UNC semester is fifteen weeks long, so I must give fifteen two and a half hour lectures.   The rather oddly configured room in which I lecture is blessed with a large screen on which I can project the outlines, quotations, and equations that I have prepared at home and loaded onto my laptop computer.  Twenty students are enrolled in the course -- six Philosophy Department graduate students, two graduate students from other departments, and twelve advanced undergraduates -- and several folks are auditing as well.  My goal in the course has been to integrate work I have done over forty years into a single unified reading of Volume I of Capital.  In addition to that great text, the students are asked to read the early unpublished manuscript on Alienated Labor, the Communist Manifesto, and my two books on Marx's theories, Understanding Marx and Moneybags Must Be So Lucky.  They are also asked to look at my 1981 essay "A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value," the math in which is too hard for me to require it.  For the final lecture, they will read my essay "The Future of Socialism."

The course has unfolded in three stages plus a coda.  The first three lectures were an introduction to Marx the man, to the economic and political situation in which Europe found itself when Marx was young, and to the two early writings -- the essay on alienated labor and the Manifesto.  This first stage was followed by a series of nine lectures, in which the students were called upon to grapple first with the mathematics of the classical tradition of Political Economy, then with the rich, complex, mystifying and mystified opening chapters of Capital, then with enough Literary Theory to enable them to understand my reading of those chapters, then with the remainder of the first part of Capital, up through the great Chapter X on "The Working Day," and then once again with the math, this time integrated with the literary theory, all in the service of the original interpretation of Capital that I have worked out over the course of my life.  The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth lectures will deal seriatim with the remaining 450 pages of Capital, which are extraordinarily rich in insights, details, and analyses.  I will give the first of those three lectures tomorrow.  Finally, at the last meeting of the course, on April 22nd, we shall reflect on our journey together and take a look forward with my essay on the rather bleak future of socialism.

This is the first real course I have given in a Philosophy Department in twenty-three years, and for all I know it may be the last.  I am enjoying it enormously.  I hope some of the students are too.

Monday, March 30, 2015


I do not refer to the Final Four.  As most of you are no doubt aware, the Indiana Legislature has passed and Governor Mike Pence has signed a "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" patently intended to make it legal for private businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers on supposedly religious grounds.  To the surprise of these troglodytes, the world has reacted sharply, negatively, and effectively.  Pence, by the way, is apparently jockeying for a VP nomination.

As it happens, my son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff, argued just such a case before the New Mexico Supreme Court and won.  Unfortunately, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck to the contrary notwithstanding, parents do not inherit the acquired characteristics of their children, so I am unable to write knowledgeably about the matter.

I simply note with approval that Charles Barkley [who explained during some Elite Eight commentary that he is "only six eight"] has called for this weekend's Final Four to be moved away from Indianapolis.  He is a class act!


I have suddenly begun receiving dozens of messages from FaceBook informing me that a post has tagged me [do I have that right?]  I think this flurry was triggered by my scandalous comments about Israel, but the "messages" in the e-mails are a string of question marks, because my e-mail provider does not recognize Hebrew letters.  When I go to FaceBook [which I virtually never frequent] and click on the "translate" utility, somewhat garbled references to Post-Modernism come back, but that has nothing to do with what I wrote.

The foolish residents of the town of Babel have a lot to answer for.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Back in 2010, while I was writing and posting my serial Autobiography, I  created a second blog on which, over a period of several months, I wrote and posted a short book called FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.  It was a reasonably chewy technical book with proofs of a variety of important theorems [not original with me, of course!], including Kenneth Arrow's famous General Possibility Theorem for which he won the Nobel Prize.  The little book included my animadversions against the much misunderstood Prisoner's Dilemma, a summary of my formal critique of Rawls' theory, and a good deal else.

Google tells me that in the last five years, there have been a total of 42,129 visits to the Formal Methods blog, which is not bad when you consider the subject matter.  From time to time I check it, and it still gets ten, fifteen, twenty, even twenty-five hits a day.  I figure out there in the world are a couple of professors who send their students to it for some quick background on technical stuff.

Until yesterday.  Yesterday there were 228 visits to that five year old series of mathematical posts!

What on earth is going on?  Is there some Bulgarian mathematical version of REDDIT that gave me a shout out?  If anyone can enlighten me, I woud appreciate it.  Who knows?  In the immortal words of Mel Brooks, I may be "world famous in Poland."

Friday, March 27, 2015


Well, having made a fool of myself by making an off-hand remark about Israeli marriage law without knowing what I was talking about, I shall now once more put my foot in my mouth by offering a speculation about Iran, about which I know even less.  [By the way, a correspondent who knows whereof she speaks informs me that Jews in Israel can only marry other Jews in Israel in an Orthodox ceremony, compelling Israeli Jews who are unwilling to go through such a ceremony to travel outside the country to be married elsewhere, whereupon that foreign marriage is recognized by Israeli law.  That is totally different from what I wrote, but it does strike me as being of the same order of horribleness.]

There has been a great deal of discussion in recent days about the supposed contradictions in the Administration's policy regarding Iran.  The contradictions are said to be these:  In Iraq, we are fighting alongside Iran against  ISIL;  in Yemen we are opposed to the recent overthrow of the Yemeni government, which is supported by Iran, so we are in effect fighting against Iran;  in Syria, we are fighting with Iran against ISIL and against Iran in its support of the Assad regime; all the while we are attempting to negotiate an agreement with Iran regarding Iran's nuclear program, which if accomplished would relieve Iran of the crippling economic sanctions under which it has been laboring for some years.  Taking all in all, it is said, our actions may very well have the effect of strengthening Iran's position in  the region, despite the fact that Iran is our enemy, whom we ought in all ways to be attempting to weaken.

Let us leave to one side the fact that this sounds very much like the elaborate maneuverings of the ancien régime in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  I should like to ask some questions designed at least to begin a conversation about the unexamined presuppositions of American Middle East policy.  I ask questions because I do not know enough to hazard answers;  but I ask the questions nevertheless because I am dissatisfied with those unexamined presuppositions.

First, why would it be so unacceptable for Iran to develop nuclear weapons as to justify our launching a war to stop them?  Now, I have all my adult life been unalterably opposed to the existence, threat of use, and use of nuclear weapons, and I was working hard, publicly, to oppose their existence and use before most of the readers of this blog were born, so I cede pride of place to no one when it comes to a commitment to nuclear disarmament.  I was opposed to the development of the American nuclear arsenal and to the development of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.  I was opposed to the development of nuclear  weapons by France, Great Britain, China, Pakistan, and India.  I am opposed to Israel's current possession of a sizable nuclear arsenal, and I am opposed to the attempts by North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  But I was not in favor of invading India or Pakistan or China or France or Great  Britain or Israel to stop them from developing nuclear weapons, and I do not see any reason to consider Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons different from the successful efforts by Israel.

It is said that it would destabilize the region were Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  Did Israel's development of nuclear weapons destabilize the region?  Not noticeably.  Did the development of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and India destabilize that region?  Very definitely.  Did we contemplate invasion?  Of course not.

Iran, it is said, seeks greater influence in the Middle East.  Every nation in the world seeks greater influence in its region, or, as in the case of the so-called Great Powers, in the world as a whole.  That is the nature of realpolitik, as pursued by every nation with the military and economic power to play the great game.  All nations, including the United States, claim to be pursuing the highest ideals selflessly, and none of them is doing anything of the sort.

Here is my central question:  Why should we not choose to make a self-interested alliance with Iran, rather than with Saudi Arabia or Israel or Egypt?  Is there something we can gain by such an alliance that would adequately compensate us for what it might cost us?  If so, why should we not consider it?

Would this threaten the existence of Israel?  It is difficult to see how, considering that at the present moment Israel is the only nation in the region capable of threatening a potential enemy with nuclear obliteration.  But could we not make the protection of Israel a non-negotiable condition of an alliance with Iran that would enable Iran to expand its influence?

In 1953, John Foster Duller and his brother Allan, under orders from President Eisenhower, engineered a coup that deposed Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected secular Prime Minister of Iran [the casus belli being Mossadegh's decision to nationalize Iran's oil resources.]  I think we all know how that finally turned out.

So, I ask again:  Would it be in the self-interest of the United States to form an alliance with Iran?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I hope to communicate today to my students an idea that they may find rather difficult to grasp, or so I fear.  Perhaps if I have a go at explaining it here, the effort will help me to clarify my exposition.  Let me say, by way of setting the scene, that today I shall try to bring together into a single integrated account the four strains of argument I have been developing in my course:  Marx's economic analysis of capitalism, Marx's historical account of the development of capitalism, the modern mathematical formalization of the classical and Marxian tradition of Political Economy, and my literary critical explanation of the extraordinary language of the first six or seven chapters of Capital.  The reading assigned for today is my 1981 essay, "A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value."  That essay, which so far as I can determine, in David Hume's words, fell stillborn from the presses, is a rather difficult read for philosophers, containing as it does a good deal of linear algebra.  [Linear Algebra, which is mother's milk to economists, is actually quite elementary undergraduate math for a math major, but as C. P. Snow observed many decades ago, we live in a society of two cultures, and philosophers whose intellectual sophistication knows no bounds confront a page of mathematics as though it were Linear B.]

The idea, in a sentence, is this:  The narrative accompanying a mathematical model frequently contains a good deal of information that finds no formal representation in the model, and it is a mistake to think that the deductions from the model constitute a proof or endorsement of those elements present only in the narrative.  In the case of Marx's theory, the distinction between labor power and labor, which Marx claims is the key to understanding the origin of profit in a capitalist system, actually finds no representation in  the formalism implicit in Marx's argument and made explicit by the modern mathematical formalization of that argument.  The goal of my essay is two-fold:  First, to demonstrate that the labor/labor-power distinction plays no formal role in Marx's argument, and that all of his results can be reproduced for any arbitrarily chosen commodity as "substance of value;"  and Second, to find an alternative formalization of what I believe to be Marx's correct analysis and critique of capitalism.

There are a number of examples of this sort of mismatch between a formal argument and the accompanying narrative.  My favorite is the narrative that has grown up around the so-called Prisoner's Dilemma.  I shan't reproduce here my analysis of that familiar example, from Game Theory, of a two-person non-zero-sum game in which each player has two pure strategies.  Those who are interested will find it in the book-length tutorial I wrote on The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy, archived at  Other examples, considerably more important at one time in U. S. military affairs, are the mismatches between the narratives of deterrence and nuclear war and the game theoretic analyses accompanying them.  [To be found in my unpublished book, The Rhetoric of Deterrence, also archived.]

If one prefers a more light-hearted example, one can consider the practice adopted by some Grade School teachers of drawing circles as happy faces and squares as Sponge Bob Square Pants when introducing little children to Geometry.  Sooner or later, the children must learn that the mathematical properties of a circle are independent of whether a happy or sad face is drawn in it.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015


No sooner had I returned from Paris, jet-lagged to deliver a difficult two and a half hour lecture on the mathematics of Marx's labor theory of value than March Madness hit.  I am sure my American readers will understand that as a resident of Chapel Hill, I am required by city ordinances to be a fan of the UNC Chapel Hill basketball team, and to root, secondarily, for Duke in all circumstances in which they are not playing UNC.  This, plus two weeks of accumulated mail, has kept me from my principal responsibility, viz. this blog.  Herewith a first effort to catch up.  K. Reader posted the following comment to my Parable of the Butcher and the Analytic Philosopher: 

"I am an avid reader of your blog. As a non-native speaker I am fascinated by your use of "he" and "she". Are there any rules?  I like the fact that the butcher is "she" and the philosopher "he" - at least in this post."

There are no rules, but perhaps I can tell a story to explain my own practice.  Forty years ago, I was running a small interdisciplinary left-wing undergraduate major that I had started called Social Thought and Political Economy.  I created a Freshman/Sophomore course called "Introduction to Social Theory" as a general background for students interested in the major.  One day, as I was lecturing, some students challenged my constant and exclusive use of the masculine pronoun.  I thought about their criticism, and decided they were right.  What to do?  I could, of course, studiously avoid the singular for the plural ["If people choose to disobey the law, they may risk prosecution" rather than "If a person chooses to disobey the law, he may risk prosecution."]  But that is clumsy.  And I am constitutionally unable to use the singular in the first part of a sentence and the plural in the second part ["If a person chooses to disobey the law, they may risk prosecution."]  So, after some reflection, I decided simply to alternate masculine and feminine pronouns unless the subject dictated one or the other [I did not refer to Marx as "she" half the time.]  This is not hard once you get used to it, and it solved the problem nicely.  Over time, I have backed off from rigid alternation, but I continue to mix them up.  The butcher in my parable just came out female.  It could as easily have been the other way about.

Friday, March 20, 2015


The responses to my observations about anxiety dreams got me thinking about Willard Van Orman Quine, Erik Erikson, and Calypso.  What, you might ask, could the connection possibly be?  It is like this:

Erikson, somewhere [I think in Childhood and Society], observes that people have styles in dreaming.  Some people always dream in Technicolor, others dream in Black and White.  Some folks have cluttered dreams, filled with all manner of dream elements, as psychoanalysts call them;  others have very spare dreams, with only a few elements.  This does seem to be a matter of style -- those who dream in Technicolor, for example, will do so whether the feeling tone of the dream is anxiety, erotic desire, anger, or simple curiosity.

Inasmuch as I graduated from Harvard in 1953 after taking one undergraduate and two graduate logic courses with Quine, I naturally was reminded by Erikson's observation of a line in Quine's elegant little collection, From a Logical Point of View, which was published that year.  In the lead essay, "On What There Is," Quine describes himself at one point as having a "taste for desert landscapes" -- a fact, he suggests, that inclines him to spare ontologies.

Quine, all of us students knew, had rather eclectic cultural tastes, and so it was obvious where he had found the title for his book.  The source was a Calypso song made popular by the young Harry Belafonte whose refrain is "So from a logical point of view/Always marry a woman uglier than you."  I recall thinking that this was a really nifty choice of a title.


I first visited South Africa in the early months of 1986, when the system of Apartheid was in full force and operation.  South Africa was a vibrant, exciting, functioning democracy -- for Whites.  There were a number of first-rate universities, for Whites, a lively intellectual scene, a cultural scene with music, dance, and visual arts, at least one first rate newspaper [The Daily Mail and Guardian], and a far greater awareness in academic circles of the writings of Marx than I could find anywhere in the United States. 

The system of Apartheid [or "apartness" in Afrikaans] had carried out a thoroughgoing relocation of non-whites into racially defined enclaves called "Homelands," which in law, if not in fact, were considered quite literally to be separate countries.  Strict "influx control" laws restricted the presence of non-Whites in the White cities after dark, forcing African, Colored, and Indian men and women to travel long hours each day from their "townships" or their "informal communities" [shack settlements] into the cities where they worked.  The Townships ringing the White cities were deliberately laid out so as to make them easy to police and -- if the state deemed it necessary -- closed off entirely.

And yet, in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, and Durban, it was quite possible for a White man like me to spend weeks on end without ever directly encountering the five-sixths of the population excluded from the civil society and cultural life of the country.  The academics I met read the same left-wing journals I read, their sphere of reference was virtually identical to mine, I felt quite at home with them, even though I had flown ten thousand miles to spend six weeks in their country [lecturing on Marx at the University of the Witwatersrand, or Wits, in Johannesburg.]

All of this has been on my mind as I have been reading about the appalling election in Israel.  Contemporary Israel, like pre-liberation South Africa [its military partner, back then], is a vibrant, lively nation where a radical intellectual from America can feel quite at home, so long as he does not look too closely.  Intellectually, musically, culturally, it feels familiar, albeit foreign, much as France or Spain or Italy does.  It is fatally easy to suppose that Israel is our natural ally, a kindred spirit in the family of nations, a place that an American or a Frenchman or a Swede could call home.

But the plain truth is that Israel is running its own version of the system of Apartheid.  The treatment of land is typical of an apartheid system.  In South Africa, the borders of the Homelands, ostensibly the natural boundaries of ethnically and linguistically unified areas [KwaZulu, Sotho, !Qhosa, and so forth]. were actually very carefully drawn so as to reserve the best agricultural land for the White Afrikaner farmers, leaving the infertile land with little water for the Homeland residents.  The denial to non-Jews of even such elementary rights as marriage perfectly mirrors the treatment of non-Whites in the old South Africa.

The simple fact is that the phrase "Jewish democracy," like the phrases "Christian democracy" and "Islamic Democracy," is a contradictio in adjecto. 

Israel, it is said, is our most important strategic partner in the region.  I confess that I can see no reason of realpolitik for this judgment.  From a purely self-interested perspective, it would make a good deal more sense for the United States to form a strategic alliance with Iran.  On the other hand, it would indeed make a great deal of moral and ideological sense to forge strong bonds with a truly democratic Israel.  If such an Israel ever surfaces, I would be the first to call for such an alliance.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I am back, exhausted from the trip home and preparing to give a two and a half hour lecture this afternoon!  But I had to rush a brief post to bring everyone up to date on the latest doings of my younger son, Tobias Barrington Wolff.  Here is a link to a University of Pennsylvania site where you can find the text of an amicus brief Tobias has submitted to the Supreme Court in an up-coming case on the recognition of same-sex marriages across state lines.  Tobias has forbidden me to refer to him as the leading Gay Rights legal scholar in America, but I am permitted to say that he is one of the leading Gay Rights legal scholars in America.  This brief is an evidence of the legitimacy of that encomium.

I am very fearful that along about the time I begin lecturing this afternoon, I shall fall asleep.  Will the students notice?  An interesting question.  When I was a twenty-one year old Teaching Fellow at Harvard, I lived in terror that I would simply forget to go to one of the sections I was teaching.  [This actually happened to me the next year.]  I was utterly oblivious to the fact that most of them would have been thrilled.  One of my persistent anxiety dreams takes the form of suddenly realizing, two or three weeks into a semester, that there is a course I am supposed to be teaching that I have never shown up for.  I rush off to the class, where the students are all waiting impatiently.  It is, as I say, a dream!

Friday, March 13, 2015


Well, after two trips to two different Orange offices, I once again have internet access in my apartment.  Orange [also known as France Telecom] is the absolutely worst Internet company in the known world. 

I have failed to respond to a number of comments.  My apologies.  David, the duck was splendid.

I was thrilled to discover that my little Parable of the Butcher and the Analytic Philosopher was anticipated, two and a half millennia ago, by none other than Plato in the Phaedrus [which I read perhaps sixty years ago and had forgotten].  Also by Bertrand Russell, with whom I have had tea.

The big news in Paris, which will no doubt of slipped past you, is that Paris St. Germain, despite being down one man, due to a red card, for ninety minutes including overtime, managed a 2-2 tie against Chelsea and thus advanced to the Quarters in the League of Champions.  The local politics are a mess, with Marine le Pen surging [a right wing fascist type] and Sarkozy positioning himself for a comeback.  Ugh.

Our own Senate Republicans have revealed themselves to be traitors as well as fools.  It really is true that Obama drives them insane.

As for the Democratic Party, we are condemned to another six, eight, ten years of the Clintons.

I am ready for an uprising from the bottom, if anyone can see any hope of that.

I have now read the papers submitted by my students the day before I flew to Paris.  I shall reserve my comments for them, at least for the moment.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Sigh!  Here I am again in Paris, and my Internet access does not work in the apartment.  I am planning to commit suicide, just as soon as I finish making my signature cuisses de canards for my friends next Tuesday.

In the meanwhile, I can report that Jean Gabin and Yves Montand are still in their favored places on the Seine [they are batobuses, for those who are new to this blog.]

More anon. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


A contest was announced to see who could do the best job of carving up a side of beef.  The judge was announced as a famous chef, who had earned two Michelin stars.  Attracted by the prize money, a butcher and an analytic philosopher entered the contest.

The Analytic Philosopher went first.  A fresh side of beef was placed on a large wooden table, and he approached to begin.  He was dressed in freshly pressed chinos and a button-down shirt.  The Analytic Philosopher laid a leather case on one corner of the table and opened it, revealing a gleaming set of perfectly matched scalpels, newly sharpened.  He selected one scalpel carefully and addressed the side of beef.  After inspecting its surface carefully, he raised his hand and made the first cut, a precise slice in a perfectly straight line.  Working steadily, but with meticulous care, he proceeded to make slices and cross slices until he had completed the carving of the beef, a task that took him the better part of an hour.  When he had finished, he stepped back, wiped the scalpel clean on a piece of paper toweling, replaced it in the case, and with a bow to the judge, withdrew.

The butcher was next up.  Her side of beef was on a table next to that on which the Analytic Philosopher had been working.  She was dressed in overalls and a butcher's apron, on which one could see spots of blood and stains from her work.  She took out a cleaver, a saw, and a sharp butcher's knife, and went to work on her side of beef, wasting no time.  Bits of fat and gristle flew here and there, some ending up on her apron and even in her hair, which she had covered with a net.  She whistled as she worked at the table, until with a flourish, she put down her saw, bowed to the judge, and stepped back.

The judge examined each table for no more than a moment, and then without the slightest hesitation, handed the prize to the butcher.  The Analytic Philosopher was stunned.  "But," he protested, "there is simply no comparison between the results on the two tables.  The butcher's table is a shambles, a heap of pieces of meat, with fat and bits of bone and drops of blood all over the place.  My table is pristine -- a careful display of perfectly carved cubes of meat, all with parallel sides and exactly the same size.  Why on earth have you given the prize to the butcher?"

The Judge explained.  "The butcher has turned her side of beef into a usable array of porterhouse steaks, T-bone steaks, sirloin steaks, beef roasts, and a small pile of beef scraps ready to be ground up for chop meat.  She clearly knew where the joints were in the beef, how to cut against the grain with the tough parts, where to apply her saw.  You, on the other hand, have reduced a perfectly good grade-A side of beef to stew meat."

Moral:  When butchering a side of beef, it is best to know something about what lies beneath its surface."
Observation:  This is also not a bad idea when doing Philosophy


I need to say this.  If anyone wants to call me a self-hating Jew, so be it.

Israel is far and away the militarily most powerful nation in the entire Middle East.  It has a large, fully functional nuclear arsenal with appropriate delivery systems, and a well-trained army with a large Ready Reserve.  If Israel wants to start a war with Iran, let it put its own young men and women at risk, instead of adopting a belligerant stance and inviting the United States to shed our blood and spend our treasure making good on Israel's threats.

Monday, March 2, 2015


On Wednesday, I give my last lecture before Spring Break.  On Thursday, Susie and I fly off to Paris for a brief twelve day stay, returning just in time for me to resume lecturing.  I shall be carrying with me a set of short [ten page] papers submitted by the students, which I shall read and grade while sitting in my favorite cafe sipping a glass of wine or a "deca allonge."  [I am unable to add accents when writing in Google.]  It takes me back a good many years to the day when I sat in a cafe in Place de la Bastille composing my essay, "The Future of Socialism."

France is in turmoil politically, as a result of the weakness of the putatively socialist President, Francois Hollande, the really troubling rise of the slick, attractive right-wing fascist, Marine le Pen, and the recent murders committed by Islamic fanatics.  In Paris, as in Chapel Hill, the surrounding political ugliness has little or no effect on the felt quality of my daily life, a fact that I find both disturbing and reassuring. 

The two week hiatus in my course comes at an appropriate time.  After lecturing for several weeks about the literary interpretation of Marx's language in CAPITAL, I shall when I return pick up the thread of my analytical and mathematical reconstruction of the argument.  Since the course ranges widely across the intellectual and academic spectrum [Philosophy, Economics, History, Psychology, Sociology, Mathematics, and Literary Criticism, at a minimum], I anticipate that the papers will be extremely diverse.  Reading them should be interesting.

As we land at RDU, March Madness will be just beginning, so Susie and I shall probably O.D. on basketball for a bit.  Susie has a long-standing sentimental identification with the TarHeels and a secondary loyalty to the Blue Devils [UNC Chapel Hill and Duke, for those of you not clued up], and like any good husband I have adopted those teams as my own.  I am still in private mourning for the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to the West Coast, a betrayal that occurred in 1957 just as I was getting my doctorate.  Despite half a lifetime in Massachusetts,  I never really took the Red Sox to my heart.

The political equivalent of Spring Training has begun, so very soon I shall have to clear the cold ashes out of the pot-bellied stove and fire it up for the first meeting of the Hot Stove League.  This year we may yet again see two Republicans running against each other for the Presidency.  Indeed, if Jeb Bush succeeds in snagging the nomination, we will be treated to the edifying spectacle of a contest between a candidate considered a RINO by true Republicans and a candidate considered a DINO by true Democrats.  I sometimes think that whoever invented democracy has a lot to answer for.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Am I the only person who thinks that Scott Walker looks just plain weird in every photo of him that appears in the newspapers, on television, or in the Internet?  He looks like a twenty-first century version of Alfred E. Neuman.


Turner Classic Movies is devoting today to classic musicals that won or were nominated for Oscars.  At the moment, they are screening The Music Man.  This has always been one of my favorites, not only because of Robert Preston's inspired performance, but also because I have appeared with the movie's female lead, Shirley Jones.  Naturally, you will scoff.  What?  Robert Paul Wolff trod the boards with Shirley Jones?  Well, not quite "trod the boards," and certainly not "co-starred with," but she and I did appear together in a for-real theatrical production which people paid good money to see.  It happened like this.

Back in the fifties [the nineteen fifties, that is], Harvard made Sanders Theater available to a series of summer stock touring shows.  I saw Siobhan McKenna there doing a brilliant turn in Shaw's Saint Joan.  Well, in 1956, while I was hard at work writing my doctoral dissertation, Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones, recently married, came to town in a summer stock mounting of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera.  A call went out for locals to sign up to sing in the pit chorus, paying a dollar a night during the six or seven performances.  I volunteered, auditioned, and was hired.  They dressed us in rags as beggars, made us up to look disreputable, and put us down in the pit at one side of the orchestra.  When we weren't singing our numbers, we were to crouch down and make like inmates in a debtor's prison.

Shirley Jones was radiant, needless to say, but the hit of the show was a basso who sang the part of Peachum [father of Polly, one of MacHeath's several inamoratae.]  When the lights went up at the opening of the show, he was revealed to be sitting at a table with his drinking buddy, Lockit.  His very first line was a belch that could be heard throughout Sanders.  To this day, I do not know how he managed it.