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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, March 30, 2016


ES asks an interesting question:  ""While I don't dispute the valuable lesson, your comment takes for granted that the Trump we are getting now is the real Trump, so to speak. People who suspect a change in character believe (whether rightly, I don't know) that the current Trump is no more than an act put on to appeal to certain demographics and that it therefore must both be the case and must be possible that his character will change when the time comes (either after securing the nomination or before if he loses ground).   Do you think such an assessment likely?"

I have no doubt that Trump will change his positions on issues instantaneously and without the slightest indication of discomfort, as he has already done many times.  But I do not think fundamental character traits can easily be faked, particularly by someone so obviously in thrall to powerful infantile needs and fantasies.

As many observers have noted, Trump is obsessed with anxieties about masculinity, dominance over male competitors, and sexual prowess with "trophy" women [witness his inability to let go of the issue of his small hands.]   I think it will drive him utterly out of control to be locked for months in a contest with a strong woman [and say what you will about Clinton, as I already have, she is indeed strong.]   I can easily imagine him doing something insanely self-defeating, like manufacturing an excuse to pull out of a scheduled presidential debate.


More than forty years ago, when I was still relatively newly arrived at the University of Massachuesetts Amherst, I knew a Professor of Italian named Zina Tillona [she has since gone on to earn a law degree and now practices in Northampton, I believe]. A group of us were sitting around gossiping one day about a mutual acquaintance who had just been tapped for an administrative position despite no prior such experience. "I wonder what sort of Dean he will be," someone said, idly. Zina replied, "Well, most people do most things the way they do most other things."

Ay first, I thought the remark rather trite, almost tautological. But on reflection, I realized that it encapsulated a very deep truth. There are styles in human behavior, and those styles crop up across a wide range of activities, some trivial, some very important. So this man was likely to be a Dean in roughly the way he was a tennis player, a father, a teacher, or a lover. If he was fussy, obsessed with trivia, vindictive in his personal relationships, and perpetually late to parties or his children's teacher conferences, then he would almost certainly be fussy, obsessed with trivia, vindictive, and chronically late to appointments as a Dean.

Erick Ericson says something similar in Childhood and Society [I think.] People have styles in dreaming, he observes. Some always dream in color, others in black and white. Some have barren, simple dreams, others have cluttered dreams. And this is true regardless of the subject matter of the dream.

Why is any of this important, even granting that it is kind of interesting?  Because there is continuing speculation that  Donald Trump will "pivot" to the General Election once he secures the Republican nomination and will then cease to behave as he has these past nine months.  He will cease making vile misogynistic comments, quickly study up on the basic facts of foreign affairs, develop a robust ground game, and become a formidable candidate against [presumably] Hillary Clinton.

I seriously doubt it.  Most people do most things the way they do most other things.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


When I read about the petition circulating [50,000 signatures so far] to allow guns at the Republican Convention, I thought, "wouldn't it be lovely if some leftie were trolling the Republicans?"  It turns out that is exactly what is happening.  God I love this country!

Monday, March 28, 2016


I was sitting at dinner this evening, talking to Susie about what I had gleaned from the Washington Post story about Hillary Clinton and the e-mail/server scandal, when suddenly I remembered a passage from The Great Gatsby that perfectly captures what is wrong with her and Bill.

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

I freely confess that I really do not like them.


Let me turn my attention now to the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.  First, the facts.

There will be 4765 delegates at the Convention, 4051 pledged and 714 unpledged ["superdelegates"].   It will take a total of 2383 delegates to win the nomination.  If Clinton wins those 2383 from the primaries and caucuses alone, that will leave 1667 for Bernie [Martin O'Malley has 1].  In short, to win without superdelegates, she must go into the Convention with a pledged delegate lead of 716 over Bernie.  At the moment, her lead is 299, more or less.  If Bernie continues to do well in the remaining primaries, it actually seems more likely that  he will somewhat narrow the gap, although he is virtually certain not to overtake her in pledged delegates.

So, it will come down to the superdelegates.

If we assume that Clinton goes to the Convention having won more votes and more pledged delegates, what could possibly persuade the superdelegates, who are as people inclined to support Clinton anyway, to withdraw their support for her and choose Bernie?

I can only see three possibilities, none of which seems likely.

First, the Republican Convention having taken place the preceding week, if the Republicans nominate someone [i.e., Kasich] who beats Clinton in the polls, that might do it.  If they nominate Trump, which seems most probable, the mere fact that Bernie crushes Trump in the polls even more than Clinton will not do it.  Clinton currently beats Trump by more than ten points in the polls, which, in a presidential election is a landslide.  Sufficient unto the day.

Second, if the e-mail/private server issue heats up, and a top aide to Clinton gets indicted or plea bargains, that could scramble everything, and the availability of a plausible alternative in Bernie might influence enough of the superdelegates to throw the race to Bernie.

Third, that bird might return, this time with a message taped to its leg from God.

I am holding out for number three.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


I have just finished reading a long story in today's Washington Post going in great detail into the "scandal" arising out of Secretary Clinton's use of a private server and private Blackberry to send and receive all manner of work-related e-mails during her time as Secretary of State.  Two things seem clear to me:  First, there is not the slightest hint of a suggestion that Clinton ever did anything willfully to share classified information with inappropriate persons;  and Second, from the outset, her behavior was high-handed, arrogant, reckless, stupid, self-serving, and arguably flat-out illegal.  She behaved from first to last as though regulations of which she was well aware simply did not apply to someone as important as she thought herself to be.  Did her behavior endanger the United States?  Probably not.  Could it have done so?  Probably.  Is there any excuse for what she did?  I cannot see one.  She was motivated principally by a concern for her own convenience, nothing more.  At one point, she actually sent a memorandum to her underlings warning them to abide by procedures that  she herself was in the process of ignoring.

She does not, in my judgment, come off as a very admirable person.


It is a slow day, rainy down here in bigotland, so I thought I would try to respond to Chris's question about liberalism.  Let  me begin by reminding everyone that forty-eight years ago I published a little book called The Poverty of Liberalism.  This has been on my mind for a while.

Liberalism as a political doctrine started life as a rationale for capitalism, and it has never wavered in its pursuit of that project.  In the early nineteenth century there were three responses to the dramatic, revolutionary, transformative impact on Europe of the newly burgeoning capitalism.  The Conservatives decried capitalism's ruthless destruction of traditional social, economic, political, and religious arrangements, pining for the good old days, inventing the myth of Merrie Olde England, or simply viewing with despair and alarm the death of all that they considered good in the social world.  The Liberals celebrated the new order, which they considered the apotheosis of rationality and the ultimate demystification of social reality.  They were well aware of the evils attendant upon the development of capitalism -- the slums, the poverty, the frequent economic booms and busts -- but they considered them the growing pains of the new order and were confident that the perfection of free markets would in short order overcome those imperfections.  The socialists, like the liberals, considered capitalism a massive advance over the previous feudal order, but were convinced that its evils were structural, not ephemeral, and could only be overcome by replacing capitalism with a truly rational social order, socialism.

For a while laisser-faire capitalism flourished, but the Great Depression created an intellectual as well as an economic and political crisis, in response to which the ideological justification for capitalism split.  One wing, which arrogated to itself the term "Liberal," embraced Keynesian teachings, and concluded that to keep the engine of exploitation going it would be necessary both to accept some measure of state interference with the actions of the capitalists and to make accommodations with the demands of the workers, in the form of unions, social services, and some amelioration of the condition of the working class.    The other wing, which took over the title of "conservative," resisted the accommodation with the workers and the intrusion of the state into the affairs of corporations.  Meanwhile traditional Conservatism, which was of course hostile to the spirit of capitalism, took up residence in the Catholic Church, which had never got over its disdain for capitalism as a Johnny-come-lately, or else, rather like Saruman and Grima Wormtongue, retreated to the Op Ed pages of the New York TIMES, where it now finds expression in the maunderings of Ross Douthat.  [Ayn Rand, by the way, is to Liberalism roughly what Smerdyakov is to Ivan -- a bastard who takes seriously every nonsensical utterance that her legitimate sibling utters with a certain ironic detachment.]

Since the end of World War Two, which is roughly when I began to notice the larger world, American politics has been a struggle between the two descendants of traditional Liberalism, made a great deal more complex by America's assumption in the late 1940's of the world-historical role of Imperial Hegemon, replacing the British, French, and German empires and competing, ultimately successfully, against the Russian empire.  Every president for the past 80 years [and more, but never mind] has been completely committed to the defense of capitalism in one or another of these fashions.

When I decided, on April 21, 1961, that I was "not a Liberal," I had little or no understanding of what I have here written.  I knew only that Jack Kennedy was a Liberal [he had graduated from Harvard and his wife spoke French, for heaven's sake], and that therefore, whatever he was, I was not.

Bernie Sanders describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, even though the fateful words, "collective ownership of the means of production" never pass his lips.  Sufficient unto the day.  First, it was Occupy Wall Street and "the one percent."  Now it is Democratic Socialism and "the billionaire class."  Major social change is like a landslide, not like brain surgery.  Bernie is a boulder rushing down the correct side of the mountain.  I am content to be a pebble slipping and tumbling in his wake.


One of my less mature habits is shouting at the TV screen when some loud-mouthed commentator says something inexcusably egregious.  For a variety of reasons, I find myself yelling at Chris Matthews of MSNBC more often than at most.  He is transparently in the bag for Clinton, and routinely sneers at Bernie Sanders' call for free public college and university tuition as pandering to college audiences.  Since Matthews is a snob as well as an ignorant toad [there I go again], he always references "Berkeley and Wisconsin Madison," as though it went without saying that free tuition at such prestigious public universities was especially absurd.

So at 4 a.m. this morning I got up and did a little Googling [this will give you some idea of the depths of my obsessions.]  In-state tuition at Berkeley is currently $14,460 [this may be a trifle off, as I think this figure is a year or two old.]   In 1968, it was $300, which in 2016 dollars is $2044.  Although $2044 is not free, it is an amount that a serious student could earn with part time jobs.  If California establishes a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage, as it appears poised to do, that would work out to about five hours of burger flipping a week during term time.  That  still leaves room and board, of course, and also books and lab fees, but the point is that it would be possible, as we used to say when I was young, to "work your way through college."

I have written elsewhere on this blog about the reasons for the soaring costs of college.  I believe it is no accident [the favorite line of old-time Marxists] that costs began to rise exponentially roughly during the tumultuous Sixties [i.e., in the early Seventies.]  The social function of student debt is to compel college graduates to take safe, trouble-free jobs in order to pay off their debts, rather than opting for community organizing or other forms of social disruption.

I don't guess I will ever  get to point this out to Matthews.  Do any of you know him, perhaps?


Some of you may not have seen this magical moment in a Bernie Sanders speech two days ago.  I am, as you will have guessed, a thoroughly secular person, but there are moments when I sense intimations of immortality .

Saturday, March 26, 2016


This is the person who doodled the political flow chart.  It is apparently going viral.


Forty-seven years ago, when my first wife and I were both in analysis and I was scrambling to pay the bills, a publisher asked me to edit a little paperback, to be called "Ten Great Works of Philosophy," anthologizing a selection of texts all in the public domain [no permission fees].  I gave my standard answer:  "What is the advance?"  "A thousand on signing and a thousand on submission," they replied.  So of course I agreed.  As I recall, I did the job so fast that before they could cut me the check for signing I handed in the finished manuscript.

Today, a royalty check arrived, for $118.50  -- not exactly fat city, but large enough to deposit on Monday without embarrassment.  

When I entered the data in my royalty spreadsheet, I saw that the book has now sold 196,215 copies.  The royalties have always been peanuts.  I think in fifty-seven years the book has earned me about $22,000, or 11 cents a copy.

There is something oddly comforting about knowing that deep down, I am just a hack.


Friday, March 25, 2016


My home state, North Carolina, has just enacted a perfectly appalling law designed to stop transgendered people from using public toilets.  [It is written in such a manner that it virtually outlaws any protections against any sort of discrimination at all, but never mind that .]  In response, my son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff, has just published this essay in The Nation

Take a look.

By the way, there are many places in France with public toilets that are available to both men and women -- cabinets with doors.  No one freaks out, no children's lives are ruined.  Just sayin'.

North Carolina really is a godawful place to live.


I have received a number of messages -- some in comments on this blog, some as e-mails -- that consist of lengthy itemizations of all the bad things Hillary Clinton has done or has advocated for.  I am not sure why these folks feel the need to say these things to me.  Perhaps it is because they think I don't know them, perhaps it simply makes them feel good to say them, but the subtext, as they say in the Lit Crit game, is that I am somehow morally or politically reprehensible for supposedly failing to take account of them.  So let me just take a moment to make something clear.

I began fighting publicly and vigorously against America's destructive imperial foreign policy in the early Fall of 1958, some fifty-eight years ago.  Not too long thereafter, I began as well to argue against the evils of capitalism.   In the intervening years, I have marched, protested, spoken on Television and Radio, debated Herman Kahn and Eugene Rostow in public, chaired protest meetings, written books and articles, donated money, been arrested, and in general struggled.

Now, any one is free to conclude that I have been on the wrong side in these struggles, but not that  I have been absent from them or have failed to be mindful of the underlying issues.   If I say that Clinton is preferable to Trump in the general election, it is not because I am in the tank for her imperialist , hawkish, pro-Wall Street policies, but because I think Trump is a seriously greater danger. 

You may be made uncomfortable by being presented with such a choice in the forthcoming election.  No kidding.  Just don't take your discomfort out on me.  I have enough troubles.  And since I am probably older than you are, I have less reason to hope that things will get better during my lifetime.


Thursday, March 24, 2016


Anonymous writes:  " Professor, maybe you can help me out here and fill in some details. When people say something like this:

"I am genuinely frightened that Trump is a fascist whose election could destroy what remains of American democracy....But just recall what Germany and Italy looked like eighty years ago."

And then their only prescription is to vote for Hilary and then support a grassroots Bernie movement, that makes me question just how much those words really mean. Think about what you are suggesting. If what you are saying is true, we really should be stocking up on weapons right now, no joke. Because if the next Hitler or Mussolini is possibly coming, we are going to have to fight him with something other than blog posts and votes. That is just a fact. 

This disconnect between the threat and the response makes the whole argument harder to take seriously, from my point of view."

Anonymous is quite correct, of course.  At this point, there is every reason to believe that Trump can be defeated by standard political means -- campaigning, voting, etc.  But if, God forbid, he were to be elected and were to begin to act in the way that his rhetoric suggests he might, it would indeed be time for much stronger measures of resistance, including efforts to persuade the military and local police forces to refuse to obey illegitimate orders, and perhaps also requiring armed resistance.

What  would I do?  I honestly do not know.  I would hope that I would not simply hunker down and tell myself, "At least this time they are not coming for the Jews."


One of my new favorite people is Curly Hoagland, a long-time member of the Republican National Committee and unpledged delegate from North Dakota who has had his fifteen minutes of fame lately on cable TV.  Hoagland's shtick is to quote the rules of the Republican National Committee concerning the selection of delegates to the July Convention and then to say, ominously, that we shall not know who actually  has 1237 delegate votes until the first ballot is taken at the convention.  The current primary contests, he says, are just "beauty contests."


So I took a look at the rules of the Republican National Committee.  Here is Rule 16(d)(2):

"Only persons eligible to vote who are deemed as a matter of public record to be Republicans pursuant to state law or, if voters are not enrolled by party, by Republican Party rules of a state, shall participate in any primary election held for the purpose of electing delegates or alternate delegates to the national convention or in any Republican caucus, mass meeting, or mass convention held for the purpose of selecting delegates to the county, district, or state conventions, and only such legal and qualified voters shall be elected as delegates to county, district, and state conventions; provided, however, that in addition to the qualifications provided herein, the applicable Republican Party rules of a state may prescribe additional qualifications not inconsistent with law, which additional qualifications shall be adopted before October 1 in the year before the year in which the national convention is to be held and published in at least one (1) newspaper having a general circulation throughout the state, such publication to be at least ninety (90) days before such qualifications become effective."

A number of the Republican primaries allow Independents and even Democrats to vote, and the exit polls indicate that Trump has been winning large majorities or pluralities of those voters.

Curly has a point.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


While waiting at the doctor's office for the Physician's Assistant to come in and consult with me about my polymyalgia rheumatica [don't ask], I managed to hit on the perfect way to summarize in thirty minutes the work I have done on Marx over the past forty years.  The experience put me in mind of James Thurber's classic short story.

Now, if I could only figure out a way to work "pocketa pocketa pocketa" into my talk.


Something of a firestorm has broken out in the comments section of this normally staid blog.  The reason, I think, is that we are all so distressed by the choices we are being presented with in this election year.  Let me say just  a word to explain why I shall do whatever I can to secure Clinton's election over Trump.

I am genuinely frightened that Trump is a fascist whose election could destroy what remains of American democracy.  I am old enough to remember 20th century fascism, and there is nothing that Clinton would do that compares with it.  I do not need a lecture on all the reasons to be dismayed by her, I really do not.  But just recall what Germany and Italy looked like eighty years ago.

Any hope we have of creating and strengthening a genuinely progressive political movement in this country -- never mind socialism for the moment -- depends fundamentally on the availability of the possibilities offered by electoral politics.  If you are having fantasies of "revolution," forget them.  None of the objective conditions required for a revolutionary moment are present [and they were not present in the fabled Sixties either.]

Our best hope -- our only hope -- is to elect Clinton while also building on Bernie's successes to create a standing working-class movement, by an endless supply of small donations, so that we can elect countless local, state, and federal representatives in states all over the country.  That is possible.  It really is.  I have been astonished by Sanders' success.  I never would have predicted it. 

Get a grip, folks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Whence, Jordan asks, my new found confidence that Clinton will defeat Trump?  Three things encourage me in that hope:  First, the Clinton campaign is apparently seriously engaged in opposition research on Trump, preparing a full-spectrum attack;  Second, new polling shows her beating him by a very wide margin [not as wide as does Bernie, but we must be thankful for crumbs];  Third, Trump's carefully planned and designedly presidential address to AIPAC [The American Israel Political Action Committee, for my overseas readers] was tone deaf, suggesting that when the Great Oz consults his inner circle of advisers [himself], he gets lousy advice.

Trump remains a narcissistic, deeply insecure man frozen at an infantile stage of psychosexual development [I would love to have some insight into his relationship to his father in his first five years!]  -- witness his obsessive defense of the size and beauty of his hands.  He is smart, more skillful at playing the media than Clinton, lord knows, and without convictions of any sort, a useful trait in a businessman or a politician, but he is vulnerable and not entirely in control of his emotions.

All in all, I think he will probably do disastrously in a general campaign, and also, by the way, in a debate with Clinton.  Remember, she does not have to win over any of his faithful supporters.  She need only mobilize the demographic segments of the population that are already inclined to support her -- women, African-Americans, Latinos, young college educated Millennials, and the like.

Well, if you were here in my study, you would be able to hear me whistle to keep up my spirits as I tiptoe nervously through the graveyard of my dreams.


In 1968, I was so depressed by the choices offered me in the presidential election that I decided to take the advice of my more radical friends [in those days, I still had friends farther to the left than I am] and vote for Nixon, on the theory that things had to get even worse before they could get better.  When I entered the voting booth, however, my right arm rebelled, and would not pull the Republican lever, so I ended up voting for Humphrey.

After hearing the details of Clinton's AIPAC speech yesterday, I am again tempted by madness.  I shall not succumb, of course.  Hillary  Clinton has actually managed to be clearly not as bad as her almost certain Republican opponent.  But if she wins, as I am confident she will, we can look forward to what her campaign flacks are calling a "more muscular" foreign policy, which is to say endless military engagements everywhere.  Her choice of a Treasury Secretary and a Chair of her Council of Economic Advisers will leave two senior positions on Wall State vacant, thereby offering opportunities for upward mobility in the moneyed classes.

These are hard times.


I just returned from having a test called a "stress echocardiogram." [Nothing wrong with me, I am happy to report.]  They wire you up, do a cardiogram, then have you walk on a treadmill until [for someone my age] your heart rate rises to 117.  Then they do another cardiogram.  The technician had to crank the speed and elevation of the treadmill way up make my heart rate hit 117, because, she said, I am in such good shape.  I preened.

It is to such petty triumphs as this that men my age sink!  In my youth I could press straightlegged into a handstand.  

Vanitas vanitatum, saith Ecclesiastes, omnia vanitas.

Monday, March 21, 2016


As President Obama prepares for an historic visit to Cuba, I feel a purely personal need to say a few things about the relationship of the United States and Cuba.  This is as much a stroll down memory lane for me as it is political commentary.  I suppose I should apologize, but blogs are, by the nature, exercises in naval gazing, so perhaps I can be forgiven.  My view on US-Cuba relations is so completely contrary to the view of virtually everyone in public life in this country that it is actually difficult for me to write about it without simply sounding delusional.  So be it.  I am going to try.

I was a young Instructor at Harvard in 1959 when the Batista regime fell.  Let me insert here a passage from my Memoir describing some of my  involvement with the consequences of that event:

" On Sunday, April 16, 1961, just three months after Kennedy took office, a group of Cuban exiles armed, trained, and funded by the C. I. A., mounted a disastrous effort to invade Cuba via the Bay of Pigs and depose Fidel Castro.

The abortive Cuban invasion hit the [so-called] New Left Club of Cambridge very hard.  We had all thought of ourselves as liberals.  Well, Kennedy was a liberal, if anyone was, and he had invaded Cuba.  That meant that we weren't liberals.  What then were we?  We took to calling ourselves radicals, but that was just a place holder, a way of indicating that whatever liberals were, we weren't that.  The day after the invasion, Max Lerner published a column defending it.  Marty Peretz, with his finely honed instinct for the main chance, stood by Lerner, and effectively broke with us.  Eventually, of course, he married money and bought The New Republic, thus securing for himself a charter seat on the runaway train called Neo-Conservatism.  He always was an egregious twerp.  

We had had indications that something of this sort was planned under the Eisenhower administration.  In fact, we had met with McGeorge Bundy the previous Fall, after he returned from a fact-finding tour of Latin America.  On that occasion, he looked us straight in the eye and lied to us, assuring us that the reports in the Nation of C. I. A. training camps for anti-Castro Cubans were untrue.  But by the time the invasion took place, he was settled into the Executive Office Building, serving as National Security Advisor.  Years later, after Bundy had left the White House to assume the presidency of the Ford Foundation, he wrote to invite me to participate in some sort of panel discussion.  I replied that since the last time I had seen him he had lied to me, I did not feel that I could engage in an open intellectual exchange with him.  I never heard from him again.

Within days of the abortive invasion, we had mobilized ourselves and were organizing to protest the attempts by the United States to overthrow the Castro government.  On the evening of April 26, 1961, just ten days after the invasion, we held a protest rally at Harvard chaired by Stuart Hughes, Nadav Safran, and myself.  Despite being somewhat upstaged by undergraduates protesting Harvard's decision to stop printing its diplomas in Latin, we managed to pull a big crowd, and because of the Harvard/Kennedy connection, we got considerable press coverage.  At the meeting, we formed the Cuba Protest Committee, which then circulated a statement for signatures by faculty at Harvard and elsewhere.  We collected two dozen signatures from senior Harvard faculty, including Barry Moore and Rod Firth."
I believed then, and have continued to believe in the intervening half century, that the United States should have embraced Castro and done everything it could to make his revolution a success.  Instead, after failing to overthrow Castro, Kennedy took the world to the brink of nuclear war in a showdown with Khrushchev, the so-called "Cuban Missile Crisis," and then imposed an economic embargo has been maintained for half a century.

In a manner that Edward Said and many others have analyzed trenchantly in their account of the European imperial mentality, Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, have arrogated to themselves the authority to judge whether the Cuban government is behaving in a sufficiently "democratic" fashion to warrant our approval and some easing of our opposition to them.  It is an irony so bitter and so blatant as to beggar belief that Americans of every political stripe decry Cuba's jailing of political prisoners while America holds hundreds of political prisoners for years on end in Guantanamo jails on Cuban soil!!!

The impenetrable self-congratulatory arrogance of American society and the American state makes it impossible for me even to carry on a conversation on this subject with most of my  fellow citizens.

After the Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard, I received a telegram of congratulations from a large number of young Cuban artists and intellectuals.  I often wonder whether any of them are still there, and what has happened to them.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Anonymous asks what I find fascinating about the Beck letter.  Beck has for a long time been utterly unhinged, embracing bizarre conspiracy theories, doing little weird chalk talks about the coming apocalypse, and such.  He has always seemed to me totally off the rails.  Now he surfaces with this letter that reveals that he considers himself [in some not quite clear fashion] a childhood abuse survivor, which suggests some measure of self-awareness that I thought he totally lacked.  In addition, he offers a very acute analysis of Trump's infantile psychodynamics, again revealing more awareness than I would have credited him with.  All in all, fascinating.

Add this to the fact that Trump is now in an all-out war with Fox News, and the political implications are very interesting.  I have long believed that Trump is incapable of resisting the impulse to engage at the lowest level with anyone who attacks him, especially if the attacks are psychological rather than focused on policy.  It is at least possible that in the four months [!!] that remain before the Republican Convention he may suffer a myriad of self-inflicted wounds.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


The bizarre, reliably crazy and despicable Glenn Beck, has written a fascinating open letter to Donald Trump that is worth reading.  Here it is:

An open letter to Donald Trump.
I read your string of really sad and sick tweets against Megyn Kelly. First let me say this:
Leave Megyn Kelly ALONE.
She is brilliant, honest and brave.
I can only imagine the amount of security this mother of three now needs because Donald Trump has gone over the edge with some revenge drama just because she asked a fair question almost half a year ago!
Should a presidential candidate be so thin skinned that he must belittle, abuse and threaten women?
Will we really vote for you? A man who abuses anyone who doesn't kiss his ring?
I know I will not.
Donald, she is a journalist. This is what they do.
You don't like her questions? Fine.
Grow up.
Many of us have problems with the press. I have been asked questions much worse than what you were asked. For years.
The people know bias, and I am afraid in your case, eventually, the people recognize sickness.
Get ahold of yourself and stop preying on the worst in man. A real leader lifts people up, he doesn't tear them down.
I know what I will get from you and your supporters because I dare speak out against you.
I know that your followers will write vile and hateful lies about me for this post. They will claim, I am a sellout or I have a vendetta against you. Read the posts below and see if they don't belittle and deflect.
So be it.
I will gladly take a stand against bullies and men who abuse women. I will happily stand in line to protect anyone from abuse.
I have done it before. And the abuser and enabler said that the entire family was wrong and that we had a vendetta. It is what always happens in cases of domestic abuse.
It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I stood up in my own family. And someone needs to do it now.
You see, Don, I know who you are because I have seen your type before.
Verbal abuse is just as bad as physical abuse. But men like those who abused the women in my family were smarter, like you, than the man who used to beat my mother.
Words, most think, don't leave marks.
But maybe you don't care, because you deliver your beatings in broad daylight and in full view, daring us to stop you.
We don't because our country is sick.
We, as a nation, have battered spouse syndrome. We no longer know who we really are, many have given up and a few are about to light the bed on fire.
We have been told that we are no good, hateful, bigots, worthless and powerless by more subtle abusers before you.
Those in Washington and in the media have been verbally and sometimes physically abusing the American people for years. Mostly to cover the trail of who they have been sleeping with while lying to us.
We are weak, but those of us who see it must begin to stand and offer help and healing for the abused and abusers.
"America, you are better than this", is what she needs to hear. But as always, the abused always breaks it off with an abuser only to find a bigger abuser. It is their comfort zone.
You, Mr Trump, know this. It is why you chose this time and this party.
You also know that some of us are on to you. It is why you poison the enablers against us and isolate the victims.
I am not a doctor. But I am a survivor and I would bet a specialist in domestic violence would agree that the pattern is here.
Your rage is terrifying to some.
You should know:
---you don't frighten me and my guess is you don't frighten Megyn.
We know what a little man you are. Women are more than a "tight piece of @ss!" As you have called them.
Megyn is a mom, wife, and someone's daughter. And if I may, the Bible that you so cherish also explains that she is a daughter of God.
Are we as a people not going to stand up for women being abused? I am not sure, but I want you to know, Mr Trump, that I will stand against abuse and my guess is millions of survivors will as well.
Mr. Trump, what would you do if someone obsessively stalked your daughter on Twitter for months after a minor disagreement as you have had with Megyn?
Wouldn't you question the man's mental health and advise your daughter to get a gun and a restraining order if that very powerful man stalked, reached out to her boss to get her fired, tried to turn her work friends in to enemies and then turned his friends into stalkers as well?
What would you tell one of your beautiful daughters about that man?
Would laugh it off? Tell her she was wrong for doing her job?
Would you tell her he was qualified for the position of the highest honor and trust?
Your followers will say "she deserved it" or words of that meaning.
But, if Ivanka were Megyn, would you tell them to stop their defense of the stalker and harassment of Ivanka.
Of course you would as many say you are a good father.
I know that any man with as much success and power as you have, to spend any of his limited and valuable time, tweeting all night and day after day for months, like a 14 year old boy, means, to me,
that someone must have hurt you badly in your past.
I have been there Donald. I know.
No one will say it, and you certainly won't admit it, but my guess is, you were deeply hurt or abused when you were young.
It explains your entire act.
It is as if you stopped maturing in the 8th grade. You are a 14 year old boy trapped in a 70 year old body.
I don't know what your pain is. But it is okay Donald. No one can hurt you anymore and you need to see that in your effort of trying not to be hurt you have become the abuser.
What frightens me, is what America is teaching you. By excusing your behavior, we are only making you more bold and once you "marry the nation" I fear what you will become.
We have become enablers.
If this is the behavior when we are "dating", what will you do once you have the ring?
I know you love Putin.
You have said you want to open up the First Amendment to curb the speech of the press you don't like.
You bully, harass, and teach your followers to do the same.
But at least, unlike your idol in the east, Putin, you haven't shot any reporters in the elevator.
I will protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to me, there is now a new meaning of domestic abuse.

Friday, March 18, 2016


I have now updated my spreadsheet.  At this point, despite the loss of Ohio and the underperformance in Texas, but because of caucus state delegates, which were not part of my original estimate, Trump is 59 delegates ahead of my estimate, thus putting him, I believe, on a path to more than 1237 on the first ballot.

I genuinely believe that  Trump is a proto-fascist , extremely dangerous, but fortunately very vulnerable to the right sorts of attacks.  No one will listen to the likes of me, of course, but I think I could be very useful to the Clinton campaign if they would ask.  It goes without saying that my dismay at Clinton is as nothing compared to my fear of Trump.

Here is the updated spreadsheet.

State Delegates Likely Trump Actual Trump Trump Vote % Cumulative Difference
New Hampshire 20 7 11 35         plus 4
South Carolina 50 36 50 32.5         plus 18
Alabama 47 32 36 43         plus 22
Arkansas 37 14 16 33         plus 24
Georgia 76 40 40 39         plus 24
Massachusetts 39 14 22 49         plus 32
Okalahoma 40 20 13 28         plus 25
Tennessee 55 28 33 34         plus 30
Texas 152 86 48 27         minus 8
Vermont 16 6 8 35         minus 6
Virginia 46 17 17 33         minus 6
Louisiana 44 16 18         minus4 
Idaho 29 10 12 28         minus2 
Mississippi 37 14 24 47         plus 9
Michigan 56 21 25 37         plus 13
Puerto Rico 20 7 0         plus 6
Ohio 63 63 0         minus 57
Florida 99 99 99         minus 57
Illinois 66 25 51         minus 31
Missouri 49 34 25         minus 40
North Carolina 72 25 29         minus 36
Arizona 58 58
Wisconsin 42 30
New York 92 52
Connecticut 25 14
Delaware 16 16
Maryland 38 29
Pennsylvania 68 14
Rhode Island 16 6
Indiana 54 45
West Virginia 31 18
Oregon 25 9
California 169 145
Montana 24 24
New Jersey 48 48
New Mexico 21 8
South Dakota 26 26
Nebraska 33 33
Washington 41 14
1940 1203
Caucus States
Iowa 30 7
Nevada 30 14
Alaska 25 11
Colorado 34
Minnesota 35 8
North Dakota 25
Wyoming 26
Kansas 40 9
Kentucky 43 17
Maine 23 9
Hawaii 16 11
District of Columbia 19
Northern Mariana Islands 6 9
Virgin Islands 6
Utah 40
Territorial Convention
Guam 6
American Samoa 6

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Faithful readers of this blog may be unaware that I have a second blog called Formal Methods in Political Philosophy, consisting of thirty lengthy segments written and posted between May 5th and July 28th six years ago in 2010.  If you have ever wondered just what a zero-sum game is, or why all the fuss about The Prisoner's Dilemma, or what the Paradox of Majority Rule is, or what the St. Petersburg Gamble is;  if you would like a precise, technical into-the-weeds formal analysis of John Rawls' famous Theory of Justice; if you would like actually to find out what Game Theory is all about -- or if you just like technical stuff, as I do, you might like to take a look.  Once again, here is the link.

If you have questions or comments, best to post them here, because I almost never look at that blog any more.

By the way, although it usually gets between ten and twenty hits a day, every so often if gets as many as a hundred, and when that happens, the visitors are like as not coming mainly from Russia.  Go figure!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


The data on delegate allocations comes in piecemeal and very slowly, so I cannot post my spreadsheet, but a quick check indicates that even with the loss of Ohio, Trump is way ahead of my estimates, and should be able to win 1237 delegates before the Convention.

The latest SCOTUS wrinkle, by the way, is this:  Some Republicans are now suggesting that they will hold Garland's nomination hostage until after the election.  If Clinton wins and the Dems take back the Senate, they will hurry up and confirm him between the time when the new Senate convenes and the inauguration of Clinton, which would automatically abrogate the nomination and allow her to nominate someone less acceptable to them.

Very classy.


Here we go, deep into the weeds.  Those for whom this sort of obsessive political speculation is anathema can amuse themselves with responsive readings from the Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding from the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason.

First of all, I cannot yet post the updated spreadsheet of the Republican delegate count because the complete allocation of delegates in states like Illinois is not yet  in.  However, by losing Ohio, a winner-take-all state, Trump has fallen back in my calculation of his probable delegate total. However, thanks to caucus wins and super delegate first-ballot commitments, he is still enough ahead of my calculations to win the 1237 delegates he needs before the Convention.  The TV commentators all seem to think we will be going to a contested Convention, but I remain convinced that Trump will make it past the 1237 mark by late June, when the last primaries are held.  this will mean a Clinton/Trump general election contest.  I find the prospect of a Clinton campaign or Clinton presidency bleak indeed, but there it is.

If indeed Trump falls short of 1237 delegates, things get very, very weird.  Consider, for example, the fact that although the several candidates have won defined numbers of delegates in various primaries, the actual human beings who will go to Cleveland as Trump delegates or Cruz delegates or whatever have not yet been selected.  They will be chosen later this Spring at regional and state conventions.  These actual human beings will be bound on the first ballot to the candidate whose designated delegates they are, but they  will not be bound to vote any particular way on rules changes at the Convention, nor will they be bound after the first ballot.

Furthermore, there is very little in the way of Federal law governing what inducements they can or cannot be offered to vote one way rather than another, after the first ballot is history.  Just think for a moment about that.  We could see log-rolling of a sort that would make Paul Bunyan blush.

I intend to lay in a goodly supply of wine and pizza for the third week in July.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


My brief post about the fallacy of composition provoked a flurry of comments, all of which were interesting, but none of which focused on the substance of the post.  My full argument is a tad more complicated than I let on.  Let me explain.  

At any given time, the totality of the jobs in the American economy can be thought of, for analytical purposes, as positions in one huge hyper-firm with well over a hundred million employees.  The directors of the firm define job categories according to the needs of the productive activities they direct -- so many cleaning personnel, so many truck drivers, so many registered nurses, so many machine operatives, so many middle managers, and so forth.  Many of these positions have educational credentials associated with them as prerequisites for employment.  Obviously, any individual can make him or herself more eligible for the higher paying positions [which are pretty well correlated with the level of credential required] by acquiring additional credentials [I leave entirely to one side whether the credentials are actually associated with different levels of functional skill, or indeed whether it makes any sense operationally to require the credentials for the job -- those are other discussions.]  Equally obviously, a significant upgrading of the educational credentials of a large segment of the workforce will not result in a shift in the distribution of available jobs associated with those levels of credentialing


there are alternative production techniques promising higher rates of profit that the firm's directors are unable to adopt, much as they would like to, because of a shortage of job-seekers with the required educational credentials [or skills].   In this case, a larger supply of better credentialed job seekers will enable the firm's directors to shift to the more profitable techniques of production, and as a result the degree of inequality in the wage levels of the firm's employees will diminish [because the job seekers will only acquire the additional credentials if they have a reasonable expectation that doing so will raise they wages.]

The following two facts are significant:  First, the level of educational credentials in the American workforce has been rising steadily for at least a century;  and Second, the degree of inequality in the distribution of income over that time has increased, not decreased.

I think we can safely conclude that MORE EDUCATION is not the solution to income inequality.

If not improved educational credentialing, then what will in fact diminish the degree of income inequality?

The answers are obvious, but for some reason are impenetrable to those who profess to speak with knowledge and insight about the American economy.  The answers are:  Redistributive taxation, much higher minimum wages, and unionization of the labor force, resulting in lower rates of profit for the owners of capital.

Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?

I leave it to my faithful readers to formalize all of that appropriately.

Monday, March 14, 2016


Tomorrow is March 15th, The Ides of March, and therefore the two thousand sixtieth anniversary of the murder of Julius Caesar [leaving to one side the irritating complexities of the Julian calendar], who bestrode the narrow world like a Colossus [as Shakespeare tells us.]  I suppose the appropriate celebration is to have a Caesar salad.

Anyone for a stroll down by the Forum?


Thomas Frank, whose new book I mentioned several days ago, recently published an important article in The Guardian, which I urge you to read.  My son, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Law Tobias Barrington Wolff, sent me a link to the article together with a long, thoughtful reflection on it.  He has graciously given me permission to reproduce it on this blog.  Here is what Tobias has to say:

Let me lay out the fundamentals of my reaction in stages.

First, Franck is clear about the distinction between figuring out what Trump "really" believes and investigating what his appeal is among voters.  That is clearly appropriate and too few commentators do that, so that's helpful

Second, Franck focuses on fear and economic hardship as key motivators for a lot of voters, White voters in particular, and he emphasizes the economic components of Trump's message that appear to be resonating with working-class and middle-class voters.  Also helpful.

But there are some missteps in Franck's essay that are serious and, I would argue, dangerous.  Those missteps have to do with two issues (1) race, and (2) what it means to deal with a charismatic sociopath.

First, on race.
Franck sets up a dichotomy -- are people "really" responding to Trump's racism, or are they instead "really" responding to the part of his message that purports to advance economic populism?  I think this is a dangerous mistake.
This is not a dichotomy.  It is a symbiotic pair of dynamics, mutually reinforcing.  In fact, it's what legal scholar Janet Halley has called a chiasmus, a literary device in which the author has two messages that operate in counterpoint with each other, with one message taking the dominant position when it is the most useful and the other taking the ascendant when the weaknesses of the first message become apparent, but then fading into the background again when the power of the first message is needed.  That way, the weaknesses of both messages are hidden and the two form a more powerful harmony than would exist with either in isolation.

Trump is wrapping a purported message of economic populism in racist language, inviting his audience into expressions of "legitimate" grievance about wage inequality and unemployment through the gateway of White Supremacy.  This is a reiteration of centuries of racial / economic exploitation where poor White people are urged to sign onto a populist message that allows them to feel superior to people of color and therefore less bad about their inferior economic status.
The reason that message works is because a lot of people are, in fact, White Supremacists in their hearts.  They have been taught that expressing such views is socially unacceptable, and they genuinely do not want to think of themselves as "racists".  But they do think that all those lazy Blacks / illegal Mexicans / terrorist Muslims are inferior, and being invited to believe that those "others" are also the reasons for their economic woes is very attractive, reinforcing their White Supremacist beliefs while allowing them to avoid the label "racist".
When Franck quotes one commentator saying, "These people are not racist, not any more than anyone else is" (or whatever), he contributes to this problem.  They are racist.  And so are a lot of people -- perhaps not "everyone else", but the racism is structural and endemic and something that we constantly need to fight to make visible and to dislodge.  This counterpoint with an economic populist message -- once again, an old tactic -- does the opposite, embedding the White Supremacy and making it invisible and plausibly deniable.

Second, on dealing with a sociopath.
Normal human beings have a conscience.  We have a sense of moral regard for our fellow human beings.  That means that we usually lead our lives restraining our behavior in various ways.  We concern ourselves with questions of ethics, we ask ourselves whether our actions are harming others or incurring their disfavor because we care about not harming others and not incurring disfavor.  We seek connection in a way that acknowledges the humanity of others, and that means restraining our impulses in a multitude of ways.

That is a central part of what it means to be a normal, well-functioning adult.  But it is also limiting and frustrating at time.  Almost all of us, I dare say, entertain fantasies on a regular basis that we could cast off those restraints.  For most of us, the fantasy is not that we can hurt and exploit other people, but simply that we can lead our lives without ever feeling like we have to restrain our urges and impulses.  The idea of living that way feels liberating.

When we see another person who seems to be free from the restraints that govern normal adults -- who can seemingly do or say anything without self-editing and "get away with it" -- it looks exciting and powerful.  Suddenly, our small, day-to-day, largely unacknowledged fantasies of living without the necessary restraints of adult life seem attainable, possible, real, embodied in an actual human being.
That is the power of the highly charismatic sociopath.
A sociopath is a human being who does not have a conscience -- does not have that ingrained regard for the moral status of other human beings and the attendant ingrained need to restraint behavior in various ways.  Some sociopaths are sadists.  They usually wind up in jail for murder.  But there are many other types. For most sociopaths, the two primary drivers in life are to satisfy whatever their emotional needs are and to manipulate other people in order to feel powerful.  Sociopaths view normal human beings as chumps, always worrying about this nonsense called "ethics" and always restraining themselves when they could be exploiting the other chumps around them.

A smart, highly charismatic sociopath is perhaps the most dangerous personality type there is, because the power of the personality comes across as charm and femininity / masculinity, rather than (for example) dangerous sadism.  A smart, highly charismatic sociopath can make you feel like the sun is shining just on you.  They have this ability to focus attention on a person that is utterly disarming.  It is the powerful gaze of the avaricious predator that makes its prey feel special and entranced.
A lot of what I am seeing in the public's response to Trump -- in addition to the counterpoint between White Supremacy and economic populism -- is a response to a smart, highly charismatic sociopath. People resonate to Trump's outrageous behavior not primarily because they have a deep commitment to the misogyny or the racism that he exhibits (though that may well be true in many cases), but because they see him acting in a completely unrestrained fashion and getting away with it -- indeed, having people give him huge affirmation for doing so -- and seeing that spectacle touches on some of their deepest and most unacknowledged fantasies.  People who resonate with Trump have daydreamed about being able to be as unrestrained and uninhibited as they see Trump being, but they never thought it was possible to do that and also be a successful adult.  In Trump, they see that fantasy realized, and they want to make themselves a part of it.

For some of them, the misogyny and the racism is just a secondary detail, perhaps even one that they find distasteful but that they are willing to accept as part of the deal in order to satisfy the long-held desire to feel unrestrained by adult limitations.  For others, the misogyny and racism are mutually reinforcing, because they have also wanted to indulge those particular ideas but have felt unable to do so openly because of social disapprobation.  In both cases, they want to feel the way that they imagine that Trump feels when he behaves this way -- like grown-up infants who can give full expression to the impulses of their minds and their bodies while also enjoying the trappings of a successful adult life.

That is what I see going on.  And it scares the daylights out of me.
The one saving grace, and it is a partial grace, is Trump's own limitations.  He is a desperately emotionally and sexually broken man.  He is a slave to his own needs, and I think he is actually quite subject to manipulation through those needs.  And he does not appear to have any actual ideological beliefs, other than the satisfaction of his emotional and sexual impulses.  If he had a core ideology to go with his charismatic sociopathy and his bottomless personal needs, then he would be Hitler.  I mean, no joke, that's what Hitler was, and Trump is 2/3 of that.

I think there is some reason to hope that the lack of a genuine driving ideology will blunt the impact of this current phenomenon somewhat.  But it will not simply disappear all by itself.  There is a lot that is real there -- real White Supremacy and misogyny, and a real complex of emotional responses from his audience that Trump knows how to inflame and manipulate.

I think that the Franck essay captures some small parts of that overall dynamic, and it's a useful contribution in that respect, but I think it also fails utterly to understand the interlocking pieces, and in the process it helps to empower some of those other dynamics by making them less visible.