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Friday, March 25, 2016


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.



s. wallerstein said...

What specifically led you to begin to fight against American imperialism in 1958?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

It was the danger of nuclear war, deliberate or accidental, and later America's abortive invasion of Cuba in 1961.

Tom Cathcart said...

History has come full circle. One of the scariest of my concerns about Trump is that we have no idea whether or not he would use nuclear weapons.

Chris said...

The e-mail was asking people as to why they are voting for Hillary in the primary, it was NOT arguing to NOT vote for her in the general...

That's a separate argument.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

The email was not yours, Chris, it was from someone else. Sorry for the confusion.

Chris said...

No worries.

s. wallerstein said...

Professor Wolff,

I hope I'm not prying, but I am curious about what your position on U.S. foreign policy was prior to 1958. Did you believe that America had "God on its side" or that it represented Freedom in the world?

The first time I recall questioning U.S. foreign policy was the Bay of Tonkin resolution, but it was a long long process for me to realize that the U.S. did not always have good intentions. In fact, it was easier for me to realize that capitalism is basically unjust than for me to see through all the brainwashing about
the U.S. representing Freedom.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, prior to 1958, I was twenty-three or younger, and focused on getting my doctorate [1957]. I was a loyal FDR Democrat and anti-Stalin. Beyond that, I did not think much about foreign policy. It was the threat of nuclear war that started me thinking seriously, and the Bay of Pigs that convinced me that I was not a Liberal, since JFK was a liberal and he had invaded Cuba. But it took a much longer time for me to form a coherent alternative view to that which dominated public discourse in America.

s. wallerstein said...


That's something that the left should keep in mind: that it's easier for most Americans to grasp that the capitalist system is basically unjust than to see that the United States is not "special", that its foreign policy operates with the same generally far from lofty motives as does that of everybody else. Once you can see that, it's fairly easy to have a plausible account of what's happening in Syria or in the Ukraine or with Venezuela, etc.

David Auerbach said...

I was born in 1948, and my moves leftward parallel, with a slight but decelerating delay, Wolff's. I hypothesize that moves leftward wrt domestic affairs tended to anticipate those concerning international affairs. It isn't to tell plausible stories as to why that might be. (And, of course, to find exceptions.)

David Auerbach said...

Insert "hard" after 'isn't".

Chris said...

I know this is a broad question, but you often to like them in terms of writing future blog posts. Could you expand upon this:

" It was the threat of nuclear war that started me thinking seriously, and the Bay of Pigs that convinced me that I was not a Liberal, since JFK was a liberal and he had invaded Cuba. But it took a much longer time for me to form a coherent alternative view to that which dominated public discourse in America."

I ask because, when I tell people "I am not a liberal" 99.9% of the time the look is one of utter confusion. How do you conceive of liberalism, and where do you see yourself straying from it philosophically? Are you anti-liberal? Or just 'not liberal'?

Chris said...

Also, it's always bothersome to hear people described as "the more liberal X" (e.g., Sanders is the more liberal candidate; his supporters are more liberal), there comes a point where the term is devoid of meaning, or needs a cut off points.

Charles Pigden said...

It is interesting to analyse Clinton’s likely foreign policy using some elementary imperative logic Apparently she objected to Obama’s chief foreign policy maxim, the command, addressed to himself and presumably to the US foreign policy establishment, ‘Don’t do anything stupid!’ We can formalize this as:

! not (do something such that it is stupid).

But what is it to oppose this maxim? This depends on where we put the implied negation operator. It could be applied OUTSIDE the imperative, giving us :

Not (! not (do something such that it is stupid)).

Now if you are negating the command not to do anything stupid this is not the same as *subscribing* to the command to *do* something stupid. But It seems to me that it is equivalent to a permissive that *allows* you to do something stupid.

The alternative is that Clinton’s negation operator is supposed to be deployed *within* the scope of the imperative operator.

This gives us:

! not not (do something such that it is stupid).

And this is equivalent to

! not not (do something such that it is stupid).

! do something such that it is stupid.

Thus the best we can hop for from Clinton that she will *allow* herself to do something stupid whereas the worst is that she will *command* herself to do something stupid. And when American Presidents do stupid stuff in foreign affairs, people tend to die.

Of course none of this is to take away from Professor Wolff’s point that in a Clinton /Trump contest or a Clinton/Cruz contest, Clinton would be the person to vote for. Clinton is in my view quite likely to do something stupid, but the others are positively on the lookout for stupid stuff to do.