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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, August 31, 2016


So far, 153 views of the first Kant lecture.  This is what we call going viral in Luxemburg.  :)


OK, folks.  Here is the link to the first Kant lecture.  I would be very interested in any commnents or suggestions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


I screwed up.  Sorry.  Here is the link to the TPP story I referenced in the previous post.


While I am waiting for the video of my first Kant lecture to be posted on YouTube so that I can give the world a link, I thought I would draw together several stories I have been reading about and give them a Marxist gloss.  [Think of this as a stroll down memory lane.]  The three stories are the kerfuffle about the Clinton Foundation, the welcome decision by the French high court to overturn the ban on so-called burkinis on French beaches [cover-up swimming outfits favored by Muslim women], and a very interesting account of an aspect of the TPP with which I was completely unfamiliar.  All three affairs strike me as examples, in very different ways, of what we might call the perfection of capitalism.

One of Marx’s many useful insights was his description of the revolutionary impact of capitalism on eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe and by extension the rest of the world.  Capitalism, Marx observed perceptively, corrosively eats away at all existing long established institutions and arrangements, destroying everything that stands in the way of its relentless expansion.  It is for this reason that he describes capitalism as the most revolutionary force ever loosed upon the world.  Capitalism broke down the age old division between the city and the countryside; it hollowed out and eventually brought down both aristocracy and monarchy; it destroyed traditional craft skills, replacing them with semi-skilled machine labor; it ate into the structure of the family; and it reduced religion to a weekend amusement, turning cathedrals into tourist attractions and priests into serial child abusers.  Capitalism flirted with racial disparities, using them when it could to drive down wages, but its inner logic pushed it eliminate racial distinctions, because they reduce the size of the available work force, thus keeping wages aloft.  Capitalism broke down patriarchy, and tried its best to bring childhood to an end, all in the service of expanding the labor force.  Capitalism’s most formidable enemy has been the autonomy of the nation state, but even that is now beginning to crumble.

The Clinton Foundation is not different from other charitable foundations in its essential functions, but it has been strikingly successful at undermining the walls between capital and state.  An enormous accumulation of money acquired from foreign government officials and deployed on the world stage by a former United States President and a sitting United States Secretary of State on her way to the Presidency is almost a cartoon diagram of the social relations of production, as Marx called them, integrated with the political and ideological superstructure.  Am I shocked by the revelation that foreign government officials made multi-million dollar donations to the foundation and then sought access to the American government in   return?  Only about as much as Claude Raines was shocked in Casablanca to learn that there was gambling at Rick’s saloon.

The TPP story is rather more complex, involving as it does an obscure provision of the treaty.  This link to a Truthdig story tell you everything I know about the matter.  It details the way in which the treaty allows private companies to sue and extort money from sovereign nations, thus furthering the subordination of the state to capital.

As for the burkini matter, it is a micro-example of capitalism’s success in destroying religion.  The conflict between church and state has a long history in the west, going at least as far back as the fourth century conversion of Constantine and Charlemagne’s decision to crown himself head of his newly formed empire on Christmas Day in the year 800 A. D.  I confess that I have always been offended by France’s efforts to enforce secularism.  The case of the burkini ban and that of the hajib as well strikes me as especially egregious.  In effect, the French state says that if a young woman chooses to sunbathe topless in a thong, with nipple rings, obscene tattoos, purple spiked hair, and pierced ears, nose, and tongue, that is her inviolable right, but if another young woman chooses to dress modestly in a bathing costume that would have been considered de rigeur a century ago, the full force of the state must be brought to bear to stop her from so scandalous a display.  Puleeeze!

And there you have it, my meditation for the day.  Now to check on that link.

Monday, August 29, 2016


Gene Wilder has passed way.  He gave me some of my favorite cinematic moments, in Young Frankenstein, in The Producers, in Blazing Saddles, and in many other films.  He was  a year older than I am now.  He was a gem.  

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Tomorrow at one p.m. I shall give the first Kant lecture.  In a day or two thereafter, it will be posted on YouTube. There is no assigned reading for tomorrow's class, for those valiant souls planning to follow along.  We shall see whether anyone shows up.  I plan to do my best to register those who do show up to vote.  Waste not, want not.


The comments on my post about Rawls and reading a philosophical text indicates that I failed to make myself clear, so let me try one more time.  S. Wallerstein asks “Couldn't you say that Plato's Republic is one educated Greek's sense of justice?  Does that make it any less worth reading? If that is the case, why does the fact that Rawls’ Theory of Justice is one educated person's sense of justice make it any less worth reading?” 

Of course you can say, if you believe it, that Plato’s Republic is one educated Greek’s sense of justice.  And if that makes the Republic an interesting work for you, then by all means read it that way.  The same for A Theory of Justice [although no one is going to suggest that they are equally great works.]  My point was that powerful works of philosophy can sustain competing and even diametrically opposed readings because their authors are struggling with the articulation of insights that may not be entirely compatible with one another and which they may have difficulty bringing to the surface of their writing.  Inasmuch as “powerful” in this context is not descriptive but rather evaluative, serious readers will differ not only about how to interpret certain texts but even about which texts deserve the encomium “powerful.”

Why am I not interested in reading A Theory of Justice as “one (educated) person’s” sense of justice?  Because I do not find John Rawls to be in this regard an interesting person.  Jack was very smart and very widely educated, but his writing exhibits no influence of Freud, of Marx, of Mannheim, of Durkheim, no easy familiarity with the concepts of ideology, repression, projection, displacement, little or no evidence of having been powerfully influenced by great novelists or poets.  His perspective is transparently that of an upper middle class member of the privileged professoriate.  Indeed, as I show in my book [but cannot go into here as it involves some technical mathematics], his argument for maximin as the principle of choice in the Original Position makes sense only if one assumes that the person deliberating is just such an upper middle class professional pretty well satisfied with his place in the income pyramid.

BUT THAT IS JUST ME.  That is not intended as an argument that no one else should find Rawls’s book interesting as a meditation on one (educated) person’s reflection on his sense of justice.  It would be absurd to say to someone, “You ought not to find that interesting, even though you say you do.”

By the way, is there anyone out there sophisticated enough as a reader to understand the deep significance of the brackets around the word “educated?”  I say no more.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


LFC offered a long and very interesting comment in response to my post about the old Rawls letter.  Since I have written a book about this subject, my natural response would be simply to suggest that anyone wishing to pursue the subject simply read the book.  But the comment raises an issue that lies at the heart of my interpretation of the Critique of Pure Reason, about which I shall start lecturing on Monday.  So mas a kind of preparation for those lectures, I have decided to write a rather lengthy response to LFC.  Let me ask that you first read the comment, which I reproduce here.  Then I will begin my extended response.

LFC said...
“It seems to me that one way to think of the argument in A Theory of Justice might be as follows:

1) Most people want to act justly: they have a 'sense of justice' and at least some
desire to act in accordance w/ it.

2) But most people are too busy in their daily lives to have thought in a systematic way about what their largely intuitive sense of justice actually leads to or means for the way in which society should be set up.

3) The hypothetical contract situation of the original position, although presented in parts of the book as an exercise in bargaining theory, is actually a mechanism or a means for getting the reader to think more carefully about what his/her intuitions about justice (and desert) require or lead to.

4) So the argument assumes the reader starts w/ certain intuitions and that those intuitions can be clarified and systematized w/ the help of the thought experiment that is the original position. There is a passage toward the beginning (p.50, '71 edition) where Rawls says that "everyone has in himself the whole form of a moral conception." The suggestion perhaps is that, to put it metaphorically, there is a moral philosophy in embryo in everyone waiting to emerge w the help of the author-as-guide. Here's a bit more of the passage:

"...if we can describe one person's sense of grammar we shall surely know many things about the general structure of language. Similarly, if we should be able to characterize one (educated) person's sense of justice, we would have a good beginning toward a theory of justice. We may suppose that everyone has in himself the whole form of a moral conception. So for the purposes of this book, the views of the reader and the author are the only ones that count. The opinions of others are used only to clear our own heads."

One might wonder why, if R. were concerned to establish this direct, sort of intimate exchange with the reader, he proceeded to write 600 often dense pages. But perhaps this is one reason why he felt the need, much later, to publish the much shorter Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (which I haven't read).”

OK, got that?  Now, here we go.

In the middle of the twentieth century, Anglo-American moral philosophy was locked in a seemingly endless and fruitless debate between Utilitarianism and Intuitionism.  Each side was adept at mounting telling criticisms of the other, but was unsuccessful in responding to its opponent’s critique.  The principal defensive theoretical innovation of the Utilitarians was the distinction between Act and Rule Utilitarianism.  The principal defensive theoretical innovation of the Intuitionists was the concept of prima facie duties.

Into this stalemate stepped John Rawls with an idea for resolving the standoff.  Rawls’ idea, which was really quite brilliant, was to reach back in the history of modern philosophy to a tradition that antedated both modern Utilitarianism and Intuitionism, namely Social Contract Theory, and marry it to a hyper-modern branch of Economics then making a stir, Game Theory.  Social Contract Theory was the foundation of all the varieties of modern Democratic Theory, and dated from the seventeenth century writings of Thomas Hobbes and others.  Game Theory was the brainchild of the great Hungarian-American mathematician John Von Neumann [who was also one of the creators of the modern computer.]

Rawls’ idea was to prove a theorem in Bargaining Theory to the effect that a group of rationally self-interested individuals like those posited by Social Contract Theory would, in a bargaining session, coordinate unanimously on a pair of principles for the regulation of their social life that captured what was best in both Utilitarianism and Intuitionism.  Rawls announced his idea in a journal article, “Justice as Fairness,” published in 1958 when he was only thirty-seven.  In that article, Rawls sketched his theorem [explicitly labeled as such], and enunciated a first version of what would in subsequent iterations become his famous Two Principles of Justice.  Rawls acknowledged that the proof needed some more detail and development before it was nailed down, but any reader would have concluded that it was only a matter of time before the full theorem would be on view.  [I have always believed, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that Rawls dreamed of producing a monograph as powerful as Kenneth Arrow’s brilliant Social Choice and Individual Values, a 1951 version of Arrow’s doctoral dissertation.]

The theorem as stated in the 1958 article was invalid, a fact that I demonstrated eight years later in a Journal of Philosophy article titled “A Refutation of Rawls’ Theorem on Justice.”  The next year [but not, I have reason to believe, in response to my refutation], Rawls published an essay called “Distributive Justice” in which he made major changes both to the bargaining game and to the Two Principles.  It was in this article that there appeared for the first time the Veil of Ignorance, Life Plans, the Index of Primary Goods, and the stipulation that social and economic inequalities were to work to the benefit not of all persons but only to the benefit of the Least Advantaged Representative Man [there are no women in Rawls’ theory, but then there are no women in In Defense of Anarchism either – we all had some consciousness raising to do in those days.]  The theorem implied in Rawls’ mature theory isn’t valid either, as I demonstrated at some length in Understanding Rawls.

As LFC demonstrates in his lengthy quotation from A Theory of Justice, Rawls markedly backs away from claims about theorems and proofs.  So why do I go on about them?  Why do I stubbornly, and seemingly ungenerously, refuse to take Rawls at his word regarding what he is doing in his philosophy?  That is indeed the question.  It brings me to the connection between Rawls and my upcoming lectures on Kant, which is the real point of this post.

The simple but actually very profound answer is that if we take Rawls at his original word and read his corpus of writings as an extended but ultimately unsuccessful effort to prove a very powerful theorem, then what he has to say is interesting, whereas if we take him at his mature word and read his interminable book as a characterization of  “one (educated) person's sense of justice,” then what he has to say is boring and not really worth bothering about.

Now that is a thoroughly subjective judgment, but it is, I think, the judgment each of us must make in deciding which pieces of philosophy to spend time reading, puzzling over, and thinking about.  Let me state flat out the conclusion I have come to after a lifetime spent with the writings of such immortal geniuses as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Kant.  Great philosophers think deeply and powerfully about important questions, seizing on an insight and refusing to let it  go, like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of Lord, unless it bless them.  These thinkers are not overly concerned with surface consistency or neatness, concerning themselves instead with the ideas they can see lying beneath the surface, concealed from our eyes but not from theirs.  When we make the decision to commit our time and intelligence with their texts, we make a gamble that the struggle will be worthwhile.  And because the surface of the text is so often puzzling or ambiguous, we must make a decision which leads to follow, which ideas to take as central and which to set aside as distractions.  This choice is always subjective, interested, personal, and ultimately idiosyncratic.  That is why, even after two and a half millennia, modern scholars still find new threads to lead them into the depths of a Platonic or Aristotelian text.

This is a description of what I did, sixty years ago, when I grappled with the Transcendental Deduction of the Critique in my doctoral dissertation, and then, several years later, in my book Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity.  It is what I shall do in the lectures that begin on Monday.  And it is, in a lesser way, to be sure, what I do when I consider Rawls’ A Theory of Justice.  It is for this reason that I persist in construing Rawls as searching unsuccessfully for a theorem rather than articulating “one (educated) person's sense of justice.”

Thus my response to LFC.

Friday, August 26, 2016


My son points out to me that my book on Rawls was called Understanding Rawls, not Reading Rawls, which was actually the title of a collection of essays [to which I did not contribute.]  It is really bad when you cannot even remember the titles of your own books!


In my Autobiography and elsewhere I have written a good deal about my personal relationship with Jack Rawls.  As some of you may recall, he and I were colleagues for a year [1959-60, I believe] when I was an Instructor in the Harvard Philosophy Department and he was a Visiting Professor [he returned in 1961-62, as I recall, as a regular member of that department where he then taught until his retirement.]  Jack published his hauptwerk, A Theory of Justice, in 1971 and six years later I published the first book-length critique, Reading Rawls.  Since Rawls is widely viewed as one of the most important 20th century philosophers to write in English, and is perhaps world-wide the most important political philosopher of the past 150 years, there is some value in adding to the public record any information about his views of the philosophical response to his work.

This morning I was cleaning up my office and throwing out various things that have accumulated when I came across a letter Jack wrote to me in 1977.  I am going to reproduce it here verbatim, for such interest as it may hold to students of his work.  A few words of explanation are called for.

Stephen Strasnick was a Harvard doctoral student who wrote a dissertation on Rawls’ theories under the directorship of a committee consisting of Rawls himself, his philosophy colleague Robert Nozick, and the great economist Kenneth Arrow.  In his dissertation, Strasnick undertook to produce a formal proof of Rawls’ so-called Difference Principle.  He published the proof as an article in the Journal of Philosophy in 1976.  I read the article while I was sitting in an airplane, returning from giving a talk somewhere in Ohio.  Something seemed wrong to me about the proof, and when I got home I took a close look at it.  In December of that year, I published a refutation.  Strasnick’s error was actually rather interesting [at least if you like that sort of thing!]  His idea was to adapt the logical framework of Arrow’s General Possibility Theorem and use it to try to prove the Difference Principle, but he failed to note that Arrow assumes ordinal preference whereas Rawls implicitly assumes cardinal utility functions.  The result was that Strasnick’s premises, when correctly interpreted, reduced to tautologies entailing nothing significant and certainly not the Difference Principle.  I sent a copy of my refutation to Jack when it appeared, and what follows is his handwritten response, dated Mar(ch) 27 (1977).  By the way, Jack’s reference to Bob is to his son, who majored at UMass in an undergraduate interdisciplinary program called Social Thought and Political Economy which I created and was then running.

                                                                                                            Emerson Hall
                                                                                            Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
                                                                                                                    (617) 495

Dear Bob

            Many thanks for your piece on Strasnick, just received.  I find myself at the moment in a tangle trying to collect myself for a brief trip abroad, and don’t know when I shall be able to look at it.  But hope to, once I get myself in one piece when I get back.  I was away last year and didn’t see S’s final thesis draft until after the oral exam (Arrow & Nozick were the committee), though I knew of the theorems.  I think they are correct, but heavens knows, they are not well presented.  Your essay interests me;   because I am puzzled by these formal proofs; and other proofs that have been formal [or possibly, “that have been found”]  There are 4 or 5 proofs of the DP floating around now – all more or less the same, I think.  Strasnick’s were as early as any.  It’s hard to know what their real significance is.  Anyway

            Thanks for your paper -- & keep flourishing.


PS  Bob is enjoying UMass, for which I’m grateful, and to you for a big part of that.

That was the last I heard from Jack about Strasnick and my article.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


It is my understanding that “blog” is a contraction of “web log,” which carries with it the implication that a blog will be someone’s account of matters personal.  This blog, for the most part, has failed at that effort, including instead extended discussions of intellectual and political topics that can only by the loosest construction be called “personal.”  Still and all, I feel a certain residual obligation to adopt the confessional voice, so I am happy to announce that today Susie and I mark our twenty-ninth anniversary.  We shall celebrate by trying out a restaurant called St. Jacques in Raleigh that bills itself as offering authentic French cuisine.  Inasmuch as it is located in a mall, I am perhaps understandably a trifle skeptical, but the on-line menu does list frogs’ legs, which Susie particularly likes, so perhaps the evening will go well.

Twenty-nine years is a good run, but hardly remarkable.  Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that later on in the fall, we shall reach the sixty-eighth anniversary of our first date.  I was fourteen and smitten with the pretty girl sitting at the desk in front of me in home room in Forest Hills High School.  I got up the courage to ask her out on a date [a revival of Marcel Pagnol’s pre-war film C├ęsar], and we went steady for five years.  It then took me another thirty-two years to marry her. 

Nobody ever accused me of being a fast worker.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Like Chris and others, I am disturbed by the turmoil in Bernie's new organization, even though I  agree completely with I. Wallerstein's diagnosis of the Left.  I am not fearful that some big donations from left-wing billionaires will soil the purity of the movement.  That way of thinking is essentially religious and I have no patience with it.  Rather, I think Weaver is misreading the nature of the movement he is attempting to fund.  Bernie's run for the Democratic Party nomination demonstrated convincingly that in a huge rich country like America, it is quite possible to raise all the money one needs for a movement or a political campaign from on-line contributions by small donors, so long as their level of enthusiasm is sufficiently high.  Five million faithful donors giving ten dollars a month will contribute six hundred million dollars a year, year after year, more than enough to underwrite a real Progressive movement.  If a fifty million dollar buy-in from a billionaire chills that enthusiasm, it could easily cost two or three times as much in lost donations.

I was equally disturbed by the unrepresentative character of the top leadership of the new movement.  Bernie failed to win the nomination because he could not draw a healthy share of the non-White Primary vote.  The eggregious Wasserman-Schultz had nothing to do with it.  If Bernie has not learned that lesson, then he is a very flawed vessal. 

However [or "that said," the latest talking-head cant phrase], in the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the army you have.  Bernie is the best thing to come along in a generation, warts and all, and I plan to support him as best I can.  When I get to heaven, I will hold out for perfection.

To quote yet another of my favorite TV opinion makers -- Kermit the Frog -- it's not easy being green.


This is.


This is not good.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Clinton is far enough ahead to begin to put together her transition team.  This story tells us all we need to know.  It is a team straight out of the old Bill Clinton Democratic Leadership Committee, the folks who brought us NAFTA and mass incarceration and Don't Ask Don't Tell and are on board with fracking and TTP.  In short, a Clinton presidency will be exactly what we anticipated.  Which makes all the more important a vibrant progressive movement to elect as many leftie Senators and Representatives as possible and to keep the pressure on the White House.

Donald Trump must be defeated, but that will be the beginning of our efforts, not the end.

I am weary.  If I may quote the Bible, as is my wont, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from me."  [Matthew 26:39.]

Monday, August 22, 2016


If recent cycles are any evidence, we can expect roughly 130 million people to vote in this election.  They will constitute about 60% of eligible voters.  In off years, when there is no presidential contest, roughly 40% of eligible voters vote.  Therefore simple math tells us that 43 million or so of those expected to vote this year are what Donald Trump would call “low energy” voters, people who cannot be counted on to turn out in off years.  Experience also teaches us that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to vote in off-year elections.  That is why the Democrats keep winning the White House but nevertheless lose the House big time [leaving aside gerrymandering and residential clustering].  Let us take a flying guess, powered by nothing but unfettered imagination, and assume therefore that 23 or 24 million of those 43 million low energy fair weather voters are Democrats and the remaining 19 or 20 million are Republicans.

Conventional wisdom among professional bean counters has it that House incumbents can hope to run six or eight points in their district ahead of a losing presidential candidate of their party, but that they are not likely to survive a “wave” election in which the presidential candidate of the opposing party wins by as much as ten percentage points.  This far out, it is difficult to predict, but the polls suggest that this year is shaping up as a 5-7 or 6-8 point victory for Clinton, more than enough for a big Electoral College win but not a wave that could be expected to win back the House.

HOWEVER:  Suppose the polls are misleading, in the following way.  There might be a rather large group of Republican voters who find Trump unacceptably distasteful but would never consider voting for Clinton.  Asked their preference now by a pollster, they might grimace and select Gary Johnson [the Libertarian Party candidate] or simply say “don’t know.”  When polled about Senate or House races, they will choose the Republican.  If these folks are reliable off-year voters, then they will show up even if they hate their presidential choices and, while they are in the voting booth, they will vote for down-ticket Republican candidates.  But some of them will be “low energy” voters who may not bother to turn out this year if they are sufficiently turned off by Trump, and their votes will be lost to the down ballot Republican candidates.

QUESTION:  Will there be enough of these lost votes to turn a 5-7 or 6-8 point Clinton win into a down ballot wave that wins the House back for the Democrats?  We had better hope so, because the fate of all the progressive legislation we yearn for depends on it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


I have several times observed on this blog that the rise of modern social science can be viewed as a series of brilliant attempts by imaginative thinkers to wrest interesting and important insights from materials considered at the time to be beneath the notice of serious scholars.  The first example of this phenomenon is the development of economic theory by Adam Smith and others in the eighteenth century.  The “higgling and jiggling of the market place,” as Smith called the bargaining over the price of commodities, was widely thought to be infra dignitate, but Smith and his successors, most notably Ricardo and then Marx, wrested from this unpromising material theories of great power, beauty, and world historical significance.  E. B. Tylor transmuted the popular reports of seventeenth and eighteenth century South Sea travelers into the discipline of Anthropology.  Freud made dreams, jokes and slips of the tongue a highway to the unconscious.  And literary scholars, long restricting themselves to the elevated genres of poetry and tragedy, descended into popular culture to find profundity and beauty in the novels that served as light amusement for the middle classes.

With all of these inspiring exempla, I feel that I ought to be able to find Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the daily reports of the current political campaign, or at least – as Esther Terry, my friend and former Chair of the W. E. B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies, would have put it – to make Chicken Salad out of chicken shit. 

But I do not have the greatness of spirit that allowed Smith, Tylor, Durkheim, Freud and so many others to transmute the commonplace into the ennobled.  This political cycle, I fear, is making me stupid.  Day after day, I listen to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – and Joe Scarborough and Mika Bzrezinski and Chuck Todd and all the other commentators and surrogates and opinion makers – and my mind turns to sludge.  Each morning, as I walk, I try out in my head themes for a daily blog post, striving for insight, for depth, or at least for wit, and like as not I come up short.  The election is too important to ignore, but too debased to inspire.

This morning, I carried out elaborate mental numerical calculations in aid of a hopeful revision of Sam Wang’s rather discouraging discussion, but by the time I had returned home, my elaborate bandwagon and parade of facts and figures had dwindled to “just a horse and a cart on Mulberry Street.”

This too shall pass, as in fact it does not say in the Good Book.


Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium has sharpened his projection of the outcome of the election.  The good news is that he has upped his estimate of the Bayesian probability of a Clinton win to 95%.  The bad news is that his reasoning has the secondaery implication that a Clinton blowout is much less likely, which I assume [he does not say] implies that it is also much less likely that the Democrats will retake the House.  I figure you cannot pick and choose which consequences of a mathematical calculation you like and which you don't.  We shall all just have to work that much harder.

Friday, August 19, 2016


After struggling for moths against my obsession with the current political campaign, I have decided to throw in the towel and yield to it.  I am not proud of this weakness, and realize that after November 9th I shall have to go into rehab and cleanse myself of the lingering poisons in my system, but I am simply not strong enough to resist.  Those who have come to this site in search of elevated philosophical argument may think of its more refined posts as my attempt to scale the heights of Aristotle’s Physics or Nicomachean Ethics and of these ruminations on Trump as my descent to the level of De Partibus Animalia.

The latest news, breaking this morning too late for Joe Scarborough to comment, is the resignation from the Trump campaign of the shady character Paul Manafort.  For those of you not up to speed, this story in the Huffington Post will put you in the picture.  Trump yesterday promoted to Campaign Chair a well-known Republican political operative named Kellyann Conway, and in a move that has plunged Republican insiders even deeper into despair, has brought in a genuinely creepy character named Steve Bannon who runs Breitbart News and is chummy with a collection of racists, fascists, and conspiracy nuts labeled the Alt-Right.

The very first result of Conway’s promotion was a scripted teleprompter speech by Trump in which he formally apologized for unspecified careless words that might have caused pain.  Those of us counting on a Trump campaign collapse felt a chill in the heart at the thought that Trump might actually get his act together and make a run for the presidency, contrary to all evidence and probability.

I have given this matter a good deal of thought, much of it in the middle of the night, and here is my somewhat self-serving analysis of the situation, based, needless to say, on nothing remotely resembling evidence.  I suspect Trump was moved to make these changes by two factors:  First, his genuine discomfort with the conventional speeches Manafort was pressuring him to deliver, including the wooden endorsement of Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte [delivered in roughly the way that a ten year old boy, dragged next door by his father, apologizes to the neighbors for having ridden his bicycle over their garden]; and Second, his disastrous decline in the polls.

The “apology” was so unTrumpian that I would bet Conway got him to deliver it by promising him that it would translate into a poll bounce.  But the polls that will be released in the next several days were all completed before the speech, and they will most likely show no improvement for Trump, and perhaps even a worsening of his already disastrous standing.  I predict that Trump will look at those polls and, having roughly the patience and self-control of a four year old [not to disparage any four year olds out there], he will react with another barrage of outrageous tweets and random insults.  If the Clinton campaign has the wit to sic Elizabeth Warren on him in this moment, which they undoubtedly do, he will be unable to control himself.  Even if Ivanka returns from vacationing with Vladimir Putin’s girlfriend [no kidding] to calm him down, he is unlikely to be able to resist the temptation to “hit back,” as he likes to say.

We shall see.  Meanwhile, I shall answer the call of the Clinton campaign and do data entry, while awaiting Bernie’s August 24th launch of his new organization, promisingly titled “Our Revolution.”


As I observed some while ago, I have taught Kant's Critique of Pure Reason fourteen times over the course of my long career, so one might think that my forthcoming lecture series on that text would be  mother's milk to me, to steal a phrase from Eliza Doolittle.  And yet, as I approach August 29th, the date of the first lecture, the series has a valedictory feel to me, as though I were saying farewell to a book that has been a part of my life for sixty-three years.

Growing old is strange in unexpected ways, even though, as Gertrude Stein shrewdly observed, we are always the same age inside.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


1.         I have on occasion observed that this is the first generation in the 200,000 year history of homo sapiens in which the young must explain to the old how things work.  Here is yet another example.  For some while, it seemed that my IPhone was not ringing when I received an incoming call.  This did not matter much to me, since almost no one calls me on my cell phone, but I was worried lest my wife need to reach me and not be able to.  So I called my son, Tobias.  With infinite tact and patience, he led me through the process of swiping the screen of my phone with a quick upward motion to reveal a number of settings, helped me to locate the crescent moon, and when I said that it was lit up, explained that that meant the phone was in sleep mode and would not ring.  A simple touch of the screen turned the moon dark, and now my phone rings when someone calls me.  In the good old days, I would have been explaining to him how to sweep with a smooth stroke through the ripe wheat with a scythe at harvest time.  He would have looked at me admiringly and said, “Gee, Dad, you just know everything, don’t you?”

2.         Matt and Acostos had an interesting exchange in the comments section triggered by my account of the work I have been doing in the local Clinton campaign.  In this dispute, I think Matt has the better argument.  Let me explain the situation here in North Carolina.  North Carolina is a swing state.  It was trending Democratic when I moved here in 2008, and Obama narrowly won the state in the presidential election, with the Democrats also taking a Senate seat and the Governorship, but in subsequent elections the state has turned hard Right and become a poster child for reactionary politics.

The population of the state has been changing for some time now, with an influx of northern professionals who are Democratic in their leanings.  One of the areas of heaviest influx is the so-called Triangle area, consisting of the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill and surrounding suburbs.  This area has at least four big universities – Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, and NC Central -- and two major medical complexes, as well as a research park that is home to a number of hi tech companies.

The area is thus flooded with folks who will probably vote Democratic if one can get them out to vote at all.  A voter registration drive is especially important among students both because many of them were not old enough to vote in 2012 and because they tend to move very often, making it essential that they re-register at their current addresses.  Every Democratic vote we can register among students counterbalances one older white non-college educated Trump voter somewhere else in North Carolina.  Orange County [home to UNC Chapel Hill] is not a swing county at all.  It is reliably, heavily Democratic.  But it is also rich in unregistered students.

That is why, when I go to my first Kant lecture at UNC a week from Monday, I will take with me a batch of registration forms.  In a few moments after class, I may be able to bag more newly registered voters than during long hot hours in front of Harris-Teeter supermarkets.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


If you consume a great deal of political commentary, as I do, you constantly hear references to the “ground game.”  Obama had a game-changing ground game in 2008, Clinton this time around has an extensive ground game, Trump at the moment has almost no ground game, that sort of thing.  The conventional wisdom is that a ground game can make a 2% difference in the results, which is actually very large in a country this size.  Two percent in a presidential year is maybe 3.2 million votes.  But the conventions of on-air political commentary being what they are, unless you have actually volunteered for a political campaign you may not really have a very clear idea what people engaged in the ground game do.  Since I spent some time this weekend as a very, very small cog in the well-oiled Clinton machine, I thought I would describe the experience and indicate the sorts of practical problems that make it difficult to crank up a ground game overnight.  When the nodding heads on the TV cable news panels observe sagely that it is almost too late for Trump to develop a ground game, they have a point.

Last Saturday morning, I drove to Carrboro, a funky counter-cultural suburb of Chapel Hill, and found my way to the local office of the Orange County Democratic Party for my third stint as a volunteer.  At this point the campaign is doing “voter reg.”  Ten or so volunteers during each two-hour period from 10 am to 4 pm on a Saturday fan out around Chapel Hill and Carrboro to places with lots of foot traffic, holding clipboards, and accost people in a determinedly cheerful manner asking, “Are you registered to vote, at your present location?”  The last clause is crucial, because when you move, you must re-register, even if you remain in the same voting precinct.  This being a college town, lots of people move between elections.  For the most part, people either smile and say yes or else hurry by without replying, but now and again someone pops up who needs to register.  Since this part of the campaign is non-partisan, you are supposed to register Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents or third party supporters.  We foot soldiers are given strict instructions:  Make sure they check the boxes at the top of the form saying that they are citizens and will be eighteen by November 8th; Try to get their phone numbers, even though it is not required; Have them sign and date the form.

My first time out, you will recall, I bagged only one registration during two hours in front of a Harris-Teeter supermarket.  The second time, I was sitting at a table with several other volunteers on the main drag in town [Franklin Street] and collectively we got five or six.  Last Saturday I stood for two hours in front of the Harris-Teeter across the street from my apartment and got four, making me the champion volunteer registrar for that two hour slot.

The next day, Sunday, I went down to Carrboro to the new Clinton campaign office to be “trained in data entry” [which I prefer to voter reg.]  It was boiling hot, and I stood outside the locked door for a long while before another volunteer came by and told me we were meeting at the Orange County headquarters.  Why was the campaign hq locked?  Because it does not yet have internet access, making data entry impossible there.  When I finally got to the Orange County headquarters, I found eight or nine other volunteers, each with his or her own computer, being guided through the data entry process.  Sofia, the local paid Clinton staffer who is my contact person, had forgotten to tell me to bring my computer, so I had to work with a loaner, which did not have a mouse.  I detest using that little pad that you rub your finger on and gave up after ten minutes.  Next time, I will bring my own laptop and mouse.

Data entry consists of entering into the Clinton campaign database [adapted from the Obama campaign database] all the info on the voter reg forms before they are turned over to the Orange County branch of the state elections bureau.  Even though my four hours of solo voter reg had only produced five filled out forms, there were big stacks of forms to be entered, testimony to the large number of volunteers who have turned out in Chapel Hill for the Clinton campaign.

Now, think about it.  I am describing one tiny component of a vast national campaign network.  Since North Carolina is a battleground state, so-called, the Clinton campaign is up and running here, but there are many hundreds of such offices all over America, and thousands or tens of thousands of volunteers.  In each location, there are practical problems like getting internet access, discovering which stores and coffee houses will let you stand in front doing voter reg and which will not, staying in touch with volunteers, keeping up their spirits when they spend two hours and bag only one registrant, all the while ensuring a steady flow of effort and data.

After a while, we will switch from voter reg to door to door canvassing, which will allow us to identify pro-Clinton voters [or possibles], update our records of who lives where, and recruit new volunteers.  Each day, from Clinton HQ, GoogleMaps local maps, each with only a few streets on it, will be sent out with dots identifying which houses to stop at when canvassing.  Each evening, the results of the canvassing will be entered into the database by people like me.  THE NEXT DAY, from HQ, a new set of updated local maps will be sent out electronically, pointing the next team of volunteer canvassers to houses where a successful contact has not yet been made.

Once early voting starts, we will switch to Get Out The Vote, or GOTV, mode, using the data we have amassed to identify our supporters and make sure that they get to the polls.

All of this [and a good deal more] is what is meant by The Ground Game.  It takes time, money, a high degree of intelligent coordination, and an army of volunteers to carry out a good ground game.  And remember, all of this is in the service of changing the election results by maybe 2%.

This is why those with experience in this game say that it is almost too late for Trump to crank up a ground game, even if someone could persuade him that it is necessary.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


There are three possible explanations for this Michael Moore piece:  First, that it is all true; Second, that it is a piece of ONION-style satire; and Third, that Michael Moore doesn't know what he is taking about.  I confess I haven't a clue which is right.  You tell me.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Some of you [we few, we happy few] have been readers of this blog almost from its inception, but most of you have joined me somewhere along the way.  I frequently refer the materials “archived at, accessible via the link at the top of the page,” but my guess is that many of you have not been moved to check out that archive.  The purpose of this post is to alert you to what you have been missing.

Shortly after I began blogging, I wrote, and posted serially, an extremely long 260,000 word Memoir, or Autobiography.  Divided into three volumes, it begins with my memories of the Sunnyside Progressive School in 1936 and ends with my retirement and move with my wife to North Carolina in 2008.  As it unfolded day by day, the memoir achieved a certain succes de scandale in the academic community when Brian Leiter’s attention was caught by my gossip about prominent university Philosophy departments.  All three volumes of the Memoir are available on

While I was writing and posting the memoir, I also wrote and posted seriatim a short book entitled The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy, in which I give a rigorous introduction to Rational Choice Theory, Collective Choice Theory, and Game Theory, with applications.  This too is available on

When the Memoir had concluded, my fingers still itched to write, so I conceived the idea of writing several lengthy essays or monographs, which I called Tutorials, each in daily segments to be posted on this blog.  The first was entitled The Thought of Karl Marx, and it ran some 30,000 words.  This was followed by The Thought of Sigmund Freud, 20,000 words, The Philosophy of David Hume, 27,500 words, an Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, 30,000 words, and Afro-American Studies, 24,500 words.  All are available on

By now, I was addicted to the charms of my own words, and cast about for other topics to address.  I decided to write several shorter essays, which I called Mini-Tutorials.  These included “The Study of Society” [which actually began as a response to a commenter who described herself as “Luke’s Mom”], “Ricardo’s Principles,” “One-Dimensional Man,” “Durkheim’s Suicide,” and “Plato’s Gorgias.”  Finally, I added several “Appreciations,” discussions [of books] so brief they did not rise to the level of mini-tutorials.

All of this is available on, together with a number of my published and unpublished essays on a variety of topics, and four annual collections of lesser blog posts which I call “Pebbles from The Philosopher’s Stone.”

This material has not gone completely unnoticed. tells me that the monograph on the thought of Karl Marx has been accessed 1232 times, the introduction to the Critique 809 times, and even my little satirical review of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind has had 608 visitors.  But if any of the above piques your curiosity, I invite you to use the link at the top of this page and browse for a bit.  It is all open source, so use it or abuse it as you see fit.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Eighty-six days until the election, and none too soon to start talking about what comes next.  It is now clear that Clinton will win.  The only question is whether it will be a solid win – 5-7 points and 350 Electoral Votes – or a blowout – ten plus points and close to 400 Electoral Votes.  Which it is makes a big difference in down-ballot races and control of House and Senate, but that is not possible to predict at this point.

We know what we will get with Clinton.  She will choose her economic team from Wall Street [but probably not from the executive ranks of multi-national corporations, an interesting fact, that.]  In a desperate effort to transform herself into a caricature of a hawk, she has now reached out to the ninety-three year old Henry Kissinger for his wisdom on foreign affairs.  As the immortal Judi Densch says in Philomena, I didn’t see that coming.

Polls suggest that on November 9th there will be a great many disillusioned twenty-somethings for whom this election has been a choice between disaster and disgust.  Which, I believe, opens the way to the first truly progressive movement in American politics in generations.  It is actually a great boon to such a movement that Clinton will be just fine on all issues emanating from identity politics.  She will advance women’s rights, LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, and immigration reform.  But she will not lay a finger on Wall Street or attempt anything dramatic to reverse the ever-greater economic inequality that now defines American society, which leaves the field open for us.

If Bernie’s new initiative takes off, as I hope it will, we can start to build a left-wing movement at the local, state, and congressional levels where some concrete changes are possible.  The recent spate of judicial rulings suggests that Republican voter suppression efforts may be defeated, and one more Supreme Court appointment will protect what the lower courts have started to do.

None of this will change Clinton’s basic domestic and foreign policy orientation, but she is, before all else, ambitious, and as soon as she is inaugurated, somewhere in the bowels of the White House a re-election team will be pulled together.  Steady pressure from the left, combined with the utter disarray of a demoralized Republican Party, gives those of us on the left a chance for some victories.

Now, the women’s marathon at the Olympics has logged another ten miles.  Let me go back to the TV set and watch the finale.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


I give up.  I cannot stop obsessing about the election.  I have tried plunging into the Critique of Pure Reason, I have tried binge watching Mozart in the Jungle, I have tried early morning walks, I have even tried watching Beach Volleyball and Dressage at the Olympics.  It just doesn’t work.  So I am going to give in and blog about my latest speculation about whether the Democrats can take back the Senate and the House.  By the way, I am now quite convinced that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, a thought even more depressing than Olympic Badminton.  [And yes, even so, I shall continue working here in North Carolina for Clinton.  I just did two hours of voter registration this morning.]

I have a thought that does not yet rise to the level of a theory.  Here it is, put as simply as I am able.  Let me start with some facts.  Roughly sixty percent of eligible voters actually go out and voter in an American presidential election, only forty percent in off-year Congressional elections.  These are rather startling numbers, for all that we have become accustomed to them.

Now, there is a good deal of evidence that reliably Republican voters are being turned off in large numbers by Trump.  This is indicated both directly by polling data and indirectly by the unusually large numbers of people polled who say they intend to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.  In response to the data, more and more Republican office holders and candidates are calling on the Republican National Committee to cut Trump loose and concentrate their spending and other efforts on down-ballot candidates in an effort to stem the bleeding.

The assumption behind this proposal is that it is possible to get significant numbers of reliable Republicans to vote for the Republican candidates for Senator and Representative even if they either vote for Johnson, vote for Clinton, or simply do not cast a ballot for any presidential candidate.

But I have begun to wonder whether that is realistic.  The enormous disparity between the proportion of eligible voters voting in presidential and off-year elections indicates that a great many Americans – perhaps as many as fifty-five million – are only motivated to turn out by the desire to vote for a candidate at the top of the ticket.  Once in the voting booth, they tend to vote a straight ticket, but in the absence of a presidential race, a third who would otherwise vote simply stay home.  By the way, it seems plausible that there are more Republicans turned off by Trump than there are Democrats turned off by Clinton.

Now, I tend to doubt that those anti-Trump Republicans will show up in large numbers and loyally vote for down-ballot Republicans.  Surely confronted by Trump at the top of the ticket and not really excited by Johnson, for all that they give his name when polled, large numbers of anti-Trump Republicans who cannot be bothered to vote in off-year elections will just stay home on November 8th.

If my hunch is correct, the Republicans may lose many more House and Senate seats than the polls suggest, especially in light of the fact that the Trump campaign has, even now, completely failed to stand up any kind of on-the-ground campaign whatsoever.

Now, let us see whether Track and Field has started yet.

Friday, August 12, 2016


In a recent post, I made the following snarky remark:

" mature capitalism, a pyramidal structure of worker compensation would become entrenched, to a considerable degree keyed to the acquisition of formal educational credentials [but not to the acquisition of a genuine education! That is a separate matter, as I shall not try to explain here.]"

Austin Haigler posted this comment:

"I would love to have that last point elaborated on, or directed to where it has previously been done. As a current grad student, one steeped in philosophy, political science, and interdisciplinary studies generally, I am always defending the merits of (what I hope is) the genuine education. In a non capitalist society, say, a fully fledged socialist society, how would, ideally, the approach between mere educational credential acquisition vs genuine education, be drawn up so that the latter is what is actually sought after?"

I was pretty sure I had actually said something about that somewhere, and after a little thought I found it:  a talk I gave at Teacher's College at Columbia University, archived on and accessible by the link at the top of this page.

Take a look, and we can talk.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


On Sunday morning, while I was moving around the bed, making it, I caught a little toe on my right foot on a bedpost and broke it.  This morning, I managed my daily four mile walk with only a seven minute delay off my usual time.  I spent the extra minutes planning my first lecture on Kant.  

Waste not, want not.


This morning, I finished re-reading my book, Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity, as part of the preparation for my up-coming series of videotaped lectures on the Critique of Pure Reason.  It has been a curious experience.  I think this actually is the first time since I corrected the page proofs in 1962 that I have read the book straight through.  I had two reactions.  The first was, “Good grief, did I really say all that?  I have forgotten so much of it!”  The second was, “But where is my discussion of such-and-such?  That is really important.  I thought I had included it in the book.  Did I maybe not think of it until after the book came out?”

It was all so long ago.

When I scheduled these lectures, I thought of them as a casual stroll down memory lane but I now realize that I have committed myself to a seriously challenging undertaking.  This should be interesting.

By the way, I have concluded that there is no way that I can deal with the entire Critique in ten or twelve one hour and forty-five minute lectures, so I shall only lecture on the Aesthetic and Analytic this semester.  If anyone at all shows up to the last lecture I will consider doing the Dialectic in the Spring.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Ordinarily I find Thomas Friedman tedious  and irritating, but on occasion he speaks the truth with some eloquence.  Today's NY TIMES column is one such instance.  Friedman quite plausibly compares Donald Trump's statement yesterday about Hillary Clinton to the right-wing violent language in Israel that got Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin assassinated.

American is awash in guns and filled with tens of millions of Trump supporters, a good many of whom are clearly unhinged and armed.  It will be a miracle if we get through this election without some serious and potentially devastating violence.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


On August 24th, Bernie Sanders will launch a new organization, called Our Revolution.  I got an email and right away gave a hundred dollars.  This is it, folks.  Time to stop complaining and join the movement!  Give money, if like me you are on Easy Street.  Give time and energy if you are not.  But get involved.  This is the best chance in half a century to make a real difference in America.  Bernie is not my ideal movement leader -- not far enough to the left -- but he is the best we will get, and at this moment we have a chance to mobilize tens of millions of people.  If you don't get on this bandwagon, then you lose your bitching rights.

All aboard!

Monday, August 8, 2016


Jerry Fresia posts this comment. 

“I find it interesting that on the left, we have been forever exhorted to study the dynamics of "race, gender, and class" - but the injuries of class, particularly among white men, has been, in reality, treated as a monstrous irrelevance.”

I should like to offer some reflections on this provocative observation.  I have written about this before, but I believe that it bears repeating, especially as it relates to the prospects for a serious progressive movement built on Bernie’s extraordinary run for the Democratic Party nomination.

Capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class.  That is, I believe, a foundational truth for the discovery, articulation, and demonstration of which we owe Karl Marx an eternal debt.  Because capitalism exists to extract a surplus from those whose labor creates material wealth, it naturally, inexorably, and almost irresistibly creates large and ever-greater inequalities of wealth and income.  Capitalism is also prone to instabilities and crises rooted in its essential nature, although the experience of the past century demonstrates that it has within it the resources to cope with at least some of the self-destructive consequences of that tendency.

Racial, gender, ethnic, religious, national and other social differentiations play a complex role in the development and operations of capitalism.  Capitalism has routinely used these differentiations to set different portions of the working class against one another in ways that assist in the accumulation of wealth and the inequality of income, but these differentiations, although useful to capitalism, are not essential to it.  Capitalism is quite well able to flourish in a socially homogeneous society in which even the inevitable gender differences are not made the basis of differential worker compensation or access to the commanding heights of the economy.

That is stated rather abstractly and formulaically, so I should like to pause and emphasize the point.  The United States is a large country with a quite diverse population, so we are accustomed to economic divisions along racial, ethnic, gender, and other lines.  But a little thought will make it obvious that capitalism can quite well flourish in a society that is, let us say, all white, all Protestant, and all Anglo-Irish.  Even in a homogeneous capitalist society, there will necessarily be a few who exploit and many who are exploited.  That, as Marx taught us, is the genius and the revolutionary potential of capitalism.

The great liberation movements of the past seventy years that have defined post-war American politics have sought to achieve equal treatment and complete incorporation into the American capitalist economy for one or another social group previously excluded or disadvantaged.  The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation, the movement for Native American rights, the growing demand for inclusion of Latinos and Latinas into the American economy – one and all – have demanded inclusion into the existing social and economic order.  Not one of them, save in its fringe manifestations, has challenged capitalism itself.  As I have observed in this space before, this is why the great multi-national corporations find it so comfortable to adopt uncompromisingly “progressive” public positions on affirmative action, gay rights, even women’s rights.  Those positions do not in any way threaten their core interest, which is the continuation of the exploitation of the working class.

Marx failed to foresee [as I argue at some length in my essay, “The Future of Socialism”] that in mature capitalism, a pyramidal structure of worker compensation would become entrenched, to a considerable degree keyed to the acquisition of formal educational credentials [but not to the acquisition of a genuine education!  That is a separate matter, as I shall not try to explain here.]

Consider now the worsening economic situation of white working class non-college education men.  That their condition is bad and getting worse is obvious to anyone who looks at the statistics.  That their condition is a direct consequence of the routine and efficient operations of capitalism seems to me also obvious, although I shall be happy to discuss that claim if called upon to do so.   It is hardly surprising that these men are deeply angry about their ever-worsening economic situation.  It is also hardly surprising that they focus their anger on those – Blacks, Latinos, Women – who now occupy some of the good jobs that previously were occupied only by white men.  You may find that reprehensible, but you surely do not find it surprising.

What can these men do?  Well, they can take a cue from Black, Latino, Female, and Gay Americans and form a Liberation Movement.  Which appears to be exactly what they have done!  What else is the Donald Trump candidacy to them [but not, of course, to Trump] but a white male non-college educated liberation movement?  They are getting screwed, they know they are getting screwed, and those who are doing better than they have no advice for them save “go to college.” 

Now, when sanctimonious well-to-do white men tell African-Americans that their disadvantages are their own fault, how do they respond?  With anger, with resentment, with bitterness, of course.  How do you imagine non-college educated white men respond when told that their problems are their own fault, and that they should have stayed in school?

Which brings me to Bernie.  It is, as we used to say in the good old days, no accident that Bernie describes himself as a socialist.  Never mind that the magic words, “collective ownership of the means of production,” never pass his lips.  Simply the label “socialist” sets Bernie off from all the liberation movements and all the progressive movements that have graced American society and made it even marginally bearable.  Simply by calling himself a socialist, Bernie raises the unutterable question that looms like Voldemort over all of our political debates:  Why capitalism?

If you conceive of progressive politics as the struggle to perfect capitalism by including all races, genders, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations in its warm embrace, then it is natural to view as your enemy anyone who resists that inclusion.  But if you conceive of truly transformational politics as the forging of a broad coalition of the exploited to challenge capitalism itself, then it will be obvious that such a coalition must include white working class non-college educated white men.

Our challenge, and Bernie’s challenge as well, is to find a way to fashion such a coalition.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


I have just finished reading this quite long and very important review essay in The Atlantic, and have taken a moment to recommend it before I go to do some registration work for the Clinton campaign here in Chapel Hill.   Read it.  Then we can talk about it.

Friday, August 5, 2016


A rash of polls favorable to Clinton has pushed the Upshot's estimate of her chances of losing down to 20%, which Nate Cohn identifies as the probability that a major league hitter will strike out.  But that seems to me intuitively wrong.  The implication, I guess, is that if we ran this election over and over again, with the same candidates and the same surrounding situation, Trump would win roughly one fifth of the time, and that doesn't strike me as plausible.  

The comparison with hitting performance seems off somehow.  First of all, if you were to ask me what the chances were that a batter would strike out, my first reaction would be to reply "Who's pitching?"  I am reminded of tourist attractions like white water rafting which are advertised as very exciting and risky but on which no one has ever been lost.  How can it be risky if no one has ever died?

I am really ignorant of statistical theory so I am looking for guidance here.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


Nicholas Kristof is a superbly educated journalist who writes serious stuff for the NY TIMES.  But apparently he has a splendid satirical side of which I was not aware.  This is a must read Op Ed column taking off from an immortal Abbot and Costello routine.  A must read.


As Jerry Fresia and others have noted, I am fatally prone to optimism -- a Tigger in a world designed for Eeyores.  One of the several number-crunching political sites, The Upshot, now has Clinton at a 77% probability of winning in November, which to my ever-hopeful heart sounds pretty good.  However, they helpfully point out that this is roughly the probability that an NBA professional basketball player will make a free throw.  Do I really want my future and that of the entire world to depend on whether LeBron James hits a free throw?  Actually, I just checked, and James' lifetime FTA is .744, so Hillary Clinton's chance of being elected is better than LeBron James' probability of making a free throw.  There, that sounds better.

Sigh.  It is going to be a long Fall, Kant or no Kant.


In the course of preparing for my opening lecture on the Critique, which I shall deliver [and record] on August 29th, I have encountered a curious problem that may be of some interest to those of you who are serious students of early modern philosophy.  In the philosophical world in which Kant came to intellectual maturity, there were two overlapping debates that had dominated the scene for more than a century, and much of Kant’s philosophical work can only be understood as an effort to arrive at a position midway between the two compering parties.  The first of these debates was the metaphysical and scientific dispute between Leibniz and Newton, captured brilliantly in a series of five extended exchanges between Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, a disciple of Newton.  The second debate was the epistemological standoff between the rationalists – principally Descartes and Leibniz – and the empiricists – Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.  The structure and organization of the Critique is a reflection of these two debates as Kant understood them and his effort to resolve them.

My problem is that three-quarters of a century of scholarship in the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has made it clear that Kant’s view of the philosophical situation in which he found himself – a view widely shared at the time and for 150 years after his death – was in important ways wrong.  Descartes, Leibniz, and Hume in particular have been the subject of deep and extensive reconsideration that has altered our contemporary understanding of their writings.  Indeed, my own doctoral dissertation and the very first serious journal article I published were early contributions to that scholarship.

So, do I begin my lectures by explaining to my audience the philosophical situation as Kant understood it or the rather different view of things that all of this scholarship has provided to us?  Clearly, I must choose one or the other if I am not completely to lose my audience before I have quite begun.  I am making an enormous demand on those who attend the lectures or watch the videos by speaking at length and in detail about so difficult a book as the Critique.  It would be intolerable to preface those lectures with five or ten hours of discussion about recent re-evaluations of Descartes or Leibniz or Locke or Hume.

Accordingly, I have decided to lay out Kant’s problematic as he saw it, not as we may think he ought to have seen it.  I do hope I shall not be subjected to too much criticism by clued up viewers!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


The chatter on the morning talk shows is all about the disintegration of the Trump campaign and the collateral damage being done to the Republican Party.  Joe Scarborough reports that more than a year ago, Trump had a lengthy phone conversation with Bill Clinton, who encouraged Trump to run for the Republican nomination.  It would be an understatement to say that I dislike Bill Clinton, but I have boundless admiration for his political skill.  Is it too much of a reach to speculate that he foresaw the sort of damage Trump could do to the Republicans? 

God, I love this stuff! 


I think you have to belong to FaceBook to use the link.  Sorry about that.  Here is what Tobias wrote:

I have been reading the Rules of the Republican National Committee. (Only the insanity of the current political landscape could lead me to do such a thing.) If the sociopathic real estate grifter decides to make an explosive scorched-earth withdrawal from the race before the election (or indeed before the debates), as I think entirely possible, the following rule grants the RNC the power to select his replacement, with state members of the Committee exercising the votes of their delegates by proxy, as I understand it. (The option also exists to convene another national convention, but that seems exceedingly unlikely.) Dahlia LithwickRichard Kim, are smart people thinking this scenario through already?
Filling Vacancies in Nominations
(a) The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may
occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the
Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican
National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.
(b) In voting under this rule, the Republican National Committee members representing any state shall be entitled to
cast the same number of votes as said state was entitled to cast at the national convention.
(c) In the event that the members of the Republican National Committee from any state shall not be in agreement in the casting of votes hereunder, the votes of such state shall be divided equally, including fractional votes, among the members of the Republican National Committee present or voting by proxy.
(d) No candidate shall be chosen to fill any such vacancy except upon receiving a majority of the votes entitled to be
cast in the election.