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Wednesday, May 31, 2017


I dislike being lectured, especially by those who do not choose to disclose their identities, so I shall not respond to recent comments.  Those who find this unacceptable are free to seek out other blogs, of which there is no scarcity.


Ewan said...

Dear Prof. Wolff,
If it's me offended you by "lecturing", I apologise.

It really was not my intention to be snotty.

I reflected back your "lecturing" of me, because I thought (wrongly, it turns out!) that it would reduce the risk of continuing to talk past each other and help focus on what it is we are actually disagreeing about.


Ewan Maclean

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Ewan, I am touched by your comment. Thank you. I do not think we disagree really about the world. It is in a way remarkable that simply having you sign your name completely alters the relationship between us, at least for me. Perhaps I am just a relic of an earlier time. I hope you will continue to read and comment on the blog, and I shall try to learn to live in the new space that has replaced the old face to face conversations.

Tom Cathcart said...

One kind of explanation is historical. Whatever we think of "American aggressiveness" or American aspirations toward hegemony, my (limited) understanding of this history is something like this: [Disclaimer: a lot of my understanding of the history comes from an undergraduate course from Henry Kissinger. Yikes!!] For the first part of the twentieth century, America was largely isolationist. We sat out the first three years of WWI, declined to do anything about the growth of Fascism between the wars, sat out the first years of WWII until after the fall of Poland, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. We entered the war to prevent, and undo, Axis hegemony. After the war the threat was Stalinist hegemony. We also believed, correctly, I think, that Israel would not survive without our support. Switzerland and Costa Rica could have done little about any of this, even if they had wanted to. Is there a case to be made that America liked its new role as hegemon? Of course. Is there a case to be made that America often seems to favor "aggressive" solutions? Of course. But as sole explanations, I don't think so.

LFC said...

@Tom Cathcart

Also (as others have already mentioned) U.S. westward continental expansion was violent, and w/r/t Native Americans the word 'genocidal' fits, and then the U.S. did acquire colonies (the Philippines and others) after the Spanish-American War. (U.S. behavior in the Philippines was pretty awful.) Up at least to the mid-20th cent., there tended to be an oscillation/opposition betw. sticking to the hemisphere and expanding beyond. Hence, e.g., a vigorous debate within the U.S. between imperialists and anti-imperialists around the turn of the 20th cent.

Historical circumstances arguably do sometimes thrust states or other collectives into roles they wouldn't necessarily have chosen otherwise, though one can debate how much that applies in any given case, including that of the U.S.

I know it was a long time ago, but if you remember the rough title of the Kissinger course (was it the intro-to-I.R. in the Govt dept or something else?), I'd be (sort of) interested.

s. wallerstein said...

Tom Cathcart,

American isolationist in the first part of the 20th century?

How many times did the U.S. send troops or gunboats to Mexico, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, etc. to "restore order" and protect private property?

Didn't Woodrow Wilson send U.S. troops to intervene on the side of the Whites in the Russian civil war after the Bolshevik revolution?

Besides the fact that the U.S. had a colony in the Philippines and one in Puerto Rico.

Chris said...

Plus we were invading Hawaii and literally establishing actual banana republics (for big banana - no kidding) in the mid to late 19th century.

I would highly suggest reading Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow, and Greg Granden's Empire's Workshop, and Peter Chapman's Bananas.

s. wallerstein said...

Right, Chris.

By the way, in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic the U.S. installed two of the most vicious and corrupt dictators in Latin American history, Somoza and Trujillo.

On Trujillo, I recommend Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa's (not a leftist at all) novel, the Goat Feast.

Chris said...

I tried that book but gave up quickly. I did manage to read Who Killed Palomino Molero? but overall I'm not a fan of his work (unlike GGM - who was consummately talented). The Massacre at El Mozote is however a fantastic non-fiction book. And I was a fan of Kinzer's Blood of Brother's (although Chomsky was not). And finally, Galeano was a true master.

There was a time Wallerstein when Latin America and Latin American literature fascinated me, I wanted to learn Spanish, move to Chile and...alas now I'm a complete southerner, with a love of bourbon, southern gothic literature, and strong antipathy towards the state and big business ;) [May be the only southern Marxist though right?]

Chris said...

I also at the same time thought Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela, would finally form a socialist Bolivarian Republic, but that all turned to shit fast....

s. wallerstein said...


Garcia Marquez is more romantic, while Vargas Llosa is the realist of the tribe. His novel Conversation in the Cathedral is, in my opinion, the best picture of Latin America in the 20th century, maybe not of tropical Latin America, the terrain of Garcia Marquez, but of countries like Peru and Chile, of the class prejudices, the corruption of the elites, the machismo, the racism, the complicity of the bourgeoisie in the dictatorships (in this case, that of Odria during the 1950's). It's about how a young man breaks away from his wealthy family and background and becomes a writer, that is, a relatively independent intellectual. It's not completely autobiographical since Vargas Llosa's family was not as rich and powerful as the protagonist's family in the book, but it comes from his gut experience growing up. The scene where the protagonist brings his bride (a nurse, not a member of elite, although hardly a member of the hardcore poor) to meet his snobbish mother should be in every anthology about Latin America.

Bolivia is doing fine. Venezuela is a disaster area.

You're not originally from the South? Where are you from? I'm from New Jersey.

Chris said...

Oh now I'm from the South - sort of. Florida, although people don't consider it the south. But now I'm in Georgia. I went from dreams of escaping the south to flee to Latin America, to embracing the queerness of Southern life.

Jerry Fresia said...


Check out this list of 20th century US interventions::

s. wallerstein said...

What might interest you in Chile is that the politics are still based on the traditional European structure: neoliberal right, center (Christian Democrats), center-left (Socialists), left (Communists) and even a bunch of interesting parties and movements (with which I identify) to the left of the Communists, who aren't very left any more. That's true of Uruguay too, and maybe Brasil, but not of most of Latin America.

In Chile the providential, populist great man on the left, salvador del pueblo, Chávez, Maduro, Evo Morales, has not appeared on the balcony or on horseback, which suits me just fine.

Chilean women are the best on every level. I'd rewrite the Beach Boys' song about California Girls about Chilean women. Watch Beatriz Sanchez, the most probable presidential candidate for this year's election for the Frente Amplio, a coalition of left parties and movements which I support.

On the negative side, the class structure and class prejudices, which run through all social classes, are insoportables.

What's more, neoliberalism has infected almost everyone, no one trusts anyone else beyond their immediate family, the sense of community has been destroyed by neoliberal capitalism.

Anonymous said...

"Chilean women are the best on every level. I'd rewrite the Beach Boys' song about California Girls about Chilean women. "

Looking out from the old white men's club of academic philosophy, such objectification of all women of a particular culture may not seem to be a big deal...but times have changed.

s. wallerstein said...


First of all, I'm not an academic philosopher.

Second, could you please explain in what I sense I objectify women in my remarks? I did not refer to women's physical attributes. I said "on every level". My example of a Chilean woman was Beatriz Sanchez, current pre-candidate for the Frente Amplio, a coalition of left parties and movements. If you'll take the trouble to google Ms. Sanchez, you will see that she does not fit any stereotype of an objectified woman and if you'll take the trouble to read what she has to say (maybe some of her remarks are in English; if not, there is Google translator to help you), you'll see that she defines herself as a feminist activist and in fact, is the candidate of most Chilean feminist groups.

Danny said...

'By the way, in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic the U.S. installed two of the most vicious and corrupt dictators in Latin American history, Somoza and Trujillo.'

About Nicauagua, I think that Anastasio Somoza Debayle was de facto ruler of the country from 1967 to 1979, ending a dynasty that had been in power since 1936. I could review these facts, but I picture a family dictatorship from 1936 to 1979, and that although they only held the presidency for 30 of those 43 years, they were the power behind the other presidents of the time through their control of the National Guard.

This is military dictatorship, I wouldn't claim otherwise, but to quibble, I'll add that Anastasio "Tacho" Somoza García (1 February 1896 – 29 September 1956) was officially the 21st President of Nicaragua from 1 January 1937 to 1 May 1947 and from 21 May 1950 to 29 September 1956. And he started a dynasty that maintained absolute control over Nicaragua for 44 years, and ruled effectively as dictator, but, nevertheless, I wonder how we get the idea here that this is what 'the U.S. installed'..?

There is a point at which Somoza used the military to carry out a coup, like, in 1947, but I wonder if we are considering firstly, what gave him the power base to remove his wife's uncle, Juan Bautista Sacasa, from the presidency, and make himself president in 1937?

I'm sure he was a cynical and opportunistic individual. I'm sure he ruled Nicaragua with a strong arm. I am not so sure, what he was deriving his power from. One may point out, maybe, his acceptance and support from the United States, and as I understand, there was his excellent command of the English language and understanding of United States culture, and whatever, that helped Somoza García win many powerful allies in the United States.

But technically, Somoza García won in the December 1936 presidential elections. Maybe we are interested enough to review what we think of Juan Bautista Sacasa. He was the eldest son of Roberto Sacasa, 44th and 46th President of Nicaragua. And he was the 20th President of Nicaragua from 1 January 1933 to 9 June 1936. In 1932, Sacasa was elected President.

I dunno, I just quibble about what 'the U.S. installed' means, I dunno..this hand wringing. If getting any facts right is part of the solution then we are screwed. I guess you got anything right about the Dominican Republic maybe? ;)

Danny said...

What about what I call 'this hand wringing', which is in great supply, that is, internet hand wringing about those U.S. monsters who denied milk and cookies to Iraqi children, this sort of disapproval of mean uncle sam sort of thing, like a Noam Chomsky sort of stance. Like, we dropped the bomb on Japan, and I am filled with self-loathing as an American. Angry, supposedly. Like 'Rage Against the Machine' lyrics. Well, you know, it's hard, actually, to keep one's balance if one considers the amount of chaos and violence in history. It's an unpleasant subject. And while I quibble about Nicaraugua, for example, I guess I could gesture in the direction of willingness to look seriously at United States involvement in regime change. I guess this actually has entailed both overt and covert actions aimed at altering, replacing, or preserving foreign governments.

It's true, I think, that several national leaders, both dictators and democratically elected figures, were caught in the middle of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. Also, in the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. government undertook regime change actions mainly in Latin America and the southwest Pacific, and included the Mexican-American, Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars. At the onset of the 20th century the United States shaped or installed friendly governments in many countries including Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

There is stuff like the 1950 Korean War, the 1953 Iranian coup d'état, the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion targeting Cuba, the Vietnam War, and support for the Argentinian Dirty War.

I think that any legal claim advanced to justify regime change by a foreign power would be new to me, too -- what legal claim could be advanced? I'm skeptical. I mean, I'm not a lawyer..

I'll stipulate that following the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has led or supported wars to determine the governance of a number of countries.

So okay, maybe my focussing on Nicaragua truly is a quibble, given the list of covert United States involvement in regime change. One could even bring Nicaragua into it in a different way, by discussing various U.S.-backed and funded right-wing militant groups that were active from 1979 to the early 1990s. From an early stage, the rebels received financial and military support from the United States government.

Also, I implied, maybe, I that I could straighten the record out about the Dominican Republic, and I could do this. I'll keep it brief, though, and amuse myself by pointing out that I know that Trujillo was shot and killed and was the victim of an ambush plotted by a number of men, and that the plotters, however, failed to take control.

Punchline: the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the killing has been debated.

Danny said...

I had complaints about the accuracy of what was offered about El Jefe. Well, maybe I just like to emphasize how abstractly and informally this stuff tends to be -- people have their identities, and their convoluted biases, like when terms such as 'capitalism' and 'neoliberalism' are thrown around. Throw them around, or else there simply is no use for them. What about Trujillo, then? He ruled the Dominican Republic from February 1930 until his assassination in May 1961. Not only as an unelected military strongman under figurehead presidents, but also he served as president from 1930 to 1938 and again from 1942 to 1952. And we are talking about one of the bloodiest eras ever in the Americas, or at least I think that's what they say. Also, it is a time of a personality cult.

And it's intriguing, I suppose, that his dictatorship was concurrent, in whole or in part, with those in Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, and Haiti. But about his rise to power, is this just summed up as 'the United States set him up' or somesuch? My understanding is that Trujillowon promotion from lieutenant to general and commander-in chief of the Army in only nine years. And 'the Army', here, means a Dominican army constabulary. Now, the United States occupied the Dominican Republic, and was the occupying force, and established this. But there is much more to it, depending on what you want to emphasize. There was a rebellion that broke out against President Horacio Vásquez, and there was a rebel leader, who was proclaimed acting president. That was Rafael Estrella Ureña. And Trujillo was confirmed as head of the police and of the army, and there wound up being something called the 'Trujillo-Estralla' ticket, etc.

All very interesting stuff, I suppose, the more you learn about it. I'm just skimming some internet sources here. My point would not be that the United States is right to meddle in the world with certainty of a demigod, -- let me see, what is my point. Actually, I like to cop to taking a guilty pleasure in quibbling for its own sake. There are worse fates. I also wonder if we are really to blame for our, as I call them, convoluted biases. that is an incomplete thought..

Frank Templeton said...

Am I the only one who struggles mightily to figure out what the point is that Daniel Langlois is ever trying to make? Your posts read like a poorly curated amalgam of Wikipedia entries. Brevity is a virtue.

Enam el Brux said...
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Enam el Brux said...
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Enam el Brux said...

Typing on a phone is a hazard. The last sentence of the previous comment (inadvertently submitted twice) wasn't worth completing anyway.

Daniel Langlois seems to be opposed to socialism and in favor of capitalism. Some recognition that the captains of industry don't seem to be happy unless they systematically win asymmetric zero-sum games against the rest of us would be progress in my view. Or some consideration of the Panama Papers. The amounts funneled to offshore accounts is in the trillions (source: the London Review of Books)--more than enough to fund social programs.

Libertarians argue that such programs involve taking the property of others at the point of a gun, but for me such arguments have little force. This is because hominin political organization has always depended on the ability, acquired 2 million years ago, to kill conspecifics from a distance by projectile weapons. The second point to make (concisely) is that the form of human political organization tracks technological development in projectile weapons.

This is baked into human political organization--you can't travel a block in the city without seeing an advertisement featuring someone brandishing some sort of projectile. Granted such advertisements don't amount to a fully elaborate scientific anthropological account of the significance for human political organization of the development of projectile weapons--an advertisement for commercial entertainment provoking too much thought on this issue would undermine narratives that sustain present relations of production.

Namely, one might come to recognize that a tax you don't like, if you're a libertarian or an Ayn Randian, is "enforced at the point of a gun," but a subsidy you do like, say $750,000,000,000 for the oil industry, elicits no such rejoinder. Wall Street tells the politicians it funds to tell their constituents that it wants government out of their business. Against that, an official at the FDIC once told me that on the contrary, I was naive: Wall Street doesn't want government out of its business, it wants government to give it business. Another subsidy, enforced in the usual manner. This, by the way, is why genuine libertarians tend to have difficulty getting elected: they would tell Wall Street to let the market solve their problems for them.

Or perhaps you tell people, as the University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson does, that they ought to be grateful living under capitalism, compared to how others live around the world. Well, there is something to that--especially if you live in Canada with their national health care system--but again he says this without irony, immediately after informing his students about the Humean fork: you cannot derive an is from an ought. Deriving the ought of just desert from the is of prevailing relations of production is nevertheless an industry. Psychologists have an indispensable role to play here.

Enam el Brux said...
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Enam el Brux said...

oops, I had forgotten that the Humean fork referred to relations of ideas versus matters of fact (or rather, that the kinds of evidence or warrant for relations of ideas versus matters of fact are disjoint), and confused this with Hume's is-ought distinction.

I used to think, probably after reading imprecise second-hand accounts of the Humean fork (an awful text by John Hospers comes to mind), that Hume meant that relations between ideas and matters of fact had absolutely nothing to do with each other. But there had to be some relation, or there would be no "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics." One couldn't use empirical evidence against the consequent of a logically true conditional to assert that the antecedent is empirically false if one could never make use of logical or mathematical arguments in empirical research. But Hume's fork concerns the kind of warrant or evidence or justification for the truth matters of fact versus relations between ideas. Those kinds of warrant are disjoint. Anyway, I'm leaving the previous comment without deleting it and correcting that error.