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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Monday, July 16, 2018


My exchange with Jerry Fresia has now become much more serious than a dispute between two old lefties.  Since I think his latest extended comment must be read, I will reproduce it at the end of these remarks, rather than simply suggest that you hunt it up in the comments section.

Jerry’s statement is a cry from the heart, a cri de coeur, as the French say, and it takes precedence over everything I wrote in my previous posts.  We are, in this life, not disembodied spirits, but real human beings who have been born into a specific moment in time and have lived specific, concrete lives, lives that shape what we experience and believe.  Jerry has earned his deep-rooted skepticism about everything the powers that be proclaim in a way that I have not earned my readiness to credit Robert Mueller’s investigation.  Since I knew McGeorge Bundy and Henry Kissinger personally before they become lying defenders of America’s imperial brutality, I feel a certain confidence in my evaluation of them as lying sacks of shit, but to the larger world, they were no less credible than Robert Mueller.

I hope this investigation leads to Trump’s downfall, or at least to his political emasculation, whatever the underlying truth may be, but as regards the truth, we must simply wait and see.

Here is Jerry’s comment:

“First let me say that I hate being a fly in the ointment and, as well, I hate having to take positions that might even bolster Trump's claims of fake news. I will add that the latter part of your post is perfectly reasonable and I am attempted to say, "Yeah, that makes sense. I can accept that." But there's a big BUT that prevents me from doing so.

You haven't addressed two aspects of the situation that just flat out bug me. One has to do with trust, the other with the smearing of leftists. My guess is that you would probably agree that the CIA and FBI have have lied to the American people so many times on so many important issues (including Mueller re the WMD/Iraq debacle) that refusing to trust what the national security state declares as truth is rational. So for me, the issue has less to do with epistemology than it does with heartfelt trauma.

Your work with African Americans and South Africans seems to have had a searing impact on you and your point of view. We all probably have these kinds of searing, gut wrenching experiences that impact whom and what we trust. I was an intelligence officer with the Air Force during the Vietnam War. I never saw combat but I had a very high top secret clearance and I saw not only the reality of the horror of that war, I saw the orders of various barbaric missions days in advance of those order being carried out. It was painful watching all that unfold. But here's the kicker: as these events unfolded, government spokespeople and the media ALWAYS lied about was going on. There was no doubt about this from where sat. I knew various media military analysts knew almost as much as I did. I even tried to be a whistle blower but was rebuffed.

I had volunteered. But I was duped. I felt betrayed. It became clear to me that my life, not to mention the lives of the Vietnamese didn't count for squat. As time went on, I would learn (thanks to academics such as yourself) that the systems of betrayal had no limits. The US military tested bacterial weapons on unsuspecting Americans in San Francisco (MKULTRA), to cite one example of the contempt gov officials can have toward ordinary people. The CIA lied to JFK about the Bay of Pigs, knowing it would fail while telling him it would help oppressed Cubans overthrow the authoritarian Castro (had JFK, by the way, not shown enormous resolve in refusing US air support, revolutionary Cuba would never have survived). I believe that Malcom X, JFK, MLK, RFK, Fred Hampton and many Black Panthers, along with so many young African Americans today have been either murdered or their murders covered up by the national security state. And so what is behind all this mayhem and mendacity? Well, it begins with a simple fact that you have so eloquently explicated time and again: capitalism requires the exploitation of workers. And so it is not surprising that Martin Niemöller's first targeted population (First they came for the communists....") were leftists challenging fascism.

I once believed it all. I seriously drank the kool-aid. But those days are long gone. Mueller et al may be right. But I won't grant him that validation, not until he is shown to be correct in a court of law or in some process that permits his case to be challenged publicly on the evidence. I'm like the wife, I suppose, who has been cheated on many times. Trust the bastard? Never again.”


The exchanges in the comments section triggered by Jerry Fresia’s comment and my response raise very interesting questions about what we know and how we know it.  To an extent that most of us do not often reflect upon, our knowledge of the world is socially grounded, not the product of individual observation or the formulation and confirmation and disconfirmation of hypotheses.  Let me offer, as a start, a few trivial examples and then a more serious extended example, all without venturing into politically or ideologically contested territory.

I believe that Jerry Fresia exists, that he holds a doctorate from UMass and is a distinguished and successful artist.   I believe this because I have read it online.  What is more, I believe that there is a single individual who repeatedly over the years has commented on this blog, and that this individual is the very same Jerry Fresia.  But I have never met Jerry Fresia, nor have I observed him writing and posting comments to this blog, and if someone claimed that this blog persona is the creation of a right wing conspiracy designed [somewhat unsuccessfully, to be sure] to sow discord on the left, I would have no sound counterevidence and would be reduced to ineffectual sputtering.

You who read this blog believe, I should imagine, that it is written by an American philosopher in his eighties named Robert Paul Wolff, but with the exception of Tom Cathcart, Charles Parsons, and a few others, including my sister Barbara, none of you has actually met me or talked to me.  For a long time, you could learn quite a bit about this character Robert Paul Wolff by going to Wikipedia, but some while ago one of Google’s internal police force decided the article on me was unsourced and with a keystroke wiped out all of it but the very first sentence.  Should that minatory figure revisit the entry, I may be completely obliterated, thereby, so far as the Cloud is concerned, becoming just one more bot.

I also believe that Pelham, Massachusetts, where I lived for twenty-one years, lies to the northeast of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I moved in 2008.  Why do I believe this?  Because a variety of maps show that it does.  To be sure, I have twice driven between the two cities, following interstate highways for most of the distance, but if I were called on to demonstrate to a sceptic the geographic relationship of the two towns I would be forced to appeal to generally accepted authorities, including the orientation display in the driving mirror of my 2004 Camry.  Someone who doubts such well-known facts is a nut, a kook, a conspiracy junkie, right?

Well, consider this case.  Charles Darwin, as we all know, launched modern evolutionary biology with his theory of natural selection.  But Darwin had no idea of the mechanisms of biological evolution.  It was the work first of Gregor Mendel and then of Thomas Hunt Morgan that located this mechanism in the genes lying on chromosomes in the cells of living things.  [Personal aside:  Hunt worked with fruit flies, specifically Drosophila Melenogaster, because they have unusually large chromosomes that are visible using the microscopes available in the early 20th century.  My sister, Barbara, won the national Westinghouse Science Talent Search in 1948 with research on phenocopies in Drosophila Melenogaster, and as a consequence during much of her senior year in high school, we ate dinner each evening in the Wolff household under a small cloud of fruit flies that had escaped from our basement and come up looking for food.]

The result was something in evolutionary biology known as the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, given dramatic confirmation and specification by Watson and Crick’s demonstration of the double helix structure of the chromosome.  This synthesis dominated evolutionary biology for many, many years, yielding Nobel Prizes and other social recognitions of the brilliant work of several generations of scientists.

There were a few fringe dissenters, of course, as there always are in science, as in life.  One was a woman name Lynn Margulis, best known as the wife of the astronomer and TV superstar Carl Sagan.  Early in  her career as an evolutionary biologist, Margulis put forward the bizarre hypothesis that very early on, maybe two billion years ago or so, at a time when life was extremely primitive and organisms did not even have cellular structures with nuclei, two distinct organisms merged in a process she called symbiosis.  One of the two went on living inside the other, and when the host reproduced, so did the visitor, independently.  According to Margulis, the essential structures in modern cells known as mitochondria are the descendants of that early symbiosis.  What is more, she claimed, such symbiotic mergings continue.

Well, established evolutionary biologists scoffed, Margulis had trouble even publishing her papers, and she spent her career in the sticks first teaching at Boston University and then at UMass Amherst, where we overlapped for ten years, although I am sorry to say I never met her.  Margulis championed a number of fringe theories, including the claim that the 9/11 twin towers attack was a false flag operation and that the towers collapsed not as a result of the impact of the airplanes but because of timed detonations of bombs placed strategically in the buildings.

Clearly a nut, right?  Right, except for one inconvenient fact.  Her theory of symbiosis turns out to be correct, and is now regarded in the profession as one of the foundations of modern evolutionary biology, along with the work of Darwin, Hunt, and Watson and Crick.

 I think the specifications in the indictments secured by Mueller are reliable, I genuinely do.  Will it turn out, some months from now, that Trump consciously and deliberately conspired with Putin.  I have no idea, although I strongly suspect he did.  Is the investigation a deep state conspiracy designed to frustrate the legitimate will the American people as expressed in the 2016 election.  Of course.  Does that make the charges false?  Of course not.  I think the charges are true.  I also suspect that if an establishment candidate had engaged in the same behavior, it would have been buried.  Does that mean Trump is no worse than Bush or Obama or Clinton?  Nope.

Is that all perfectly clear now?

Saturday, July 14, 2018


I have just read the entire 29 page indictment handed down by the Grand Jury against a group of Russian military intelligence officers.   You can read it here.  I urge you to do so as well.  It is quite remarkable.  Mueller and his team seem to know a good bit about each of these Russians:  their names, their cover names, their ranks, the precise addresses of their offices, the time to the minute when they logged on, began to hack, planted malware, tried to erase evidences of their hacking, and on and on.  For all I know, Mueller knows what they have for breakfast.  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Do I believe what the indictment says?  Yes I do.  I also believe a man walked on the moon, that vaccinations can protect children from infectious diseases, and that the sun rises in the east. Could I be wrong about all of these beliefs?  Of course.  I have read Descartes’ Meditations I and II.  I know the difference between logical certainty and well established fact.  Do I understand the difference between an indictment and a conviction? Yes, in fact I know that too. 

Do I think there will, before too many months have gone by, indictments of Americans who conspired with the Russians?  I do, actually.  Is this speculation on my part?  Of course.  We shall have to wait and see.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


After Serena Williams powered her way into the Finals at Wimbledon, I spent some time idly watching a pathetic array of Republicans do everything they could to harass FBI Agent Peter Strzok during his testimony before their committee.  They managed to establish three facts:

1.         Strzok was personally extremely opposed to Donald Trump being elected president.
2.         Strzok believed that the FBI had evidence that Trump was conspiring with the Russians to gain an advantage in the election, evidence which if revealed would hurt Trump’s election prospects.
3.         Strrzok did absolutely nothing to reveal this evidence to the public before the election.

If we assume that the Republicans desired that Donald Trump be elected president, why are they not pinning a medal on him?

[The question is a mocking rhetorical question, for those who have trouble identifying irony.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


David Baldacci is an enormously successful schlock fiction writer whose titles, if book jackets are to be believed, have sold 130 million copies worldwide.  I picked up a copy of his recent 2017 book, End Game, in the Carolina Meadows library and am now eighty pages from finishing it.  About a fifty pages ago, it suddenly dawned on me that the character who is going to turn out to be the bad guy has a life story that point for point parallels that of Donald Trump.  Suddenly, what was a rather mediocre read has taken on new interest.


Alert students of the higher reaches of the intellectual sphere will have seen the distressing stories about the distinguished Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.  It seems that Professor Dershowitz, who summers on Martha’s Vineyard, has been shunned lately by the elite inhabitants of that storied vacation retreat who, because of his defense of President Trump, have stopped inviting him to their dinner parties.  Dershowitz, exhibiting admirable restraint, has compared this behavior to McCarthyism.  But I think a more substantive legal argument can be advanced.

It is of course second nature to a famous constitutional law expert like Dershowitz that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution “prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments.”  What is more, the Supreme Court has ruled that the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause applies to the states as well.   It is beyond dispute that banishment from a Martha’s Vineyard dinner party is cruel and unusual, and it is surely a very small reach indeed to extend the constitutional prohibition from states to vacation resorts.

I am no scholar of the law, but I think Professor Dershowitz has a legitimate cause of action.  Inasmuch as such suits can be costly, and Dershowitz, as an emeritus Harvard professor, is compelled to live on whatever pension that financially strapped institution provides, I propose that all fair-minded defenders of the rule of law launch a gofundme effort.  I am prepared to commit a penny to the effort, and if one hundred million good Americans will join me, Professor Dershowitz will have the beginnings of a defense fund.

I mean, fair is fair.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


In recent posts, I have spoken of Trump as leading America into fascism.  Rather than continue in that dramatic rhetorical fashion, I thought today I would say something of a general nature about the structure of American politics.  My conclusion, to get very much ahead of myself, will be that what is wrong with American politics, and what can be fixed, starts at the bottom, not at the top.  My characterization, I hope, will also illuminate the ways in which current trends in America do and do not resemble those that brought Hitler and Mussolini to power.  [The fasces, the symbol of power that gives us the word “fascism,” is ancient Roman in origin, and has been adopted by many political movements since.]

The drafters of the U. S. Constitution gave to the political structure of the new Republic three structural characteristics that, taken together, form the distinctively American political system.  First, they adopted a federal structure that left autonomy and power to the several states.  Originally, the federal government was strikingly weak, making seniority in the Senate, for example, almost as important as the presidency.  The modern imperial presidency that we have come to take for granted is really a product first of the Great Depression and then of World War II and the ensuing Cold War.

Second, the Constitution was deliberately designed, in accordance with political theories current in the 17th and 18th centuries, to make the Senators and Representatives dependent on and answerable to their territorially defined constituents.  The expectation was that the private career self-interest of the representative would make him or her [it was originally always him] sensitively attuned to constituents’ interests and desires.  It is not a corruption of American democracy that Senators and Representatives conform their votes in the Legislature to the prejudices of their constituents rather than to the national interest or the ideals of democracy.  It is a feature, not a bug, as folks like to say these days.  Nor should we imagine that the moral character of Republicans is necessarily inferior to that of Democrats.  There is really nothing to choose, from a transcendental perspective, between Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer.  Each represents his constituents quite effectively and sensitively.

Third, the election of the president was to be determined by each state’s electors rather than by the popular vote.  We are all painfully conscious of this feature of American democracy because the last two Republican presidencies have come to that office after losing the popular vote.

These structural characteristics, particularly the first and third, are in no way integral to democracy ­per se.  In South Africa, for example, voters choose political parties, not candidates.  Each party nominates an entire slate, in order of party preference, long enough in theory to fill the legislature.  The party’s national share of the popular vote determines which segment of the list, counting from the top, goes into the government.  Thus, no person in South Africa can identify his or her representative, and members of the legislature do not have a defined body of constituents.  The third characteristic, the Electoral College, is of course unique to America.

With this as the fundamental structure of American democracy, there are two features of the contemporary operation of the political system that, more than any other, deserve our attention.  One of these is vastly more important than the other.

The first feature is the role of money in elections.  Although this feature routinely gets enormous attention by progressive critics of the system, particularly in the aftermath of the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, it is in fact relative to other factors not terribly important.  America is a very large and very wealthy country, and elections are not very expensive.  In a full-scale presidential campaign these days, the two parties together spend about as much in total as Americans will spend that year on peanut butter, namely ~2.5 billion dollars.  There are more than enough super-rich lefties to fill the coffers of the Democratic Party, and if a candidate wishes to go the Bernie Sanders route, well, ten million supporters donating $25 each will provide 250 million dollars.  What is more, whereas television is expensive, social media are virtually free.  A lack of money on the left does not explain why America is teetering on the edge of fascism.

The second feature, which is the key to everything that is currently politically wrong with America, is that vast numbers of Americans eligible to vote do not bother to do so.  This has nothing to do with voter suppression efforts, by the way, which operate at the margins.  The simple fact is that in presidential elections, only 55-60% of the eligible voters vote, and in mid-term elections, only 35-40% vote.  Once again, this is not inevitable.  Currently, there are about ten democracies around the world that actually require all citizens to vote.

So, as I have often observed on this blog, in the American political system as it currently operates, the secret to success is mobilizing and motivating one’s supporters.  [Gerrymandering, which currently favors Republicans, is entirely a consequence of the success of the Republicans in bringing their supporters to the polls in mid-term and off-year state elections.]  The Democrats actually have a majority share of the electorate in their support, and for a variety of demographic reasons, their advantage is over time improving.

Why then are we not having fun?

There are many reasons, but one stands out, in my view, above all the others.  A large part of the White majority is affronted, offended, frightened, angered, and bewildered by the patent fact that America is moving inexorably toward majority non-white status.  These emotions dominate and even put into eclipse economic interest, with two consequences:  First, enabling Republicans to successfully serve the interests of big business by playing on the racial fears of Whites whom they are economically screwing; and Second, enabling an opportunist like Trump to drop the dog whistles and go full frontal fascist.

What can we do?  Sigh.  It is such a letdown to follow this highfalutin analysis with a banal punch line, but the answer is simple.  Vote.

Sunday, July 8, 2018


I have had my fun with establishment American economists, likening them to denizens of Plato’s Cave, building brilliant careers on guessing at the succession of images flickering on the cave wall.  Still and all, fair is fair, and though they are biologically incapable of forming the words “Karl Marx,” the best of them really are good at predicting shadows.  So this morning, I shall tip my hat to Paul Krugman, shadow guesser supreme, who in this Op Ed column does a nice job of anatomizing the self-destructive inanity of Trump’s trade wars.


I was rather struck by the fact that my post entitled “Two EMail Messages” provoked only two comments, both of them simply links to other sites.  I fear the point of the post may have been lost.  My purpose was to contrast the prosaic and utterly unremarkable content of the phone script with Phil Green’s beautifully articulated cry of despair, something I would have been proud to write had I his polemical skill.  I was trying to illustrate how mundane actual political work is, at the ground level.

I have now made my first 19 calls, leaving the remaining 12 for this afternoon.  The result?  I left 10 messages on answering machines, was told that 5 numbers were disconnected, got one no-answer [no answering machine], one weird sound, was told tartly by one woman to please remove her from our call list, and spoke to one enthusiastic supporter who thanked me for my service.  Is this really a good use of the time of a man who is, as Clint Eastwood puts it in one movie, a legend in his own mind?  Indeed it is.  Since I have nothing better to do, the opportunity cost is zero.  But there is more to it than that.  Let me explain. 

The fundamental fact about midterm elections in America is that most eligible voters don’t vote.  Roughly 35-40% of those who can vote bother to do so.  Republican Freedom Caucus member Mark Walker has won the 6th North Carolina CD the two times he has run by about 59-41%.  For the sake of numerical simplicity, call it a 60/40 district.  This is an enormous hill for young Democratic challenger Ryan Watts to climb.  It would seem that he must persuade one out of every six Republicans to switch parties, an impossible task.  But appearances can deceive.  Consider.

Suppose that in November the Republicans in the N.C. 6th CD are a tad dispirited, and not energized because Trump’s name is not on the ballot.  Let us imagine that they turn out at a low but not at all impossible 33%.  At the same time, suppose the local Democrats are fired up, by babies torn from mothers’ arms, by Mueller indictments, by the threat of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and come to the polls in numbers more to be expected in a presidential year, say 50% of them.  Now 1/3 of 60 is 20, and ½ of 40 is also 20, and suddenly a 60-40 district becomes a 50-50 race, in which an upset is entirely possible.

What has to happen for this fantasy to become reality?   Here we come to the on the ground reality of American politics, which is that organizationally, it is radically decentralized.  I am not just talking about the fact that the political organization of each state is a world unto itself, but that this decentralization reaches right down to the county level.  Sometimes, in presidential years, a national campaign achieves a startling degree of efficiency, as in fact Obama’s two campaigns did, but for the most part, and especially in off-year elections, candidates must rely on the organizational muscle of the local party, and that varies greatly from state to state, county to county.

For whatever historical reason, the North Carolina Democratic Party is a rather pathetic mess, so much so that in 2008 and 2012, when I worked here for Obama, I observed that his campaign staff simply bypassed the state party.  It made no use, for example, of the state party’s outdated and inadequate database of voters, addresses, phone numbers, and party registration.  If Ryan Watts is to achieve a Democratic voter turnout sufficient to turn a 60/40 district into a 50-50 race, he is going to need accurate voter records.  Now, Chatham County, where I live, is one of the few Democratic bastions in a Republican CD, and it has a pretty good county Democratic machine, but Alamance County, 30 miles to the northwest, does not.  So the Chatham County Dems are offering a helping hand to the Alamance County Dems by making calls to update the lists and reach out to supporters in Alamance.

And that is why I sat at my desk yesterday, and will sit at my desk today, working my way down the list of numbers and reading from my script.

Saturday, July 7, 2018


When I got up this morning, there were two email messages for me, aside from the flood of political money appeals.  In light of the vigorous discussion that has sprung up in response to my post about ringing doorbells, I thought I would reproduce both of them here.  I cannot imagine a more striking contrast.

The first message was from a volunteer with the Ryan Watts Congressional campaign.  She had sent me a list of 30 names and telephone numbers, and I had promised to call them this weekend.  This is the “script”:

“Hello, I am (name) ______ a volunteer with Ryan Watts' Campaign, Ryan is our 6th Congressional District Democratic Candidate. We are inviting you to Ryan's Town Hall on Thursday, July 12th, 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, auditorium at Alamance Community College in Graham. Will you be able to attend the Town Hall?  Thank you.”

Alamance is a town roughly in the middle of the 6th CD, just off Interstate 85.

The second message was from Philip Green, a well-known political scientist and radical activist, a professor emeritus from Smith College, a member of The Nation editorial board, and the author of many fine books.  Phil and I first met in Sunnyside, Queens.  He was three and I was two.  It is said we rode on occasion in the same baby carriage on Skilman Avenue.

SEVEN THESES        Phil Green. 7/4/18

I.    The Present

Engels proclaimed in the 19th Century that the choice was "Socialism or Barbarism."  The suspense is over. The barbarians are not at the gates, they're inside. More, they're inside the Temple: ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, Orthodox Christians in Russia, fundamentalists in the Islamic world, evangelical Christians in America. The New Testament as a blueprint for theocratic tyranny and contempt for the weak, the stateless, the needy. No need for Attila; any minister will do.

II.  The Constitution

Stalin famously asked "How many divisions does the Pope have?"  The answer is not recorded, though we know the Pope won in the end.  Donald Trump has asked, over and over again, "How many divisions does the Constitution have?"  And the answer, over and over, has been crystal clear to him: None.  Lots of handwringing by liberal lawyers on MSNBC, exegeses of what this or that passage really means, outcries by Democrats. Drops of fresh tears in the ocean of salt. The 14th and 15th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act are dead. In the latter case Vladimir Putin, the international gangster whose boots he lovingly licks, will help cement the elimination of "free and fair" elections. The 1st and 2nd Amendments are perverted beyond recovery; due process (Amendments 4, 5, and 6) and the Rule of Law have been effectively abolished, the DOJ turned into a "Handmaid" of tyranny.
    The President is the most powerful person on the Planet; nothing he has done or does can be overturned) no matter what happens in the Midterms.  The Supremes, soon to be instantiated as the High Court of Theocracy and Autocracy, as well as an obeisant Republican Party, will ensure all that. The Constitution is indeed, as has sometimes been said, but a piece of parchment. Shreddable. Or like Wiley E. Coyote, it's been running off the edge of a cliff while pretending it wasn't falling.  Gravity has won.

III.  The Police State

Concentration camps.  A legitimized Gestapo that rules at will, wherever it goes, with brute force behind it.  Geheimestaatspolizei. Violence cannot be contained  at a border. The knock on the door is the Law. Militarized police enforce White Supremacy. As one German commentator put it, we have "Anti-Semitism without Jews."  On this Continent, Muslims and Central Americans will serve just as well.  Not to mention transsexuals. And uppity young blacks. And women who don't treat their fetuses with proper respect.

IV.   "Totalization"

Let us celebrate all those clever accommodationsists who predicted the "end of ideology," the "triumph of liberal democracy," and best of all, the end of "totalizing theories," i.e.  Marxism, i.e., "totalitarianism."  Just as the final totalization of all, the unregulated "free" market, was taking over everywhere.  Like those TV sports analysts who lucidly explain why something is happening one play before the opposite comes crashing to life.
    Totalization: in a perfect inversion of Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice, there is no sphere of social living that can justly resist that take-over, nothing that can't be bought or sold, no scrap of welfare that can't be dispensed with, except of course the military budget, the first-resort instrument of white male justice and the capitalism with which it has made its peace.  Ralph Miliband coined the term "totalitarian capitalism" to describe China. Or coming to theater near you,  government by the Kochs, the Adelson, the Thieles, the Mercers. But sure, Leon Golub can hang his art anywhere.

V.  Fascism

The climb may have  been difficult, but the descent is proving to be easy.The  recipe is simple. The Devil's Bargain: the plutocracy gets the votes of the white supremacy tribe–by no means limited to the so-called "working class." In return, the Authoritarian Populist mob, its appeal to violence unrestrained, gets to rule over its opponents in the name of "The People." When I hear that phrase I reach for my passport.  In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
    Liberals keep complaining incredulously, "but they're voting against their own interests!" Fateful misunderstanding.  For nihilism and bigotry, there's always work to be done. The only requirement is a leader who will call that spirit from the vasty deep. The mob then votes for the grandest self-interest of all: revenge.  Schadenfreud. Ressentiment. Straight out of Central Europe, the train is on its way To The Munich Station. Smash families? Steal children? The best "fuck you" money can buy. Melted ice caps lapping at our shores? "There will be rain tonight...Let it come down." "Find what occurred at Linz/What huge imago made a psychopathic god." Or in Queens. The license to say "Fuck you" to everyone you hate, or feel hard done by, or envy, or above all, feel dispossessed by:  robbed of your centuries-old reward of over-representation.

VI.   Resistance

The police are either legitimate or they are not.  If they are, nothing more to be said.  If not, nothing will come out of nothing. Not marches in the park, not articles in The Nation, not even female veterans of combat running for office everywhere. Good for morale. But they only understand force.  Masses: blocking the Courthouse steps, as in Poland; taking over the forbidden voting places; keeping ICE out of churches, workplaces, homes.  Fighting back.  Not going gentle: making them know what they have to do, and forcing them to do it–letting everyone see their true colors, the stakes, the cost. Losing, but not surrendering.

VII.   The Future?

Nothing is fixed; it's not only shit that happens.  But,

"...imagine a boot, stamping on a human face..."

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins."

Philip Green

Thursday, July 5, 2018


I am not offering to ring doorbells and make calls out of faux man of the people humility.  If there were something more consequential I could do, I would do it.  I am beside myself with despair and apprehension, and I need to do something.  Working for the local Democratic challenger is something, and if I can manage to multiply my vote by getting others to the polls, then I need to do it.  Will my efforts all by themselves make the difference?  Of course not.  Will my efforts and those of a relatively small number of others -- twenty, thirty, fifty others -- make the difference?  Very possibly.  I won't know unless I try.  I don't like the mechanics of campaigning.  It is not my preferred way to spend the summer and beyond.  But these really are perilous times.


I am genuinely flattered by the comments by Jerry Fresia and S. Wallerstein.  However, I shall persevere with my journeyman work of knocking on doors and making calls, or whatever else the Watts campaign wants me to do.  None of that will interfere with my writing, which I do for the most part in my head anyway.  I rather doubt I am suited to be a Thomas Paine.  My inclination is to engage in analysis rather than to issue calls to arms.  I have been writing for sixty years, and I do not think asnyone ever put me on a banner or a bumper sticker.

By the way, I just went on line to check out Paul Krugman's latest Op Ed column for the TIMES, and found this opening sentence, which captures perfectly everything I hate about him:

"As I wrote the other day, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may call herself a socialist and represent the left wing of the Democratic party, but her policy ideas are pretty reasonable."

He really is insufferable.


When Susie and I moved south to Chapel Hill, NC, we found ourselves in a blue puddle surrounded by a red sea.  The fourth Congressional District of North Carolina is a safely Democratic enclave that has been represented for thirty years [save for a brief two year lapse] by David Price, a reliably liberal Democrat who holds a Yale doctorate in Political Science and taught at Duke before entering Congress.  He wins re-election each time he runs by anywhere from 15 to 30 points.  As a consequence, voting in Chapel Hill was pleasant but politically pointless.  I might just as well have stayed home.

A year ago, we moved again, this time five miles further south to Carolina Meadows, the continuing care retirement community that is now our home.  Thanks to the precise and thoughtful planning of the Republican majority in the state legislature, Carolina Meadows lies about four and a half feet inside the 6th CD, an equally reliable Republican stronghold.  The 6th CD is represented by the execrable Mark Walker, now in his second term.  Walker is an extreme right-wing member of the House Freedom caucus, briefly famous a short while ago for opining, after the Catholic House of Representatives Chaplain was abruptly fired by Paul Ryan, that the House needed a chaplain with a wife and children – which is to say, not a Catholic.  Walker, by the way, was a Baptist minister for twenty years.

The 6th CD is what the political insiders call an R +9 district, which is to say it usually goes for the Republicans by 18 points, more or less [+9 means 9 points over 50%, not 9 points over the Democrat.]  This year, Walker is being challenged by Ryan Watts, a 27 year old graduate of UNC Chapel Hill making his political debut.  Watts is no fire breathing liberal, but he has articulated a standard moderately progressive program, in hopes that a blue wave will carry him to D.C.  Manifestly, Watts has a big hill to climb, but after all, Conor Lamb eked out a win in a Pennsylvania R +10 district, so hope springs eternal.  I have volunteered to work for the Watts campaign, at least during the next eight weeks before the Fall Columbia semester begins.

In midterms, the whole game is turnout, of course.  The norm is for 35-40% of the eligible voters actually to go to the polls.  Carolina Meadows is in Chatham County, one of the few D-leaning counties of the 6th CD.  Carolina Meadows itself, as I have reported, is a hotbed of support for the Democratic Party, but getting people here to vote is not difficult.  Carolina Meadows is actually the voting location for our precinct, which means the my fellow old folks can vote on their way to the dining room or the library.  The rest of Chatham County, to our south, is mostly rural land with a few urban centers, such as Pittsboro and Siler City, and there ought to be some Democratic votes to harvest there.

I do not much enjoy politicking, if the truth be told, but I volunteered for Obama and walked door to door for Clinton, so while I diet, I will do what the Watts campaign wants me to do, and hope that I can bring a few lazy souls to the polls.  I think this is the most important election I have participated in since I first knocked on doors in East Cambridge for Adlai Stevenson in 1956.

All politics are local.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Among today’s news stories was a report that the Trump administration, not surprisingly, will oppose considerations of race in college admissions.  As I walked this morning, I carried out an argument in my head, as I so often do, this time against a defender of the administration position arguing in typical self-righteous fashion for college admissions based solely on merit, on demonstrated academic accomplishment or promise.  Rather than key my discussion today to the fact that it is the Fourth of July [we anarchists are not big on national holidays], I thought I would put in some coherent form the substance of my imagined argument.  As always, I find it useful to begin with some statistics and some history [save when talking about Kant, but that is another matter entirely.]

Higher education on the North American continent is 382 years old, if we take the 1636 founding of Harvard College as our terminus a quo.  Over that time, there have been four significant changes in the undergraduate portion of American higher education, all of them taking place in the fifteen years or so after World War II.

The first change was the explosion of public higher educational institutions, dramatically and permanently changing the balance of private and public institutions.  Until the end of WW II, the private sector dominated, even though, as a consequence of the Land Grant Act of 1862, a sector of state universities came into existence.  Although private colleges are created only rarely, so many state university campuses and state college systems have come into existence in the past sixty or seventy years that there are now more than 2,600 college and university campuses in the United States offering four year degrees.

The second change was the transformation of regional colleges and universities into national [and even international] institutions.  Before the war, schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Michigan, et al. served mostly local clientele.  It was unusual, for example, for someone from the Midwest or far west or deep south to go to college in New England.  Starting after the war, schools actively sought nationally representative student bodies.

The third change was the dramatic rise in the number of applicants to the most highly sought after colleges, a change in part resulting from the sharp increase in the number of young people seeking higher educational degrees [I leave to one side the deeper question whether they were seeking higher education.]  A few anecdotal statistics will illustrate this change.  In 1950, when I started my undergraduate education at Harvard, only 5% of adult Americans had college degrees.  Ninety-five percent did not.  Sixty eight years later, 35% of adult Americans have college degrees, still a small minority, but seven times as many proportionately.  When I applied 1949 for admission to Harvard, 2200 young men applied, 1650 were admitted, and 1250 of us showed up to form the class of ’54.  It was much easier to get into Harvard when I applied than it is today to get into the University of Massachusetts.

There was a fourth change, the change that has given rise to the debate about so-called Affirmative Action.  It was a response both to the dramatic rise in the number of high school graduates seeking college degrees and to the transformation of colleges and universities from regional to national aspirations.  Let me explain, again by the use of an anecdote.  By 1960, I had my doctorate, had done a stint in the army, and was an Instructor at Harvard, living in Winthrop House as a Resident Tutor [free room and board in return for talking to undergraduates.]  One day McGeorge Bundy stopped by to visit the Senior Common Room.  He was then Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, before he went off to Washington to be Jack Kennedy’s National Security Advisor and oversee the Bay of Pigs and America’s entry into Viet Name.  He remarked that Harvard now was getting 5000 applicants a year [two and a half times as many as a decade earlier, but of course nothing like the 42,742 who applied this past year.]  Bundy said, “One thousand are clear admits, one thousand are clear rejects, and the real problem is making decisions about the remaining three thousand, every one of whom has something to be said for him.”

In short, elite colleges went from having admissions requirements to designing and implementing admissions policies.  Until that period, colleges had simply specified the preparation required for admissions – so much Latin, so much mathematics, and so forth.  But the flood of applicants at the elite schools presented a problem.  Many more young people were applying for admission than there was room for, so some deliberate choices had to be made about what one wanted the entering class to look like.  This was not a problem at the majority of colleges and universities, be it noted.  They were fighting to fill their classrooms.  But with the competition for good jobs in the economy and the rising educational credentials for those jobs, made possible by the increase in the number of college graduates, the value of a degree from an elite college soared, and so did the pool of applicants.

The first result was an expansion of the college bureaucracies.  Entire Admissions Departments, headed up by Deans of Admissions, came into existence.  Little by little, decisions were made at the administrative level that translated in to admissions policies.  A number of admissions criteria were put in place around the country, not only in the private higher educational sector, but in the elite public sector as well.  Everyone these days is aware of at least some of these criteria, but it is worth enumerating them to focus our attention on just how much of a change in admissions practices they involved.  Here are just a few:

1:         Private colleges adopted the policy of giving preference to applicants one of whose parents had attended the college – so-called “legacies.”
2:         Co-educational colleges sought to establish and maintain a rough gender balance.
3:         Colleges actively sought to achieve geographical distribution, sending admissions personnel on recruiting missions to secondary schools in underrepresented regions of the country.
4:         Colleges sought to achieve and maintain a balance of undergraduates pursuing degrees in the Arts and Humanities, in the Social Sciences, and in Natural Science and Mathematics.
5:         Colleges sought to restrict the number of Jewish undergraduates [now a somewhat less popular criterion of admissions or rejection.]
6:         Colleges sought to recruit young men with special gifts or potential in intercollegiate sports.  Later, this policy was extended to young women as well.
7:         Colleges sought to maximize their impact on the larger society by recruiting students who gave evidence of a desire to go into public service of some sort.


In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, northern elite colleges began admitting, and then even recruiting, students of color.  And all hell broke loose.  People of the highest and most unimpeachable principle, who had caviled not at all at admission preferences based on legacies, on gender balance, on regional distribution, on fields of concentration, on religion, on sports ability, or on ambitions for public service, suddenly discovered that they were academic purists, concerned that admission be based on academic accomplishment or ability alone.

It would be otiose to observe that these objections are transparently racist.

What in earth would an undergraduate body be like that was recruited solely on the basis of academic considerations?  My personal example, which may of course be dated now, is the contrast I observed between the students walking the halls of Harvard and of MIT.  The Harvard students looked as though they had responded to a call from central casting for a TV advertising gig:  handsome, pulled together, neatly dressed, pleasingly varied in their racial and cultural diversity.  The MIT students were utterly different: tall, short, fat, thin, geeky, black, white, red, brown, yellow, weird.  Pretty obviously one could see that all they had in common was smarts.

The case giving rise to the dispute about affirmative action is the manifest effort of Harvard to hold down the proportion of Asian students, who are the new Jews.  I have no doubt the new assault on affirmative action will succeed, but I do not think I can bear the smug assertions by the supporters of this assault that all they care about is academic ability.  Puleeese.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


I have been fighting flab for forty years.  This is not a world-historical struggle against the concept of overweight, simply my own personal battle.  At my tallest, I was 5’9” and with the advance of age, I have shrunk [rather like the Wicked Witch of the West] so that I am now a mere 5’6½.  Periodically I go on diets, drive my weight down to an acceptable level, and then watch it slowly, inexorably rise.  Since this all gathers around my middle, it is happily not visible when I sit at a table lecturing on Kant or Marx or Freud, but it is there, bulging in unsightly fashion

When I returned from Paris a week and a half ago, I topped out at an alarming 184, so I decided to devote the summer to slimming down in preparation for my Columbia University gig in the Fall.  I immediately stopped drinking red wine and bought two batches of carrots to substitute for my usual snacks.  [A pound of body fat equals 3500 calories, and a bottle of red wine is 620 calories.  Since I drink a tad less than half a bottle a day, a week going without wine, which is hell, only saves me 3/5 of a pound.  It doesn’t seem fair, somehow.]

Well, after a bit more than one week of dieting, I am seven pounds lighter.  How is this possible?  One answer is that my scale is wrong, but I only recently replaced the battery, so that’s not it.  The second answer is that I have somehow managed to eat, in eight days, 25,000 calories less than my body needs to function properly, which is nonsense.  The third answer is the real one.  My body really hates it when I diet, so it does everything it can to persuade me that it is not necessary.  It sheds water frantically, virtually crying out “See?  See? No need!  No need!”  I have been through this before, so it does not fool me.  In a day or so it will give it up and behave normally.  Long experience teaches me that over the course of the summer, if I can last that long, I will lose one and a half to two pounds of real weight a week.  Since this is probably the last diet I will ever go on [I mean, who tries to lose weight at ninety?] I better make it a good one.


I am eighty-four years old.  For most of those years, I have been observing other people and making judgments about why they behave as they do.  There is nothing remarkable about this fact.  Everyone in the world does the same thing, and always has.  It is the way we humans live.  All of us are remarkably good at assessing and interpreting the behavior of others.  We have to be to survive.  Some of us, of course, are better than others, and a few are so good at it that they seem to have supernatural powers.  I would estimate that I am about average when it comes to figuring out why other people are acting as they do.  In this post, I am going to offer an opinion about why Donald Trump is doing what he is doing.  Do I have inside information?  Of course not.  Is my opinion admissible in a court of law?  A silly question.  Am I some sort of expert on human motivation?  Hardly.  I am just a person, which is to say I am someone who, like everyone else, has spent a lifetime interpreting the behavior of others.  Feel free to disagree.  But please, do not appeal to conspiracy theories or anti-Main Stream Media or ideological considerations.  If you think my explanation is wrong, then as another human being, which is to say as someone who has spent a lifetime making sense of people’s actions, tell me why you think Trump is doing what he is doing.  Remember, generally speaking, your judgment is as good as mine.

Let me give you my conclusions first, so you know where I am going with this.  I think Trump is being paid by Putin to conform American foreign, economic, and military policy to what Putin thinks are Russia’s interests.  This is not the only possible explanation for Trump’s behavior, but it seems to me the most plausible.  The principal items of evidence on which I am basing this conclusion are Trump’s trade war, his efforts to undermine NATO, his acceptance of Russia’s reabsorption of Crimea and effort to control Ukraine, his scuttling of the Iran nuclear deal, and somewhat more atmospherically his efforts to rehabilitate Putin as a respected player on the international scene.

Now, please do not protest that NATO is an evil arm of American imperial policy and ought to be undermined.  Perhaps so, but that is irrelevant.  I am not offering an opinion about the wisdom, virtue, or defensibility of America’s geopolitical stance.  I am offering an opinion about what is motivating Trump.

Here are three alternative explanations, together with my reasons for believing they are wrong.

First:  Trump has a coherent, thought-out geopolitical view about America’s proper role in the world, a view that conflicts with the consensus view that has ruled American policy in a bipartisan fashion for the past seventy years.  This is certainly possible, but it seems to me to be in conflict with what I know about Trump from my observation of him.  He is, in my judgment as an average human observer and interpreter of people, ignorant of world affairs, uninterested in world affairs, either unwilling or incapable of learning about world affairs, and temperamentally unable to focus his mind on such matters long enough to formulate anything resembling a geopolitical position.

Second:  Trump is being guided by his advisors, who are, in Lenin’s immortal phrase, using him as a useful idiot to advance their own carefully thought out policies.  This would make a good deal of sense, save that it flies in the face of the evidence.  Trump’s trade war defies everything that Larry Kudlow has believed for years.  Trump’s pro-Russia tilt and attack on NATO is the exact opposite of Bolton’s hawkish neo-con leaning.  Neither Mattis nor Kelly is, so far as I know, an opponent of the basic alignment of America’s military policy.

Third:  Trump’s policy choices are being determined by what he conceives are the interests or prejudices of his political base.  This comes closest to being plausible, and certainly suffices to explain his anti-immigrant policies and some of his mercantilist economic choices.  But it completely fails to explain his bromance with Putin.  There is not, and never has been, any deep groundswell of pro-Russian sentiment among White non-college educated men in America.  The traditional loyalties of German-Americans in Joseph McCarthy’s state may have explained his willingness to accept the claim that Russia, not Germany, was responsible for the Katyn massacre.  But there are no pockets of Russian-Americans yearning for the steppes of the old country [save perhaps in Brooklyn, but that is not the locus of Trump’s base of support.]

Well, why then?  Taking everything we know about Trump and his business dealings, the most plausible explanation seems to me to be money.  If public reports are correct, Trump’s repeated bankruptcies put him in a bad way financially twenty years or more ago.  Banks would not lend to him.  Russian oligarchs proceeded to bail him out by lending him money and using his real estate holdings as a vehicle for money laundering.  It really looks as though Trump is deeply in hock to Putin and Putin’s circle.  The most plausible explanation for Trump’s assault on the North Atlantic alliance is that he is doing Putin’s bidding for pay.

That is my judgment, as an ordinary human being with eighty-four years’ experience figuring out why people are doing things.  If you disagree, offer an alternative explanation.  You too have spent your life trying to figure out why people are doing things.  Give it a go.

Monday, July 2, 2018


My son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff, who knows about this stuff and teaches Constitutoinal Law, posted this comment on FaceBook.  It is chilling.

"Concerning the prospect of Roe v. Wade and Casey being overruled:
The unexamined premise in these conversations always seems to be that overruling Roe would "return the issue to the States" such that the ability of women to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy would depend on local sentiment. That is not necessarily the case.
If a hostile Court overrules Roe simply by saying that there is no right to individual autonomy under the Constitution that protects reproductive choice -- that the Constitution has nothing to say about the matter -- then yes, the issue would be decided by state law (assuming Congress did not enact a national ban on abortion).
But there is another direction the Court could go in overruling Roe. Advocates who seek to eliminate abortion rights often argue that the developing fetus is a "person" from the moment of conception for purposes of the Constitution. Many States that are hostile to abortion have considered "personhood" laws that declare fetal personhood from conception.
If the Supreme Court were to adopt this proposition -- which it expressly rejected in Roe -- and hold that the term "person" in the Constitution includes the developing fetus, then the next step would be for advocates to argue that it is unconstitutional for States to allow abortion. The argument would sound in equal protection. Murder laws in the United States prohibit the killing of persons. But if a developing fetus is a "person" within the meaning of the Constitution, and murder laws do not prohibit abortion, then those laws are making it illegal to kill some persons while allowing the killing of other persons. This, the argument would go, is a grave violation of the Equal Protection Clause and its command that a State may not "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
This is not a fanciful prospect. This argument is a foundation of anti-abortion advocacy, and it came up during the oral argument in Roe v. Wade, where Justice Potter Stewart (who voted with the majority in Roe) pointed out that a holding that the fetus is a "person" would necessarily mean that the issue cannot be left up to the States at all.
When the Supreme Court ruled last week that the First Amendment prohibits states from imposing agency fee requirements on non-union members, it took an issue that had previous been left up to the States -- with anti-union forces pushing against those requirements under the heading of so-called "right to work" advocacy -- and used the Constitution to nationalize the issue. In the process, it overruled a 42-year-old precedent that had been a mainstay of First Amendment doctrine in this area and, as Justice Kagan pointed out in her dissent, had been working well. Once again, this is not a fanciful prospect.
When we talk about reproductive rights and access to safe, legal abortion being at risk, the risk is not merely that access might vary from State to State. The risk is that the Court could decide to use the Constitution to nationalize the issue in the other direction."


It is said that misery loves company.  Perhaps that is why I found David Palmeter’s lengthy comment so comforting.  At any rate, it prodded me to continue my assessment of the current disaster.  I have devoted a lengthy post to the international changes now seemingly under way [or, to be precise, under weigh].  Today I shall try to back off and evaluate the domestic situation.

First, just a word about an intriguing idea that crossed my attention yesterday.  Ignorant as I am of American history [save for African-American history,] I was quite unaware of the fact that Congress changed the size of the Supreme Court six times before 1869.  If Trump appoints a pro-life justice, and Roe v. Wade is either overturned outright or threatened, a Democratic President and Congress could respond by increasing the court to eleven and establishing a liberal majority.  Would I be in favor of this blatantly political use of the judicial system?  You bet!  Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

Several days ago I amused myself by explaining what a Gini coefficient is.  The dominant economic trend worldwide is the steady increase in the inequality of income and wealth, particularly of wealth.  To those with reasonably long personal memories, this appears as an undermining of the relatively more equal pattern of distribution of the post-World War II period, but as Thomas Piketty convincingly demonstrates in his important book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the growth in inequality is in reality a re-establishment of a level of inequality typical of the past two centuries and more, which is to say virtually the entire capitalist era.

The social safety net we have come to treat as normal in the United States – Social Security, Medicare, minimum wage, union rights, and the rest – was actually a product of the Great Depression and an anomalous post-war period during which the modern Middle Class came into existence.  Capital has been clawing those protections back ever since, seeking with ever greater success to impoverish all but the wealthiest ten or fifteen percent.  The result world-wide [including in modern China] is a return to what Piketty calls patrimonial capitalism, which is to say the dominance of inherited wealth.  One anecdotal example may put flesh on these bare bones for some of you put off by economic abstractions.  Steve Jobs was one of the iconic founders of the modern digital age, making a fortune in the process.  His widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, inherited his 20 billion dollar estate, without herself having done much of anything to create it.  She is admirably progressive in her politics, and is doing many fine things with Steve’s money, but the fact remains that she is a beneficiary of patrimonial capitalism.  Somewhat less heartwarming is the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune created by Sam Walton, their father.  Collectively they are worth 140 billion dollars, and not even the most enthusiastic cheerleader for the capitalist system would suggest that they earned it.  [Piketty’s favorite example is Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the l’Oréal fortune.]

Piketty argues – persuasively, in my judgment – that the fundamental structure of world capitalism, summarized by him in the simple relationship r>g, is driving each national economy towards ever greater inequality.  What, if anything, can those of us on the left propose in response?

I can see only two answers.  The first, and politically most plausible, is a re-establishment of a broad, vigorous social safety net, paid for by much higher taxes on the wealthy [including me, by the way, since my annual household income puts me at the bottom of the top 10%].  There are people now alive [people even younger than I!] who can remember an America of which this was true.  That is not the Holy Grail for those of us on the left, but it would also not be chopped chicken liver either.

The other answer is an assault on capitalism itself, on private ownership of the means of production, a socialization of accumulated capital [and no, Bob Nozick to the contrary notwithstanding, this does not mean robbing LeBron James or Serena Williams of their well-earned wealth.]  Only a few years ago, I would have considered such an idea a sad private joke among old lefties still playing Woody Guthrie recordings late at night.  But desperate times call for desperate measures, and it may just be that my grandfather’s dreams are gaining some plausibility, however marginal.  Just don’t wait for Chuck Schumer to embrace them [or Barack Obama, for that matter.]

Well that is about as much Tiggerishness as I can muster.  Now I will get a cup of coffee and listen to the reports on MSNBC that Michael Cohen may be ready to sell out his patron.

Sunday, July 1, 2018


I have been so troubled this past week and more that it has been difficult for me to focus my mind or regain my equilibrium.  More and more, I can see the United States slipping into a form of fascism.  I have always been a happy warrior [a phrase used, I believe, to describe FDR], but now my shoulders sag, I heave sighs, and an air of depression hangs over me, rather like Joe Btfsplk, the old Al Capp L’il Abner character.  So, on this blazing hot Sunday here in my comfortably air-conditioned retirement home, I am going to try to achieve some perspective on my world.

The central fact on which I must focus is that despite the Republicans controlling every branch of government, we are in the majority and will, as the years pass, be more and more in the majority.  The Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the last presidential elections.  Six of the last seven.  With the exception of George W. Bush in 2004, after the 9/11 attack, the last Republican actually to win the popular vote for President was George H. W. Bush in 1988, thirty years ago.

And the Republican disadvantage will only get worse.  Right now, a majority of Americans sixteen years old and under are not white.  Therefore, in 2020, a majority of Americans 18 and under will be not white, and as the years go by, that racial divide will advance inexorably.  The Republicans have lost the non-White population and are losing the youth of every race. 

Republican Gerrymandering and sheer political malpractice on the part of the Democrats have together enabled the Republicans to seize control of state governments, but that can be changed by Democratic voters willing simply to come out and vote.  In 2018, and again in 2020, we need to turn out in sufficient strength to take back state legislatures in time for the 2020 census.

There is anecdotal evidence aplenty of enthusiasm on the left for progressive candidates.  That enthusiasm must be turned into a cheerful, friendly hostile takeover of the Democratic Party.  Let us heap honors on Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and the rest, and then put them out to pasture.  The Clintons can enjoy their scores of millions.  They have earned it, and I for one am happy to let them wallow in it so long as I do not have to see or hear them anymore.

It is unimportant who the new Democratic Party leaders will be.  There are more than enough fine candidates for national leadership.  What matters is who the local leaders are who will emerge at the city level, the county level, and the state level. 

I place no great store in the emergence of folks calling themselves Democratic Socialists.  It is pleasing to the ear, but for the most part they are just New Deal Democrats.  Sufficient unto the day …

Saturday, June 30, 2018


I am back from a rally in downtown Chapel Hill.  Maybe 500 people on a hot late June day.  Lord knows, it is not much to do, but every little bit helps.

Friday, June 29, 2018


In 1961, after completing a three year Instructorship in Philosophy and General Education at Harvard, I went to the University of Chicago as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy.  There I met and became friendly with Hans Morgenthau, a very famous senior professor who was one of the leading figures in the so-called realpolitik school of international relations.  The central idea of realpolitik was that nations could be viewed as unitary actors on the world stage motivated not by ideology or historical loyalties but by rational self-interest.  The theory was first developed in order to make sense of the endlessly shifting alliances, over many centuries, of the nations of Central and Western Europe, but in the post-World War Two world it had been broadened to include the entire world.  The major European powers – France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Italy – were now allies, now enemies, then again allies.  In the middle of the twentieth century, the United States joined this structure of alliances, forming a working partnership with Russia, France, and Great Britain against Germany and Italy, then crafting an Atlantic Alliance against the Soviet Union that included its former enemies, German and Italy.  Morgenthau taught me to view these changing alliances in a rational, non-ideological fashion, something that was, for a young twenty-seven year old neophyte, an eye-opener.

While I was in Paris, disporting myself in cafés and lecturing on Marx in Ghent to an audience of workers and students, Donald Trump continued his purposeful dismantling of the Atlantic Alliance.  There have been a good many fevered warnings that the world as we know it is coming to an end – which may very well be true – but not as much thoughtful commentary on what new world order may emerge from the wreckage.  The goal of this blog is to make a start at thinking this question through.  I am, of course, no sort of expert at all on international relations, and I sometimes wish Morgenthau were around to offer guidance, but I will do my best, and I welcome comments from those among you better informed than I.

The first thing that will happen is the increased urgency by the European nations to repair the fractures in the European Economic Union, to shore up the euro, perhaps even to woo Great Britain back into the union.  American commentators will focus feverishly on Vladimir Putin’s increasingly successful efforts to destroy the Atlantic Alliance, but despite its enormous nuclear arsenal, Russia is essentially a failed state propped up by its sale of oil.  As renewable energy sources capture a larger and larger share of the world’s needs, Russia will diminish in importance, playing at most a marginal regional role.

The real winner in any fundamental realignment of global powers will be China.  Some background is called for.  Historically, China has been an inward looking nation, focused on strengthening its control of its heartland, and expanding, when able, northward, westward, and southwestward, to dominate Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet, and Southeast Asia.  As Owen Lattimore shows in his fine old book, The Inner Asian Frontiers of China, this process of centrifugal expansion and centripetal contraction is thousands of years old.  However, for almost a thousand years, China has been connected to a complex trade network linking the entire Eurasian land mass and Africa as well.  [An excellent exposition of this can be found in Janet Abu-Lughod’s work, Before European Hegemony.] 

The network had two principal substructures, in each of which China served as the eastern terminus.  The overland structure, which we know as the Silk Road, was a series of linked trading routes, beginning in China, traveling west past Tibet, circumventing the formidable Taklamakan desert, and ending at the far eastern end of the Mediterranean.  A second water route began at China’s ports on what we call the China Sea, went through the Straits of Malacca, headed west to the seacoast of India, then on to the port cities of East Africa and up the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, to Genoa and Venice, and thence to the fairs of Flanders and Burgundy, where goods from as far west and north as Northern England were exchanged for the silks and spices [and paper and gunpowder] that had made their way from China.  No trader traveled the entire route [Marco Polo to the contrary notwithstanding], but the trade routes were well established.  Detailed charts of the timing of trade winds enabled Muslim traders to sail east and then west in accordance with the winds, thus avoiding the necessity of laying over for six months until the winds shifted.  This vast complex of trade routes even included sub-Saharan Africa.  Muslim merchants traveled overland south across a less forbidding Sahara to the nations of West Africa [hence the fact that Hausa of Nigeria are Muslim], while trade goods traded overland to the Indian ocean from Central and East Africa linked even that continent to the international economy.  Indeed, it is said that a taste for fine English woolens on the part of West African rulers sparked a small economic boomlet in the north of England, and in the European Middle Ages half of the gold circulating in Western Europe had its origin in the gold mines of West Africa.

Which brings me to Xi Jinping.  The President of China [now effectively for life], building on this ancient pair of trade networks, has launched an enormously ambitious and far-sighted economic initiative, labeled One Belt One Road, and projected to cost roughly four trillion dollars, whose aim is to build roads, rail networks, regional shipping depots, and ports following the ancient water [One Belt] and overland [One Road] pathways and uniting the entire Eurasian landmass in a single unified economic unit with China both the eastern terminus and the dominant partner.  When this project is completed, in twenty-five years or more, it will bind Europe economically to China, thus enabling China to displace the United States as Europe’s principal trading partner and establishing China as a world power, not simply as a regional power.

Xi’s plan was conceived well before Trump was elected, but Trump’s frantic destruction of the Atlantic Alliance can only considerably advance Xi’s global plan.  The United States will of course continue to be a major economic force, given the fact that it has now the largest national economy in the world along with a bloated [and all but useless] military establishment.  However, China’s population is somewhat more than four times that of the United States, and it is inevitable that it will overtake the U.S. economically.

What are we to think of all of this?  Ah well, the spirit of Hans Morgenthau does not tell me, so we must decide for ourselves.