Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."




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Thursday, July 5, 2018

JUST TO BE CLEAR

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.

7 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

I did not mean to imply that you were motivated by faux man of the people humility.

Couldn't explain your political theory credentials and offer to give a series of short talks on political theory to the other volunteers or something like that? That might be very helpful. Obviously, you might have to play down Marx and emphasize other authors.

Michael said...

It appears there is a local DSA ( https://www.dsanc.org/ ). I imagine it ranges from social democrats to actual communists in make up (if my local org is any indication), but it might be more heartening than spending time with Democrats.

Dean said...

It is interesting, even sad, that you have to proclaim a true motivation. Man of the people humility is, I'll grant, a good thing, faux MotPH, not so much, because it implies a devious intention. To test whether or not you might exhibit such an intention I read your ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL post with the ideologies reversed. Instead of "a blue puddle surrounded by a red sea," I switched the colors. Likewise, "Walker, by the way, was a community organizer for twenty years." And so forth. My hypothesis was that reversing the ideologies would rub me the wrong way. I'd smell something fishy, a devious unexpressed intention. "Yep, that's a right-wing nut-job for you." But no. If only RWNJs would state their positions so clearly, so practically, so ... humbly.

Jerry Fresia said...

s. wallerstein raises an interesting question: are Dem party leaders in the state or in your district ready for "teach-ins?" Teach-ins always give the left an opportunity to explain the crisis so my guess is that that is the last thing they want.

Reminds me of a statement of a Catholic bishop in Latin America long ago: "When I feed the poor I'm called a hero. When I ask why is there such poverty, I'm called a communist."

Knock on doors, you'll be called a hero. Organize a teach-in....

s. wallerstein said...

From what I can see (from a distance), there are lots of people in favor of progressive issues, gay marriage, letting transpeople use the bathroom they prefer, not mistreating immigrants, women's reproductive rights, the cops not killing African-Americans at random, peace, etc., but they lack the tools to tie the issues together.

These people detest Trump, and they see him as "evil", without being able (for lack of analytical tools) to see that it's not a question of good or bad people.

They don't know what neoliberalism is, they don't know what liberalism is (as a philosophical doctrine), they don't know what fascism is, they don't know what socialism is (Denmark is not a socialism society), they don't know what conservatism is (Trump is not a conservative and if people understood that, they might begin to be able to understand what he's about), they confuse Marxism with the Soviet Union. If they are middle class, they don't understand why low-income workers might feel threatened by massive immigration. They see politics as being about good and evil people, not about a struggle for power between groups and/classes with different interests and agendas.

Just by clearing up some confusions and getting people to understand some simple definitions, you might be able to help people advance in the struggle against Trumpism (which involves more than just getting rid of Trump). After writing the last sentence, I can see how Socratic it sounds. I believe that you are uniquely qualified to play that Socratic role.

LFC said...

@ s. wallerstein

As someone who has knocked on doors (or the equivalent) for campaigns on occasion over the years, my feeling is that a campaign is not really the right setting for what you are suggesting. For one thing, some volunteers in political campaigns are more sophisticated than the (notorious) 'median voter', so a lot of them will have an understanding that goes beyond good-and-bad-people. (To be sure, some may not -- it varies.)

Second, a campaign is about one thing: getting your candidate elected. People do not sign up for anything else, and I just think it would be awkward, to say the least, to offer a talk on anything to people whose sole reason really for showing up is to knock on doors, hand out leaflets, make phone calls, do mailers, or whatever.

As you're well aware, socialism, fascism, conservatism, and most other isms have some range of reference but they don't have singular, universally agreed-on definitions, so an exercise in "clearing up confusions" will in reality be an exercise in giving the speaker's particular view of things. Undoubtedly those who hear RPW will emerge more informed than before, but let's not pretend that there is some key to all ideologies and all you have to do is turn it in the door by listening to a half-hour talk, even a good one, and suddenly all mysteries fall away and you've understood what's 'really going on'. And specifically, and obviously, informed people disagree about Trump and what he "is," and what Trumpism "is". I myself am not sure I know, and I follow U.S. politics more closely and through a more 'structural' lens than the median voter.

Tl/dr: The struggle vs Trumpism does not heavily depend on raising the political consciousness of campaign volunteers. If they're out there knocking on doors, their consciousness is prob as high as, practically speaking, it needs to be. And it's worth noting that an org like DSA, mentioned upthread, has an educational component to its activities but usu. keeps it somewhat separate from practical work -- not that everything isn't connected, but sometimes it's just easier to let people do the connecting on their own.

Reasonable people can disagree about these matters, and I understand where you're coming from on this. Just offering a slightly different perspective.

s. wallerstein said...

LFC,

I did say that the proposed RPW classes for volunteers would be Socratic, didn't I?

By "Socratic", I refer to the earlier Platonic dialogues, unlike the later ones, where meanings are left open, but in the course of discussing and debating them, the participants supposedly learn something about the terms that they are talking about, even if no definitive meaning is reached.

I agree that well-informed people can disagree about what "conservativism" or "socialism" mean, but what I can see, many progressives, especially those who have been moved towards political activism by their rejection of Trump and were not previously active, could not be described as "well-informed" about political theory. That is probably due to the fact that the mainstream media in the U.S. do not discuss political issues seriously, but tend to focus on personalities and that there is no traditional of leftwing political parties, which generally educate their members in political thought, in the U.S.

So, while, as you point out, some volunteers are politically sophisticated (and do not need RPW's talk in order to understand what, say, "conservativism" means), many, especially those who are newly drawn into the political arena by their repudiation of Trump, could use a bit of basic political theory and I suppose none of us, not even myself, are too old or too well-read to learn from an expert on the subject such as RPW.