Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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

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

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Saturday, November 16, 2019


Last Wednesday, Susie and I went to a potluck dinner organized for the folks in her morning exercise class.  When I was chatting with our hostess, I mentioned my experiences on my early morning walks and she suggested that I write a post for the retirement community's blog, which I did.  Since I have so often mentioned those walks, I thought I would take a break from my obsessive impeachment watching and post it.  Really serious people may wish to navigate to another blog for a day.  Here it is:

Carolina Meadows in the Morning

When I retired in 2008, after a half century of university teaching, Susie and I moved from Massachusetts to a condominium in Meadowmont Village.  Susie signed up with an exercise class at the Meadowmont Wellness Center and I began a regimen of year round early morning walks that took me first to the top of the hill at Country Club Road and later past the Findlay Golf Course to the Botanical Gardens.  In July 2017, we moved into Building 5 here at Carolina Meadows.  Susie transferred her allegiance to James’ 8:15 exercise class, and I cast about for a new walking route.  I tried walking past Farrington Mill Road to the very end of Whippoorwill Lane, but the early morning traffic got the better of me, and eventually I settled on a walk completely within Carolina Meadows.  Rather grandly, I claim it is three miles long, but honesty compels me to admit that it is actually 2.85 miles, as measured by the trip odometer in my car.  I start at the front door of Building 5, cross Appletree Lane and continue on Peartree Crescent.  Left on Magnolia, right on Hawthorne, and then the long slog past the South Entrance all the way to the circle at the end of Hawthorne.  Around the circle and back to Peartree, where I turn left, pass the tennis courts, walk along Maple Lane past the Club Center and Buildings 1, 2, and 3, then onto Oak Lane past the old 100 villas to the Fairways and the pond, left onto Appletree and the 200 villas, swinging around to the right on Appletree, past Elmwood, Mimosa, and the golf course, right around Building 6, and home again.

Since I walk early, always before seven, sometimes before six, and on a few occasions before five, I assumed my walk would be solitary, but very quickly I discovered a rather lively early morning world here at Carolina Meadows.  My purpose in writing this blog post is to let the slugabeds know what they are missing.  In order to introduce some order into these ramblings, I have organized my experiences into three categories:  Cars, Dogs, and People.


On my very first walk, I encountered those little white cars with the Carolina Meadows logos driven by security personnel.  They cruise slowly up and down our streets, available should there be an emergency.  I wave and they wave back.  The night shift seems to end at seven a.m., and if I happen to be on Hawthorne as that hour nears, several cars will pass heading for the little road that branches off from Hawthorne Circle and loops around to the gated Operations and Maintenance parking area.  One of the duties of the night shift is to unlock and open the gate that closes off the South Entrance at night.  The gate is opened at 5 a.m. and on the rare occasions when I have walked so early that I actually see the gate still closed, I feel a little secret pride that I am out so early.  Somewhat later, the white CM pickup truck will drive by, stopping in front of villas to collect the bags of garbage left at the curb.  On Hawthorne, the stops are so frequent that I can actually keep pace with the truck.

My favorite early morning car is the black Nissan sedan delivering the Raleigh News & Observer and the NY TIMES.  In the buildings, our papers are delivered grandly to our front doors, but the poor villa residents must walk out to their driveways to retrieve them.  There seem to be two paper deliverers – a woman named Tiffany, and a man whom I have seen but do not know.  As the Nissan cruises slowly along a street, a paper, sometimes two, will fly out the window onto the driveway.  When the man is delivering, he opens the sunroof of the car and papers soar out of the top of the car, landing expertly on just the right driveway.  It is all rather theatric.  My walk usually occurs during the deliveries, and quite often our TIMES has not yet arrived when I leave for my walk but is lying on the doormat when I return.

I cannot end my remarks about early morning cars without saying a word about the long flatbed trucks with the green Ruppert logos that rumble out of the Operations and Maintenance parking area and deliver power mowers or large rolls of sod wherever they are needed on the Carolina Meadows campus.  CM obviously has a regular contract with Ruppert, and it must be a whopper, because those trucks are a regular fixture on the campus.  I tend to take for granted the enormous effort that is required simply to maintain our little community, my mind typically occupied with more elevated things, such as [to take an old example from my youth] whether to let Red China into the UN.  I am glad someone is taking care of things.


The first dog I met on my early morning walks was Phoebe, a large, aging, shaggy, caramel colored rescue dog who lives in one of the 300 villas on the old section of Hawthorne.  Phoebe’s mistress, Anne, walks her at roughly the same time that I am out, and I frequently meet them either on Hawthorne itself or on Magnolia or Peartree.  Phoebe is terribly afraid of strangers and still, after all this time, will not let me touch her.  But she knows who I am, and if she sees me coming up behind her and Anne, she will set her feet and not move until I have caught up with her and said hello.  Anne takes Phoebe on a long walk every morning, and on occasion I have seen them in front of The Fairways or on the golf course next to Appletree.  Anne is the wife of a retired UNC professor, and expresses interest in my weekly trips each fall to New York City to teach a course at Columbia University.  I like to think that Anne and I have become friends, even though I am not sure she knows my name.

Pearl is as eager to be petted as Phoebe is shy.  Pearl is long, low, shaggy, and all black save for a white head.  She is walked each morning by Dedra Stockton, the pet sitter who looks after our cat when we go to Paris.  Pearl will all but roll over when I see her, waiting to be petted and scratched.  Dedra also walks a pair of matched dachshunds named, I believe, Hansel and Gretel.

The dog with whom I have most intimately bonded is Bandit, an energetic little pug-nosed fellow who lives in a 100 villa at the base of the hill that leads to the Fairways.  His master, Willie Thompson, first caught my attention because he walks each morning carrying a cup of coffee in one hand while he leads Bandit with the other.  Bandit loves to be scratched behind his ears, and tugs on his leash to get to me as soon as he spots me.  Willie graciously allows to be pulled over and, summer or winter, I give Bandit a scratch before we go our separate ways.

But the most concentrated assemblage of dogs is to be found on Appletree on the down slope leading to the sharp turn that takes you past the croquet court to the pond.  Four or five dogs live in that stretch of 200 villas, and their mistresses meet each morning to greet one another while the dogs sniff one another curiously.  I am sure many CM residents have noticed the striking white Standard Poodle, elegantly clipped, who has only three legs.  Susie and I first met this dog in front of the Club Center shortly after it was adopted.  Poodles, of course, have an elevated opinion of themselves, and this one does not socialize with the common run of Appletree dogs.

I have recently made the acquaintance of Luke, a middle sized shorthaired dog who lives on Appletree, but even though I have said hello to him several times, he has not yet acknowledged my existence.


There is a small but hardy band of regulars who walk early in the morning, and as the days pass, we get to recognize and acknowledge one another.  Since my walk takes me virtually to every part of Carolina Meadows, sooner or later I meet them all.  Many are, like me, old guys who walk slowly, some on Hawthorne or Magnolia, fewer on Appletree or Maple or Oak.  Since I wear a bright yellow reflector vest, a holdover from my walks on Findley Golf Course Road, I am easily recognizable [and I hope equally easily visible to drivers coming and going in Carolina Meadows.]

One of my favorite early morning people is a slender, always elegantly dressed woman who, when it is cold, wears a form fitting brilliantly red coat and a natty fedora.  She walks faster than I do, but she is slowed down by a fascinating practice she has adopted.  She knows a number of people in the villas, and when she comes to the villa of an acquaintance, she stops to pick up the paper tossed at the end of the driveway from the black Nissan and walk it up to the front door.  Judging from where I have seen her, she must know people all over CM.  We say hello to one another whenever we pass, but, I am sad to say, she disapproves of me.  The reason is simple.  I sometimes walk on the same side of the road as the traffic, which thus comes up behind me.  The first time she saw me doing this, on Appletree as I neared the end of my walk, she chastised me gently, but unrepentant I continued my dangerous ways, and I think by now she has written me off as destined for a bad end.  She seems to know a number of the Appletree dog walkers and quite often as I make the turn and begin up the hill, I see her deep in conversation with two or three of them.

But quite the strangest of the early walkers, or so it seemed to me at first, is a tall gentleman who lives on Peartree just about where it is met by Magnolia.  A little back story is called for here by way of clarification.  In 1964, shortly after I joined the Columbia University Philosophy Department as a senior professor, I was walking up Broadway from 115th to 116th street with my new colleague, the unforgettable Sidney Morgenbesser.  As we approached 116th, I saw a man in a phone booth taking agitatedly into the handset, which was totally unconnected to the rest of the phone!  When I pointed this out rather worriedly to Sidney, he said casually, as though it was no big deal, “Oh, that’s a shouter.”  Apparently in Manhattan there were well-delimited subcategories of nutcases.

Well, I saw this Peartree resident repeatedly, at six a.m. or so, seemingly talking to himself.  Was this a CM shouter?  Of course not.  In the intervening fifty-five years, there had been several revolutions in technology.  This man had those ear buds with dangling wires that indicated he was talking on a cellphone.  But at six a.m.?  Was he a still active stock trader talking to a broker in Europe, where the market was already open?  Was he dictating instructions to some poor secretary who had dragged himself out of a warm bed to take a letter from the boss?

After a while, I began to conjure touching just so stories.  His wife had passed away and he was talking to nobody at all, lonely and forlorn.  His wife was in The Pines and he spent a little time with her each morning during his walk.  By now we were on an early morning nodding relationship.  He certainly did not seem forlorn.  And he certainly was not nuts.  What was up?

And then I actually met him and discovered that the real story was better than my unfettered imaginings.  It seems he and his wife are both retired physicians.  When he was a young man, he and his closest friend were running buddies.  They live now in different states, and although he no longer runs, his friend does.  Each morning, as his friend runs, they talk, thanks to the miracle of IPhones!  Indeed, one day, on Appletree, I actually met the friend, who was in town for a visit.

We are a hardy band of men, women, and dogs, we early morning walkers.  I count them all as friends, even Phoebe who still will not let me pet her, and the Lady in Red, who disapproves of me.

This is my version of Carolina Meadows in the Morning.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Well, I watched several hours of the hearings, and one simple fact seemed obvious, at least to me: whatever else the Democrats and their lawyers may be they are simply awful teachers.  Let me explain.

The testimony dealt at length with Ukraine.  I would estimate that there are maybe two million people in America who could more or less locate Ukraine on a map, which is to say fewer than 1% of the adults in this country.  The point of the hearings is to educate the American people about what is already known, not to discover new facts.  So the first thing any halfway decent teacher would do is put up a map on screen and spend ten minutes describing the location, the history, and a few salient facts about the country [such as:  Ukraine is the largest country, by area, in Europe;  Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union in return for promises of protection, etc.]

Did Adam Schiff do this?  Not even remotely.  So the entire day was incomprehensible to anyone not already totally clued in.  By contrast, the only fact in Watergate not already known to the general public was that there is an apartment complex in DC called “The Watergate.”

I seriously doubt that this exercise will move the polls, and hence the Republicans.

Meanwhile, Mike Bloomberg and Deval Patrick have decided the Democratic race for the nomination needs a few more centrists.  The monied classes must, behind the scenes, be in a panic.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


If there is anyone out there who has never read this classic short short story by Woody Allen, just click on this and enjoy.

When he was young, he was to die for.


All of us, I take it, are familiar with printed warnings, especially on milk and other dairy items, that a quart of milk or tub of cottage cheese is to be removed from the shelves after some specified date.  This is usually referred to as the “sell-by date.”

Yesterday, I traveled once again to New York to teach at Columbia University.  The trip began uneventfully, at six a.m. when I pulled out of my parking slot and headed for Raleigh Durham Airport, but it quickly deteriorated into a classic air travel sad story.  We pulled back from the gate on time at 8:10 a.m. and headed for the active runway, in light rain, but as we waited our turn to take off, the pilot announced that LaGuardia had just announced a one hour ground halt, so we sat.  After an hour, the pilot announced another one hour delay, so we continued to sit, but just as he was revving up the  engines for our much delayed takeoff, he announced that there was a mechanical problem that had to be fixed, so he returned to Gate D5, from which we had departed, full of hope, two hours earlier, and were told we could deplane but should remain in the area of the Gate as we might be leaving at short notice.  Half an hour later, we pulled back once again.  The mechanical problem?  A lack of appropriate differential pressure in the toilets meant that they would not flush until we reached 18,000 feet.  [I am not making this up.]  Finally, seven hours and fifty-five minutes after leaving home, I sat down at the seminar table, five minutes before the class was scheduled to begin.

That was when I got the real shock of the day.  One of the graduate students in the seminar told me that he had gone to see Professor Akeel Bilgrami about some philosophical issues.  Bilgrami is a quite senior member of the Philosophy Department who currently holds the Sidney Morgenbesser Professorship of Philosophy.  When Bilgrami suggested that the student consult some of the writings of Robert Paul Wolff [very flattering], my student replied that he was currently taking a course with Wolff.  Bilgrami replied, “But that is not possible.  He died ten years ago.”

Now, I freely admit that it has been thirty years since I have attended a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, and almost that long since I last published anything at all in a Philosophy journal, but, I mean, really!

Pretty clearly, I have passed my sell-by date and should be removed from the shelf before I give some unsuspecting consumer the intellectual version of food poisoning.

Saturday, November 9, 2019


Here is an idle thought I had this morning while walking in sub-freezing temperature.  In my adult lifetime there have been two full scale public education campaigns aimed at getting everyone to alter his or her settled habits, and both, surprisingly, have been quite successful.

The first was the campaign to get people to use their seatbelts, and the second was the effort to get people to stop smoking.  In both cases, it is instructive to compare old movies, especially black and white movies, with modern movies.  In the old movies, everyone smokes, seemingly all the time, even in intimate love scenes.  It really turns me off.  In modern movies, almost nobody smokes.  In old movies, gangsters drive away from a bank heist and cops jump in their cop cars and give chase, and no one buckles up.  In modern movies, even when the lead’s life is at stake, she carefully puts on her seatbelt before speeding away.

In both cases, there has been backsliding, with young people both vaping and texting while driving.  But I would never have thought that a conscious, deliberate public health campaign would have any effect at all.

Friday, November 8, 2019


Next semester, probably starting in February, I shall deliver a series of videotaped lectures on David Hume's Theory of Knowledge which will be posted, as I deliver them, on YouTube.

Don't say I never did anything for you.


No sooner had I posted my last comment on the world than I clicked on HuffPost and read this much better expression of the same thought.  Oh well.


Well, well, Mike Bloomberg suddenly emerges from seclusion to put his name into the first-deadline primary in Alabama.  Then word emerges that Clinton loyalist Eric Holder is dipping a toe in the water.  So long as Good Old Joe was topping the polls by double digits, the money slept easy, but once Joe started to slide and Elizabeth and Bernie hung on or even surged, sensible no-nonsense types began to worry that the party was moving "to far to the left," which is code for "Help!!!  Someone wants to tax our piles of dough."

Meanwhile, desperate Republicans have hit on a strategy to save Trump:  throw Rudy, Mike, and Gordon under the bus.  All of which has created a new on-line betting game, Who Will Flip on Trump First?

Life is not all bad.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019


True to my nature as a voting results junkie, I stayed up way past my bedtime [i.e. past nine p.m.!] to watch the Kentucky results.  I went to sleep happy, even though I had never heard of Beshear before last night.  I found the results enormously reassuring despite my low level of involvement with Kentucky politics.  First, the Democrats’ conquest of the suburbs continues.  Second, and much more significant, turnout was enormous.  This was an off-off-year election, and yet total turnout was almost 50% above what it was in 2015 when the last gubernatorial election was held.  I have repeatedly offered the opinion here that the key to a Democratic victory next year is the sort of record turnout we saw last year when we took back the House.  I remain convinced that impeachment will outrage and fire up Trump voters until it fails in the Senate, at which point the energy will drain out of Trump’s base months before next November.  Meanwhile, the failure of impeachment will infuriate our voters, and that fury will not die away in the late winter, spring, summer, and early fall of 2020.  Instead, it will inspire huge numbers of low-likelihood voters to go to the polls as their only way of expressing their disapproval of Trump. 

On another matter entirely, I think this wretched man Sondland is fatally weakened by having so off-putting a face.   Now, I am aware that looks are deceiving.  One of my heroes, David Hume, had a face like a suet pudding and a body to match, and yet he had the most agile, powerful, penetrating intellect of the 18th century.

But still.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


I just discovered that Gabriel Zucman, the junior partner in the firm of Piketty, Saez, and Zucman, is an adviser to Elizabeth Warren.

Monday, November 4, 2019


Faithful readers know how proud I am of the 110 thousand views my first Kant YouTube lecture has garnered.  For idle amusement, I just watched an SNL clip of Melissa McCarthy doing a Shawn Spicer press briefing.  It has had a tad fewer than 35 million views.  I think we can agree that Americans have their priorities right.

Sunday, November 3, 2019


In the slang of half a century ago and more, I am easy.  If two or even three comments on this blog express a desire for me to post a lecture on YouTube on some subject or other, I start turning the idea over in my head.  Recently, in an unguarded moment, I floated the idea of a series on the philosophy of David Hume.  Several people, as they say nowadays, “liked” the idea, including one new viewer from 8000 miles away [Australia?].  This despite the fact that some years ago I posted on this very blog a 27,000 word essay on the Philosophy of David Hume.  [You’ve read the book, now see the movie?]

But where and when to record the lectures?  The where is easy – a room in Caldwell Hall, the home of the UNC Chapel Hill Philosophy department, virtually right around the corner.  But when is more difficult.  I cannot start them now, so near the end of the semester.  No one will show up, and my first experience with YouTubeing, the ten lectures on Ideological Critique delivered to no one at all in my home study, persuaded me that I need at least someone listening in person to keep me from going all freaky and self-referential.   UNC this spring?  Well, I am already booked there to teach Karl Marx’s Critique of Capitalism starting in January, and there is clearly a limit to how much Wolff a department can stand.  This summer?  Caldwell Hall is a morgue once exams are over.  Maybe next fall, though if I am again teaching at Columbia, that would be a bit of a heavy lift for someone who will by then be eighty-six. 

Still and all, my public calls, all four of them.  I must think on it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


Well, after I huffed and puffed and explained here that a large share of the cost of universal health care would come from the companies now providing health insurance to half of all Americans, sure enough when I looked at some of the details of Warren's newly released health care plan, I found that almost half of its cost comes from taxing those companies for what they are now spending on health care.  I should have known this would occur to her.  :)  

Friday, November 1, 2019


I am a politics junkie.  On election nights, I sit glued to the TV set, watching mesmerized as 1% of the votes come in from a state whose ultimate choice is a foregone conclusion.  I loved Chuck Todd as long as he was the numbers guy on MSNBC and promptly fell out of love when he was promoted to Meet The Press, transferring my affections to Steve Kornacki.  I recall once – I think it was in 1965 or 1966 – when I was on my way home from a conference in Italy, I stopped in England to see Ernest Gellner, whom I knew from his time visiting Harvard [he briefly dated my sister.]  Ernest and his family lived in a country cottage south of London.  It turned out to be election day in England, and even though I had neither interest in nor knowledge of English politics, I sat fascinated in the little living room watching the results come in.  All of which is to say that I stared at my kitchen TV set until the very last vote was tallied yesterday in the House.

As I have often remarked, there are two sorts of people, Eeyores and Tiggers.  I am a Tigger.  Show me a glass slightly damp from the dishwasher and I will describe it as half full.  So I will now offer a wildly optimistic series of predictions.  Like all of my predictions, they are worth no more than the few thousand bytes it takes to record them, save for the last of them, for which I have evidence.

1.         The House will impeach Trump, probably before Thanksgiving.  In all probability few or no Republicans will vote to impeach.

2.         The Senate will hold a trial whose perfunctoriness will probably be determined by whether John Bolton complies with the subpoena soon to be issued.  If Bolton testifies, and if his testimony is damaging to Trump, McConnell may be compelled to hold a real trial in the Senate.

3.         In any case, Trump will not be convicted by the Senate.

4.         Trump’s supporters will be energized and outraged by the trial, but that will subside well before the election, since Trump will still be in office.  The failure of the Senate to convict Trump will outrage our supporters, and that outrage will build, not subside, as we go through the Primary season and into the election.  Democratic turnout next year will be enormous, as it was in 2018.

5.         Trump will be beaten by a progressive Democrat [not by Biden], we will hold the House, and we will take the Senate.

6.         Trump will not go quietly, and for years to come we shall be dealing with the deep-rooted resentments he is mobilizing, not creating, in scores of millions of Americans.

7.         Some time around Inauguration Day 2021 my first YouTube Kant lecture will hit 150,000 views.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


One of my favorite Latin tags is sub specie aeternitatis, under the aspect of eternity.  That, I learned three score years ago, is the way we philosophers are supposed to view things, reaching always for the eternal truths and shunning the intellectual fashions of the moment.  When I began this blog ten years ago and more, I spent days, even weeks, writing long detailed analyses of books and problems, content to leave comments on the passing scene to those not blessed with a philosophic temperament.  Well, to steal another Latin tag, this time from my favorite author, Karl Marx, quantum mutatus ab illo.  [How changed is Hector from before.]

Now, I experience each twist and turn of the news cycle as a lifetime. A day becomes a century, a week an era, a month an epoch.  I cannot type fast enough to write a comment on a tidbit of BREAKING NEWS before it is overtaken and consigned to the trash heap of history by a tidbit even newer.

 My favorite tidbit this morning is John Yoo’s abrupt reversal of his characterization of Lt. Col. Vindman’s actions as espionage.  Today Yoo says he was referring to the Ukrainians, that he honors Vindman’s service, and that what Trump did was indeed to offer a quid pro quo [we cannot seem to get away from the Latin.]  I infer that Yoo’s colleagues let him know that unless he took it back he might as well not return to the UC Berkeley School of Law. 

Meanwhile, I hang on very word of the MSNBC commentators, waiting to hear whether John Bolton will testify.  Bolton, it is my impression, has a more than ordinarily inflated ego, so I think we all ought to say loudly and often how absolutely crucial his testimony would be and how admirable we think it would be for him to come forward.

Sigh, it is no fun being a mayfly.  Would anyone be interested in a seventeen part post on Hume’s theory of our belief in the continued and independent existence of objects?

Monday, October 28, 2019


The Beltway commentary on the Democrats has it that they are an unorganized group of feckless political ne’er do wells who cannot seem to fix on a message or follow through on a plan.  This is the twenty-first century version of Will Rogers’ famous old quip, “I do not belong to any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”  And yet, with a discipline and focus that would make a Republican proud, the House Democrats are proceeding steadily, deliberately, single-mindedly toward public hearings the week after next and a vote on impeachment before Thanksgiving.

I have no idea at all how it will turn out.  It begins to look as though much may depend on whether John Bolton testifies.  But the House will impeach Trump, and there will be some sort of trial in the Senate, all before the Iowa caucuses.

Say what you will about Nancy Pelosi, she is a Speaker for the ages.

I leave for Paris on December 6th.  I hope I do not miss the fun.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


I have, I believe, already recounted my embarrassing encounter with the TSA in which they asked to see my elecronics [a random check] and burst out laughing when I showed them my little IPhone 5S.   I have never felt so inadequate.  Now comes Rudy Giuliani twice butt-dialing a reporter who recorded revealing conversations intended to be private..

I infer that if you put your IPhone 10 in your hip pocket and then sit on it, you can inadvertently speed dial someone.  But there is no way I could do that with an IPhone 5S.  So once again, I am revealed as hopelessly 2014.

The shame, the shame.

Friday, October 25, 2019


In 1980, my first wife and I moved with our sons from Northampton to Belmont, Massachusetts so that she could take up a professorship at MIT.  For the next seven years, I commuted back to Amherst to teach at UMass, making the drive three times a week.  In the Fall of 1982, the New School in New York sought me for the chairmanship of their Philosophy Department, and for a semester I commuted down to New York every Tuesday to teach a course there while I negotiated with them.  So that semester on Sundays, Thursdays, and Saturdays I was in Belmont, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I was in Amherst, and on Tuesdays I was in New York.  It got so that I had to check my watch to tell where I was.  I feel a little like that this week, what with going to Columbia on Tuesday, running a Building 5 Precinct meeting on Thursday, and trying to keep up with this blog, all the while checking my IPhone or the TV every few minutes for the latest news about the impeachment investigation.

Well, the House will vote to impeach Trump, apparently before Thanksgiving.  Some sort of trial will then take place in the Senate, and at least now it seems all but certain that fewer than 67 senators will vote to convict.  Trump will grow more frantic, desperately and unsuccessfully trying to control the news cycle.  Will the process hurt Trump’s reelection chances?  I believe so, but Lord knows I am not a seer or even a pundit, so your guess is as good as mine.

Meanwhile, the Democratic nomination contest grinds on.  Biden’s decision to take PAC money suggests his campaign is on the ropes, regardless of the polls.  Bernie is back, Elizabeth continues her slow, steady rise, Tim Ryan has finally thrown in the towel and Tulsi Gabbard is apparently contemplating a third party run.  No doubt someone reading this blog will conclude that she is the true hope of real radicals, and will explain to us why Sanders and Warren are really tools of the ruling elite and are actually greater dangers than Trump, so that a protest vote for Gabbard risks nothing.  Ho hum.  I have seen this movie before.

Meanwhile the Yankees have for the first time in a century gone for an entire decade without making it to the World Series, so I can die happy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


I am home again after another tiring but rewarding trip to New York to teach at Columbia.  Next week I am carrying out a multi-media pedagogical experiment.  The reading is large chunks of Edwin Wilmsen’s brilliant ideological critique of the work of ethnographer Richard Lee and associates, and by extension of the entire field of Cultural Anthropology.  However, I shall not be lecturing.  Instead the students are instructed to watch on YouTube four of the ten lectures I posted on Ideological Critique – the four devoted to Wilmsen – and then to come into class with questions and comments.  This is the first time I have tried this.  We shall see whether it works.

Monday, October 21, 2019


Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria may cost him the presidency, but it is not an impeachable offense.  It is nowhere near as disastrous as the decision by Kennedy and Johnson to take over France’s colonial war in Vietnam, nor as disastrous as George W. Bush’s decision to initiate an offensive war against Iraq.  The Constitution clearly gives the president the right to make that sort of decision, so long as Congress cedes the warmaking power, which it did long ago.  The voters had opportunities to defeat Humphrey in the primaries, and later Bush in the general, and they [or at least the Supreme Court] chose not to.  On the other hand, Trump’s attempt to get Zelensky to meddle in a U. S. election clearly is an impeachable offence.

Nancy Pelosi was right that if we waited, Trump would impeach himself.  She could have added that he might very well convict himself in the Senate as well.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


If you have Netflix, watch their latest creation, Laundromat, concerning the so-called Panama Papers.  Believe it or not, it stars Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Bandaras.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Well, I have finished reading the mid-term papers, so I thought I would say a few words about a subject much on the minds of candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, viz. universal health care.  As I walked this morning, I imagined myself engaged in a debate with an opponent of the idea.  [This was once I had successfully surmounted my Senior Moment and called to mind the name “Kareem Abdul Jabbar – never mind.]  Not having Google at my disposal, I could not fill in the statistics, but here is the structure of my argument.

I start with four propositions on which I hope there is universal assent [save for Evangelical Christians who believe in the Rapture and thus reject the first proposition]:

1.         Everyone dies.
2.         Other health related things being equal, it is better to live for a longer than for a shorter time.
3.         Other health related things being equal, it is better to be healthy than sick.
4.         Other health related things being equal, it is better for a country to spend less money than more on health.

Now some facts:

1.         The Germans, the French, the British, and the Americans all die.
2.         The Germans, the French, and the British live longer than Americans.
3.         While they are alive, the Germans, the French, and the British have fewer chronic illnesses than Americans.
4.         The Germans, the French, and the British spend much less per capita on health care than do Americans.
5.         The Germans, the French, and the British have universal health care systems.  The Americans do not.

Conclusion One, from facts 2-4:  The Germans, the French, and the British have better health care systems than do the Americans.
Conclusion Two, from Conclusion One and fact 5:  America should have universal health care.

Question:  Why does American health care cost so much more per capita than German, French, and British health care?  This is clearly a complex question requiring much more data than I have, but let me suggest five reasons:

1.         Americans pay much more for prescription drugs.
2.         The private American insurance system spends money on advertising.
3.         The private American insurance system pays exorbitant corporate salaries.
4.         The private American insurance system takes profits.
5.         American doctors earn much higher salaries than their German, French, and British counterparts.

How much of the difference in national health care costs is explained by these facts?  I do not know.

Clearly, moving from our current health care system to a national health care system would be extremely disruptive and very difficult, quite apart from the massive opposition that rich and powerful interests would mount.  But let me make one point among many that could be made, this one concerning employer based insurance.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, somewhat more than 156 million Americans have employer based health insurance, which is to say half the country.  Now, let us imagine a firm – United Whatever – with 10,000 employees that offers group health insurance as a fringe benefit of employment.  Let us suppose United Whatever pays Aetna $6000 per employee, or sixty million dollars a year, to Aetna, and suppose that $200 a month, or $2400 a year, is withheld from an employee's paychecks as his or her share of the cost.

The reality is that United Whatever is paying the entire cost.  Leaving aside tax consequences, which are complicated, it would not matter whether it paid the entire bill for health insurance and paid each employee $2400 a year less in wages, or raised each employee’s wage by $3600 a year and required the employee to pay the entire $6000 for the insurance.  The net effect would be the same.

Suppose the United States now shifted to universal health care with a saving of 20%, or $1,200 per United Whatever employee.  The only rational way to handle this would be to tax United Whatever sixty million dollars for the health insurance of its employees, less the 20% or 12 million dollars saved by shifting to universal health care.

That is where the money is going to come from to pay for universal health care.

Friday, October 18, 2019


Once again, I find that the time I take away from this blog to travel to New York and teach coincides with developments so remarkable that before I can return to blogging the world has changed.  Now that Mick Mulvaney has issued an official, on camera, confession of guilt on behalf of his boss, President Trump, it remains only to draft the articles, listen to a few more rats scurrying down the ropes from the sinking ship, and present the articles for a vote to the full House.

What on earth is there to say about what has been happening?

Since I have no more information or insight than any of you, I will content myself with making some predictions, confident that most of them will prove incorrect.

1.  Trump will be impeached by the House, probably before Thanksgiving.  The House vote will be preceded by televised hearings during which a series of former and present Executive Branch officials will testify in vivid color.  This will cause the polls to shift against Trump, causing some Republicans to jump ship.  Nevertheless, no more than a handful of House Republicans will vote “aye.”  [Or is it “yea”?]

2.   The trial in the Senate will be accelerated, but this means held to two weeks or so, not to fifteen minutes as a humorously suggested a week or two ago.  Trump will be acquitted, but I confess I cannot now see whether any significant number of Republicans will defect and vote to convict.

3.    Biden will fade, Sanders will not surge, Harris and Buttigieg will languish, and Warren will win the nomination, gaining more Black votes as time goes on.

4.   Trump will not resign [I confess I am uncertain about this].  The campaign will rival those of the early 19th century in ugliness, and Trump will lose.  If the Democrats squeak through in Texas, which is possible, it will not be close in the Electoral College.  If they do not, it may be close.  Either way, Trump will rage, claim that the election has been stolen, and do everything he can to bring the entire nation down around his ears.  He will issue veiled or overt calls for revolution, and they will result in little or no actual domestic unrest.  He will actually vacate the White House, despite fears that he will resist.  He will also not resign after the election but before the Inauguration in order for Pence to issue a plenary pardon to him.  [This too is one I am unsure of.]

5.  In the longer term, I simply cannot figure out what the future holds for the Republican Party.

Now I must return to my real work, grading midterm papers.

Sunday, October 13, 2019


Some of you may, like me, have become so addicted to newsbreaks that you cannot get through a Sunday without a fix.  Here is today’s:

You will recall in the text message dump [last week’s news] one rather formal text message from Sondland to Taylor [EU Ambassador, Acting Ukraine Ambassador] in which, after Taylor texts that it is crazy to hold up aid until Zelensky agrees to investigate the Bidens, Sondland replies that there was no quid pro quo.  Trump trumpeted Sondland’s text as proof that the whole matter was a hoax.  Keen-eyed commentators noticed a 5 ½ hour gap between the two messages.

Now the Washington Post and the New York Times are reporting that when Sondland appears before several committees this week [and he will appear], he will testify that during that interim he called Trump and was told to say what he did, that he has no independent knowledge that it is true, that he can only testify that Trump told him to say it.

I believe the conventional response is that “the wheels are coming off the bus” and “the rats are deserting the sinking ship.”

Saturday, October 12, 2019


I have become accustomed to daily, even hourly, breaking news but it is the weekend, and for some reason Congress does not hold hearings on Saturday, so I thought I would try to get some perspective on the subject of impeachment by engaging in a thought experiment.

Suppose that some serious leftwing presidential candidate were to run for the nomination and win the presidency on a radical platform whose principal foreign policy plank was a rejection of the seventy year-long imperial project whose implementation has been the foundation of every president, Democratic and Republican, since Roosevelt.  There have been right-wing politicians like Rand Paul who have advanced something akin to such a rejection but the point of view has not, to my recollection, played a significant role in progressive leftwing electoral politics.  Certainly neither Sanders nor Warren has said anything like this.

Suppose this person was a serious, thoughtful, knowledgeable person who understood quite well how difficult the implementation of such a radical policy reorientation would be, how many solemn treaties would have to be abrogated, how many overseas military bases would have to be closed, how fundamentally the American defense establishment would have to be reconfigured and also, of course, reduced in size.

Suppose also that this person recognized that in the world as it is, the retreat of the United States from an international Imperial stance would open the way for China and other states to occupy the policy space abandoned.  The new president might, for example, believe that in the world as it is now economic power, properly deployed, is superior to military power.  [That seems to lie at the base of China’s current national policy, at least to some extent.]

What would be the consequences in this country were the new president openly, and after wide consultation, attempt to implement the dramatic policy reorientation on which he or she had run and been elected?

I think the answer is obvious.  There would be revulsion, charges of betrayal, accusations of treason, sober, serious principled opposition from the bureaucracy, the media, the corporate elites, and much of academia.  And very quickly, there would be calls for impeachment.

Needless to say, nothing remotely like this can be attributed to Trump.  This is not a thought experiment about him.  It is an effort to think hypothetically about the limits of policy change in modern American politics.  I think the policy reorientation I am talking about might in practice be impossible even for a President with a clear and sizable electoral mandate.


by Hamilton Nolan here on The Guardian.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Once again I will observc that I have never seen politics shift this fast.  Asked yesterday whether Giuliani would be indicted, Trump said "I hope not" which is one small step from "He was with me for only a short time."  It is now a certainty that Trump will be impeached, and although McConnell has all but promised a fifteen minute Senate trial [hardly enough time for Chief Justice Roberts to hustle over from the Supreme Court to preside], I wonder how much more the winds will shift before the House actually takes its vote.

Rudy says the two shifty characters nabbed at the airport with one-way tickets are his clients.  I hope he kept receipts of their payments for legal counsel.  By the way, you may have missed the fact, dropped in the midst of yesterday's confusion, that there was a third passenger ticketed for that flight to Vienna:  Giuliani!

As you can tell, I am a trifle giddy.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


It is very difficult to think deeply and seriously about Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Karl Mannheim while watching an impossibly small car drive into the center ring under the big tent out of which climb an endless stream of clowns in funny costumes with big noses and huge flapping shoes on their feet.

So two shady characters are picked up at Dulles as they attempt to flee the country, charged with various campaign finance violations and suspected of complicity in the Ukraine disaster and of course it turns out they were spotted yesterday at Trump’s Washington Hotel having lunch with Crazy Rudy.

Who wants ideological analysis?  What I need is a whoopee cushion with a buzzer that tickles your rear end when you sit on it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


You will have noted Warren's claim that in the '70s pregnant women lost their jobs, a claim denied by the Right.  In 1968, my first wife lost her job in the Queens College English Department in New York because she had our first son, Patrick.  The stove-piping of Academia being what it is, I could not do anything about it since I was in Philosophy, so I did the next best thing, I got the APA to establish a Standing Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession.  [Jack Rawls declined to co-sign the letter to the APA.]


Days after Bernie  suffers a heart attack, his forty-six year old daughter-in-law suddenly dies of cancer.  I am exhausted after one day of travel and teaching that pales in comparison to what he, and others, have been doing for months in pursuit of the Democratic Party nomination.  There is really nothing to say save that I hope he can survive these blows.  Today Bernie announced that he would be cutting back on the pace of his campaigning.

It is mean-spirited and beneath me to say that I hope Trump suffers comparable blows, but there it is.  Nobody ever accused me of being a nice guy.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


Now that I have completed at Columbia University my four week exposition of the thought of the greatest social theorist ever to live [a.k.a. Karl Marx] and Todd Gitlin is about to commence his wrestle with the second greatest social theorist ever to live [a.k.a Max Weber], I thought this would be an appropriate moment to say a few words about that bugaboo of the Far Right, THE DEEP STATE.

The deep state, according to Steve Bannon and his confrères in the Alt Right, is a malevolent collection of secret career government officials who, having wormed their way into the middle ranks of State, Justice, Treasury, and every other branch of the Federal Government, are now undermining Trump’s efforts to totally transform American domestic and foreign policy, thereby negating the will of the people.

Does this cadre of Civil Service boll weevils exist?

Of course it does!  As Max Weber taught us in his greatest work, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, it is customarily called The Bureaucracy, and it is the universal structural feature of all modern societies, capitalist and [if there actually are any] socialist alike.  Every modern government is a bureaucracy.  Every modern army is a bureaucracy.  Every modern corporation, university and hospital is a bureaucracy.  The Roman Catholic Church is a bureaucracy [and has been for at least a millennium.]  The Boy Scouts are a bureaucracy, The Red Cross is a bureaucracy.   The Democratic and Republican Parties are bureaucracies. 

What we are witnessing today, newsbreak by newsbreak, is the revolt of the bureaucracy.  When the reformers I support win elections, they fume against the entrenched resistance of the bureaucracy, and entertain fantasies of digging it up, root and branch, so that the will of the people can be made into law.  But when evil men seize power and seek to destroy what remains of our fragile democracy, and dedicated Civil Servants step forward to bring them to account, I cry

            Thank God for the Deep State.

Saturday, October 5, 2019


What in hell was Hunter Biden doing being paid $50,000 a month to sit on the board of a Ukrainian gas company?  


I assume that many of you are as mesmerized as I by the speed with which new information surfaces about Trump’s efforts to get foreign rulers to dig up dirt on his 2020 rivals.  There have been endless comparisons to Watergate, but I lived through Watergate, and for the most it was as riveting as the melting of a large pile of snow in the Spring.  This has more the character of a volcanic eruption.  It is hard for us bloggers to write about it because in the time it takes for me to tap out a comment on my keyboard new information will probably have surfaced on CNN or MSNBC.

Rather than try to tame a whirlwind, I thought I would pose two puzzles to which I would love solutions.  I am encouraged by the quality of the replies to my post on the vagaries of senior moments.

Puzzle 1:  Why do clouds develop in discrete layers, sometimes three deep and ranging from 20,000 feet down to 1000 feet?  Everyone who has taken an airplane has noticed this, but I have no idea at all why it happens.

Puzzle 2:  How does friction work?  For example, if I put on a T shirt, it slides smoothly over my back and settles properly on my torso.  But if I have just taken a shower and my back is still damp, it catches and bunches up and I must twist into contortions to grab the hem and try to pull it down.

Surely these are well understood phenomena.  Anybody have a clue?

Friday, October 4, 2019


I have been absent from this site for several days not only because of the effects of my weekly trip to New York but also because I have been transfixed by the rapid development of the impeachment process.  Tuesday evening, as I sat slumped in my seat at LaGuardia waiting for my flight, I saw on a TV screen the announcement that the State Department Inspector General had just delivered a cache of new materials to a Congressional committee.  Because my phone was about to die, I was forced to try to lip read the announcement by the CNN talking head.  What will happen next?  Lord knows.  Probably while I type these words with my two forefingers new revelations are being announced on the TV in the kitchen.  But the outcome is now certain.

Trump will be impeached by the House, probably before Thanksgiving and probably as well with virtually no Republican votes.  Then Mitch McConnell will take the Senate at breakneck speed through the Senate trial mandated in the Constitution.  I visualize the Senate trial as rather like a lovely scene from the old Danny Kaye movie, The Court Jester.  [I can still recall the famous phrase, “The chalice from the palace has the potion with the poison but the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true.”]  At one point Kaye, the Court Jester, is challenged by a knight but he cannot fight because he is not a knight, so he is frog marched double time through the ordinarily leisurely knighting process in order to be eligible to take part in a duel.

Trump will be acquitted by the Senate.  That is a foregone conclusion.  The four or five Republican Senators up for election will have to make an impossible choice.  I suspect that whichever way they choose they will suffer in November 2020.

And then, everything will depend on the relative degree of eagerness to vote of the Democratic and Republican bases.  Right now, it looks good.

One final word, about Bernie.  I hope to God he is all right in the aftermath of his arterial procedure.  He and his wife will have to decide whether he can return to the crushing schedule and unreal effort of a full speed presidential campaign.

Monday, September 30, 2019


Sometimes you just have to relieve the tension with a little trolling.  Earlier this afternoon I looked up Jim Jordan’s website and then called one of his Ohio offices.  I said to the woman who answered the phone:

“Hello.  I am looking at the Congressman’s impressive website, and I read his bio.  I could not find any mention of his military service, but I felt sure he served.  Can you tell me which branch of the military he served in?”

She replied, rather curtly, “He did not serve.  He went to college.”

“Oh,” I said, “I guess he had bone spurs” and hung up.

Sunday, September 29, 2019


Earlier today, while my wife and I were out shopping, we tried without success to recall the name of a very familiar restaurant in the nearby town of Carrboro.  We were having what folks in our retirement community call a “senior moment,” a familiar occurrence, alas.  Not of itself a notable event.  But as we drove on, I reflected that I could easily and precisely recall where the restaurant is, how to drive to it, what it looks like, what is on the menu, several times when we have been there – virtually everything about it but its name.

This is characteristic of such senior moments.  Several years ago I was unable for some time to recall the name of a famous operatic soprano, Kathleen Battle. I would go and get the CD I have of her singing arias with Winton Marsalis accompanying her, I would say to myself “Kathleen Battle, Kathleen Battle, KB, KB” and yet ten minutes later I could not recall her name, even though I could hear her in my head and even sing along with some of the arias.

So today I started to wonder, where in the brain are stored all the details I can recall of the restaurant, and where is stored its name?  Has anyone done research on this phenomenon? 

Is there someone out there reading this who knows?


Well, I have now read the "transcript" of the phone call and also the whistleblower's report.  It is worth reading the transcript for one reason:  to get the flavor of the Ukraine President's cringe-worthy sycophantic sucking up to Trump.  It is over the top.  I now understand why Trump thinks the phone call was "perfect."

Saturday, September 28, 2019


I admit it, I am a little giddy with the developments of the past week.  I am allowing myself to take pleasure in the discomfiture of my enemies, fully aware that I may be disappointed.  As Paul Newman says to Robert Redford in The Sting, it won't be everything I want, but I have to be satisfied and walk away.

I agree with Ed Barreras that we really need one more significant defection to put a cherry on it, but these are early days, and Trump does not inspire to-the-death loyalty, so I am hopeful.  There are all the people the whistleblower talked to in the White House.  One or more of them may be feeling a trifle queasy at this point and wondering whether they really want to go down with the ship.

It is clear that the Trump White House is a leaking badly, and every reporter from New York to Washington is working non-stop to catch any drops that fall from the sieve, so I expect more revelations, even as I type these words.

Now I think I will relax and read the full texts of the phone call and the whistleblower report, which I deferred until my Marx lecture was complete [I have some sense of priorities!]


The House of Representatives will vote Articles of Impeachment, almost certainly before Thanksgiving.  How can I be so sure?  For three reasons:

First, a majority of the members of the House have announced that they are for impeachment.

Second, the Democrats have stated that if the Administration fails to honor subpoenas, the first of which went out yesterday, they will construe that failure as Obstruction of Congress and add it to the other Articles, thus depriving the Administration of any opportunity to stall.

And Third, because Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Schiff have openly identified Thanksgiving as their target date, something they would not do unless they believed they could meet it.

This will be only the third time a President has been impeached [Nixon resigned before he could be impeached], and it is worth pausing to note the speed with which the ground has shifted beneath Trump's feet.  It is also a time to tip one's hat to Nancy Pelosi, who has played this flawlessly, with of course massive help from Trump.

When the Articles of Impeachment land with a thud on Mitch McConnell's desk, they will present an impossible choice to half a dozen Republican Senators up for reelection, including McConnell himself.

Will Trump serve out his full term of office?  It is too soon to judge, but if one or several of the White House officials who served as the whistleblower's sources decide to save themselves and come forward, there is no telling.

Friday, September 27, 2019


It is hard to keep up.  Key figures in the House are now talking about completing the impeachment investigation and House vote before Thanksgiving!!  As someone old enough to remember Watergate, I am astonished by the speed with which secret information leaks out.  It took thirty years or so for Mark Felt to be identified as Deep Throat, the source for Woodward and Bernstein.  It has taken days for the NY TIMES to publish identifying characteristics of the whistleblower.  

I sit at my desk working up lecture notes for Tuesday's class and periodically nipping into the kitchen to check MSNBC or CNN for late-breaking developments.

This is the class in which I quote from the script of the Burt Reynolds movie Stick by way of explaining what capitalists do.  Those with short memories or who are new to this blog can check my post for June 1, 2015.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


I think it is genuinely possible that Trump will not serve out his entire first term.  He will not be convicted in the Senate [impeachment is now certain], but at some point he may resign, if he can secure the assurance of a plenary pardon from President Pence.]

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Remember, they got Al Capone on tax evasion.


Yesterday was a remarkable day for me.  I got up at  5 am, traveled to New York, poured my heart out in one of the most intense two hour lectures I have ever delivered,  and then flew home.  All the while, the political world was turning upside down.  I have been in a heightened state ever since.  We shall see what it all means, but about the lecture I have no second thoughts.

Lord, I love teaching.

Monday, September 23, 2019


The world seems to go on even when I stop talking about it for a few days.  Some items that call for comment, in no particular order:

1.         Thomas Cook Tours has collapsed, leaving 150,000 Brits stranded in this place and that.  The British Government is launching a massive repatriation effort.  Back when I was young, Thomas Cook was tours, just as Oxford and Cambridge were university education.  I guess not all of this can be blamed on Boris Johnson, but some of it can be blamed on Margaret Thatcher.

2.         Elizabeth Warren continues her slow, steady rise in the race for the nomination.  I am beginning to think Biden really is toast, or will be once the toaster heats up.  This is quite separate from the non-scandal concerning his unfortunate and ill-fated son, Hunter.

3.         We saw Downton Abbey yesterday.  It is a simply perfect movie.  I freely confess that tears came to my eyes during the last scene, the ball.

4.         Some data I extracted from Google earlier this morning, courtesy of the BLS: 
   Median weekly wages for full time workers with high school diploma [2018]  $730
   Median weekly wages for full time workers with BA [2018]  $1198
            So, for 2/3 of Americans, the median wage is $730, and for the other third, the median wage is 65% higher. 

5.         Now that Donald Trump has admitted committing high crimes and misdemeanors, we may ask why he has not been, and will not be, impeached and removed from office.  The answer is not Nancy Pelosi’s timidity or Jerry Nadler’s indecisiveness or the fecklessness of the Congressional Democrats or the gutless cowardice and criminality of the Senate Republicans, or any other such facts.  The reason is that since World War II, the delicate balance between the Congress and the Presidency has been destroyed.  For a variety of reasons, most notably America’s embrace of an imperial world stance, the Presidency has grown in power and inviolability until now the only constraint on a President other than defeat at the polls is some fragment of remaining shame or honor, neither of which the electoral process is designed to reward.

We might say, if literary allusions help, that Trump is the Smerdyakov to the Ivan of Reagan or Clinton or Bush.

6.         Brian Leiter tells me that visitors to my blog now get a Google warning that the site is unsafe.  Is that true?  And if it is, what do I do about it?

Sunday, September 22, 2019


My brief and quite obviously humorous post yesterday elicited no fewer than twenty comments, not counting my own response to one of them.  Perhaps I should say a few words by way of explanation.

In her scattershot and rather ebullient posts, Anonymous says at one point “Theory is good, beautiful, and easy. The hard part is to implement in the world a vision that both lifts the people economically and gives rise to beauty, thought, progress, knowledge, lively political conversations, freedom, and a truly better future.”  [I say “her” because I cannot tell from the post Anonymous’ gender, and the constraints of proper English require me to make some assumption.  If I am wrong he can correct me.]

I could not agree more with her sentiment, and indeed I believe I have said as much several times in this space, though perhaps not so eloquently.  Why then do I write about theory?  I might reply, as Kierkegaard did in the Preface to Philosophical Fragments:  “When Philip threatened to lay siege to the city of Corinth, and all its inhabitants hastily bestirred themselves in defense, some polishing weapons, some gathering stones, some repairing the walls, Diogenes seeing all of this hurriedly folded his mantle about him and began to roll his tub zealously back and forth through the streets.  When he was asked why he did this he replied that he wished to be busy like the rest, and rolled his tub lest he be the only idler among so many industrious citizens.”  Kierkegaard adds, “Such conduct is at any rate not sophistical, if Aristotle be right in describing sophistry as the art or making money.”

At Hampshire College in Massachusetts forty years ago or so, I gave a talk the thrust of which was that Philosophers had hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways, whereas the point was to change it [a sentiment I lifted from Marx, needless to say.]  A student raised his hand and asked, “So why then do you write books?”  My response was no more than a prosaic version of Kierkegaard’s poetic vision.  “Social change requires many people doing many different things,” I replied.  “Some people organize protests, some people raise money, some people hand out fliers, some people lock arms and sit down to block traffic.  I write books.  It is not by any stretch of the imagination the most important task, but it has some utility, and I am good at it, so that is what I do.”

Now a word about CAPITAL.  Marx, like Jesus [and equally unfairly, I might add], has been burdened with responsibility for the inhumanities perpetrated in his name.  But Marx had nothing to say about the Bolshevik Revolution, which occurred fifty years after the publication of CAPITAL, nor did he offer comments on the Chinese Peasant Revolt thirty-two years further on, or the Cuban Revolution, yet thirteen years further still.  He did, on the other hand, have an enormous amount to say about the economic theories of his European predecessors.  Indeed, if we consider Volumes One, Two, and Three, and throw in the three volumes of the THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE, one might reasonably conclude that he had more to say about the economic theories of his predecessors than about anything else.  Anonymous may find theory easy as well as good and beautiful, but Marx did not think so, and he devoted much of his time in CAPITAL to struggling with it.

As I see it, Marx dealt with, among others, three big theoretical issues in CAPITAL.  The first was a problem recognized by Ricardo, namely that prices are proportional to labor values only when all sectors employ equal proportions of direct and embodied labor.  Marx believed he had a solution to that problem, but surprisingly he put off stating his solution until Volume III.

The second issue, dealt with immediately in Chapter One of Volume One, was Marx’s very important recognition that it is abstract socially necessary labor and not ordinary concrete labor that is at stake when one makes claims about the relation of prices to labor values or the distinction between necessary labor and surplus labor.  Marx’s intuitions here are spot on and mathematically very sophisticated, for all that he lacked the formalism to express them precisely.

The third issue, which goes to the heart of his central theory of exploitation, was that his predecessors were unable to explain why there is any profit at all in a fully realized competitive capitalist economy.  The first six chapters of CAPITAL are devoted to generating this problem, refuting the feeble explanations of his predecessors, and then presenting his solution, which turns essentially on the distinction, introduced by Marx, between labor power and labor.

My view is that Marx’s solution to Ricardo’s problem is brilliant and almost right.  His treatment of the second issue is dead right.  And his solution to the third problem is wrong, even though Marx’s most important inference from that solution is in fact correct, namely that Capitalism rests essentially on capitalists’ exploitation of workers, regardless of how enlightened, well-meaning, and woke they are.

I shall endeavor to communicate all of that to my students.