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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, June 29, 2019

BY WAY OF EXPLANATION


All right, let’s take this slowly.  First, my post had nothing to do with decorum or polite manners, either of the slave plantations of the old South or of the chi chi dinner parties of the Upper East Side.  My elementary example of poll watchers and precinct workers should have made that clear.  I was talking about the norms that attach to and guide countless bureaucratically defined roles and functions, in the judicial system, in corporations, in hospitals, in universities, in labor unions, in Department of Motor Vehicle registries and unemployment offices.  I was talking about the norms that are expected to guide the actions of FBI agents and House committees and police departments.  I was talking, rather more significantly, about the universal assumption that after the votes have been counted and certified, the losers will quietly vacate their offices and make way for the winners.  If you don’t think that last is an important norm, take a look around the world at all the countries where that quiet transition of power cannot be counted on.  This has nothing to do with decorum, as that word is customarily used.  Furthermore, laws by themselves are not sufficient to ensure the requisite behavior, either in a capitalist democracy dominated by the rich and powerful or in a socialist democracy responsive to the will of the people.  In addition to laws there must be a widespread acceptance and internalization of norms of expected behavior.  If textual references will help, spend a little time reading Max Weber on bureaucracy.

My point was that when one spends so much time and energy, as I have, calling out and fuming against those who sanctimoniously celebrate these norms while secretly or even openly violating them, it is difficult to keep in mind that the better world we desire would depend essentially on the enactment and maintenance of those very norms.  Hence it is important to embrace them and repeatedly celebrate them even while condemning all those who violate them.

As for the insult.  Here are the words:  “Is it possible the decorum and demeanor you appreciate and revere is tantamount to the charm of the slave holding South?”

Let’s not be naïve or disingenuous about this.  Those words accuse me of embracing a Gone With The Wind ideal of proper behavior, with all that implies.  That is what in other circumstances would be called a blood libel, and I took offense.  I accept the apology.

9 comments:

Chris said...

I concede I did not understand your first post. Mea culpa.

I also want to make clear that I said tantamount, not equal to, and my charge was not that you hold the seedy underbelly to be worth maintaining. I'm NOT, and I don't see how the first sentence of what I wrote could be read as, stating you are a perfunctory member of a gone with the wind society. I was in a sense, I suppose, trying to state that you might believe the presentation to be X when in fact it is Y. E.g., I thought Kafka was writing about capitalism, but it turns out he was writing about bureaucracy. So if I did *accidentally* insult you, it was the manner of asking whether or not your beliefs corresponded to reality (which, uhm, to be sure, is what nearly every philosopher does to nearly every philosopher).

So I'm still somewhat confused why everyone got upset at what I said, but again, I never once intended offense, and I concede I misread the initial post. As someone stated, I know damn well your heart is on the side of the angels.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

Your fears seem to me well placed. We ignore the stench of Third World dictator that man gives off at our peril. And yes, much of this has to do with the generalized rot of the Republican Party, which, as Chomsky has been saying for a long time, isn’t a political party now so much as an insurrectionist movement. But T***p is particularly dangerous if only because he represents a beacon for that movement.

I do think the primary goal of the next election should be to oust T***p from power, and many here seem to implicitly cede that point when they advocate for Bernie as the best candidate to go heat to head with him. I admit there are hopeful signs that that is the case. However, I can already hear the hum of the fearsome propoganda engine the GOP has ready in case Bernie does win the nomination, and it makes me very nervous.

As for the whole idea of politness, etc. — can we please stop with this meme which says that attacks on T***p’s uniquely loathsome style of communication are really just defenses of some hypocritical order of gentility? Please. When T***p responds to a credible, corroborated accusation of rape by saying “she’s not my type,” that is the taunt of a rapist, coming from the person who occupies the nation’s highest office and being cheered on and reveled in by his many supporters. It’s typical of the kinds of things he repeatedly says, and it is continuous with all the actual harms he’s inflicted. Impoliteness and uncouthness have nothing to do with it.

By contrast, Bernie’s rants against the coroporations and millionaires and billionaires *are* impolite, and refelshingly so because politness is simply rrelevant given the targets of his ire. But there’s just no overlap between that mode of speech and the filth the current occupant of the White House peddles.

Danny said...

'Those words accuse me of embracing a Gone With The Wind ideal of proper behavior, with all that implies.'

I've read Gone With The Wind. I don't think that actually having read Gone with the Wind, helps me to guess at what all that implies. Actually, I'm distracted by the mere phrase -- 'ideal of proper behavior'. Like Confucius, maybe. the great master of Chinese morality. The great authority in school affairs. I'm utterly kidding, but only because I don't know how to be serious about an ideal of proper behavior, of which I might accuse you. Surely, Confucius is irrlevant, but can I make a better guess? Christ? But I'm kidding.

'That is what in other circumstances would be called a blood libel, and I took offense.'

Rather odd, methinks, because blod libel is an antisemitic canard accusing Jews of murdering Christian children. These accusations usually led to violent attacks against Jewish communities. Now, maybe we can agree that the speed of America's moral descent under Donald Trump is breathtaking, but maybe *you*, though you were being funny?

Sonic said...

So is this question different from the usual "problems with democracy" question? That a dictator might be able to bring more good in a utilitarian sense, but without democratic accountability, it's wrong in a deontological sense? If it's the same question, then I'm sad, cause I was really hoping you'd have an answer for that.

But at the same time, I'm not sure if revolution/reform even is a dilemma really. I mean, we don't really live in an actual democracy. Also, I always think about Fred Hampton and how the state will violently react to socialism, even when does play inside the rules. Right? Even if a vast majority of America was totally class conscious and voted hard left and collectivized and everything, power structures would react violently. They always do.

Sonic said...

Also, I thought the argument about Beto O'Rourke was that Trump is a dumb Hitler, and that's really really bad. However, if we elect someone like Beto who doesn't offer any solutions to the problems the far right is responding to, then the next person they will inevitably elect will be smart Hitler. And that's worse.

talha said...

So I'm going to ignore all the nervous-nellie hand-wringing about who-knows-what norm-subversion Trumpism is supposed to be an unprecedented example of (I mean, for Christ's sake, this is a country where Bush was given the presidency by 5 conservative judges, but I'm shocked! shocked! to hear that democracy and the rule of law aren't being observed),* and just respond to Ed's remark that "the primary goal of the next election should be to oust T***p from power, and many here seem to implicitly cede that point when they advocate for Bernie as the best candidate to go heat to head with him."

Let me just say that as one of those who said Bernie is the best candidate to defeat Trump, that (a) I did not "advocate" for Bernie on said grounds, (b) but only responded to others who raised concerns about Bernie on such grounds that I do not think they are cogent, (c) while remaining steadfast in my view that the case for Bernie remains squarely grounded in him offering the first genuinely transformative political agenda in half a century; and (d) that pushing for such political transformation is, in my view, "the primary goal" at the present, given that it is already clearly on the political horizon and is also the only way effectively to combat the two major perils facing us today, namely: (i) right-wing nativism as a reaction to neoliberalism; and (ii) climate change.

*Let me also make clear, in case there is any doubt, that I completely accept that Trump is a significant break in norms of civility, but these precisely are what apparently are *not* at issue here. On that--norms of civility--well, there I agree with Chris. Meaning, *if* those are at issue, then I couldn't care less. If something else is at issue--as Prof. Wolff insists (with, frankly, little concrete instantiation or support)--then frankly the unprecedented character of the subversion is completely exaggerated and of no little service to restoring neoliberalism, as the pre-Trump norm of business as usual.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

I wonder if this is more like what Prof. Wolff was articulating?

Anyway, I commented a few months back (but my Google fu has failed me, so I can't link to it), something to the effect that we very well may have seen the peak of true freedom in the US. We may be living in a period during which labor rights and civil rights will only ever decline.

I can easily foresee a future where wages continue to stagnate or even drop precipitously, where we have ever more authoritarian Presidents, ever stronger voter suppression and rollbacks of legal protections for women, gays and lesbians, and racial minorities.

Hell, what if climate change really does challenge the very existence of the ideal of human rights?

Transnational corporations have increasing power across the globe. What if we're headed to a neo-feudalism, and democracy disintegrates around the world?

I am not a natural Tigger like Prof. Wolff; I am a natural Eeyore, and the horizon of the future is dark and foreboding to my eyes. I feel that a new barbarism is likely to win out over a new humanism.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you so much for this link. It is a brilliant and chilling statement of what I was rather inarticulately trying to say.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

I might consider the Antifa attack in Portland on journalist Andy Ngo (a gay Asian man!) another example of the breakdown of liberal democratic social norms. As conservative (some might say "reactionary") blogger Rod Dreher put it aptly, "It should be true that ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE IT IS WRONG TO COMMIT ACTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS OR PEACEFUL PROTESTERS.

"This is not negotiable. It is a norm of civilized life that cannot be abrogated."