My Stuff

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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 30, 2019


While doing my early morning web surfing, I came upon this piece by Ezra Klein in Vox, posted four days ago.  Taking his lead from two recent and much noted speeches by William Barr, Klein in effect looks at America from the perspective of the White Evangelical world, and quite powerfully captures the panicked sense of embattled defensiveness that dominates that world and explains its willingness to embrace an unregenerate sinner like Trump.  I confess I had not appreciated the desperation with which the White religious right perceives the world, nor had I fully recognized the reasonableness of that desperation.  Difficult as it maybe for those of us on the left to acknowledge it, accustomed as we are to defining ourselves as perpetual losers, the religious right has suffered nothing but defeats for several generations now, and there is for them no hope in sight.

First of all [I am here simply echoing Klein], the numbers are with us and against them.  Each year, there is a smaller percentage of self-identified White Evangelicals in America, a larger percentage overall who say they have no organized religious affiliation, a greater proportion of non-whites.  What is more ominous, the young are dramatically less religious and less White than the old, guaranteeing that short of racial genocide coupled with yet another Great Awakening, the situation will only get worse.

Look at it, as I am trying to do, from the perspective of a fifty-eight year old White Evangelical Trump supporter.  What is happening in his world [or hers]?  Well, women have utterly rejected their proper post-World War II Saturday Evening Post role as homemakers and mothers, deferential to, if not quite obedient to, their husbands.  Black people no longer know their place and expect us to treat them as though they were our equals.  Abortion is rampant, despite judges and State Houses.  Queers are out and running for the presidency, for heaven’s sake, and people who cannot even accept the gender God gave them expect us to make room for them in our toilets.  If I may invoke an old but still useful phrase, the world is going to Hell in a handbasket.

Oh, we can pack the courts, gerrymander the House seats, suppress the vote, hug the Electoral College to our breasts, and pray that the Rapture comes before things get any worse, but in our hearts we know we have lost.  Not even our stockpiles of Second Amendment weaponry can save us.  Perhaps it is time to retreat beyond the Exurbs to Sanctuary Counties where we can live by God’s Law and wait for His Second Coming.

Seriously, folks, this is not nonsense.  We are winning, we really are.  Now, let us be very clear.  Our victory is not against capitalism.  It is against Christianity, and beyond that, against religion broadly understood.  Deep, intractable, structural exploitation and inequality remain.  And capitalism has shown itself to be quite flexibly open-minded when it comes to these culture wars, for all that it is happy to use bigotry when it suits its purposes.  Still and all, a little victory dance in the privacy of our bedrooms is called for.


On Tuesday, I shall make my last trip of the semester to LaGuardia, thence by M60 bus to Columbia.  Even if I can teach at Columbia next Fall, it will be nine months before I again visit the Big Apple.  I think I had three sabbatical leaves during my fifty year career, but by my count I taught twenty-three courses in that half century either as moonlighting or during Summer sessions.  Next semester, I shall once more teach at UNC Chapel Hill in the Philosophy Department [“Karl Marx’s Critique of Capitalism.”]  I have said here that I will also record a series of lectures on Hume’s Theory of Knowledge, but at eighty-six [as I shall be then] that may be a trifle ambitious.

The evidence suggests that I like to teach.  I rather suspect that as I lie on my death bed, my last words will be, “For next week, I would like you to read …”

Sunday, November 24, 2019


I want to take a few moments to step back from the flood of revelations and commentary and try to get some perspective on where we are.  As I was turning things over in my mind, I recalled the work of an old Political Scientist from the 50s, Samuel Lubell.  I may have this wrong [it was well over 50 years ago], but I recall him arguing, on the basis of his detailed examination of voting behavior, that it was a myth that there were middle of the road unaligned moderates who listened carefully to political arguments and then sometimes swung a little left, at other times a little right.  Actually, the so-called moderates were as closed minded as those on the left and those on the right.  They just happened to be closed minded about issues that were pushed sometimes by Republicans and at other times by Democrats.

I thought about this as I tried to assess honestly the claim that Democrats in 2020 must choose a middle-of-the-road candidate who can win back the Obama voters whose votes for Trump put him over the top in three or four crucial states.

We all know the terms of the debate.  Those pushing Biden or Klobuchar [or Buttigieg or Bloomberg or Yang] point to the data that clearly show that if Trump had not won those Obama voters, he would not have won the Electoral College.  We on the left counter that the Obama voters of color who stayed home in those states in 2016 vastly outnumber the Obama/Trump voters, and that if Clinton had been able to mobilize the stay at home Democrats, she would now be President.

I don’t want to argue about which policies are best.  I know where I stand on those questions.  I want to try to guess what the shape of the actual electorate is going to be in 2016.  At least some of the evidence is favorable to the preferences of those of us on the left.  The elections since 2016 have shown a steady and very deep erosion of Republican support in the suburbs, especially among previously Republican White women [a small slice of the overall electorate, let us remember.]  Even more important, Democratic turnout is through the roof, and seems to suggest that 2020 will see the largest percentage of eligible voters turning out in a century.  On the other hand, leftwing candidates have been winning principally in reliably Democratic districts. 

I am terrified that I am allowing my passion to cloud my judgment, and since I really do think another four years of Trump might put paid to progressive dreams for a generation.

What do you all think?


Mike Bloomberg is going to spend $30,000,000 flooding TV with an ad touting his suitability for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.  Bloomberg is worth somewhere north of fifty billion, so 30 million is, if I have this right, 3/5 of 1/10 of 1% of his net worth.  Well, 3/5 of 1/10 of 1% of my net worth [counting my Paris apartment and figuring what my pension would be worth if it were an annuity] is maybe $600, which, taking account of inflation, is a bit more than I spent in 1977 during my unsuccessful run for an empty seat on the Northampton, MA School Committee.

Seems about right.


Susie and I went yesterday afternoon to see A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, the biopic about Fred Rogers starring Tom Hanks.  The tiny Indie theater was jammed with a three-generational audience:  Old folks like us who had watched the show on TV when our children were little; their middle aged sons and daughters who had watched the show as kids' and grandchildren who had no idea at all who Fred Rogers was.

Tom Hanks is luminous as Fred Rogers.  He inhabits the role, so much so that when a picture of the real Fred Rogers flashes on the screen during the final credits it seems like an intrusion.

The movie accomplishes the seemingly impossible trick of being both saccharine sweet and deeply depressing.  We both left the theater seriously down.  I think if that is what Heaven is like then George Bernard Shaw had it right in Man and Superman -- better to go to Hell and listen to Mozart.

Saturday, November 23, 2019


SPECTRUM TV has just posted the first six of twelve half hour shows reprising the wildly successful 1990’s TV series Mad About You.  The original series made Helen Hunt a star, and the new set reveals her still married to Paul Reiser twenty years later, their daughter Mabel just going off to NYU five blocks away.  Susie and I were big fans of the original show and actually named one of our cats after the dog on the show, Murray.  So as soon as the first six episodes were available we sat down to watch.  It has been a letdown for both of us, and it took me a while to figure out why.

The stars are of course older.  Helen Hunt has aged splendidly, Paul Reiser not so much.  But then, Susie and I are also older, and addicted to movies with aging stars, so it isn’t that.  The dialogue is just as snappy, and the daughter is exactly the sort of person you would imagine the two of them would produce, so it isn’t that either.  But there are, I finally realized, two problems that make the episodes a bit of a drag, despite Helen Hunt’s heroic efforts to salvage them.

The first problem is that in the intervening twenty year dramatic hiatus, while Helen Hunt’s character has matured and changed [one of the episodes is a hilarious riff on menopause], Paul Reiser’s has not.  Traits that were cute in a young man are simply irritating in a man of fifty or so.  I found myself wondering, “Why has she stayed with him all this time?”

The second problem is even more interesting from a lit crit point of view.  In the original show, there was an electric sexual tension.  The characters bickered but were so attracted to one another that one knew they would fall into each other’s arms, if not on camera, then as soon as an episode ended.  This is a standard narrative device of the romantic novel – think Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  But almost as soon as the new series starts, we are told that the characters have not had sex in a while, which makes the bickering not electric but just  … bickering.  The characters have been married for twenty years and yet in that time seem not to have developed real tenderness or affection.

Still and all, they do have a new dog, who looks promising, so we shall continue to watch.

Now, if I could just talk to someone about Jar Jar Binks.

Friday, November 22, 2019


John Bolton is clearly miffed that the House Democrats do not seem all that desperate to hear from him.  He keeps tossing out hints like a chorus girl lifting her skirts higher and higher to capture the attention of an audience of uninspired Moulin Rouge patrons.  He reminds me of the great line delivered by Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady:  "I'm willing to tell you. I'm wanting to tell you. I'm waiting to tell you."


And now I remember the name of the young Asst Prof in W. Y. Elliott's seminar whom I confused with Theda Skocpol:  Judith Shklar.  I actually knew Dita Shklar back in the day.  Whew, it's a bitch getting old.


Chris Mulvaney wrote me a long email, quite interesting, which he has given me permission to put up as a guest post.  Here it is:

Given the 'great leftist fear' sweeping the country, I would expect somebody to publish a study proving a progressive can't win. I haven't seen anything like that and a quick google search didn't reveal any studies of the 2020 election authored by Dr. Benhabib.  The conclusion is, to my way of thinking, counter-intuitive.  All the fundamentals strongly favor the Democrats.  

Turnout in the 2018 election was huge in comparison to typical off-year elections and that increase has been attributed to the following groups:  young voters (18-29, 15.7%) (30-44, 13.2%),  Black, Hispanic and Asian voters (10.8%, 13.4%, and 13.3% respectively). To put this in context, it means that these groups voted at a rate comparable to general election turnout figures in an off-year election.  The dynamics driving that turnout haven't changed and the turnout next year will be higher than it has been in decades.  A forty seat gain by Dems in the House is indicative of a wholesale rejection of republican policies and leadership and it strongly suggests a political realignment is in progress.

For example, the Dems flipped seven seats in California. In four of those districts the Democrats now have a lead in party registration. In the district in Orange County won by Katie Porter, Republicans had 14.2% edge in 2016 which dropped to 4%. in 2018.  The republican advantage in Devin Nunes' seat (Tulare) has been cut in half as has the Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy's seat next door in Bakersfield.  These are seats that were gerrymandered to ensure republican control for eternity!

Sixty percent of voters think the country is on the wrong track, a figure comparable to the a year before Obama was elected.  Fifty percent of voters identify as Democrat or leaning Democrat, the strongest lead (8-10 points) Democrats have had in years.

The above numbers indicate tectonic shifts in the electorate.  In 2018, republicans lost some of those who lean republican and the loss was greatest among republican women.  When I started writing this I thought I had figures on the suburban vote by demographic group, but I can't find them now.  I doubt that educated republican leaning women in the 'burbs who went Democratic in 2018 will revert to their old ways regardless of the democratic nominee, not when the republican candidate is Trump.

I also expect the Democrats to balance the ticket.  A Warren/pick your favorite moderate ticket will calm potential defectors. I should note that Biden said he would pick a moderate as his V.P. about two months ago. It was one more in a long list of cringe-worthy, and just politically stupid, comments.

I think this will be a brutal campaign unlike any other I have ever experienced, and frankly, I am not sure that any of the democratic candidates have figured out how to manage the phantasmagoric swirl of Trumpian bull that seems to overwhelm reason all too frequently.


Well, it took less than 24 hours for you folks to sort out my confusion.  It was Theda Skocpol.  So what happened to me?  Well, it is very complicated.  The story starts in 1958, when I had just come out of my 6 months of active duty in the Mass National Guard and was on fellowship while living in Cambridge.  I attended a seminar taught by  a Big Deal Harvard Government Department Professor who was a horse's ass:  William Yandall Elliott.  Also attending the seminar was a ferociously bright and sharp-edged young woman who was, as I recall, an Asst Prof in the Government Department.  One day she ripped Elliott apart.

Step One:  I confused her in my mind with Theda Skocpol.  

Step Two:  I had met and become very close to Barrington Moore, Jr. [he was the godfather of my younger son, Tobias Barrington Wolff.]

 Step Three:  Somewhere, I became acquainted with the work of Seyla Benhabib.

Step four;  Since I had Skocpol placed in the late 50s in my mind, I knew she could not be the person Todd had told me about, so I mis-remembered Benhabib as Skocpol [who was, in fact, Barry's student], and thought Benhabib was Barry's student [not possible, since she got her doctorate at Yale.]

A total clusterf--k attributable, alas, to a series of Senior Moments.

Now, about the time I had tea with John Stuart Mill ...

Thursday, November 21, 2019


The House is charged with responsibility for impeachment, but the procedures to be followed are entirely its own.  Nancy Pelosi could, if she chose, make the vote secret.  How many Republican members would vote to impeach Trump if they could do so anonymously?

Personal matters made it impossible for me to watch the debate last evening, but I gather Biden gave another of his cringe-worthy performances. 

Todd Gitlin tells me that Seyla Benhabib and associates have done detailed on the ground studies suggesting that Warren or Sanders would lose large numbers of the suburban voters we need to win, a report that depressed me deeply.  Does anyone know more about this?

Monday, November 18, 2019


President Trump made an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed Hospital on Saturday.  It would be unChristian of me to hope for the worst.  But then, I am not a Christian.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


1.  At The Movies

Susie and I have just returned from THE GOOD LIAR, a vehicle for two splendid actors, Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren.  Both give fine performances.  It is worth a trip to the flics.

2.  I Am All For Unions, But Really

Susie and I are booked on the direct Delta/Air  France RDU-Paris flight on December 6th, returning December 23rd.  I have just learned that the Air France ground crews have scheduled a strike for December 5th, this to support the Metro, Bus, RER, and TGV workers who are about to go on strike.  The ground crew strike is currently billed as a one day affair, but there is no telling whether they will extend it.  At issue is the government's plan to change, and presumably reduce, pensions.  I think it is very much an open question whether we will make it to Paris.  Fortunately, this time, for the very first time, I bought trip insurance.


So now Pete Buttigieg has jumped to the front of the pack in Iowa.  I recognize that this is a test of just how totally I am committed to defeating Trump, but I wish the good Lord would find a less painful way of testing me, such as perhaps fasting or scourging myself with whips or walking on nails.

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.