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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

Total Pageviews

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Well, the Bernie freak out is now in full panic mode.  The Bloomberg fizzle, following the Biden fade, has left the establishment gasping.  Meanwhile, Bernie seems poised to win Nevada [if they can actually manage to count the votes], and the commentariat has finally grasped that the delegate apportionment rules may give him a daunting delegate lead on March 4th.  I came very close to throwing my shoe at my TV set when I heard a nakedly anti-Bernie Chris Matthews report, as the killer detail from Bernie’s past, that Bernie had wept when JFK tried to overthrow Castro.  As the co-chair and MC of the Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard in 1962, I took that rather personally.  I am cheered by the return of Warren, whom I would delightedly support if she were somehow to get the nomination.

The time has come to ask three questions, to none of which I have genuine answers, but on all of which I have opinions.

First: can Bernie really win the nomination?  He is the odds on favorite to have the delegate lead when the primaries are over, and he could conceivably have a majority, but if three or four others stay in the race, that could be very difficult to achieve.  If Bernie is within two or three hundred of the number required and no one else is within a thousand, it would split the party and hand the election to Trump for the DNC to stage manage a coup for Biden or Bloomberg, or even Klobuchar or Buttigieg. 

Second: if Bernie gets the nomination, will he win the election?  My best guess is yes, but I genuinely don’t know.  If, in the eight months before the election, the Corona virus becomes a genuine pandemic and tanks the world economy, Trump is toast.  One part of my mind thinks that even with a good economy, anyone including Alfred E. Neuman [which is to say Mayor Pete] can beat Trump.  But the prospect of a Trump re-election so appalls and frightens me that my analytical powers atrophy.

Third:  if Bernie is elected, what sort of President would he be?  That is a multi-part question, and the answers differ widely.
(i)  as the manager of the enormous bureaucracy that is the federal government, he would be a disaster, unless he chose a really good Chief of Staff and delegated like crazy.  His cabinet and sub-cabinet choices would be splendid.

(ii)  as a proposer of legislation, he would be marvelous.  As a successful enactor of progressive legislation, not so much, but that does not distinguish him from any of the other candidates, not even Warren.

(iii) as the Leader of the Free World [a.k.a. foreign and military policy head], I am not sure.  He has no foreign policy expertise, no military experience, but his heart is in the right place.

(iv) BUT:  if, unlike Obama, he were to keep his movement in existence and use it to elect progressive candidates at every level from School Committee to U. S. Senate, he could transform America.

First, he has to win the Nevada caucuses.  In fourteen hours, we should have a sense of which way the wind is blowing.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


As I wait impatiently for Super Tuesday to bring some measure of clarity to the race for the nomination, I pass the time working out in my head alternative outcomes.  Here is one hypothetical example designed to illustrate the remarkably different delegate allocations that could result from almost identical vote totals.  The key is the presence in the race of so many viable candidates.

In each state, leaving aside superdelegates, there is a bloc of at-large delegates allocated to candidates according to their total vote in the state as a whole, and another bloc of delegates allocated Congressional District by Congressional District to candidates according to their vote total in the CD.  In either allocation, a candidate must get at least 15% of the vote to earn any delegates at all.

Imagine a state with 100 at-large delegates, and suppose Bernie wins the popular vote with 35% of the vote in that state.  Depending on how the other candidates do, Bernie could win anywhere from 35 to 100 of the at-large delegates.  Consider three vote distributions, in each of which Bernie gets 35%:

I.          Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar each get 13% of the vote.  None of them qualifies for any at-large delegates and Bernie gets all 100.

2.         Bloomberg gets 25% of the vote, and the remaining four candidates get 10% each.  Only Biden and Bloomberg qualify for at-large delegates, and they split the 100 delegates in the proportion 35/25.  Bernie gets 58 delegates, and Bloomberg gets 42.

3.         Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Warren get 16% each, qualifying for delegates, and Klobuchar gets 1%.  Bernie gets 35/99 of 100, or 35 delegates.

Now complicate this by the CD by CD allocations, and you get some sense of how wildly divergent the possible outcomes are.  All of which raises the prospect of a brokered convention, in which the ~16.5% of unpledged superdelegates get to put their fat thumbs on the scale in the second and subsequent rounds of voting.

Sunday, February 16, 2020


The Democratic Party primary delegate allocation rules stipulate that a candidate must get at least 15% of the vote in a state to qualify for any of that state’s at-large delegates and at least 15% of the votes in a Congressional District to get any of that CD’s delegates.  In a race like the present one with four or five viable candidates vying for delegates and with Sanders leading in most polls in almost all Super Tuesday states, a shift of a few percentage points above or below the 15% threshold for three or so of the second tier candidates could make the difference between a huge delegate haul and a sizable but not overwhelming delegate haul for Sanders.

Susie and I leave for Paris on March 3rd [!!!] so when we get to our apartment and turn on the TV, we will find out how things have gone down.  We will vote here at our retirement home [we are a precinct] before we leave for the airport.


In 2019, 14,000 people in the United States died of the flu.


The theoretical and literary turning point of Volume I of Capital is the last page of Chapter VI, “The Buying and Selling of Labour-Power.”  In that passage, the clouds lift, the mystification dissipates, and the representation of capitalism as a sunlit “Eden of the innate rights of man {where} rule Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham” is replaced by the stark brutality of the “dark, satanic mills” [to borrow a famous phrase from William Blake.]

This passage is a brilliant inversion of the oldest and greatest representation in Western thought of the philosophical distinction between Appearance and Reality, The Allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic.  It seems undeniable to me that Marx, steeped in the literature of classical Greece, intended this stunning trope.

When I teach Marx at Columbia, I can assume that the students have read the Allegory, for they have all taken Columbia’s century old General Education primer, CC [for Contemporary Civilization], in which the Republic is assigned.  But I cannot make the same assumption at UNC, so as I was getting up this morning, even before I had had a cup of Nespresso decaf, I decided to read aloud the Allegory of the Cave when I reach that point in my lecture tomorrow.

One of the most delicious passages in the Allegory is this, in which Socrates is speaking of the individual who has freed himself from the chains and has seen Reality outside the cave:  “And if there had been any honors, praises, or prizes among them for the one who was sharpest at identifying the shadows as they passed by and who best remembered which usually came earlier, which later, and which simultaneously, and who could thus best divine the future, do you think that our man would desire these rewards or envy those among the prisoners who were honored and held power?”

I like to compare the winners of those “honors, praises, or prizes” to neo-classical economists who have won the Nobel Prize in Economics and “our man” to Marx.

Tomorrow should be fun.

Friday, February 14, 2020


My son, Tobias, the Jefferson Barnes Fordham Professor of Law at UPenn, just won a stunning victory before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Don't ask me for details.  It is way above my pay grade.


I am tired and dispirited by Trump's attack on the judiciary and the rule of law and appalled that I have to worry about a mega-billionaire who wants to buy the Democratic party nomination.  I really don't have the energy for this, but I run this blog, and I feel that I have an obligation to all those who do me the courtesy of reading it.

So:  If RFGA Ph D will identify himself or herself with an actual name and some identifying information,  [Google failed me on this one] as I regularly do on this blog and everywhere else that I offer my opinions, I will write a considered response to his or her needlessly unpleasant comment.  Absent that, I will conclude that my original evaluation was correct, and I will delete all past and future comments by him or her.

Thursday, February 13, 2020


I have arrived!  I have a troll.  Signs itself RFGA PhD I think.  And they said no one cared!


Now that Bernie has crept into a win in New Hampshire by the sneaky, underhanded trick of getting more votes than his opponents, and Biden is, as I expected, toast [except that I like toast!] and Bloomberg’s hideousness is being generously overlooked by the hysterical Democratic Establishment, I think it is time to ask three questions to which inquiring minds desire answers.

1.  Can Bernie get the nomination?  Well, Nate Silver gives him a 44% chance [Lord knows how], and the second best are Biden and no one, so I guess it is not beyond imagining.  We will have a much better idea very soon.

2.  If Bernie gets the nomination, will he win the election?  The Conventional Wisdom is that he will not, but I tend to think he will.  The latest poll putting all the remaining serious candidates up against Trump has them all winning.  Much more significant, in my view, is that in each of the match-ups, Trump gets the same 43%, which suggests that the election is baked in.  Bernie, I am convinced, will do well in the Rust Belt, and that, by itself, should be enough.  Rachel Bitcofer has been predicting a Dem win for six months.

3.  If Bernie wins the election, what sort of president will he be?  That is a complex question.  Let us make the cheerful assumption that he comes to office with both Houses of Congress in Democratic hands.  He will not be able to get truly radical legislation enacted.  I take it that is obvious.  He will, viewed purely from the standpoint of efficient administration, be something of a disheveled disaster.  But he will be a transformative figure, in a way that the sainted Obama was not, and if – this is the biggest unknown of all – if he continues to build a movement on the ground throughout the country after he is elected [as Obama, mysteriously, did not], he could genuinely change American politics for the better.

All of which is obvious, and will inspire the Establishment to heroic efforts to block him.

Question:  Will President Bloomberg release his tax returns?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


I just did something that probably every eleven year old in the world knows how to do.

To illustrate Marx's argument that profit is not in fact the wages of management, I wanted to tell a little story I made up about the 19th century mill owner in the small hill town of Haydenville, MA who owned a factory on the Mill River and built himself and his daughter a pair of impressive white homes with Greek columns across the street from the factory.

So:  using GoogleMaps I cruised Rte 9 until I found the factory and the homes [which I used to drive past in the '60s on the way to a little country home I briefly owned.]  Then, guided by an informative video found online, I took a screenshot of the factory and homes, copied it onto my desktop, loaded it onto the website of my UNC course on Marx, and sent a message to the students to check it out before next class.  

Here it is:


The first in my nine lecture YouTube series on Kant's First Critique just passed 120,000 views.


I go to bed quite early – at 8 pm or before – so I turned off the TV just as the first New Hampshire results were coming in.  As a Bernie supporter I hoped to wake up to good news, so you can imagine how disappointed I was when I turned on MSNBC and discovered that  the big winners in New Hampshire were Pete Buttigieg  and Amy Klobuchar, with Sanders performing poorly.  But politics is for grownups and there was no arguing with the hard facts.  Buttigieg got roughly 24% votes, Klobuchar got 20%, and Bernie limped in with 26%.

I am afraid it going to be like this all the way to the Convention.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


Several days ago I read a brief news item about the comic actor Orson Bean, who died at 91 when he was struck by a car.  For 68 years, I have felt a small personal tie to Orson Bean, because of this experience, set forth in my Autobiography.  The time was the summer of '52:

"Because I was living at home, I was able to see more of Susie.  There had been some faint indications of trouble in the relationship, though I was still convinced that we were going to keep going steady until we could get married.  In an effort to romance her a bit, I decided to use some of my Tribune earnings for a night on the town.  The two of us got dressed up and went along to the Blue Angel, a small night club in Manhattan.  There was a twenty-five dollar minimum, but since Susie and I did not drink, we used it up having dinner.  The floor show that evening consisted of an opening act by a new young comedian, Orson Bean, and two featured singers, Josh White and Eartha Kitt.  I still remember Bean's opening line.  He came out, looking rather nervous, and said, "Good evening.  I am Orson Bean, Harvard '48.  Yale nothing."  Josh White sang songs I knew from Shaker Village and even Taconic.  It was, as it turned out, the only time I have ever been to a night club.  I guess if you get something right the first time, there is no point in doing it again."

Monday, February 10, 2020


This site makes it clear both that Warren cannot direct her delegates to vote for Bernie and that each state has its own rules governing what happens to a candidate's delegates either after the first ballot or when he or she drops out.

Very complex.

Sunday, February 9, 2020


Nate Silver, who apparently does not like Bernie much, has this as his latest odds for who will have won the nomination after all the primaries are completed:

Bernie              44%
No one            20%
Biden              20%
Warren              5%
Buttegieg          5%

Good grief!!  Can this be anywhere close to correct?

Note that he projects Bernie and Warren together as having enough to win.

Saturday, February 8, 2020


On Valentine's Day, Susie and I will drive to Pittsboro to early vote in the Super Tuesday Primary.  Monday, I will deliver a killer lecture on Chapter One of CAPITAL.  It features imaginary trips to a Catholic mass and a local supermarket and an analysis of the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, and turns on a deep structural analysis of the miracle of transubstantiation.

God, I love to teach!

Friday, February 7, 2020


As if Iowa weren't enough, and the State of the Union weren't enough, and the"*acquittal" weren't enough, and the lingering of my cold weren't enough, this morning a storm knocked out the power in this part of North Carolina.  It is a measure of the baleful effects of my cold on my usual high spirits that I consider these all of roughly equal significance.  Well, the power is back on anyway, so I shall spend a few minutes prognosticating.

Here is a possible scenario.  After Super Tuesday [March 3rd], Klobuchar, Yang, Bennett, Gabbard, Steyer, Patrick, and whomever else is among the also-rans drop out, leaving Sanders, Warren, Buttegieg, Biden, and Mr. Moneybags still in it.  Sanders racks up lots of delegates, Warren and Buttegieg get decent numbers, Biden gets enough to keep him alive, albeit on life support financially, and Bloomberg actually gets relatively few delegates despite his billions, given the rules that govern these things.  As the primary season plods on, the Democratic Establishment goes into full freak-out mode at the prospect of a Bernie candidacy, and they do everything they can to keep him from a first ballot victory [which he probably cannot manage to win anyway,]

BECAUSE, on the second and subsequent ballots, the unpledged delegates [aka superdelegates] get to weigh in.  This year, there are 3979 pledged delegates to the Democratic Convention and 771 unpledged delegates.  I suspect that very few of those 771 will be Bernie Bros, which means that some sort of anyone but Bernie movement might win ...

UNLESS Bernie and Warren join hands and sing Kumbayah all the way to the White House.

As you can see, I am still feverish.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020


It is a fact often commented upon that no one ever gets any sympathy for having a cold, even though a bad cold can make you feel worse than many more serious ailments.  I think I am starting to get better after several days of a bad cold [my first in many, many years]. The misery of the cold was made worse by the bizarre aftermath of the Iowa caucuses.  I felt a little spacey anyway from the cold, and the absurdities of the app screw-up made me wonder whether I was hallucinating.

Now that 71% of the results have been reported – up from 62% yesterday – I think we can conclude that Biden is toast.  Mayor Pete is having his moment, but with 0% support in the Black community, he is not going anywhere.  All of which has led Bloomberg to double his ad buys, which is a windfall for local TV stations, to be sure.  The Democratic Party establishment is freaking out over Bernie, John Kerry is overheard by a sharp-eared reporter floating the idea of a run for the nomination, Warren lives to fight another day, Klobuchar is going nowhere, and Yang, Steyer, et al. are footnotes.  Do I have that right or are my cough drops getting to me?

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


I have some sort of cold or infection in my throat that makes my dulcet tones sound like the notes of a subdued foghorn.  I taught yesterday, with the aid of cough drops and water, but I do not want to be immortalized on YouTube in my current condition.

I shall drink hot tea and wait for the Iowa results.  

Monday, February 3, 2020


A slight cold and the stresses of preparing both for my course today and the launch of my Hume lectures on Thursday have kept me from posting in several days.  Watching American politics these days has put me in mind of Gandhi’s famous remark.  Asked what he thought of British democracy, he replied sardonically, “It would be a lovely idea.”

There is much discussion these days about whether 'our' democratic American traditions can survive Trump.  I recall a tense moment when the Lone Ranger and Tonto faced a menacing group of Cherokee warriors.  “Are we going to survive?” the Lone Ranger asked nervously.  Tonto, you will no doubt remember, replied “What do you mean ‘we,’ White Man?”

Well, if the Coronavirus doesn’t get me, I will be curious to see how things fall out over the next few months.

Friday, January 31, 2020


The professor in me cannot help correcting solecisms, grammatical lapses, double negatives, and other deviations from proper usage.  Hence, when Senator Lamar Alexander, the phantom fourth witness vote, acknowledged that the House Managers had proven their case overwhelmingly, but said that Trump’s behavior, while “inappropriate,” did not warrant removal from office, I felt a need to cavil.

Wearing torn jeans and an old Madonna T-Shirt to a formal dinner is inappropriate.  Farting loudly and repeatedly at the memorial service for a beloved family member is inappropriate.  Addressing a Roman Catholic nun as “babe” is inappropriate.  Using congressionally appropriated funds to help you cheat in your re-election requires some other adjective.

Will Chief Justice John Roberts break the expected 50-50 tie and force a call for witnesses?  As if, as young people say.  On the other hand, the talking heads on cable news are freaking out at the news that Bernie is topping the polls.  And were that not enough to cheer me up, I get to lecture on Marx for another twenty-two hours this semester. 

Life has its compensations.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


I don’t know why I bother, but writing a blog post is better [marginally] than screaming at the TV and compulsively hitting the Mute button, so here goes.  First, a hat tip to Claire McCaskill, not usually one of my faves, but someone who finally uttered the simple truth that all the big deal cable commentators and all the heavyweight Senators seem incapable of grasping.

The Republicans have 53 Senators.  They can call Hunter Biden or Adam Schiff or Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or the Whistleblower as a witness any time they want to.  They do not have to make a deal with the Democrats.  The Democrats are entirely powerless to make any deals at all, not for John Bolton, not for Mick Mulvaney, not for Mike Pompeo.

When Ted Cruz threatens to call Hunter Biden, he is not threatening the Democrats, he is threatening Susan Collins.  He is saying to Susan Collins, “If you [and three others] vote to call Bolton, thereby lengthening the trial so that it is still on-going when the State of the Union Address comes next week, we will force you to vote against calling Hunter Biden and use that against you in your primary, or else to vote for calling Hunter Biden which will lose you all those cross-over votes you will need in the general election.

That is what is going on.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Bernie is surging and Bolton is ratting on Trump.

Whiplash, anyone?

Monday, January 27, 2020


John Bolton is the Alfred P. Doolittle of the Washington circuit.  Doolittle, of course, is Eliza Doolittle’s father.  When Doolittle [Stanley Holloway, in the movie] hears that Professor Henry Higgins [Rex Harrison] has nabbed his daughter [Audrey Hepburn], he figures there ought to something in it for him, so he goes along to put the arm on Higgins for a fiver.  Higgins’ sidekick asks Doolittle, “How did you know she was here?”  In a splendid burst of poetic Welsh diction, Doolittle replies.         

“I'd tell you, Governor, if you'd let me get a word in.        

I'm willing to tell ya.

I'm wanting to tell ya.                

I'm waiting to tell ya!”

Now if Bolton could only be relied upon to dance as well as sing.

Saturday, January 25, 2020


I have watched as much of Adam Schiff and company as I can bear, and I certainly do not intend to watch Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipolloni, so I shall spend some time this morning spelling out the new idea I had about Hume’s theory of knowledge and its relation to Kant’s theory in the First Critique.  The idea is of general applicability, but I will just sketch it for the case of causal inference.  This is going to be brief, and therefore perhaps somewhat incomprehensible to those who are unfamiliar with my interpretation of Kant.

Kant says at A106 that “A concept is always, as regards its form, something universal which serves as a rule.”  The categories are second-order rules, or rule types.  They are rules for forming rules for the synthesis of a manifold of sensibility.  More precisely, as Kant makes clear in the First Edition so-called Subjective Deduction, they are rules for forming rules for the reproduction in Imagination of perceptions that are elements of the spatial manifold or diversity of sensibility.  The act of reproduction imposes on the perceptions a rule-governed – hence in that sense a necessary, i.e., necessitated by the rule – temporal order.

Thus, the Category of Cause and Effect is a template, or rule type, for forming specific rules for the reproduction of certain elements of the manifold of sensibility in such a manner that some elements must, according to the rule, be reproduced first, and then other elements must be reproduced second.  The Cause and Effect rule type differs in this regard from the Substance and Accident rule type, which specifies that each element can, indeed must, be reproduced first in one order and then in the reverse order.  [The famous example of the boat and the house in the Second Analogy.]

Kant’s language breathes with the rigor and quasi-logical tonality characteristic of his predecessors among the Continental Rationalists, Descartes and Leibniz.  It virtually commands us to stand at attention when we are reading the Critique.

Hume, in Part III of Book I of the Treatise, begins with a brief but devastating dismantling of the rigorous claims for causal inference advanced not only by Descartes and Leibniz but also, more significantly, by Newton.  He then goes on to ask why it is, despite the manifest validity of this critique, that we believe judgments of causal connection.  He asks what belief is, and how it comes about that we form and hold to such beliefs, a process that he labels “natural belief.”  His account is casual, circumstantial, almost anecdotal, as though he were merely narrating what he has observed about the curious doings of the [British] human mind.  It is an account best read while seated in one’s study with a fire in the hearth and a glass of port at one’s elbow.

His answer, to put it succinctly, is that the human mind has an inexplicable propensity, when presented in its experience with certain patterns of perceptions [the constant conjunction of resembling instances], to develop a disposition of a certain type.  Specifically, the experience of repeated conjunctions of resembling perceptions triggers the propensity to form a disposition to expect an instance of the second type when presented with an instance of the first type, and, what is more, to confer on the idea of the anticipated instance a liveliness or force and vivacity, which is to say, to believe that it will occur.

In short, Hume’s analysis of causal inference is that it rests on an innate second-order disposition, a disposition to form dispositions of a first-order nature.  Thus, structurally, Hume’s analysis of causal inference is almost identical with that of Kant.

This much occurred to me sixty-seven years ago as a nineteen year old Harvard senior taking his honors general examination in the Philosophy Department.  It was elaborated in my doctoral dissertation, “The Theory of Mental Activity in Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and published sixty years ago as “Hume’s Theory of Mental Activity” in the Philosophical Review.  But I never asked myself why, despite advancing such strikingly similar analyses of causal inference, Hume and Kant sound so utterly different from one another in the Critique and the Treatise.  While re-reading Book I of the Treatise in preparation for my YouTube lectures, the answer occurred to me.  It is hardly profound, indeed it is obvious, but I had simply never formulated it in my mind.

Hume and Kant end with strikingly similar analyses – rules for the formation of rules, propensities for the formation of dispositions – but they begin at polar opposite starting points.  To put it as succinctly as I can, Kant starts with Leibniz and Hume starts with Locke.  Each carries with him on his journey the baggage of his point of origin, each wears the clothing of his youth, sports the colors of his home team, each strives to remain true to his intellectual upbringing even as he is breaking completely with his past.  That is why, more than two centuries later, we still cannot help seeing them as opponents, failing to recognize the deep similarity of their final doctrines.

Is there then no real difference between them?  Indeed there is, a difference of monumental importance.  What then is it?  That is a subject for another post, but the answer can be given in five words:  The Transcendental Unity of Apperception.

Thursday, January 23, 2020


I started today preparing my first lecture on Book I of Hume's Treatise, for videotaping February 5th.  As I was typing the outline of my opening remarks, a lovely idea struck me regarding Hume's relation to Kant.  It was an idea that had not occurred to me in the 67 years since I first formulated my rather original and counter-intuitive story about their philosophical relationship.  So these lectures will not merely be a stroll down memory lane.


1.         Say what you will, we can all agree that Adam Schiff is doing a brilliant job.  He won’t change any minds, as he well knows, but he is a class act, and I for one enjoy watching a virtuoso performance of any sort.

2.         There has been some stupid commentary about a grand witness swap, Hunter Biden for John Bolton.  The Republicans have 53 votes and they need 51 to call Hunter Biden as a witness.  The same 51 votes suffice to refuse to call John Bolton as a witness.  They don’t need the Democrats to agree to anything.  So why don’t they call Biden?

            Two reasons: First, calling any witness would prolong the trial sufficiently to delay the acquittal vote until after the State of the Union address.  At the present pace, the prosecution will finish tomorrow, the defense will finish Tuesday, Senator’s questions will conclude next Thursday, and then will come the vote on whether even to consider documents and witnesses.  A witness must be issued a subpoena.  He or she must then respond.  Then the witness must be deposed.  Then the witness must testify, and Senators must be able to ask questions.  The State of the Union address is scheduled for a week from Tuesday.  No way they will be done by then if they have even one witness.

            Second reason: It would play badly in the states where vulnerable Republican Senators are up for re-election.

            That is why Schiff keeps maliciously taunting the Republicans, inviting them to subpoena the documents and call the witnesses Trump is refusing to turn over.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


We now have Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the impeachment trial, and they are, to put it mildly, bizarre.  Twenty-four hours of presentation time for each side, to be completed in two days for each.  Each individual piece of evidence that the prosecution [or the defense] seeks to introduce to be the subject of a separate vote.  Each day to begin at 1 p.m.

This is clearly nonsense.  No bathroom breaks?  No breaks for dinner?  Even the army, when it marches, takes a ten minute break every hour!  They won’t finish each twelve hour day at 1 a.m.  They will finish at 4 or 5 a.m.  Is the Chief Justice going to agree to that?  Many of these senators are rather long in the tooth.  There are a number of Republicans who will fade like week-old cut flowers well before the Chief Justice bangs his gavel to suspend for the day [and night.]

What is going on?  The conventional answer is that McConnell wants to rush the trial to a conclusion.  The slightly more sophisticated answer is that he wants Trump acquitted before the State of the Union address, which is scheduled for February 4, two weeks from today.  But seriously, folks, that seems a real reach.  And if the Fab Four [Collins, Murkowski, Alexander, and Romney] vote for witnesses, all bets are off.  McConnell knows that.  So what is really going on?

Obviously, I do not know.  But since this is a blog, ignorance is an invitation to opine, not to refrain, so here goes.  I got a clue from something I heard former senator Barbara Boxer say on some talk show.  Boxer was never one of my favorites, but she served for a long time and knows McConnell well.  She said something unexpected. She said, “McConnell is furiously angry.”

That intrigued me.  Whom is he angry at?  The Democrats?  Hardly.  From his point of view, they are just playing politics, as he is.  He expects that.  No, he is angry at the Republicans, I think, and specifically at those four or more who have refused to vote for a summary dismissal of the charges.  So he is going to make them pay!  He has the votes for acquittal.  Everyone knows that.  But by God, if these grandstanding wobbly-kneed poseurs want a trial, he will give them one they will wish they had been willing to vote to avoid.

Well, that is as good an explanation as I have heard, absurd though it is. 

Monday, January 20, 2020


Generally speaking, I do not re-read books I have written, but to prepare me for upcoming meetings of my UNC course on Marx I have been re-reading Understanding Marx, the first 88 pages of which are assigned for February 3rd.  I warned the students the first day that this would be a really hard course, but I had forgotten how compressed and difficult that book is.  Chapters One and Two are pretty easy.  The long third chapter on the political economy of David Ricardo is very, very demanding.  Well, they were warned.

Oh yes, I have found three typos, the first of which matters, although not seriously, the second of which has necessitated an entire substitute page of mathematics to clear up, and the third of which is a trivial “in” for “it.”

I have to admit, this is much more fun than obsessing about Alan Dershowitz’s underwear.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


On this quiet January Sunday, as we await the start of the Senate trial of the buffoon who, for purposes of the ritual, is always referred to as Donald John Trump, I find myself idly speculating on how it will all go down.  The outcome is settled, of course, but that hardly matters.  When I saw the first, great, film version of Death on the Nile, I knew how it would come out, having read the book, but that did not diminish my pleasure in the performances of Peter Ustinov, Maggie SmithAngela LansburyBette DavisMia FarrowDavid NivenGeorge Kennedy and Jack Warden.

I confess I had not realized that the senators will be required to sit silently, stripped of their cell phones, for hours on end – for many of them probably the longest unbroken period of waking silence in their lives.  The Republicans, having already decided their votes, will be condemned to listen to the excruciatingly detailed recitation of the evidence against Trump, unable to determine, until the bathroom breaks, how it is playing on cable TV.  Jim Jordan will be absent, but even the Senate version, Lindsey Graham, will be silent on pain of imprisonment [if the pro forma warning from the Sergeant at Arms is to be believed.]

The commentariat is obsessed with the possibility of testimony from Bolton and the threat of compensatory testimony from Hunter Biden, but I must confess my hopes are pinned on a nuclear eruption in the Senate chamber that I think is at least notionally possible.

The affair will begin on Tuesday, and as it drones on, Trump will be glued to his TV, tweeting obsessively.  After days of unbroken anti-Trump presentations [at least as I understand the rules], Cipollone, Sekulow, Dershowitz and company will get their chance.  It will all be terminally boring, and as the days go on, Trump will lose what little self-control he retains from his bone spur youth.  I genuinely believe there is a chance that at some point Trump will burst into the Senate Chamber and announce that he is taking over his own defense from his idiot lawyers, whom he scarcely knows. 

Mind you, this would not change the outcome, but it would be a moment of world-historical deliciousness. 

We shall see.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


I had been fearful that the Trump legal team would seek to make a circus of the Senate trial, but their choice of lead litigators makes it clear that they are taking this affair with the solemn seriousness it deserves.  They have put forward a man who stated, in no uncertain terms, that when he received a massage from one of the girls provided by his client, Jeffrey Epstein, he "kept his underwear on."  I am much reassured.

Friday, January 17, 2020


I realize that I ought to be riveted to my TV set, absorbing the non-stop bloviating about the Impeachment Trial now officially launched, but there is a limit to my interest in the inner workings of what passes for the minds of Mitt Romney, Lamar Alexander, and Susan Collins, so I have been making final changes to my January 27th lecture in my Marx course.  This one is on the 1848 Manuscripts and the Manifesto.  After marking for discussion the Maniesto’s ten point program for the Communist Party, I thought to compare it with the Platform adopted sixty years later by the Socialist Party of the United States, of which my grandfather was a leader in New York City.  Note that clause 12 of the Platform calls for the abolition of the Senate.  This was 5 years before the Constitution was amended to make Senators elected by the people.

What fascinates me is how many of the secondary proposals of both documents have been adopted or else superseded by events.  Save for the seven words that are never uttered in American public life [“collective ownership of the means of production”], these documents, suitably updated, could form the platform of a moderately progressive 2020 Democrat!

Communist Manifesto  10 Point Program

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

Adopted by the National Convention in Chicago, May, 1908.


1 The immediate government relief for the unemployed workers by building schools, by reforesting of cut-over and waste lands, by reclamation of arid tracts, and the building of canals, and by extending all other useful public works.  All persons employed on such works shall be employed directly by the government under an eight-hour work-day and at the prevailing union wages.  The government shall also loan money to states and municipalities without interest for the purpose of assisting their unemployed members, and shall take such other measures within its power as will lessen the widespread misery of the workers caused by the misrule of the capitalist class.

2-The collective ownership of railroads, telegraphs, telephones, steamboat lines and all other means of social transportation and communication, and all land.

3-The collective ownership of all industries which are organized on a national-scale and in which competition has virtually ceased to exist.

4-The extension of the public domain to include mines, quarries, oil wells, forests and water power.

5-The scientific reforestation of timber lands, and the reclamation of swamp lands.  The land so reforested or reclaimed to be permanently retained as a part of the public domain.

6-The absolute freedom of press, speech and assemblage.


7-The improvement of the industrial condition of the workers.(a)By shortening the workday in keeping with theincreased productiveness of machinery.(b)By securing to every worker a rest period of not less than a day and a half in each week.(c)By securing a more effective inspection of workshops and factories.(d)By forbidding the employment of children under sixteen years of age.(e)By forbidding the interstate transportation of the products of child labor, of convict labor and of all uninspected factories.(f)By abolishing official charity and substituting in its place compulsory insurance against unemployment,illness, accidents, invalidism, old age and death.


 8-The extension of inheritance taxes, graduated in proportion to the amount of the bequests and to the nearness of kin.

9-A graduated income tax.

10-Unrestricted and equal suffrage for men and women, and we pledge ourselves to engage in an active campaign in that direction.

11-The initiative and referendum, proportional representation and the right of recall.

12-The abolition of the senate.

13-The abolition of the power usurped by the supreme court of the United States to pass upon the constitutionality of the legislation enacted by Congress.  National laws to be repealed or abrogated only by act of Congress or by referendum of the whole people.

14-That the constitution be made amenable by majority vote.

15-The enactment of further measures for general education and for the conservation of health.  The bureau of education to be made a department.  The creation of a department of public health.

16-The separation of the present bureau of labor from the department of commerce and labor, and the establishment of a department of labor.

17-That all judges be elected by the people for short terms, and that the power to issue injunctions shall be curbed by immediate legislation.

18-The free administration of justice.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


I am officially an anarchist, so I shouldn't care about the formal rituals of representative government, but I just finished watching Adam Schiff exhibit the articles of impeachment to the Senate and I was moved by the seriousness of the occasion and by the excavation of old formalities.

As for Lev Parnas, all I can say is that Joe Pesci has one more big role ahead of him.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Having nothing better to do, I spent my early morning walk today imagining what Hunter Biden might say, were he called before the Senate as a rebuttal witness, so to speak, to John Bolton [those being the names at the top of the Democratic and Republican wish lists.]  Here is how I imagined it could go.  Names, dates, and other details to be supplied, of course.

“In 2015 [?], I was contacted by a representative of the Burisma corporation, a natural gas company in Kyiv, Ukraine.  I was offered a seat on the board of the company at a monthly salary of $50,000.  I have no knowledge of or experience in the fossil fuel industry, and I do not read, write, or speak Ukrainian or Russian.  I am not a fool.  It was perfectly obvious to me that the sole interest of the Burisma company in me was my relationship to my father, who was then Vice-President of the United States.  [This next part is tricky, and depends on the provable facts.]  I immediately recognized that I had a choice among three options:  I could reject the offer out of hand as unacceptably sleazy; I could accept the offer and attempt to use my connection to the sitting Vice-President to corruptly influence American policy toward Ukraine and the Burisma company; or I could accept the offer, scrupulously avoid the slightest mention of the position or the company to my father, and take the crooks for the fifty thou a month they were offering.  I immediately rejected the second option, and after some deliberation chose the third.  My choice was sleazy but not illegal.

Why did I take the money in return for doing nothing?  Because I have had a troubled life, during which I have struggled with drug addiction, and I wanted the money.  Why then did I refuse to play ball with Burisma?  Because I  love my father, who has suffered unimaginable personal losses during his life, and although I am morally compromised, I simply refused to put my father in the position of having to choose between his principles and his only surviving son.

That is the sum and substance of my connection with the facts of this trial.  Were my actions worthy of condemnation?  Of course.  Do they in any way reflect badly, or indeed at all on my father?  Not at all.

Let me add one final comment, not as an excuse for my choices but to provide some context that may be useful.  This Senate chamber is currently occupied by one hundred duly elected United States Senators, a not inconsiderable number of whom have profited in the past or will profit in the future from choices morally comparable to those I made.

Now I am ready to answer your questions.”

Monday, January 13, 2020


Today at 1 pm I begin teaching Philosophy 471 at UNC Chapel Hill:  7 graduate students and 12 undergraduates in a small seminar room with a maximum capacity of 19 plus the Instructor.  The official title of the course is Hegel, Marx, and the Philosophical Critique of Society, but the title I have announced is Karl Marx’s Critique of Capitalism, and after a brief mention today, Hegel will depart, never to be heard from again.

I have decided to do something I have never done before in any course:  set before the students the full-scale interdisciplinary understanding of Capital that I have developed over the last 45 years, my integrated economic, philosophical, sociological, political, historical, mathematical, literary critical interpretation of the greatest work of social theory ever written.  Given the vagaries of age and health and the uncertainties of employment opportunities for eighty-six year old professors not quite ready for retirement, this may be my last go-round, so I have decided to make it a good one.

There is a waiting list, and after I explain my intentions, some of those registered may bail.  I will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Now that Bernie has started to go after Biden’s deplorable record regarding aggressive regime change in the Middle East, I think it is time to mount my trusty hobby horse and ride into battle once more on the much misunderstood subject of weapons of mass destruction..

For the first ten thousand years or so of organized slaughter, there was a slow, steady escalation of the effectiveness of weaponry, with each offensive advance being met sooner or later by a successful defense.  The sword brought forth the shield, the walled castle elicited the trebuchet, the bomber was met with ack ack.  All of this changed dramatically on August 6, 1945, when the United States destroyed Hiroshima with a single 20 kiloton atomic bomb.  Atomic bombs, or nuclear weapons, as they soon came to be called, completely changed the character of warfare.  Despite the Rand Corporation-sponsored fantasies of Herman Kahn and others, it was obvious that a nation could not survive an attack of nuclear weapons.  The only thing a nation could do was to attempt to persuade a nuclear armed opponent not to use them by the threat of retaliation in kind.  Thus was born deterrence.

In 1945, only one nation possessed nuclear weapons.  Seventy-five years later, The United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korean have nuclear arsenals of some size or other, and thanks to our president, Iran may follow soon enough.  Remarkably, those two primitive bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are thus far the only nuclear weapons that have deliberately been used to kill people, although there have been some very close calls.

There are two other relatively modern weapons types that have been the subject of much anxiety and discussion:  chemical weapons and biological weapons.  Despite the hype, biological weapons have not figured in serious military calculations and planning, but of course that is not true of chemical weapons.  These latter were widely used in the First World War, but with only two exceptions that come to mind – the United States in Viet Nam and Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war – chemical weapons also have been more talked about than seriously incorporated into the war-making capabilities of modern powers.

Nuclear weapons are genuinely weapons of mass destruction, undermining all efforts at defense and hence requiring deterrence.  But this is not true of chemical and biological weapons.  They can be defended against and are not orders of magnitude more powerful than so-called conventional weapons.  Defense, not deterrence, is an appropriate military response to the threat of their use.

Enter the myth, the ideology, the rationale, the fateful acronym: WMD.

Since the only Middle Eastern nation with a nuclear arsenal is Israel, a fact delicately left unmentioned in all discussions of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, some device had to be found to justify the unprovoked launching of wars in that region.  By a skillful use of the old bait-and-switch technique of the sidewalk three card monte player, chemical and biological weapons were folded in with nuclear weapons as WMD, so that preemptive strikes only defensible in the presence of the threat of nuclear weapons could be defended as required by Iraq’s possession of WMD, even though those WMD were chemical, not nuclear in nature.

This is all well known, at least to anyone who has devoted more than a few moments of thought to the subject.  It was certainly known by Joe Biden in 1998 when he publicly argued for preemptive war against Iraq to counter the threat of their WMD.

Saturday, January 11, 2020


I have not been blogging much this past week.  In part, this is because I start teaching again on Monday and I have also been re-reading Book I of the Treatise to prepare for my YouTube Hume lectures, which begin February 6th.  But the real reason is that I am bummed out by the news [save for the astonishing fact that Bernie seems to be surging slightly.] 

I have now listened to uncounted hours of commentary on the killing of Suleimani and its aftermath.  Glib TV personalities and deep thinking experts, some of whom could even find Iran and Iraq on an unmarked map of the Middle East, and not a single one of them has so much as alluded to the fact that in 1953 the United States overthrew a secular democratic Iranian president because he nationalized the country’s oil resources.  I was reflecting that they probably imagine that is too long ago for Iranians to remember.  It is, after all, 67 years now.  And then I recalled that last year, the UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor lost her job because she countenanced the removal of a famous campus statue of a southern Civil War soldier.  That war ended 155 years ago, and it is still fresh in the memories of many whom I am saddened to call neighbors.  As Faulkner observed, the past is never dead.  It is not even past.

And then there is the Senate impeachment trial, probably starting right after Martin Luther King Day.  Everyone is atwitter about Susan Collins saying she is working with a “very small” group of Republican Senators to call witnesses.  I will make a prediction [this is not mine; I read it on line but forget who said it]:  It takes four Republicans plus all the Democrats to call a witness.  Susan Collins will report, sadly, that she was only able to find two beside herself.  Having cleared this with McConnell first, she will make a big deal of her efforts, avoid a primary challenge, and then run for yet another term as an open minded bi-partisan.

God I hate her.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


I have been using Google happily forever, until suddenly, maybe a month ago, when I put in a search term, up would pop a page of sponsored ads before any of the regular sites.  I hate this.  I work around it by using only Advanced Search [apparently not worth anyone’s money to advertise on], but still.  Have others had this problem?  Is there a solution?

Monday, January 6, 2020


Seventy years ago, as a sixteen year old Freshman at Harvard, I sat in the newly opened undergraduate Lamont Library and listened to a recording of Christopher Fry’s comedy The Lady’s Not For Burning.  I was impossibly young and irredeemably romantic.  I loved it.

I have just pulled up the text of the play on my computer and read it straight through.  Tears came to my eyes.  I love it still.


Just in:  Bolton says he will testify if subpoena'd without first getting a court ruling.  Why?  Does he think Trump is going to screw up the launching of a war with Iran and make that policy option permanently toxic?  Obviously there is much I do not understand.


It is easy enough to criticize Trump’s actions and threats of action in the Middle East.  I find it more difficult to say what the Mid-East policy of the United States ought to be, given the facts on the ground as they are today.  Leave to one side the fact that many of the current national boundaries in the Middle East were decided by a committee of European generals and politicians after the First World War.  Leave to one side as well the fact that in 1953 a progressive secular president of Iran, democratically elected two years earlier, was overthrown by a joint US/British operation, to be replaced eventually by a puppet Shah.  The question I ask myself can be put this way:  On January 21st, 2021, as President Sanders settles into the Oval Office with the Democrats in firm control of the House and Senate, when he holds his first meeting with his foreign policy advisers, what ought his long term goals be for the revision, perhaps even the upending, of American Middle East foreign policy?

I begin with two premises and one general rule.  First premise:  America has no national interest in the religious dispute between Sunni and Sh’ia.  Second premise:  America [as opposed to certain American capitalists] has no national interest in who controls the oil resources of the region.  General rule:  Regime change as an American national policy is a bad idea, even if the change one is actually trying to bring about [as opposed to pretending to bring about] is a change from a non-democratic to a democratic form of government.  What then ought America’s Middle East policy be?

I simply do not know.  I invite suggestions and comments from the readership.

Saturday, January 4, 2020


Well, the killing of Suleimani completely upends Pelosi’s impeachment strategy.  Was that its purpose?  Who knows?  Trump is on video claiming that Obama would invade Iran in 2018 to get himself re-elected, so make of that what you will.  The killing had one immediate side-effect of advantage to Trump:  it guarantees that Bolton will not testify against him.  By the bye, it is well worth reading this article linked to in a comment by Jerry Fresia.  It gave me a glimmer of hope, and in these dark days, I need all the glimmers I can glom onto.

Back to Hume.

Friday, January 3, 2020


As I sit at my desk, slowly and with great pleasure re-reading Book I of the Treatise, I am bombarded by events in the real world that demand notice and some manner of comment.  Most immediate of these events, of course is the drone killing in Iraq of a man who was, I gather, the second most powerful figure in Iran.  [You understand that I am way out of my zone of even casual knowledge here.]  The universal opinion of those who seem to know something of these matters is that this severely increases the danger of a war between America and Iran.  At the same time, and entirely unconnected, Modi in India has apparently launched an effort to deny full citizenship to the Muslim minority there, a group of people, as I understand it, numbering roughly two-thirds the population of the United States.  As I turn from my Hume to write these words, I read a new report that Trump’s huge Deutsche Bank loans are secured by a Russian-owned bank, thus making him directly and materially beholden to Putin.  This pushes into the background the flood of leaked emails and other documents concerning Trump’s direct involvement in the withholding of the 391 million in Ukraine aid.  And that in turn all but obliterates the new fund-raising figures that show Bernie crushing the Democratic primary field.

I feel compelled to mention all of these news items, despite the fact that [with the exception of Bernie’s prospects] I do not even have the simulacrum of knowledge of any of them.  I welcome comments from those who do.

Meanwhile I turn to the first of three critically important passages in Part III of Book I of the Treatise:  Section ii, “Of probability; and of the idea of cause and effect.”