Coming Soon:

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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

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





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Friday, January 31, 2020

ACADEMIC NIT-PICKING


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

AARRRGGGHHH!!!


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

CONTRADICTIONS, AS OLD MARXISTS WOULD SAY

Bernie is surging and Bolton is ratting on Trump.

Whiplash, anyone?

Monday, January 27, 2020

A TOUCH OF GEORGE BERNARD SHAW IN THE IMPEACHMENT FIASCO


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

IT OCCURRED TO ME


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

THE OLD BOY HAS STILL GOT IT

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.

THE TRIAL


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

MORE SPECULATION


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

PREPARING TO TEACH


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

TWIDDLING MY THUMBS


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

A BULLET DODGED

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

SCHOLARLY REFLECTIONS


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.


THE PLATFORM OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY.
Adopted by the National Convention in Chicago, May, 1908.

GENERAL DEMANDS.

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.

INDUSTRIAL DEMANDS.

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.

POLITICAL DEMANDS.

 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

ALL RIGHT, I ADMIT IT

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

YET ANOTHER EARLY MORNING MEDITATION


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

HI HO, HI HO, IT'S OFF TO WORK I GO


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

WEAPONS OF MASS DELUSION


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

THE WORLD, SUCH AS IT IS


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

TECH ISSUES


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

MEMORIES


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.

AS USUAL, I WAS WRONG

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.

MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKING


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

FALLOUT


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

DISTRACTIONS


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.”

Thursday, January 2, 2020

SIMPLE PLEASURES


I am old enough to have a home library filled with real books, not e-books that I can read on my watch or my glasses.  One of my favorite books – favorite as a physical object, not merely for its content – is the thick, stubby, hard-covered Clarendon Press edition of Hume’s Treatise with the extraordinary 68 page Selby-Bigge analytical index.  The pages are soft, nubbly, and off white, and it has for almost my entire life been a pleasure simply to hold it in my hands.

My copy is roughly sixty years old, filled with underlinings and marginal notes in several inks.  A long time ago the cover started to come loose, and I taped it up with brown paper tape that has itself grown hard and brittle with the decades.  Today, as I finished re-reading Part II of Book I, I decided something had to be done, so with Susie’s help I removed as much of the old tape as I could pick off and secured the cover with three straps of grey sealing tape.  I rather suspect that will do it for the remainder of my life.

Fifty-six years ago, I briefly held in my hands David Hume’s own copy of Books I and II of the Treatise.  My first wife and I were in London for the summer so that she could do research in Dr. Williams’ Library for her doctoral dissertation on the Puritan sources of Samuel Richardson’s novels.  One day, having nothing to do, I went to the British Museum and, sitting in the large circular Reading Room [as I recall it], filled out a call slip for the Treatise.  Some while later, a silent librarian handed me Hume’s own copy, WITH HIS HAND-WRITTEN MARGINAL CORRECTIONS!!  I was too freaked out actually to page through the volume.  Instead, I handed it back and fled, terrified that I would be apprehended as an impostor.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS


Well, I have started re-reading Book I of Hume's Treatise in preparation for my video lectures and, as I feared, I have immediately run into two problems.  The first is this:  Hume’s prose is so graceful, so disarmingly and misleadingly simple, that the only rational choice is for me just to read aloud from the text for an hour each time, until, perhaps six or seven lectures in, I venture an observation or a quibble.  But that clearly will not do. So I must find some way to summarize.  I mean, no one would undertake to summarize Emily Dickinson or William Shakespeare, would they?

The second problem is that I had forgotten how much there is, worthy of extended discussion, even in sections I imagined I could skip over.  I had thought perhaps three lectures would do it for Book I.  Not bloody likely!