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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

34 comments:

Unknown said...

Hay babe!

NP

Jerry Fresia said...

Major error: Pelosi should have gone for bribery, extortion, not to mention the other crimes. By not identifying criminal activity, she served up soft balls, which Republicans could wrongly call "inappropriate," but call it that nonetheless.

jgkess@cfl.rr.com said...

Notwithstanding the clarity of Adam Schiff, the Democrats over-all blew it. Trump-style Republicanism seems to be the new lay of the land. I doubt if even a newly elected Democratic President could reverse the trend. America is in sad decline.

David Palmeter said...

Trump's approval is still low. The biggest risk is turnout, and that's where I'm worried. If Sanders is the nominee, the centrists will stay home; if Biden is, the progressives will stay home. I, for one, will not stay home. I don't care who the Democrats nominate so long as it isn't Trump. I'd vote for Mike Bloomberg; hell, I'd vote for Mike Pence. Just so long as it isn't Trump.

jgkess@cfl.rr.com said...

David, with all due respect, I could never vote for Mike Pence--he's complicit with everything Trump. Besides, if I might be permitted to re-cycle a joke, he looks too much like my lobotomized lesbian grand-mother.

s. wallerstein said...

I not only could never vote for Pence, but also could never vote for Bloomberg and I'm not sure I could vote for Biden.

Trump is horrible: he's vulgar, he's a conman, he's a liar, he's a climate change denier, he's a racist, he's a misogynist, he separated children from their parents at the borders, etc., but he's not Hitler or even Pinochet. Professor Wolff has even pointed out that in spite of his bellicose rhetoric Trump is something of a dove. He hasn't invaded anyone so far; he did pull out of the Iran nuclear deal to be sure, he has backed Israeli imperialism and he has undone Obama's policy of opening up possibilities with Cuba. I don't have any evidence that Biden will pursue an anti-imperialist foreign policy.

I believe that there's a right to vote for someone you believe in and I sure don't believe in Biden, unless and only unless the other option is Hitler or Pinochet or Franco or Stalin or Putin.

David Palmeter said...

My hyperbolic vote for Pence as the Democratic nominee would not be a vote for him as much as a vote against Trump. I’m no fan of principled third party votes when they amount to a vote for one of the major candidates; nor am I a fan of staying home and not voting. The lesser of two evils may still be evil, but it’s also lesser, and that’s important. I prefer to have neither a cold nor cancer, but if my choice is one or the other, it’s an easy choice.

I first saw what that can mean when in 1960 the left—outraged over the nomination of Humphrey rather than McCarthy—stayed home and helped elect Richard Nixon. It happened again in 2000 when votes for Nader led to the election of Bush II. We’re still living with the consequences—the deplorable consequences.

The reasons for despising Trump are almost endless, but among the main ones for me is his destabilization of the international scene with regard to nuclear weapons. He’s has as much as told the Europeans, the Japanese, and the South Koreans that they can’t count on us to protect them. For decades they (apart from Britain and France) have refrained from developing their own nuclear arsenals. Trump has made it clear that their forbearance was a mistake. Once proliferation begins, it will be the end of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in which countries like Brazil and Indonesia, who don’t have them now but certainly have the capability of producing them, will join the nuclear club—if for no other reason, than to demonstrate that they play in the international big leagues. If Brazil does, will Argentina be far behind? How about Chile? I don’t know if the damage can be undone, but it certainly can’t if Trump is reelected.

In this situation, the difference between any of the Democrats and Trump is far greater than any differences they have among themselves. These internal differences diminish even further in light of the fact that most of the programs that are being talked about – M4A, environment, free college, student loan forgiveness, infrastructure, taxes etc.—are all domestic programs. Apart from tinkering around the edges with executive orders, presidents can do very little without Congress domestically. None of these programs has much chance in Congress even if the Democrats win control of the Senate. And they’re dead if the Democrats don’t.

So on domestic policy, I don’t think it will make much practical difference which Democrat is elected. But in foreign affairs — as Trump has shown so well – presidents have a great deal of latitude and power, and Congress can do little more than wring its disapproving hands. And on foreign affairs, the Democrats are all overwhelmingly superior to Trump. Even Pence would be superior to him.

s. wallerstein said...

First of all, it was 1968, not 1960, when the Democrats nominated Humphrey. Remember that Humphrey had been Johnson's vice-president and had supported the war in Vietnam whole-heartedly and it's also important to recall the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago where Mayor Daley's (a Humphrey supporter) cops brutally suppressed antiwar protests. In the context of 1968 not voting for Humphrey makes a lot of sense. The war in Viet Nam was the chief issue then and I'm not at all sure that Humphrey, given his record as LBJ's vice-president, was more of a dove than Nixon.

The chief argument against Biden (which I'm not entirely sure of, but I'll repeat for the sake of the debate here) is that another corporate Democrat in the White House will mean another rightwing populist demagogue, another Trump, is 4 more years, that unless the Democrats nominate someone like Sanders or even Warren who will fight on the right side of the class struggle, there will be a huge mass of working people who will drift towards demagogues like Trump. We see that Obama, for all his virtues (and I'm willing to recognize his virtues, his intellect, his prudence in foreign policy, his opening to Cuba, the deal with Iran, even Obamacare), a corporate Democrat, led to Trump. Another corporate Democrat, say Biden, without even Obama's virtues, may well lead to worse. I realize that Sanders does not mean a socialist revolution, but as I said above, in the class struggle he's on the side of workers, of the exploited and the oppressed and I sure can't say that for Bloomberg or Biden. The fact that Sanders is on the side of the workers, of the exploited and the oppressed, may mark the beginning of a process of social change and in any case, will provide a sense of hope for many people who see that they have been screwed by the system.

jgkess@cfl.rr.com said...

There were tough economic times when Obama was elected. Circumstances, allegedly, precluded him from pushing a truly Progressive agenda. Others believe that circumstances were precisely ripe for pushing more boldly forward.. I'm in the latter camp of opinion. For all the aspirational achievement of the Obama Presidency, it was still a failed governance.

Jerry Brown said...

S.Wallerstein @3:46-

That was a good comment. Great even. Thanks

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Brown,

Thank you for the kind words of praise.

Actually, I simply copied a line of argument that I've seen expressed elsewhere online.

jgkess@cfl.rr.com said...

We're all in it together, brother.

David Palmeter said...

S. Wallerstein

I stand corrected on the date, the result of too fast typing. In 1968 I was working at the Civil Division of the Justice Department. One of the cases I was handling was being investigated by a veteran FBI agent who was from the South, and definitely not on the left. He had been dispatched to Chicago as part of an FBI contingent to monitor/interfere or whatever they would do. When I saw him after his return, he said he'd been proudly wearing a badge for however many years, but this was the first time he was ashamed of it--after witnessing the behavior of the Chicago police.

I understand where people were coming from at that time; I was one of them. But the idea that Hubert Humphrey was some kind of war monger was ridiculous. As VP, his hands were tied, but I for one--and I was not alone--firmly believed that he would have abandoned Johnson's policy quite quickly. We'll never know. There was an irony, many noted at the time, with the left preferring the socially conservative, Catholic ascetic Gene McCarthy to the liberal civil rights icon Hubert Humphrey. Such were the times.

I'm not persuaded by the argument that four years of Biden would bring on a new Trump. But assuming it's accurate, what might be the situation after four years of a Sanders administration in which none of his progressive goals are enacted--or, if he has to settle for something less, such as a Medicare public option added to Obamacare, but not M4A?

David Palmeter said...

jgks,

I share your criticism of Obama. He apparently believed that by offering the Republicans something from their own agenda, he'd get their cooperation. Instead, he got nothing. I think he thought that by being reasonable, some Republicans would abandon the crazies and support him. In his defense, he was facing something no other president had faced: an absolute stone wall against anything he proposed simply because he proposed it. Thus, when he trotted out the Heritage Foundation's health care plan, they called it socialized medicine and said no.

But even though the Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate, and in theory were filibuster proof, some of those Democrats were conservative. Mancin comes to mind, as doe Heidi whats-her-name from N. Dakota. There were others whose names I don't recall. At one point during the debate over the stimulus package, Rahm Emanuel was asked by a reporter for a comment on a Paul Krugman column critical of the package for being too small. Emanuel said, "I don't need Krugman to tell that the stimulus package should be bigger. I need him to tell me how to get 60 votes in the Senate for it."

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

It is very possible that Sanders, if elected, will not be able to achieve all his goals.

However, a process of social change will be set in motion. Working people, common people will feel that someone in public office, that of the presidency, is fighting for them, not for the big corporations. Working people will feel that Sanders and whoever is the next Democratic nominee, assuming, as I do, that Sanders is too old to serve two terms, if he or she follows in Sanders' steps, are "their guys" ("guys used without gender), as they did with FDR and they certainly haven't with any recent Democratic president or candidate.

Observing the current social upheaval in Chile, I've learned, among other things, that common people, working people, don't just want more progressive social programs, they want to feel represented by someone in office, they want someone who gives them the gift of hope, by someone who is "their guy". Otherwise they will vote for another Trump, a rightwing demagogue who pretends to be "their guy".

As for Humphrey, there is no evidence that Humphrey intended to abandon LBJ's policies in Vietnam. I guess Humphrey's past as a "liberal civil rights icon" worked against him because it made him seem even more of a despicable sell-out.

Dean said...

I believe the lapse you're after is catachresis. It is the name for improper use of words.

Jerry Brown said...

David Palmeter, One of those was Joe Lieberman who was one of my Senators from Connecticut. Technically, he was an Independent at the time, having lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut, but running in, and winning the general election. He would not support a public option for Obamacare. One of the very few times I wrote my senator was to support that. Lieberman did vote for the ACA or Obamacare or whatever in the watered down version that was enacted. For which I am personally and sincerely thankful, even if I struggle to forgive the rest of it.

The other conservative Democrat usually mentioned in relation to health insurance was Ben Nelson of Nebraska I think. At the time, the two of them basically exercised veto power over whatever health care deal might be enacted. With the rest of the Senate's acquiescence.

Jerry Brown said...

Holy crap Dean- I spent 15 minutes trying to find out how to spell acquiescence. Then find you writing catachresis. I'm not entering any spelling bees after this for sure.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

'Observing the current social upheaval in Chile, I've learned, among other things, that common people, working people, don't just want more progressive social programs, they want to feel represented by someone in office, they want someone who gives them the gift of hope, by someone who is "their guy". Otherwise they will vote for another Trump, a rightwing demagogue who pretends to be "their guy"'

So I and 63 million other working class Americans, whom you claim to champion, who nevertheless voted for President Trump, are SO benighted that we don't know a con artist when we see one? We don't know our own interests well enough to realize who has them at heart and who doesn't? The prosperity we see finally returning to our communities is some mirage we've been taken in by? And, YOU, a foreigner, you know our true interests? And how to achieve them? The history of our communities? You have a better understanding than we do of how economic decline came about in our very midst? Only extreme hubris could prompt affirmative answers to these questions.

Jerry Brown said...

RFGA, Ph.D.,
If by chance you are real person expressing your own opinion- Donald Trump did NOT get elected by 63 million votes from the working class. He squeaked out a win through the electoral college barely. He certainly did not get the majority of votes cast by members of the working class.

Don't make up stories about the working class supporting Donald Trump. Some do- most don't.

Dean said...

Jerry Brown, My confidence in spelling has declined in our digital age for obvious reasons, but I did know "catachresis" off the top of my head, because I've been reading again in literary history and theory, where the word crops up on occasion.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

He won the EC by carrying the Midwest- the industrialized, economically decimated heartland of this great country. The 'deplorables' (aka the Tea Party) is obviously not made up of rich people, nor are there that many so-called professionals therein, so that leaves us with working folks like me, WHO WERE CHEATED OUT OF THE AMERICAN DREAM, by globalists, statists, and, the real scum of this earth, ADMINISTRATORS. (In my case, 30 miserable years trying to make a living adjuncting in academia. Not a capitalist in sight, but plenty of parasitical power mongers sucking the life out of scholars and teachers.) You just don't want to believe- and this is the point I was trying to make, that American working people instinctively reject socialism. We know who the bad guys are and President Trump is definitely not 1 of them. On the contrary, he has given us not only hope of defeating the aforementioned enemies, but a measure of prosperity none of us have ever known. The job market hasn't been this robust since 1969 and working class wages are rising too. I am very real, live in Redford MI, as blue collar at it gets. I watched near by Detroit, where I grew up, become an impoverished, crime infested hell hole because of socialism, in the form of confiscatory taxes and the anti-subsidiarity merger mania of the 80s. Trust me, the hitherto dispirited remnant of this area, who see new signs everyday of the booming Trump economy, won't be voting Democrat again any time soon. They are also beginning to realize the hideous fact that the Democrat Party, via its ally Planned Parenthood, is engaged in genocide against poor people. MAGA entails, among other things, overturning Roe vs. Wade. RFGA, Ph.D.

s. wallerstein said...

Now I understand.

Jerry was wrong. You're not a bot: you're being paid by Bloomberg to appear in leftie blogs like this one and scare Bernie supporters, ones like me who swear that they would never vote for Bloomberg or Biden, into supporting them because your Trumpist vibe turns us off so much (as I imagine my vibe turns you off) that we'll now vote for any Democrat who runs against Trump, even Bloomberg your billionaire boss. We all have to make a living after all.

Jerry Brown said...

RFGA, Ph.D., I am sorry you have had a rough time but you are actually going to blame socialists?? for this? Look man- I've been a carpenter for 30+ years- I don't need you explaining what the working man thinks. Trump didn't get the majority of working class votes- not by a long shot. Yes he may have got more of them than expected and Clinton got less than Democrats have traditionally expected. Because she really wasn't a very good candidate and almost completely ignored workers. But she still won more votes from moderate income voters than Trump did. Your claim about Trump being the hero for working people is garbage.

Dean said...

Stating that "Planned Parenthood is engaged in genocide against poor people" is a move out of Justice Thomas' playbook (see Corey Robins' remarks about his recent book about Thomas), except that the analogy fails. Thomas at least has a marginally plausible point that American whites have historically demonstrated that they want to get rid of African Americans. But why shouldn't everybody want to eliminate the poor? Wouldn't a living wage guarantee, rather than abortion, effect such an outcome? Also, where would ADMINISTRATORS be without the poor to boss around?

David Palmeter said...

E.J. Dionne has an excellent (long) piece in today's Post: "Democrats left and center: Don't lose sight of the real enemy." Here's the link:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/01/30/progressives-moderates-dont-destroy-each-other-enemy-is-trump-not-clinton-or-obama/?arc404=true

I especially liked his quote from Michael Harrington: "the left wing of the possible." That's where I think we should be.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

Jerry:

Glad to see you are a working man, not The Guy Who Let Linda Ronstadt Get Away.
If I had to do it over again, I'd learn a trade and stick to Aristotle, The Bible, and Shakespeare. See Spinoza. But lets play Popper here, what would convince you that President Trump has working people's best interest at heart? For a capitalist bastard, his tax cuts, trade policies, and deregulation have sure benefited folks like my (precious) son-in-law, an hourly employee of Ford Motor Company. Again, are the people in surveys like this one (https://www.sociologicalscience.com/download/vol-5/april/SocSci_v5_234to245.pdf) benighted when it comes to their OWN self-interest? Ditto the 36% of blacks and 46% of Hispanics who approve of President Trump's job performance? I believe that I have seen the epithet 'lumpen proletariat' here at least once. Why would someone so designated think academic Marxists are in his corner rather than a political leader who keeps his promises to them?

p.s. Thank you Professor Wolf for allowing me to post. Good luck with your Marx course and Hume lectures. Enjoy Chapel Hill. If you get a chance, give my regards to the other Professor Wolf in the department. Tell her I got my paper on Freedom and Reason published. https://www.academia.edu/8302073/Freedom_and_Reason_An_Anselmian_Critique_of_Susan_Wolfs_Compatibilism


s. wallerstein said...

How can someone who reveres Spinoza, who is perhaps the finest and most beautiful human being I've ever met (met through his writings), like Trump? I can understand that someone can revere Spinoza and be a classic conservative, but Trump is a demagogue, a liar,
a bully, a swindler, an abuser of women, etc., and there's nothing conservative about any of that. Even if Trump has done wonders for the economy as you claim, the economy isn't everything: both Spinoza and the Bible (not by bread alone) can tell you that.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

Dear Mr. Wallerstein,

Thank you for responding.

Yes, President Trump, God bless him, was dissolute before marrying the lovely woman who is now his wife. As for his business dealings, he was hard-headed and shrewd, to be sure, but those are virtues in that context. Nothing unbiblical about prosperity. (Never got around to reading Spinoza, except stuff on hard determinism, which is obviously false and insidious to boot. See (my friend) Saul Smilansky, Free Will and Illusion.) Finally, what you call 'bullying' I call avoiding the fate of Mitt Romney.

But, look, we're on the same side, sharing a common enemy: Greed and his equally despicable demonic sibling, Envy. 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.' To oppress the poor or defraud a worker his wages are sins that 'cry to Heaven for vengeance.' The trick is to limit the ill-effects of these ineradicable evil spirits, aka vices. The operative paradigm for me has always been the desolation in and around my beloved and once prosperous hometown of Detroit. Devastated in less than 20 years. Where did all the good jobs go? Why such a high crime rate? Who is responsible for the hopelessness that produces rampant drug addiction and blight wherever you look? Like Marxists, I have always despised the cold-hearted people who were unwilling to seek answers to these questions. Unlike Marxists, who condemn capitalism tout court, though, I believe that the blame here should be imputed to exactly whom President Trump says: statists and globalists, ambitious professionals like the Clintons, who couldn't run a grocery store if their miserable lives depended on it, who encouraged capital flight from this area out of lack of concern or even hatred for Americans and our beautiful country. Or my philistinistic older cousin, who's become wealthy negotiating mergers, violating the Thomistic principle of subsidiarity. These are envious, money mongering, capitalist wannabes whose activities must be curtailed so as to reduce the harm caused by the aforementioned ineradicable aspects of the human condition. Not the entrepreneurship of the lovely couple who splendidly renovated our neighborhood grocery store, after its former owner's wife took ill.

s. wallerstein said...

I assumed that you admired Spinoza because above you said that you'd stick to Aristotle, the Bible and Shakespeare and then added "see Spinoza", which I took to mean that you added Spinoza to your list of authors whom you would stick to.

My second guess is that "see Spinoza" has to learning a trade, since Spinoza learned to grind lenses. Actually, it was more than just a trade for Spinoza: he experimented with optics and corresponded with others throughout Europe with similar interests.

You might try reading Spinoza. The Ethics is obviously his chief work. I always recommend that people begin with book 3, where he gets into ethics and then if they make it through books 3, 4 and 5, go back to book 1, where he defines God. Steven Nadler has written extensively about Spinoza and I've found him helpful, although I've seen Nadler severely criticized by people who know more about Spinoza than I do.

There are days when hard determinism convinces me and others when it doesn't.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

Yep, I wish I had learned a trade. Going back to short-order cooking as soon as my youngest daughter goes off to college in July. Love reading, but me and academia were like Taylor and Burton.

Thank you for your advice. Presently, I'm engrossed in Aristotle and Scholasticism. Philosophy, as far as I'm concerned, has, in the words of my old boss at UD Mercy (from which I was fired not once, but twice) 'gone seriously downhill since Descartes.' It was intellectually preposterous to dispense with 1500 years of philosophy, as if he was 1st human being capable of understanding the subject. And he ended up right back at square Plato anyway.

But, I'm curious, what do you think of my socioeconomic analysis of the collapse of the American middle-class?

s. wallerstein said...

I'm even beginning to like you, so I'll skip our deep disagreements about the collapse of the middle class. How can I dislike someone who was fired twice from an academic job?

Good luck on finding a new job. Short-order cooking, which has a certain zen to it when one is young, must be trying as one gets older and slows down a little as we all do.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for compliment, sir. Just call me the Cool Hand Luke of higher ed. I was fired (to the extent that an adjunct can be terminated) from every college in SE Mich., except my alma mater, Univ. Mich., for whom I never worked. UD Mercy 2x, Wayne County Community College, Henry Ford CC, Macomb CC, Central Mich. Univ., Eastern Mich. Univ., Oakland CC, Schoolcraft CC, and South 'University'. My grand finale was being run out Concordia (Lutheran) College, for politely requesting that 2 young ladies cease fondling each other while I lectured. Distraction, turning my stomach; but somehow I violated Title 9. Sealed my vote for President Trump, though.

There were these 2 spry older gentlemen, Ty and Stevie, still short-ordering where I worked. I will try to emulate them. I'm actually afraid that if I don't work, I will lose ability to, and who knows when that may become necessary again?

I like you too, Mr. Wallerstein. Thanks again.

s. wallerstein said...

I've been expelled, thrown out of, suspended from, politely asked to leave and fired from lots of places, but from fewer than you.

The last time I was fired it was for making a joke about the boss being late (as usual). What hurts me is that the secretary, who laughed at my joke, was fired too. I've always felt terribly guilty about her being fired, although the boss probably feels no guilt for firing her.

I bet that we can agree that those in power or with power tend to abuse it, be they university administrators, government bureaucrats, capitalists, generals of some regular army or comandantes revolucionarios.