Coming Soon:

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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

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





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Saturday, February 29, 2020

TWIDDLING MY THUMBS

There is nothing I like more than watching election results come in, and nothing I hate more than waiting for the polls to close.  The political commentary on TV, when it is not simply offensively anti-Bernie, is fatuous.  The polls close at 7 pm this evening.  Results will be coming in by eight.  There will then be fifty-nine hours until the polls open Tuesday morning in the East on Super Tuesday.  Leaving to one side the vast  number of early votes already cast, the notion of "momentum" between tonight and Tuesday morning is nonsense.  Biden is toast.

If the latest California poll is right, then Bernie may actually bag all 144 of the at-large delegates there, and a sizable fraction of the 271 delegates awarded CD by CD.  I suspect he won't win all 144, but he could.  He will also almost certainly win the preponderance of the 226 Texas delegates.  

We shall see.

CONFESSION

David Palmeter and others have expressed the hope that I will record the delayed Hume lectures.  I have a confession to make.  When I was young [which is to say, in my forties or fifties] I thought nothing of teaching two regular courses and two or more moonlighting courses.  In 1981, I lived in Belmont outside Boston, commuted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to Amherst to teach at UMass, and flew down to New York on Thursdays to teach a course at the New School.

But time passes, and my energy level declines.  I found the prospect of recording a lecture each Thursday on Hume while lecturing each Monday for two hours on Marx daunting.  So I decided to postpone the Hume series [only three or four lectures, I suspect] until the semester is over.

Meanwhile, I await the South Carolina results this evening and the Super Tuesday results in three days.

Friday, February 28, 2020

I HAVE BEEN DISTRACTED

First my son, Patrick, and his family arrived for a three day visit, and Patrick actually attended my Monday class -- the first time one of my sons has been to a class I was teaching.  Then I made all my plans for a trip to Paris starting right after next Monday's class [it is Spring break.]  All the while I was doing my taxes [I will get something back.]  Meanwhile the Nevada caucuses were happening.  And then, as the Corona virus threat escalated, I finally decided yesterday to cancel the trip as just too risky, and then undid all the arrangements I had made.

South Carolina tomorrow, Super Tuesday in four days, and the stock market has tanked [one of the few bright spots in a gloomy time.]

Is anyone still there?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

PROGRESS REPORT

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

THINGS THAT KEEP ME UP AT NIGHT


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

HOW THINGS WILL GO DOWN IN SIXTEEN DAYS


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.

PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE AS I PREPARE TO GO TO PARIS FOR SPRING BREAK

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

PREPARING TO TEACH


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

BRAGGING RIGHTS

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.

ALL RIGHT NOW

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

SUCCESS

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

WHAT NOW?


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 AM SO COOL

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:


PERSONAL BEST

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

BAD NEWS


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

SAD NEWS

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

FURTHER CLARIFICATION

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

HOLY TOLEDO!

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

YOU DO WHAT YOU CAN

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

NOW WHAt?

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

FEVERISH THOUGHTS


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

HUME WILL HAVE TO WAIT

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

DOUR THOUGHTS


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.