Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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

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

Total Pageviews

Wednesday, November 4, 2020


I know from personal experience that in South Africa under the old apartheid regime, if one was white it was quite possible to live a comfortable, interesting, intellectually lively, politically engaged life in complete safety and tranquility. Because of the deliberate governmental policy of separating whites from Blacks (which is to say, in South African terms, Africans, Coloureds, and Asians), one could spend extended periods of time in South Africa and never actually see the conditions in which non-whites lived or the brutalities they suffered. South African academics were, I found, bright, well read, and familiar with the latest tendencies in continental and Anglo American thought.  I don’t know, but I have often thought that if one were not Jewish, it would have been possible in the same way to lead an interesting, comfortable, lively existence in prewar Nazi Germany – certainly Martin Heidegger appears to have managed to do so.


I am an upper-middle-class old man living an extremely comfortable and secure life in pleasant surroundings. I actually know several Republicans personally – they live in the same building in which Susie and I have our apartment here at Carolina Meadows – but I am not aware that any of them is a Trump supporter. I know, but not from direct observation, that I live in a country roughly half of whose inhabitants actively support and are prepared to vote for a racist, misogynistic, autocratic wannabe fascist, but even if that fascist wins reelection – something that I considered unthinkable 48 hours ago – nothing in the safety, comfort, or immediate pleasantness of my life will change.  And yet I am finding it difficult to face the fact that the remainder of my life will be spent in such a country.


As I’m sure you can imagine, there were a good many moments last night and this morning when I was consumed by such loathing that I thought, “to hell with them all, why should I go on worrying about people who embrace an autocrat hell-bent on robbing them blind to line his pockets and those of his rich friends?”


And yet, and yet. I cannot do it. I cannot stop fighting even though absolutely nothing in my personal circumstances requires me to fight. I cannot stop caring even if it would be less painful to do so. So I will set aside the things I was going to post here about the exciting opportunities for productive struggle that the election would present and instead try to think about what we can do to limit the damage. It is rather a pity that I am not religious. It is my impression that a serious religious belief is of use at times like these.


As for how things are likely to play out as of 12:30 on the day after the election, it looks more and more as though Joe Biden will eke out a win and find himself with a diminished but still majority Democratic caucus in the House but not with Democratic control of the Senate. This means no enlargement of the Supreme Court, which is an unmitigated disaster.


Ralph Warnock will have a runoff in the Senate race in Georgia and if we are really fortunate, when all the votes from the Atlanta area are in, so will Jon Ossof.  In that case, I will send $1000 to the campaign of each of them. It is all I can think to do but it is something rather than nothing.



Oh by the way. If you are young and looking for a career, I wouldn't consider being a pollster if I were you.





Howie said...

Professor Leiter feels confident Trump will succeed at stealing the vote.
Which would be the crime of the century.
Why do you think Trump will fail?
Do you believe the Supreme Court will refuse the case?
We are in for a dangerous ride.
Do you just have an intuition about this?
As we're in new and deep and infested waters, I'm not sure intuition applies.
Please explain

Howie said...

The big question: why did it take so long for America to go fascist or better authoritarian?
People were just as deranged and stupid and fanatic in the mid Twentieth century?
This is a complex question yet the answer must be as simple as the Gordian knot

R McD said...

I understand, because I share your horror/disgust that so many could vote for “a racist, misogynistic, autocratic wannabee fascist.” But I think it’s important to try to figure out what some—many?—of these many were actually voting for—not the person, but the actual voters actual hopes and fears. I can’t bring myself to simply write off so many of my fellow humans as deplorables or stupid. There’s clearly some quite massive shift going on within this country (and elsewhere) which we don’t really understand and which regrettably we haven’t really tried to understand since 2016’s wake-up call. Instead, we’ve devoted so much intellectual and political energy to pursuing will-o’-the wisps and highly monetised quick fixes. Too many of us were content to proclaim our membership in a ‘negative group,’ united by nothing other than our detestation of a particular person and a particular party.

Maybe it’s inapplicable, but I’ll close by offering an example from the very blue state of California where I’m surrounded by very liberal-minded people

Yes, that’s right, true blue California has voted against its governor and a majority of its legislature, and, of course, the labor unions, to allow Uber, Lyft, and who knows how many other gig corporations to keep on treating those who do the work and make them very rich as ”independent contractors,” with none of the rights and benefits which come to those who are employed in the traditional fashion. The ramifications of this for how we understand work and employment in this country are likely enormous and do not bode well for the American working class. We are all being thrust into the ranks and into the delusions that we’re all entrepreneurs, even when the only thing we have to sell are ourselves. It’s in my view an indication of how deeply set neo-liberalism is, even among liberals in a place where everyone is happy to go around referring to themselves as leftists.

“The Yes on 22 campaign hailed its apparent victory as setting a model for independent contractors with benefits that the rest of the country should follow. “Prop. 22 represents the future of work in an increasingly technologically-driven economy,” it said.”

But back to where I began: If those who are being subjected to this great redefinition of the system in which they’ll have to live their lives respond with dismay and anger, I can’t blame them. It is well known that it’s those on the bottom who pay for societal change with their well-being and even their lives. That they err in imagining that someone like Trump or the Republicans will save them, or provide them with a soft landing, I do not doubt. But where else do they have to turn? It’s not so clear, as my example from California is intended to convey.

PS. On the plus side for me, polling and punditry have taken a big hit. Maybe we won't have to deal with them next time around--if we're still around.

MS said...

It is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will take any case challenging the results in any of the states which Trump loses. This is not 2000. The problem in 2000 was that given the design of the Florida ballots – punch-in ballots – it was difficult to determine in numerous instances whom the voter had voted for. The hanging chads made it a guessing game. That is not a problem in any of the states which Trump will be challenging. They used paper ballots with fill-in ellipses. They are not difficult to read. Even in Bush v. Gore, the S. Ct. made clear that they were bound by the election process which Florida had adopted. The problem was that the hanging chads arguably resulted in a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, giving votes to a candidate that it was unclear that was the intent of the voter. The S. Ct. is not going to say that Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in holding that Pennsylvania law allows ballots to be counted which are received up to three days after the Nov. 3, as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3, incorrectly interrupted its own state law, or that such a law violates the Constitution. The same is true of the election laws of Wisconsin and Michigan. I am confident that even Justice Barrett will not rule that the S. Ct. can override the election laws of a state.

And regarding the disappointing outcome of the election, with the Senate likely to be controlled by the Republicans who will do all they can to stymie and hinder the Biden administration, those of us advanced in age, will not go gentle into that good night, but will continue to rage, rage against the dying of the fight.

aaall said...

"As we're in new and deep and infested waters, I'm not sure intuition applies."

Actually the "crime of the century" was the judicial coup on December 12, 2000 by the Republican Gang of Five. Roberts may be able to convince the current five to be patient.

Note that the Dems lost seats in the House and will not take the Senate. There appear to be no significant changes in state legislative races which bodes ill for 2022 as Trump gamed the Census and redistricting will likely advantage the Republicans.

McConnell will prevent anything from passing and voters will blame Democrats.

As Professor Leiter pointed out, we are doomed regardless of the outcome.

Howie said...

Thank you both- I'm waiting for Godot and the Messiah and the anti Trump who is alive and out there on the streets of the USA
Perhaps Biden will play his hand against McConnell better than Obama- to get Trump out of the center ring and in the audience is a great victory if it is possible-
the damage is done and the situation is bad only less desperate

Howie said...

Dear aaall

We all feel horrible- let's keep the infighting for later- we have to save our energies for the fight- this is a Phyrric victory but probably a victory.
There must be an argument behind your strong feeling.
We all invested so much in the election- so of course we feel shock and defeat-
This is a time for post game analysis but not post mortems- we have a political fight to carry on and the situation is changed and we have to figure out how to play this hand
We're on the same side

Michael said...

Religion might indeed be nice right now. I went to bed thinking, "The world is so bad, might it make sense to hope for 'something' that redeems it in the end?"

I'm an ex-Republican and an ex-Catholic. Upon deconversion, I made a serious effort to be an atheist. After about a decade, I decided I wasn't satisfied with it - though I'm not clear on why, and I wouldn't presume to talk anyone out of being an atheist. I'm just trying to figure out what works for me in the way of morally and philosophically respectable spirituality. I'm optimistic that I'll gradually get there. It might be laughable, it might be an exercise in self-deception, and it's impossible not to suspect it is from time to time; but maybe that's okay. (J.N. Findlay says somewhere: "There's no great harm in adding to the world's nonsense.")

Do you happen to have any impressions of H.A. Wolfson's philosophy of religion? I just ordered a book of his, and am wondering what to expect.

Anonymous said...

Professor please make sure the section on fascism in your Philosophy textbook is not redacted in any editions. We used your book in high school a while back and the fascism section was not included.

It will take another 2 generations to set things right. Unfortunately many Americans find themselves in a position unable to compete in the neoliberal world. Their status is subjected to the harsh reality of competition and capitalism and they are failing. All they see are bogeymen around the corners.

Even if Biden wins by a margin what does it matter now, the true colors of this nation are revealed starkly as ever... Jeremy Bentham's denunciation of the Declaration of Independence stands paramount against the backdrop of this election. Their need for a Prince, a tyrant, even if elected, always existed to justify as an actor for their maligned desires.

Anonymous said...

"but will continue to rage, rage against the dying of the fight." ?

did you intend to say "fight," not "light"? that would be one way to refer to our gneration's failure to transmit certain views /approaches on further down the line

MS said...

Howie and MCD,

I strongly believe there is an undercurent of racism, perhaps even subliminal, that explains the support for the “racist, misogynistic, autocratic wannabee fascist.” But for the vote of people living in the urban centers of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Biden would have lost the election. The people living in those urban centers, many of whom are Caucasian, who work with people of other races and ethnicities, do not feel as threatened by them than those living in the rural areas of those states. If you look at the red areas of these states in which Trump garnered his biggest support, as well as those states which he won, they are populated mostly by white men and women, who do not interact with other races and ethnicities as do white people in urban areas. And they fear losing their position of white privilege, as more immigrants enter this country, and more African-Americans are elected to positions of political power.

Regarding why fascism did not take hold in this country earlier, it almost did, in the 1930s, when Charles Lindbergh led the American First movement. Philip Roth wrote about it in his novel “The Plot Against America.” It was the Jewish journalist and radio personality Walter Winchell who exposes Lindbergh for the pro-Nazi fascist that he was. During the 1930’s the German American Bund held a rally at Madison Square Garden at which some 35, 000 members of the American Nazi Party attended, wearing armbands with swastikas and a Nazi flag next to the American flag on the stage. Lindbergh addressed the crowd, spouting anti-Semitic stereotypes and claiming that American Jews were trying to get the United States involved with Europe’s problems. President Roosevelt contacted Winchell, met with him in the White Hose and enlisted his support in condemning Lindbergh on his radio show.

Howie said...

We need to bring the November criminals to justice- how can we surrender Deutschland to the soulless West?

MS said...


Yes, I plagiarized Dylan Thomas’s magnificent poem and intentionally changed the last word.

Eric said...

@Michael, as an ex-Catholic theist do you still believe in the divinity of Jesus?
A question I have been pondering the past few days:
Why did Jesus not preach directly and explicitly against slavery?

MS said...


My plagiarism of Dylan Thomas was in response to Prof. Wolff’s reference to Yeats’ “Sailing To Byzantium.” the first line of which the Coen brothers used for the title of their film.

Brian Leiter said...

Just a correction to Howie above: I am not confident Trump will steal the election. Because the results are close, I suspect he will try, but I don't think he'll succeed.

MS said...


Pennsylvania “interrupted its law”? I type too fast and don’t proofread.

Michael said...

In response to Eric:

I don't know about divinity. I wouldn't bet on it, if it entails things like the virgin birth, resurrection, moral faultlessness. (I always agreed with Russell's sentiment that his apparent belief in eternal punishment is problematic in the extreme.) Spiritual genius, however, I wouldn't want to deny.

But believing in the spiritual genius of Jesus is, for me, like believing in the literary genius of Shakespeare. I don't go out of my way to read or appreciate Shakespeare (or the Bible), and had nobody ever told me he was an unsurpassed great, it likely wouldn't have occurred to me. I definitely don't have more than a superficial appreciation of it (and can't consider myself religiously literate until I do a much better job at that); at most I've internalized some ideas from my religious upbringing (not all good) I still find inspiring, and which find plenty of parallels in Socrates and probably Buddha and the like.

Jesus doesn't impress me as someone who rose above everything objectionable in his cultural surroundings. I take it as obvious that that's a humanly impossible feat.

I also don't know about the "theist" label. The most I'm willing to say at this point is that "there's probably something to" the major (and not-so-major) arguments for God's existence (variously understood!) that have impressed the majority of people we call "great philosophers" - meaning, not that the arguments are definitely sound, but simply that they warrant far more serious and extensive study than I ever managed to give them. That goes for philosophers who "argue" for the irrelevance of the arguments as well.

aaall said...

Howie, my post was no criticism of you personally. My take is that this is a possible confirmation of 2000 which was a major inflection point. Our problem, of course, is that every inflection point since 1946 has gone the wrong way. And then we have the butterfly effect e.g. Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman don't get divorced.

The difference in voting patterns between African American/Hispanic men and African American/Hispanic women would indicate patriarchy and misogyny often trump material self interest.

In a high turnout election an obviously mentally ill, morally degenerate, and intellectually deficient man got ~48% of the vote after botching a pandemic and crashing the economy. We can carve out pockets and we should (my state voted Biden ~66% and my rural county ~70%) but a little time is all we can buy.

We all have regrets; a number of years ago there was a window of opportunity where I could have gotten dual citizenship with a Scandinavian country. Oh well!

Howie said...

Okay Professor Leiter
We write in haste. This process is agonizing

Anonymous said...

Perhaps instead of calling our fellow Americans fascists and racists, we would do well to look inward: what is it about liberals and Democrats that others find so distasteful if not infuriating? Why not ask why the Democratic Party abandoned the white working class, decided in our cosmopolitan cocoon that the loss of manufacturing jobs didn't matter and thought we could be a plausible party by pursing the politics of identity on the other hand and the politics of the coastal elites on the other? BTW: According to Matt Breunig: Trump did better with every group (White women, Black women, Black men, Latinx) except white men, where he did worse, than he did in 2016.

Jerry Fresia said...

" I live in a country roughly half of whose inhabitants actively support and are prepared to vote for a racist, misogynistic, autocratic wannabe fascist...."

We also live in a country - as you well know - where 60% of the population, in addition to not having $1,000 to pay for emergencies, live undignified, miserable lives and who get a great deal of pleasure in watching a boorish asshole president creatively piss off extremely elitist, smug liberals (Adam Shiff comes to mind) who go on and on about just how exceptionally wonderful are the very institutions that make the indignities and misery of this precariat inevitable. I'm not suggesting that this large swath of the population constitutes the bulk of Trump voters but I do believe that many of those who vote for Trump are rational and that their numbers would be far less if Biden et al stopped reassuring billionaires that nothing would change for them and instead convincingly fought for policies that improved the lives of the vast majority.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps instead of calling our fellow Americans fascists and racists, we would do well to look inward: what is it about liberals and Democrats that others find so distasteful if not infuriating? Why not ask why the Democratic Party abandoned the white working class, decided in our cosmopolitan cocoon that the loss of manufacturing jobs didn't matter and thought we could be a plausible party by pursing the politics of identity on the other hand and the politics of the coastal elites on the other?"

Those living in their echo chambers in the ivory tower never got the message in 2016, and they still won't get it. Trump is evil, stupid, racist, fascist, misogynist, etc...well, those are convenient labels with which to construct a strawman for the issue that you are just very out of touch with the pulse of millions of Americans living outside of LA, Chicago, and NYC. Also with that of those who work blue collar / middle-class jobs for a living and who didn't have the privilege of taking three degrees somewhere in New England.

Eric said...

@Michael, I read your comment about not being religiously literate as meaning that you don't feel you have read enough of the Bible and learned enough about Jesus' teachings to be able to opine with any conviction on finer points of Christian theology.

But this particular question does not seem to me to be incidental or a matter that should require detailed knowledge of scripture. It's a fundamental question that any Christian should be able to answer. (I mean that in the sense that it seems to me a profound failing of the clergy and the Christian community more broadly—not of you—if nearly all Christians do not have at the ready a clear and convincing answer for the question.) With slavery being so central to economic and social life in Judaea, how could a moral teacher on whose teachings a religion is based not speak forcefully against it?

Jesus, apparently, was willing to die for his beliefs. Since he was putting it all on the line, what excuse could there have been to not condemn slavery?

(I am an atheist, and not even convinced that there was any actual personage Jesus as described in the Bible, even if the supernatural elements of the story are set aside. I ask these questions to try to understand what Christians believe.)

R McD said...

Wrt some of what is being discussed here, I think these are interesting:

to which I’d add mention of a book about Wisconsin which also deserves a read in moments like this:

Katherine Cramer: The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, brought to light rural resentment toward cities and its implications for contemporary politics, and was a go-to source for understanding votes in the 2016 presidential election (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

LFC said...

Jerry Fresia:

extremely elitist, smug liberals (Adam Shiff comes to mind)

I understand Schiff rubs you the wrong way, but I found nothing "extremely elitist" about his speeches during the impeachment proceedings.

who go on and on about just how exceptionally wonderful are the very institutions that make the indignities and misery of this precariat inevitable

This claim is shaky, I think. Basic principles like the rule of law, as embodied in a formally independent judiciary, don't make the misery of the precariat inevitable. While some Trump voters are doubtless motivated by resentment -- toward cities, toward perceived "coastal elites" -- that doesn't mean they're rational in any deep sense. The resentment itself may not be wholly rational, and even if it is, while it may feel good to vote for a disruptive figure w autocratic tendencies, how does such a vote actually improve their lives or material condition? Trump's tax cut gave the middle class something, but most of it flowed to the upper brackets, as is well known.

LFC said...

Anonymous @4:48 p.m. are just very out of touch with the pulse of millions of Americans living outside of LA, Chicago, and NYC. Also with that of those who work blue collar / middle-class jobs for a living and who didn't have the privilege of taking three degrees somewhere in New England.

It's possible to pit dueling anecdotal impressions against each other ad infinitum, and it doesn't prove much. Plenty of people who "work blue collar / middle-class jobs for a living" voted for Biden. One needs to look at actual data about the the socio-ec status of who voted for whom, which I haven't done.

But one obvious factor seems to be regional and demographic self-identity, and to use a fancy phrase, path dependence. In other words, once a state is solidly in the Rep or Dem column, it's hard to dislodge. Hard, but not impossible: Arizona seems to have flipped to the Dems this year, apparently b/c of (1) changing demographics in Phoenix and surrounding suburbs and (2) a lot of organizational work over the past 10 years. But these are exceptional cases. Or take West Virginia. Used to be a Democratic state, dominated by the Byrd machine, now it's a Republican one, also one of the poorest states in the country by per capita income, I wd think. What wd it take to flip it to the Dems? Not sure, but it won't be easy. Cultural/racial factors play a role here, also fear that the relatively few remaining coal mining jobs are endangered by a shift to cleaner energy. (I have some slight personal acquaintance w W.Va., having lived there for a year a long time ago.)

LFC said...


To be fair, manufacturing jobs did increase by about 500,000 or so (I think it was) over the first two years of the Trump admin, then leveled off (according to an analysis I heard recently). His renegotiation of the trade deals w Canada and Mexico may have helped some blue collar workers in the U.S. though I'm not sure. On the other hand, his trade policies have tended to hurt farmers.

If someone voted for Trump because they felt his trade policies had directly helped them, that's a rational vote in my view, under a rather narrow, short-term definition of "rationality." On the other hand, if someone voted for Trump because they live in a rural area and they hate or resent city-dwellers, is that a rational vote? No, probably not, absent some evidence that Trump's policies actually helped small towns and rural areas.

Howie said...

Dear anonymous 448

Everybody suffers and everybody has a beef-
I get it, the people who voted for Trump were used and spit out by the system- but everybody is a victim and we all have to decide whether to take vengeance on the world, in this case America, by electing someone who actually uses everyone including his fan base- these people who voted for Trump abhor therapy and think they're tough, but they let themselves be victimized- they have no compassion for true victims, they're just happy if they are the victimizer- if they humbly said they made a bad choice by voting for Reagan and the Bushes, I'd forgive them and welcome them back to the family of humanity- but they chose to dig themselves a bigger hole and take vengeance on their scapegoat, the rest of the world and chose a psychopath as their hero.
We all suffer and we're all victims, how we respond makes us a successful life or an abject failure

MS said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Howie’s perspective.

Regarding the question of whether Jesus did or did not speak out against slavery, and if not, why not, the question requires clarification. There is no question that an historical figure named Jehoshuah existed. The Jewish historian Jesephus confirms that he existed. One of the best books regarding the historical Jesus is “Zealot,” by Reza Aslan. One does not have to accept the Christian theology that he was the son of God and was resurrected in order to believe that he did, in fact, exist. and that he existed as a strong adherent of Judaism who was dedicated to reforming certain aspects of the religion during his lifetime which he regarded as inconsistent with the dictates of the Torah.

Slavery was a commonplace institution in the ancient world. It existed in virtually every ancient civilization, from Sumerian, to Egyptian, to Greek and to Roman empires. Slavery also existed in the kingdoms of Israel (the northern kingdom following the break-up of King Solomon’s kingdom, conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C,E) and Judah (the southern kingdom, conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.), but not in the same form that it existed in the other ancient empires. (These events are not based on biblical narratives in the Old Testament. They actually occurred and are confirmed by both documentary and archeological evidence.) Slaves in Judah and Israel were more like indentured servants than the slaves held in bondage in the Confederate slave states. During the Common Era, following the birth of Jesus, the rules governing slavery had become codified under the Torah and Talmud, requiring the manumission of slaves after they had been in the service of their owner for seven years. This was a far more lenient treatment of slaves than any prior or contemporary culture. Whether Jesus had ever personally witnessed the ownership of slaves may be indeterminable. But even if he did, the conditions of their slavery by Jewish owners would have been significantly different from those of slaves held by Roman owners. Therefore, it would not have been a matter which demanded his attention as one of the objects of his commitment to reform Jewish society to better comply with the dictates of the Torah..

Anonymous said...

Jesus condones

Marian Finch said...

Has no one on this blog watched Fox News punditry at length? The Trump voters about whom you are talking have the political beliefs they do because they are woefully uneducated and fed their information by a relentless propaganda machine. They live wretched lives but their hatred is probably rational from their point of view. They are too tired from working and too poorly educated to be expected to think critically enough to burst their own bubbles. And, like most people, many liberals included, they lack the time, energy, and willpower necessary to gain the understanding of the world to make political judgments that are objective i.e. independent of their upbringing and surroundings. So they defer to the smart-sounding talking heads on their TVs who drill into them the wickedness of Democrats with what seems like specimen after specimen of evidence. They are horrid vindictive small people and I hate them. But I also say, There but for the grace of God go we. It is the Congresspeople and the right wing media who deserve to burn in hell.

Anonymous said...

Many blacks voted for Trump. What the blacks are fed up with is the Democratic party leaning on them to put the party over the top and then getting the shaft after the leaders are in place. The democrats really are the ones screwing the blacks by not giving them places of authority so this election they weren't in wholeheartedly. Furthermore, a Biden/Harris ticket is appalling to blacks. And there is a segment of people who think killing babies in the womb is not a good thing so they are voting Trump also. I know a lot of hard working people who worked for every penny who are for Trump. And let's face it...There were a lot of hormones/chemicals/BHT etc. that screwed up a generation of kids. They can't add small numbers or even function in the society. I feel for them. And Kamala either doesn't understand basic economics or is a two faced politician pick your choice. Thats why people are voting for Trump.

Anonymous said...

Marian Finch,

People who are too tired from working because of their lot in life and also poorly educated are still people with dignity. They are not horrid, vindictive, and small. It is exactly your assessment of them that they do not vote like you.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Pennsylvania 4 years ago and most of the people in the know and familiar with politics thought the state would go to Clinton. There was a lot of head scratching by extremely educated people back then and the only rationale was the rural folks all came out and voted. But now thinking back, was something more sinister going on that was overlooked? I do not have the answers, but something present is shedding light on something I know not what happened four years ago in the keystone state. Didn't think of it then but it has me going hmmmm? What happened?

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor Wolff,

I just want to thank you for your blog, which I find informative, inspirational, and moving.

Because I thought you might enjoy a diversion, I'm pasting in an article from Reuters.

Man shot in Russia in argument over Kant
By Reuters Staff

MOSCOW (Reuters) - An argument over the theories of 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant ended in a man being shot in a grocery store in southern Russia.

RIA news agency quoted police in the city of Rostov-on-Don as saying a fight broke out between two men as they argued over Kant, the German author of “Critique of Pure Reason”, without giving details of their debate.

“In the course of the fight, the suspect took out a pistol firing rubber bullets and fired several shots at his opponent,” it said, adding that one man was detained and the victim was taken to hospital. His life was not in danger.

Kant lived in Koenigsberg, which is now the Russian city of Kaliningrad, and is a central figure of modern philosophy. Many Russians love to discuss philosophy and history, often over a drink, but such discussions rarely end in shootings.

MS said...

Anonymous @ 8:50,

Did you even read what I wrote? If Jesus had even witnessed the form of slavery practiced by the Jews of Palestrina under the Roman occupation, it would not have been the form of slavery institutionalized in the Confederate South. It was more akin to indentured servitude, and the maximum term of service was seven years. That you would convert that into an assertion that, “Jesus condone[d] slavery” is nonsense.

On a separate note, I watched the first segment of “Queen’s Gambit.” It is fantastic. The scene in which Elizabeth plays the high school chess coach from memory, without looking at the board, reminded me of a Mathematics graduate student at the University of Michigan, whom I met during my first year as a philosophy graduate student. He was the blindfolded chess champion of Florida, which involved his playing multiple boards blindfolded, a feat utterly incomprehensible to mere mortals. He was, however, totally lacking in social skills. He also read a lot of philosophy and asked me what I thought of Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica. I said I had not read it. He responded, “You call yourself a philosophy major?” Ouch. None of the other graduate students on our dormitory floor could tolerate being in his company. I recognized that he was just socially inept, and was the only person who would eat dinner with him at the dormitory cafeteria. I look forward to watching the rest of the Queen’s Gambit series.

Anonymous said...

I just don't know why the sense of entitlement by the red states is ok? Why should I rally for their union manufacturing jobs instead of service/cleaning industry? Everyone is adapting to capitalism... many careers and many jobs... Why is that expected of immigrants and minorities? Why is it not expected in rural America? Why is their entitlement preferred over mine? Are they special for some reason other than being white?

Charles Pigden said...

As for those young people looking for a career in polling. Actually there is a career opportunity opening up for the bright spark who can find a way to access all those benighted 'shy-Trumpians' and tabulate their opinions.

MS said...

Charels Pigden,

There is a way – slip truth serum into their water, coffee, beer and/or Chardonnay (I don’t want to sound elitist), and then ask them questions about their electoral preferences.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

When I was young I read Ernst Bloch with great interest and enthusiasm. I have to admit that at this age I was drawn to his literary style, which is very expressionistic, more than an understanding of the philosophical content of his writings.
A short aphorism in one of his writings begins with a very short and concise sentence that reads: "We know one thing, as it is, it cannot stay."
Years later, an acquaintance asked me whether I was a "leftist". Such questions are strange. One instinctively asks oneself, which understanding of "left" does the questioner assume? Later I asked myself this question and at some point I remembered Bloch's short and sharp sentence. I am a 'leftist' because I know one thing, it cannot stay the way it is. No more and no less. To begin with, I neither need Rawls' veil of ignorance nor do I have to think about whether the maxim of my action could be a universal law. These questions will come later. In order to ask myself these later questions, I need a motive, an initial spark, a drive that is not guided by my interests alone.

So dear RPW, that's my guess as to why you, as upper middle class citizens, can't stop.

Jerry Fresia said...


I thought Shiff's remarks during the impeachment process were quite moving, actually. But that's the lip service to the ideal. It reminds of one of the young MSNBC African American woman pundits who after running through her litany of reasons why Trump's/Repub current voter suppression tactics were wrong, she said in wideyed exasperation, "plus it's unamerican!" Say what? Voter suppression is baked into the Constitution!

As I'm sure you'll agree, a capitalist/PRIVATE economy is incompatible with the exploited having a serious voice in public affairs (read "their own lives"). One of my pet peeves around elections is that because massive and regular voter suppression is made necessary given the interests and the power of private actors, it's never really going to be pointed to as cancer within the social order or importantly subversive of "the ideal." Who can forget (just about everyone who has a career in the corporate media) Katherine Harris, Repub Sec of St in Fl who in 2000 (and who was also the manager of Bush's campaign in that state) removed 58,000 names from the rolls because, she claimed, they were felons. But ZERO were proven to be so! Does this sort of thing happen often? Did Gore then or Dems later on or today scream bloody murder? Why not? Don't Shiff and Pelosi draw red lines around the ideal on live TV? Here's one problem with the lack of integrity at elite levels: tons of decent Americans swallow all this BS from the 1st grade on; many volunteer to fight the bad guys thinking they are defending such ideals and then get their bodies blown to pieces for the oligarchs. Or if they are lucky, will find their way to an assembly line and become "as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become," in Adam Smith's apt characterization of the division of labor. So here we are: do you not think that John Jay's fervent desire that "the men who own they country ought to govern it" has come to pass? I can understand perfectly why all the uneducated, twisted miscreants and deplorables out there (read stupid and ignorant) get a kick out of voting for the moron who can make liberal heads explode - or - simply just stay home. In their clumsy and counterproductive way, they are sending giant FU's to the ruling class for being mocked and used. Seriously, what choices do they have? Vote for the "normal" guy?

Here's a discussion of a feature of our electoral process that you'd think condescending elites would really be IRATE about. But of course they're not.

David said...

Professor Wolff,

You might also consider a donation to Fair Fight, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams. It's one reason that Democrats have made gains in Georgia.

LFC said...

@ Jerry Fresia

Have read your reply and am thinking about it. However, I don't have anything substantive to say at the moment. Perhaps later.

s. wallerstein said...

I agree with Jerry Fresia.

You have to be pretty desperate to vote for Trump given his handling of the pandemic and his general incompetence, unless you're in the oil business or in any other interest group his policies benefit.

However, besides the economic grievances Jerry mentions, there's "make America great again".

Those of us raised in the USA were taught that it was the freest, most prosperous, most powerful, the most morally beneficent, the baddest (it could kick ass anywhere) country in human history. It's clear that it's not the freest (maybe Holland is) nor the most prosperous in terms of income per capita. And in terms of health indicators it's way down the list. As for being especially morally beneficent, forget it!

However, the myth of American exceptionalism dies hard, especially for those sectors of the population who already feel left out in economic terms.

What's more, back in the good old days when America was great, the white straight macho was the hero and the good guy: John Wayne could kick ass anywhere from Iwo Jima to the Halls of Montezuma, he was always good, always big and strong, and if an uppity woman got too hysterical, a good slap from big John would calm her down.

However, the days of John Wayne are over and the media no longer portray the white straight macho as the good guy. He's privileged: he's privileged even if he lost his fairly well paying job at General Motors and is now frying burgers for the minimum wage.
He's got to watch out what he says or the media will call him a racist and sexist and a trans-phobe.

So the guy is pissed. He's making less money, the media no longer portrays him as king of the road and of the world, and his country, which he was brainwashed into believing in,
is increasingly finishing second in many areas to some weird guys in Asia or in Scandinavia.

Being pissed off, he votes for the candidate who represents his rage and his resentment and his frustrations: Donald J. Trump.

Will Biden being elected help? I doubt it. We need fairly drastic social democratic measures leading to better wages and better healthcare for everyone, which Wall St.'s boy, Biden, will not bring. Note how the stock market has gone up since it became clear that Biden will be the next president.

And probably we need a media and an intellectual elite which stops talking about the Trump voter as a deplorable. It needs to become as politically incorrect to call someone a "deplorable" or "white trash" as is does to use the n-word.

Anonymous said...

I intend to file a more substantive response to Jerry Fresia’s and s. wallerstein’s comments later today. Right now I am once more immersed in writing a brief that has to be filed in federal court in Detroit. That exigency, however, must take a back seat for now, because I cannot allow Mr. Wallerstein’s slanderous comment about John Wayne to go unrebutted. I can profess that I am not a big fan of Mr. Wayne, but in no movie – I repeat, in no movie - did he ever strike a woman! And I challenge Mr. Wallenstein to identify a movie in which he did. The closest he ever came was in his perhaps best movie performance in “The Quiet Man,” in which he played a professional boxer who returns to his birthplace in Ireland to purchase back his family’s ancestral home. In the process he falls in love with Maureen O’Hara (who scandalously told her daughter, played by the young Natalie Wood, that Santa Clause did not exist) who is not aware that the reason he won’t fight her brother (played by the great Victor McLagen) for her hand and her dowry is because, having killed a man in the ring, he refuses to ever box again (hence, the title of the movie). Frustrated by her unreasonable demand, when he is not even interested in the dowry and the money that comes with it, he finally drags O’Hara across a field, whilst she vigorously resists his masculine prowess, to confront her brother in one of the longest boxing scenes ever filmed. But he never struck Ms. O’Hara, or any of his numerous other female co-stars, and I demand a retraction from Mr. Wallerstein.

That said, I have to return to writing my brief.

MS said...

I once more forgot to identify myself as the author of the above comment (which loyal readers of the comments on this blog probably figured out).

MS said...


Mr. Wallerstein is trying to make the point that in order to enhance the image of what constitutes masculinity in America, American movies portray macho white males as sexist wife abusers. This is nonsense and demonstrates a profound ignorance regarding American cinema. There are, in fact, few movies of the 1920s thru the 1960s, in which the male lead is portrayed as abusive towards women. And when a character does behave in this manner, he is always the villain, and therefore not intended to be a role model. Perhaps the most prominent movie in which female abuse occurs is the movie “The Public Enemy,” in which the male lead is criminal during Prohibition, played by James Cagney. In a famous scene, annoyed that his girlfriend (played by Mae Clark) he takes a is complaining to him, he takes a grapefruit and pushes it into her face. But this is a rarity, and in no movie where the male lead is supposed to be a role model is he portrayed as abusing women.

Although I intend to respond to s. wallerstein’s comment in more depth after I have filed my brief, I address it now because his manifestly false assertion about American culture, using John Wayne as a foil and words that sound good and politically correct, are symptomatic of a general disregard of the facts and reality in order to score political points.

Anonymous said...

MS: You shouldn't feel called upon to respond to everything. A bit of modest self restraint would be appreciated by me and perhaps by others.

jeffrey g kessen said...

Dude, M.S., take a chill pill---you've filed enough briefs.

MS said...


Taking your advice, I will ignore your comment.

And jeffrey, dude, do you have any idea what the legal consequences are of failing to file a brief by the deadline it is due?

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

It seems so many people commenting are willing to describe Trump supporters in demeaning terms without first, understanding why and how these people come to the position they are in, and second, and then react with zero empathy (a very Trumpian response, incidentally ). Read a little Freud on Ego psychology. Try to remember how that connects with authoritarianism and the rise of fascism.

Jerry, I am in general agreement with much of your comment. But I guess the New Deal and the union movement never happened, I seem to recall that once upon a time unions sat across a table from capital and negotiated wages and benefits. Maybe I’m delusional.

There is no such thing as ‘the shy Trump voter.’ There are, I suspect, pollsters who didn’t construct their samples to account for more significant participation by high school educated white, rural voters. There was no ‘Bradley effect’ either. Just the human tendency to draw the wrong conclusion from limited data.

Re: Achim Kriechel’s comment, Reading Marc Bloch is indeed, a pleasure, and enlightening. I was asked in my dissertation defense if my analysis of Vermont politics was influenced by Marx. (I was doing campaign work in VT at the time). I sad no, more influential was Bloch’s French Rural History where he suggests starting with geography, The spine of the Green Mountains bisect the state and there are numerous rivers flowing east and west. Water power ran the earliest factories, and the towns that grew up on these rivers became centers of the labor movement and were, as a result, islands of Democratic Party support in a sea of republican small farmers.

LFC said...

I don't know how pollsters operate, in nitty-gritty terms, these days. I hope they're not still trying to reach people on landline telephones. Speaking only for myself of course, I still have one, but I get so many "junk" calls on it that I keep the ringer off and the (ancient) answering machine's announcement volume on zero. And increasingly, though not exclusively, I use my cell phone if I need to make a call or have someone call me about whatever.

Marian said...

LFC, they use a plurality of methods. Landlines are still use because it is possible to call them automatically. (Don't ask me why.) Cell phones are much more commonly used, for obvious reasons. Internet polls are perhaps the most common method. Mail is also used as is in-person interviewing for example stopping people in public places.

Jerry Fresia said...

Chris...yes, true about labor negotiating with capital, but not before (and I may be on shaky ground here) the Wagner Act....which while permitting the recognition of unions, stipulated that control over the workplace (something labor had been fighting for since factories were first established was off the table.

LFC - The other day I came across a list of 10 terms with "racist" roots, so the article said, that most people don't know about but are used often. One term was
"nitty gritty" - which originally referred to that portion of slave ships where slaves were stowed away in their passage to the US and the Caribbean. "Nitty" was short for the N word. I didn't know any of this.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jabulile Solontsi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jabulile Solontsi said...

Greetings Prof Wolff,

As a South African citizen with a post graduate qualification in political science and ongoing legal studies at Nelson Mandela university, I must commend your anecdotal analysis of the pre-democratic South Africa. I am a religious follower of your blog and recall our genial communication and email correspondence in years past.

The current political condition in South Africa is a result of a dysfunctional state. The apartheid government was one that was structurally sound in its service delivery and maintenance of the state owned enterprises, albeit for a select few. Due to its political wrongdoing, it bequeathed the state to the ANC government whose responsibility was only to maintain and expand the successes of it predecessors. Instead, the ruling party has, through pervasive administrative corruption, further failed South Africans, the majority of whom are black and look like them. The administrative corruption has left the state owned enterprises in shambles, ranging from the power utility, to even the taxation bodies, which the taxpayer has to bail out in billions of rands annually, only to be rewarded by their substandard service.

The uncaring and incompetent ANC government is now seeking a $2 billion loan from the world Bank, which many South Africans are skeptical about, due to the government officials looting the state coffers. Their apprehension to the debt is warranted due to the possibility of squandering of the world bank loan. The consequences of the country's growing debt will be problematic for future generations, while those incurring the debt through reckless spending will have long past on. Here is an opinion piece I have written about South Africa's political:

*Please excuse my English, I'm not the best at it. Its my second language.

Regarding US elections, I share the sentiments of Richard Dawkins when he said: "The American elections affect the entire world, and I kind of resent the fact that we can't vote in it."

Anonymous said...

I agree with MS and the others who commented to the effects that poor whites are racist.

-- The Ghost of Herman Cain

David Palmeter said...


AK's post referred to Ernst Bloch, not Marc Bloch. Ernst Bloch is only a name to me, but Marc's French Rural History sits on my shelf as yet unread. You've inspired me to crack it open once I finish Herodotus and Gibbon, my current projects. (I have read his Historian's Craft.)

The only Annales School history I've read thus far is the abridged version of Braudel's The Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II. I'm intrigued by what I've read and heard about the Annales School, but with Braudel I found myself at times wishing he'd move on from the geography and get to the humans. Eventually, of course, he did.

LFC said...

Marian -- thanks for the response on polling.

Jerry Fresia -- I didn't know that about "nitty-gritty." The phrase has its own meaning apart from its racist roots, and those roots don't necessarily incline me to stop using it, bc if we stopped using every word and phrase with a racist origin, we might end up throwing out a significant percent of the language for all I know.

Annales School: In addition to what D. Palmeter mentioned, see Lucien Febvre, _A New Kind of History and Other Essays_, trans K. Folca.

aaall said...

"Chris...yes, true about labor negotiating with capital, but not before (and I may be on shaky ground here) the Wagner Act..."

Before the Wagner Act the standard negotiating tools of capital too often involved agents like the Pinkertons which absent state intervention usually prevailed.

We should remember that the Republicans won the 1946 mid-terms which ended any possibility of further New Deal legislation. That was the Congress that passed the anti-labor Taft Hartley Act over Truman's veto (made possible by anti-labor Southern Democrats). The next pivot came with the failure of the 89th Congress to repeal 14b of that Act (right to work). The downhill slide continued with Reagan and a series of anti-labor SC decisions to this day. Given that our present Gilded Age SC that is likely to continue.

MS said...

Jerry Feria, s. wallerstein, christopher mulvaney,

One can divide the Trump supporters into 4 broad categories:

1. Those who share his racist, fascistic tendencies.

2. Those who find his character unappealing, but who profit from his economic policies and are willing to overlook his lack of characer.

3. Those who do not necessarily share his racist, fascistic tendencies, but find his character appealing and who feel betrayed by the Democrats/liberals and seek revenge.

4. Those who are basically honest, hard-working agricultural and blue collar workers who feel left behind, who believe Trump’s empty promises and who see him as their savior..

I do not believe that any of the Trump supporters who fall into categories 1 or 2 deserve any sympathy, and are entitled to whatever insulting epithet can be applied to them, and I assume those who read this blog would agree. Our differences of opinion arise with regard to categories 3 and 4, and particularly regarding category 3. Regarding category 3, my objection to their perspective is three-fold: (a) they do not fully appreciate what liberals and Democratic administrations have actually accomplished to improve their lives (e.g., Social Security, the NLRA (Wagner Act), Title VII, the Civil Rights Voting Act (eviscerated by the Republicans), the Affordable Care Act); (b) they do not appreciate how difficult for liberals/Democrats to get legislation passed that improves their lives when they do not control both Houses of Congress; (c) they do not appreciate that sometimes you vote for a candidate not because the candidate can improve your life, but because s/he can prevent the conservatives/Republicans from making your lives worse.

Many of the comments in this thread, in my opinion, do a disservice to the Trump supporters in category (3) by reinforcing their erroneous views regarding factors (a), (b) and (c). Virtually all of the progressive legislation which has been enacted in the 20th and 21st centuries was enacted by Democratic administrations. And to not recognize and appreciate this is a serious form of political myopia. The only progressive legislation which has been passed by a Republican administration, with a good deal of help from liberals and Democrats, was the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed by Bush senior. To disregard this history when Democrats fail to get progressive legislation enacted because of factor (b), and then to take it out on the liberals/Democrats by voting for a Republican out of a sense of vindictive spitefulness is self-destructive –biting off one’s nose to spite one’ face.


MS said...

Several comments in this thread which support such thinking (not to suggest that those who comment on this blog have some massive influence on public opinion, but rather that people who do not comment on this blog, but who share this perspective and do communicate with their family, friends and neighbors and thereby do affect voter opinions) actually do this category of voters a grave disservice, because by rationalizing their misperceptions, they encourage a failure to appreciate the consequences of factor (c) – that voting against liberals/Democrats just out of spitefulness is empowering the conservatives/Republicans to make their lives worse – which is precisely what has happened by virtue of this category of voters not recognizing that Hillary Clinton was a far better presidential candidate than Trump, and that even if she would not advocate for all of the causes they would prefer, she would have prevented the efforts of the Republicans to eviscerate the ACA, the environmental regulations, the massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and finally, and most importantly, she would have prevented the packing of the federal courts – from the Supreme Court, to the federal Circuit Courts, to all of the District Courts – with right-wing , conservative judges recommended by the Federalist Society – and those voters in category (3) are going to have to live with the consequences of their misguided spitefulness for many years to come. And the comments on this thread who accuse commenters like myself of being insensitive to their troubled psyches, and not appreciating the throes and misfortunes of their existence is so much malarkey. Given their misguided spitefulness, I have no compunctions against putting them in the same class of deplorables as those in categories (1) and (2).

Regarding the voters in category (4), I am inclined to chide them for their simple-minded self-delusion.

Regarding many of the comments which attribute the problems of the middle and poorer classes to systemic problems in our form of representative democracy (e.g., Jerry’s claim that “Voter suppression is baked into the Constitution!” what precisely are you referring to?) are baseless. The restrictions on the right to vote that required land ownership, or which precluded slaves from voting, etc., have been rectified by amendments. The electoral college is not a form of voter suppression, but a form of voter abnegation. I admit that it has back-fired, but it is not voter suppression. Gerrymandering, which is not protected by the Constitution, is not a form of voter suppression, but a form of voter dilution, and it can be rectified at the state level by voting in favor of state legislators willing to re-draw the Congressional districts in a way which would empower liberal and Democratic voters.


MS said...

Which leaves the Senate, which many commenters have denounced as anti-democratic. Such a claim, in my opinion, demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the debates at the Constitutional Convention. When the 13 colonies declared their independence, slavery was an established institution in the Southern colonies and they were not going to give it up. Being rural, agricultural communities with smaller populations than the larger urban populations of the North, they insisted on a branch of government where they would have equal representation with the Northern states to prevent the elimination of slavery. Those who claim the creation of the senate on the part of the Founding Fathers was short-sighted, what would your solution have been. Without an agreement to create a senate with each state having two representatives, the Southern states would not have joined the Union and would have formed their own slave-holding nation. The fact that they joined the Union on the condition that the Constitution provided for a senate actually worked to Lincoln’s advantage – it was easier to declare are against the Confederacy for seeking to secede from the Union than it would have been if the Northern states had to go to war against a nation comprised of the slave-holding Southern states. So, we could have had a Constitution without an anti-democratic Senate and a nation of slave-holding states possibly into the 20th century, or the alternative, regardless the its anti-democratic consequences. I prefer the alternative.

Regarding the Wagner Act, Jerry, labor unions existed before the NLRA was passed in 1935. Samuel Gompers ran the AFL and succeeded in negotiating contracts with its members’ employers which reduced their working hours and increased their pay. Those negotiations were consensual, The NLRA made it mandatory for employers in the private sector to engage in collective bargaining with the employees’ elected union representative. There is nothing in the Constitution which precluded such collective bargaining, and the NLRA required it. Even after its enactment, employers resisted compliance – the Battle of the Overpass between Ford Co. workers and Henry Ford’s hired goons, for example. (And to dispel any thought that I do not know what it is like to work in a grimy factory, I worked several summers while attending law school in a GM factory doing the repetitive work of stamping gears which were used for a purpose I knew not what, among co-workers, many of whom were alcoholics whose only respite from the boredom of their work was found in a bottle; and I worked for three years between graduate school and law school shoveling coal into massive coal pulverizers at a Detroit Edison plant. It was hot, grimy work – I had to wear a hardhat to protect my head from falling debris and a face mask to keep the coal dust out of my lungs. So I am not unfamiliar with the rigors and degradations of hard manual labor. But I was determined to make sure that that it did not become my entire life, and the same options I made for myself were available to my fellow workers, if they wanted it badly enough.)


MS said...

Regarding the ownership of the means of production, the Constitution does not preclude their ownership by the employees, as long as they can compensate the capitalist owner the value of the property and equipment. The 5th and 14th Amendments protect that property from governmental confiscation without just compensation. And I have no beef with that – I don’t want the government taking my home to build a highway – which it is entitled to do under the doctrine of eminent domain - unless I am compensated its reasonable value on the market place.

I will stop here, although there is a lot more I would like to write. I just find a lot of the comments in this thread relating to these issues as, frankly, over-simplified criticisms of government because it does not satisfy the idealistic yearnings of rather naive intellects which do not appreciate the realities of life – and the fact that Trump garnered several million votes is an example of that reality. I believe that there is no government which could be formed on this Earth, with the homo sapiens species being what it is, which could effectively satisfy all of those idealistic yearnings. If this comes across as an ad hominem attack, so be it.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

You are correct. I usually had students read up on the Pinkerton’s breaking strikes. The Freikorps performed the same function in Germany to break general strikes in the post -war period. My point was a more general one, more like an historian’s generalization. Labor as a faction of the Democratic Party, and as a counter-weight to Capital, lead to a balance of interests in which capital got labor peace and labor better wages and working conditions The Republican Party has had as its aim the restoration of the status quo ante, those that prevailed prior to the New Deal, I.e., unfettered capitalism.

Anyway, in my comment I was simply trying to recall that, as the fairy tales begin, ‘once upon a time” labor was a counter-weight to capital.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Ditch the landline. It is only use is to call your cell when you can’t find it!

R McD said...

The point is, surely, not to surrender to "the realities of life," but to critically examine them and challenge and try to change them where they are found wanting? If that is "the idealistic yearning... of [a] rather naive intellellect. . .," so be it.

But in actual fact, or so it seems to me, what is going on here is a contest between a basically conservative, ancestor-worshipping approach to politics in America and a progressive effort to get rid of the dead hand of the past, to try to make things better.

If only the conservative would stop presenting himself as the only knowledgeable, intelligent person in the room and stop maligning his opponents, we might have a better discussion.

MS said...


“[T]he dead hand of the past,” is not quite dead. It is ensconced in a very live Constitution which sets forth a very detailed method of amending it, which is rather demanding. The fact that it is demanding is a good thing, since we do not want constitutions which form the bedrock principles of a government to be readily amended willy-nilly to satisfy the idealistic yearnings of naive intellects. And if you wish to go outside the Constitution in order to satisfy those idealistic yearnings, you had better know how to fire a gun? Do you?

And referring to me as a conservative, really?? That shows just how out of touch you are.

Query to other commenters:

It does look like Biden will attain 370 electoral college votes by the end of today. So, who will give the 2021 State of the Union Address? A very angry, disgruntled dethroned Il Duce prior to January 20, 2021, or the newly elected President Biden after January 20?

MS said...

370 electoral college votes, that would be quite an achievement. I meant 270.

s. wallerstein said...

Certainly conservative by the standards of this blog, although not by the standards of mainstream U.S.A. And I will point out that the U.S. political spectrum is distorted towards the right, that no party calls itself socialist and still less communist (we still have a functioning communist party in Chile and a mayor from that party, Daniel Jadue, does very well in the polls for next year's presidential election).

A few days ago Fernando Paulsen, a journalist from CNN-Chile, described Biden as being
like someone from Renovación Nacional, Renovación Nacional being the most socially conscious rightwing party in the Chilean congress. In Germany Angela Merkel is considered conservative and yet on some issues she's probably more "socialist" and less fanatically pro-free market than Biden.

Tariq Ali, the great Pakistani Marxist intellectual, uses the concept of the extreme center, that is, of centrist politicians who are as dogmatic and fanatic in their centrist views as the extreme left and extreme right are supposed to be as portrayed by the mainstream media, which generally represents the extreme center. That's Biden, the extreme center.

MS said...


“Certainly conservative by the standards of this blog.” What, pray tell, are the “standards” of this blog, where would I find them and who set them, Prof. Wolff? You? RMcD? Jerry Fresia?

Regarding the standing of the United States in the world community, you recently acknowledged that land grabbing is a fairly common practice in Central and South America, so is the United States conservative in comparison to these “progressive” countries? Chile has a Communist mayor, great. I’ll give you Demark, Sweden and perhaps Norway How many other countries would you regard as more socially progressive and protective of human rights, such that the United States stands to their conservative right? Syria? Saudi Arabia? Iraq? Nigeria? Belarus? Azerbaijan? Afghanistan? India? Pakistan? Russia? China? I can go on and on.

Marian said...

MS, perhaps a demanding constitution is necessary to prevent one that is "amended willy-nilly to satisfy the idealistic yearnings of naive intellects". But plenty of countries today seem to function quite well without judicial review at all—and indeed to be better than the US at protecting individual rights. New Zealand, just for example. I see little reason to think that the demandingness of the US constitution is what is separating us from the beasts given that many countries in which parliament is supreme seem to be far more civilized than we (the US) are.

LFC said...


I don't fully understand your point about the Confederacy and the civil war when you say it was easier for the Union to declare war on the South for seceding than if the South had already been a separate country. In the latter case there would have been no precipitating or proximate cause of war in the first place. In the first instance Lincoln's declared war aim was to preserve the Union and prevent secession; the abolition of slavery in the secessionist South only came in as a declared aim later w the Emancipation Proclamation. So if the Southern slaveholding states had never been in the Union to begin with, there would have been no civil war by definition and quite likely no war, period, though one can't be certain of that. The considerable downside of course is that slavery in a South that had always been independent might indeed have lasted into the 20th century, though again there's no way to be sure of that. OTOH the 600,000 or 700,000 or so lives lost on Civil War battlefields would not have been lost. But the whole line of reasoning seems a somewhat strained way to defend the anti-democratic character of the Senate and the compromises made by the founding generation. Or if not strained, I would say that once you start using counterfactual arguments of this sort, you open the door to dueling counterfactuals -- e.g. what if the South had been independent from the start but slavery had eventually ended as a result of some slave uprisings from within it? Unlikely but not impossible, once you start down the counterfactual road.

MS said...


What you have written I believe fortifies my point. Critics of the Senate as being undemocratic have to confront the fact that but for an undemocratic Senate, the Southern slave-holding states would not have joined the Union. As you note, in that case it would have been highly unlikely for a non-slave holding Northern nation to have declared war on a slave-holding Southern nation in order to abolish slavery. But Lincoln was able to use the South’s secession as a reason to declare war on the Confederacy, which would not have happened but for the existence of the undemocratic Senate. It is true that Lincoln was more interested in preserving the Union than abolishing slavery, but having declared war to preserve the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment were felicitous consequences of that war, which would not have occurred but for the existence of the Senate, which mollified the concerns of the Southern states regarding joining the Union. While we do not know for certain what would have happened had the Southern states not joined the Union, as you acknowledge, it is highly unlikely that the Northern nation would have declared war against the Southern nation on the basis of freeing the slaves alone. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that any slave revolt against a Southern slave-holding nation would have had any prospects of succeeding. Against these unknowable hypotheticals, we do know what actually happened with the Southern states joining the Union. So, based on what actually occurred, the abolition of slavery is attributable to the creation of the undemocratic Senate in the Constitution, a provision which critics of the Constitution in comments on this blog have deplored. Which would they prefer – an undemocratic Senate with contemporary consequences which some dislike (like the fact that it makes it more difficult to pass legislation, e.g., to counter climate change) or the continuation of slavery into the 20th (and perhaps into the 21st century – would any European nation. or confederation of nations have been willing to declare war on a Southern slave-holding nation in order to free African-American slaves? Would a boycott of such a nation have succeeded, as did the boycott of South Africa to end apartheid. May be. May be not.)

On a separate note, it’s starting to look like whether Biden becomes President may come down to the question of who has better penmanship – Democrats or Republicans. It appears that Trump’s lawyers are going to attempt to substitute questions regarding the authenticity of signatures on mail-in ballots as a proxy for the hanging chads in the 2000 election. Justice Alito has just ordered that all mail-in ballots received in Pennsylvania after Nov. 3 be segregated from the rest of the mail-in ballots. I hope that my prediction a few days ago that the Supreme Court will not get involved in this election the way it did in 2000 does not prove premature.

MS said...


Re whether European nations would have been willing to declare war on a slave-holding Southern nation, remember that during the Civil War, Great Britain actually sided with the Confederacy, since it wanted to continue the import of cotton in order to sustain its textile industry – this despite the fact that Britain had in fact outlawed Britain’s participation in the slave trade with passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

Anonymous said...

Surely it's not right to suggest that it was either the Union as we know it or a smaller Union juxtaposed to a (united? south? What happened to the confederation and the anti-federalists.

Also, it is no refutation of the claim that the senate was a deliberately constructed anti-democratic part of the Federal system to say, yes, it was anti-democratic but it had other consequences--hypothetical consequences, I'd point out, for who knows how history would have unfolded! Still, it's gratifying to see that the anti-democratic nature of the Senate and therefore of the US Constitution is finally acknowledged.

LFC said...


I see what you're arguing, and it's certainly a reasonable argument. However, I think there is probably a reasonable argument on the other side, which admittedly relies to an extent on speculation, but not wild speculation. Let's say the Southern states had formed their own country in the 1780s, and the Northern states their own. What would have happened to slavery by, say, 1900? I'm certainly no expert on this but I believe that there is a body of historical work suggesting that the economics of slavery were such that, while cotton was king in the mid 19th cent., the slave and plantation-based economy was not sustainable over the long term, not without a lot of territorial expansion at any rate, which is one reason, though not the only reason, that the question of slavery's territorial extension (or not) was so contested. The point is that there is a case to be made that slavery in the South would have collapsed of its own economic contradictions by what date I'm not sure but there's a case that it would have happened. In that scenario you would have had (presumably) no undemocratic Senate, no Civil War, and slavery imploding as a result of its economic weaknesses.

Then there's the separate point whether the structure of the Senate can be justified now, in 2020. Even if it had certain good consequences in the past, that can't justify its continuation in its present form. I do not think the Senate will be changing anytime soon as a result of const amendment, as too many interests are vested in its continuation, but as a matter of moral judgment I don't think the undemocratic structure of the Senate can be justified now on the grounds that it had good consequences in the past.

MS said...


My analysis regarding the merits or lack thereof of a Senate which guarantees each state two senators is offered to rebut claims by those who have criticized the Founding Fathers to have included such an undemocratic body in the Constitution. They have suggested that the Framers themselves were somehow short-sighted and/or anti-democratic for having done so. My rebuttal is that, thank God they did include it – but for its inclusion, there would have been no secession and no basis for Lincoln to have declared war and we could still be living with slavery in a Southern nation today.

Regarding the possibility that economic changes may have made the harvesting of cotton insufficient to sustain the Southern economy, who knows. It is also possible that the South could have developed another industry to sustain itself without liberating their slaves, e.g., forcing them to make cars or work in oil fields, or.... But even if at some point it would have become economically infeasible to continue the institution of slavery, it would have happened much later than 1865, and every year that that abominable institution continued would be reason to be thankful that the existence of the Senate facilitated its demise in 1865, rather than waiting until `1880, or 1905, or ...

Regarding the moral justification for the continuation of having a Senate, it is what it is. The Constitution is not going to be amended to excise it – those states which benefit from its existence will not vote to eliminate it by amendment. An amendment would require the approval of 37 states, so it would take 13 states to block it – Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Nebraska, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware, Rhode Island. It ‘s never going to happen. In fact, Article V states: “[N]o State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” There is no point in discussing how much better it would be if the Senate did not exist when it’s here to stay, regardless. So, if from a practical standpoint it is not feasible to eliminate the Senate, in a discussion regarding its moral value, an analysis of what would have happened had the Framers been far more farsighted than Nostradamus and not included it should turn on what historical benefit were we bequeathed by virtue of its existence. And I maintain that the abolition of slavery occurring sooner than it would have had the Senate not been included in the Constitution is the determining factor in its historical moral value.

MS said...

Errata: It would take 14 states to block it, so throw in Kansas and/or West Virginia.

MS said...


The consequences of including the Senate as an integral part of our government is not hypothetical. The primary reason the slave-holding Southern states joined the Union because of the guarantee of equal representation provided by the Senate. This is a historical fact. It is also a historical fact that the reason Lincoln declared war on the Confederacy was to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. Had there been no Senate, there would not have been a Union to secede from and therefore no war resulting in the abolition of slavery. This is all historical fact, not hypothesis.

MS said...


One more thing. You write, “I don't think the undemocratic structure of the Senate can be justified now on the grounds that it had good consequences in the past.” I propose that you ask an African-American whether s/he would prefer that the Constitution had never included a Senate, so that effective legislation today could be passed more readily, but it would mean that his/her forefathers would have had to remain in bondage for an additional 10 years, or 5 years, or 1 year, or 5 months, or 1 month, or even 1 week, I suspect the answer would be that if the existence of the Senate expedited the manumission of his/her ancestors for even one minute, it was well worth it, and to hell with its detrimental effects on our current government. Would you disagree with her/him?

LFC said...

"Would you disagree with her/him?"

No, probably not. For one thing, it would be presumptuous of me -- as someone who is not black (and whose ancestors weren't even in the U.S. in the 1860s) -- to do so.

However, I can imagine two African-Americans having a debate or discussion and adopting somewhat different perspectives on this issue, since two people quite similarly positioned might think about this trade-off differently. To be more specific, someone might say: "I'd be ok if my ancestors remained in bondage for another ten or twenty or thirty years if it meant that today we had a federal government [governing a country of perhaps a smaller size, assuming the South had gone its own way from the start] that could take effective action on issues that disproportionately affect African-Americans adversely, such as poverty, food insecurity, employment, voting rights, health care, urban decay, crime, de facto segregation, discrimination in housing, educational opportunity, etc. etc."

But maybe no one would take such a position. I don't really know.

MS said...


This thought experiment is actually not as silly and futile an exercise as some might think. It in fact demonstrates that, notwithstanding the legislative inertia which the existence of the Senate entails, the United States is better off for its having been included in the Constitution. Why?

I strongly doubt that any African-Americans would take the position you are suggesting, favoring a Constitution without a Senate, if it would have meant that slavery would have continued in the South for several additional decades.. However, if they did take the alternative position you propose, in order to deal more effectively with poverty, discrimination, food shortages, etc., they would be wrong. I believe I am correct that but for its inclusion, slavery would have continued in the South for several decades beyond 1865. Let’s assume that you are correct, that at some point cotton would have lost its economic importance for the Southern nation and slavery was eliminated. You would have had a Northern nation with a constitution that did not have a senate, but only a House of Representatives. All the problems that you identify require massive capital to ameliorate. That would require an income tax to provide the necessary capital. It would have been highly unlikely that The Northern nation would included a national income tax in its constitution. Without it, the Northern nation could not have dealt any more effectively with the problems you cite than our current nation is. Moreover, there is no guarantee that a Northern nation would have ever amended its constitution to provide for an income tax. But even if it did, that would leave the Southern nation, which eliminated slavery late, with all of the same problems. Moreover, having liberated its slaves late, it would be starting, its freed slaves would be at a significant disadvantage compared to their Northern cousins. A Southern nation would have been more unlikely to have ever instituted an income tax. So the problems you point to would have lingered for many more decades in the South than they do even now. The preservation of the Union, via the Civil War, allowed the unified nation to deal more effectively with the problems you identify, after passage of the income tax, than either of the two separate nations would have been able to.

So, in sum, Leibniz was correct. This is the best of all possible worlds.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

MS and LFC,
I would suggest that no position is well supported, if supported at all, with historical counter-factuals. If the South had not joined the Union, it would have been ripe for the picking by the English, Spanish or French. That was, as I recall, a concern of the founders, and it was a reasonable one.

The white supremacist roots of the Senate are, at this point in history, irrelevant to the functioning of government. Rather, it is the white supremacist roots of the majority of the current occupants of the Senate that is the problem at hand.

aaall said...

"Moreover, it is highly unlikely that any slave revolt against a Southern slave-holding nation would have had any prospects of succeeding."

Of course there's always Haiti (1791). Slaves outnumbered adult males better then 2 - 1 in the southern states. Slave revolts were a preoccupation and one notes when reading the various slave codes that while slaves were residing in totalitarian polities, free whites were in authoritarian ones. Looking further south we see that authoritarian states aren't stable. Separate nations would have meant no fugitive slave laws or constitutional obligations. Slavery was soon ended in the northern states so freedom would have been next door. MS sees extended slavery, I see white heads on poles. Could this southern nation have financed the Louisiana Purchase? Could the northern one? Does Sam Houston wind up in Texas? Etc.

There are simply too many variables for counterfactuals to be of any value. On what basis do we even assume a southern nation was able to be formed (the Confederacy was barely a nation)?

The reality is that the Constitution was a necessary kludge. The Electoral College has never functioned as imagined and had to be fixed after the 1800 election. In 1820 Senators were appointed by state legislatures. In 1920 they were elected by popular vote because of the corruption inherent in the original scheme (check out "The Treason of the Senate"). The Constitution has been amended 27 times. The first step in fixing something is realizing that it's broken. "That was then and this is now," is a perfectly acceptable answer to arguments against changing what may have been a necessity in 1787 but is a presently a slo-mo suicide pact.

MS said...


Again, you are mistaken. Why didn’t a slave revolt occur in the South, between 1789 and 1860 that would have overthrown the white supremacy, while it occurred in Saint-Domingue (renamed Haiti) in 1791? Because in Domingue, the slaves outnumbered the whites 10 to 1. In the American South, the highest percentage of slaves to whites was in Mississippi, at 46%. The ratios in all of the other slave-holding states were less. Are you not familiar with what happened to Dred Scott?

The architecture of the Constitution was, and is, far more sophisticated than a “kludge” as you put it. The fact that it has been amended 27 times is not an indication that it is fundamentally flawed, but a demonstration of its adaptability to changing times. It is not a suicide pact, but a functioning institution which today enabled us to get rid of its first, and hopefully, only dictator. I am sure that nothing I have written will have any effect on your preconceived anti-American bias, but, as they say, “On a deaf man’s door you can knock forever.” I await RMcd remonstrations on your behalf, accusing me of being a narrow-minded, pompous, self-satisfied political conservative.

levinebar said...

MS wrote:
"Virtually all of the progressive legislation which has been enacted in the 20th and 21st centuries was enacted by Democratic administrations"
Some of us remember that Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were called themselves Republicans, even if they would not have recognized the party of that name in the 21st c.

levinebar said...

Joe Biden's handlers won't let him explain
what higher vision he would implement.
No programs featured in his charm-campaign
to be the oldest-ever president.
To flip the Senate, prospect's looking dim;
no legislation's likely to get through.
The status-quo's been mighty good to him
He won't say what he will or will not do.
Jo Jorgensen got Joe across the line,
like Nader gave us Bush, instead of Gore.
Each vote she took from Biden cost Trump nine;
the crucial margin in the final score.
That Trumpty-Dumpty's fallen, we rejoice
but few are more than tepid with this choice.