My Stuff

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Friday, October 29, 2021


 Unknown asks, "In your lectures of the Critique you didn't seem too keen on Hegel, what gives?"

It is quite simple. I have spent my entire life trying as hard as I could to take complex and difficult ideas and clarify them in my mind until I was able to explain them simply and clearly, so that my readers or students could see their beauty and power. Hegel, it seems to me, takes relatively simple ideas and does everything in his power to make them as obscure and difficult as possible.

I hate that.

While I am at it, let me note that I did not say The Racial Contract was the most widely read book or the most influential book or the book with the biggest reputation or the most frequently translated book on political philosophy of the last century. I simply said that I thought it was the best. That, I trust everyone will agree, is quite different.

Thursday, October 28, 2021


Well, Columbia did not want my graduate course called Marx, Freud, Marcuse: Thesis, Anthithesis, Synthesis.  But UNC does, so I will be teaching it in spring of 2022. It should be a blast.

What is more, I did a trial run to Caldwell Hall this morning and made it up the steep stairs to the second floor where I will be teaching starting January. I will not say it was easy, but I made it all the way up and all the way down.

One of the odd side effects of Parkinson's disease is that my voice is now rather soft and wearing a mask, I was concerned whether students would be able to hear me, so I am getting a headset that connects without a cord to a speaker.  When I went looking for it on Amazon it popped right up, advertised as useful for teachers during the pandemic. I do not like Jeff Bezos but  you have to admit he has made life a great deal easier.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


I continue to find every page of Charles Mills's book brilliant. By the way, S. Wallerstein is quite wrong about the book. Mills says relatively little about America in it – his focus is mostly on European thought. It is a great sadness to me that I am unable to tell Charles how much I am enjoying re-reading his book and how important I believe it is.  Students who stay with me through this course are in for a treat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021


I have now reread about 1/3 of The Racial Contract by Charles Mills, the last major work to be assigned in my course next semester, and my long standing impression is confirmed that it is the most important work of political theory to appear in English in more than a century – and yes that includes A Theory of Justice and even (hem, hem) my own In Defense of Anarchism. It is an extraordinary book and, remarkable in the literature of political theory, true.


This exercise in rereading has been a delight for me and I am looking forward with great enthusiasm to the opportunity to teach the course next semester (assuming that I can climb the steep flight of stairs to the second floor of Caldwell Hall where it meets.) I am going to have to warn the students that it will be an extremely difficult course but I make no apologies for that. This course would do well in any graduate program in America.

Sunday, October 24, 2021


Spoiler alert: this is about today’s New York Times crossword puzzle so if you like doing it and have not tackled it yet do not read this blog post.


I solved it today but I got stuck in one part of it for some while. There was a clue for a three word space that read something like “word that can be used either before or after pack.”  I thought about that for a bit and said to myself, “pack rat, rat pack” and filled in “rat.”  Well, it turns out the correct answer is “ice,” as in” pack ice, ice pack.”  I could not think of a third three – letter possibility. Can anybody?


On another matter entirely, I have been plugging ahead with my rereading of the books I will assign next semester in my course at UNC on political philosophy. One third of the course will be devoted to A Theory of Justice. I am going to ask the students also to read the book I wrote about Rawls as part of that segment of the course. I published it 44 years ago and have not looked at since. Yesterday I finished reading it for the first time since it appeared and I was appalled to discover how technical it is. I am afraid I am going to have to warn the students that this will be a very hard course. On the other hand, once they get finished with that we will move on to The Racial Contract by the late Charles Mills and that will be a really boffo way to wrap up the course. What a wonderful book that is and what a great loss for Mills to die so young.


But then all death is a great loss. Emily Dickinson somewhere wrote a poem asking why God requires us to die in order to see Him. Since He is omnipotent, He could have arrange things differently, after all.

Saturday, October 23, 2021


Things are so bad politically in the United States right now that I find it difficult getting to sleep at night. The only glimmer of hope that I see is that the possibility of an authoritarian destruction of such democracy as America has is now not the feverish dream of a few on the left but the established view of mainstream liberal commentators. That transformation has really taken a very short time as changes in mainstream opinion go.

I think it is quite likely that the Supreme Court will destroy Roe V Wade sometime in the next seven months, just in time to be a dominant theme of the midterm elections. Furthermore, everybody now seems to understand how important state government elections are.

If I can manage to keep myself alive through the 2024 election cycle, I may live either to see the death of American democracy or some version of its rebirth.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021


Michael talked a bit about Eric Erikson and concluded his comment with some very kind words about me so I thought I would take the occasion to tell you all the little bit I can about my experience with Erikson. The year that I started my instructorship at Harvard, 1958, was the year that David Reisman was appointed to a university professorship there. Reisman’s office was on the third floor of Emerson Hall where the Social Relations Department had its home.  He had the habit of gathering around him a group of young untenured faculty and when I published a letter in the New York Times which caught his eye, he dropped me a note and suggested that I come by. I found my way to his office and in the deferential way in which junior faculty then spoke to senior faculty I said that I hoped I was not disturbing him. He welcomed me into his office and complained that although he was just down the hall from Mr. Sociology (by whom he meant Talcott Parsons), he never talked to the great man and nobody ever came to see him. I became part of a group of antiwar pro-nuclear disarmament folks around Reisman who called themselves The Committee of Correspondence, taking their title from a group during the American Revolution. We published a newsletter (in which my student and later friend and co-teacher Todd Gitlin regularly published) and met from time to time. When Erikson joined the faculty, I think in 1960, he became part of the group and that was when I met him.


Erikson was an odd duck. At the age of 58 he was roughly 10 years older than Reisman and since I was then 26, they both seemed ancient to me. Erikson had a shock of white hair and as I recall sparkling blue eyes and he made quite an impression on me. I found him very distant and have no recollection of having an actual one-on-one conversation with him in the time I knew him, but the graduate students and young instructors who served as his assistants in the course he taught loved him and idolized him. It is my impression, rather than my genuine recollection, that some young folks who later became quite distinguished served as his assistants in those days. Reisman, by the way, had the quite extraordinary habit of reading and writing extended comments on each of the essays submitted by the hundreds of students who took his large lecture courses, even though it took him well into the next semester to complete the task.


Erikson had published Childhood and Society in 1950 and I read it, I believe, sometime during my years at Harvard. It had a very great effect on me and I have quoted from it often in all the years since. The centerpiece of the book, of course, is Erikson’s expansion of Freud’s three stages of psychosexual development in the young child – the anal, the oral, and the genital – to a total of eight stages stretching throughout life. He is one of the great theorists of what came to be called Ego Psychology. One of the things in the book that I found particularly impressive was Erikson’s report of fieldwork he had done among Native Americans in the northwestern United States which enabled him to draw contrasts and comparisons between their stages of psychosexual development and those of Europeans and Americans of European descent.


When I came to write my long 800 page autobiography on this blog, I chose a passage from Childhood and Society as the epigraph for it.


Why, some may ask, do I write of my afflictions, my stumbling falls, the diminution of my physical self? Why do I not instead write of Kant, Marx, capitalism, exploitation, oppression, protests, strikes, even of Trump and Bannon, Bernie, and AOC?


In response I offer the great villanelle by Dylan Thomas, which has appeared in this space before.


Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


The Good Book tells us “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”  Sigh, in this as in much else the Bible is a source of wisdom. What follows has nothing to do with the death of Colin Powell or with what we all hope will be the eventual incarceration of Steve Bannon. Rather, it concerns a purely personal experience the effects of which have dominated my thoughts for the past four days. Those seeking high-minded left-wing commentary on the public world will have to search elsewhere today.


Some while ago I told the world that I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. There is not much doctors can do for people afflicted with the disease save prescribe a medication with the tradename Sinemet, which my doctor has already done for me. But the available research literature does make it clear that the one thing the patient himself or herself can do to postpone the progress of the disease is to engage in aerobic exercise that raises the heart rate to 100 or more for at least half an hour.


Well, for many years my principal source of exercise has been an hour long early morning walk and some while ago I actually got a wrist heart monitor from which allows me to measure my heart rate (and all sorts of other things, of course, tech being what it is these days.) The physical therapist with whom I worked briefly in September counseled me to concentrate on taking longer steps and walking faster. Following her advice, I fairly quickly shortened the time it took me to do my 2 2/3 mile walk from 67 minutes to as fast as 55 minutes – an accomplishment in which I took an inordinate pride, despite the fact that even at my fastest I would on occasion be passed by a little old lady walking a dog. With the heart monitor, I learned that I was getting my heart rate up to 95 or higher after the first half of the walk and increasing that level for the second half. I was puffed up with the importance of this accomplishment and made sure, each time I returned to our apartment, to tell my wife exactly how many minutes my walk had taken and how high I had raised my heart rate. I began to think that I would live as long as the woman who used to occupy the apartment across the hall from ours and has just passed her 99th birthday.


Then disaster hit. On Thursday, I barreled along in my usual fashion getting my heart rate up in the 100 range but as I neared the end of my walk I began to do what neurologists call “festinating.”  This means that my steps got faster and faster and shorter and shorter despite my efforts to control them. I stumbled into the lobby of my building and half fell against the wall, squatting down and propping myself up against the wall with my hands and the top of my head. I was completely unable to stand up and finally lowered myself onto the carpet and lay there immobile. Fortunately, I must have pressed my security pendant when I lay down because in four or five minutes two of the security men at Carolina Meadows came by and hoisted me to my feet. I was able to walk to the elevator and get into our apartment, weak and shaken and quite frightened.


I am trying to get in touch with my neurologist – a process that always takes several days – but I think there are really only two options. Either she increases my medication, if that is indicated, or I will have to get myself what is called a recumbent exercycle (needless to say, Amazon offers several dozen options), after which instead of taking my morning walk I will sit in my study and pedal for 35 or 40 minutes, four or five days a week.


An unpleasant experience, to be sure, but what is the big deal? Well, I have become rather well-known around Carolina Meadows as an early morning walker and a great many people have commented on seeing me and have praised me for my persistence in my early morning walks. I have taken an inordinate pride in the reputation I have acquired, one which is enhanced by my practice of wearing shorts even in freezing weather, a fact that others comment on with wonder.


Clearly, putting off the hideous end stages of Parkinson’s disease takes precedence over the stroking of my ego, so I will do whatever my neurologist recommends. But I will be sad to give up my daily morning walk.


Pride doth indeed go before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Sunday, October 17, 2021


Eric linked to an article, which I read and posted an enthusiastic comment about, and I have preordered the new book by the authors of the article, which is due to be published in early November. I found the article fascinating, provocative, and informative but also intensely irritating. I thought I would spend some time today explaining something of the background to the article, why I think it is important and also why I found it irritating. Obviously the best thing you can do is read the article and/or the book when it appears, but anybody who is interested could hunt up lectures four through seven of my 10 lecture series on the subject of Ideological Critique available on YouTube.


This will take me a little while so settle down (or drift off to WhatsApp.)


The available paleontological evidence indicates that Homo Sapiens has been around for about 200,000 years, plus or minus. Until the last 6000 years or so of that period, just about all the evidence we have of the doings of human beings was what could be dug up out of the ground and inspected. Since mostly what lasts is bones and stones, scientists have had to make do with whatever they could figure out from that hard stuff about what human beings were up to. Hominids more generally appear to have developed in East Africa maybe as much as several million years ago and one way and another they migrated across the land bridge that then existed between Africa and the Middle East and from there to Europe, to central and eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, and even, maybe 15,000 years ago or maybe longer, to North, Central, and South America.


There is a good deal of evidence that hominids, including human beings, have had tools of various sorts for  a million years or more. There is artwork in caves and elsewhere dating back 40 or 50,000 years. At some point, Homo STheapiens (and other hominids? Who knows) developed language.


How did human beings live? Well, from their teeth and other evidences we can infer that they were from the beginning omnivores, eating both meat and such plant materials as fruits, nuts, and the like.


And that is pretty much it, as far as the evidence goes, until maybe 10,000 years ago or thereabouts. At some point, in the late 19th century, more as a reflection of their own social norms than on the basis of much in the way of evidence, anthropologists decided that for the first 190,000 years or so men hunted and women gathered, so the anthropologists started calling early human beings “hunter gatherers.”


Then, rather late in the history of the human race, some big things happened. The standard story is this:  roughly 10,000 years ago in an especially fertile area located between two Middle Eastern rivers (or, as they say in Greek, in Mesopotamia) people learned how to tame wild animals and they learned how to cultivate, grow, and selectively develop plants. People became farmers and shepherds. More or less at the same time, which is to say over several thousand years, people started building permanent dwellings from clay, wood, stone, and animal hides and to live in cities. We know this happened because we can dig up the remains of the cities, sometimes only the foundations of the buildings but sometimes entire dwellings.


This much is not disputed by Graeber and Wengrow, at least as I understand them from the article Eric linked to. But agriculture, domestication of animals, and city building were of course just the beginning. Then, in the relatively brief span of 10,000 years or so, which is scarcely the blink of an eye in the history of the human species, we get kings, queens, armies, generals, slaves, plutocrats, and even – God forgive us – philosophers.


The standard argument goes something like this. For the first 190,000 years or so, people had all they could do just to chase down game and scrounge up nuts and berries and stay alive. Even if we assume a functional differentiation between what women did and what men did (and that, recall, is pure speculation), there was not enough extra food to support people to spend their time practicing various crafts rather than gathering food. But with the extra food from herds of animals and fields of grain, it was possible to support people whose sole function it was to build, to spin, to weave, to carry weapons and compel people to do the bidding of those who had gotten their hands on extra food and could parcel it out. By the time human beings got around to inventing writing, maybe 6000 years ago or so, all of this was so well-established that it seemed a law of nature.


Now apparently (I have not been keeping up, for which I apologize) ideological defenders of the current god-awful state of affairs have been arguing that there is an inseparable link between the domestication of animals and the development of agriculture and the building of cities on the one hand and full-scale economic inequality and oppressive state authority on the other, so that you cannot have New York or Rome or Beijing or Podunk or TV or cell phones or 7 ½ billion people without Jeff Bezos and the Democratic Party.


Well, lately, which is to say in the last 40 years or so, all manner of interesting anthropological evidence has cropped up about people who seem to have managed in one way or another to have avoided this Hobson’s choice. Graeber and Wengrow cite a whole lot of examples of people who manage functional differentiatio in their productive activities without authoritarian social organization. They also cite a lot of interesting recent archaeological research suggesting that there must have been differences of wealth and power back in the good old hunting and gathering days. So the standard story, they suggest, is wrong. Human beings did not hunt and gather in small socially undifferentiated groups until the explosion of the Neolithic Revolution.


All of this, as I say, is fascinating and I look forward to reading their book. But I wish they would get rid of the geewhiz snarky tone. Edwin Wilmsen did a much better job of this in his work LAND WITHOUT FLIES, which I discussed at great length in my YouTube lectures.

Thursday, October 14, 2021


I have just finished reading the comments on my brief celebration of William Shatner's journey to the edge of space.  I do honestly believe that if I were to reproduce here a picture of the famous element of the Sistine Chapel in which God reaches out a finger and gives life to Adam, the commentary would be completely focused on the question whether God had a little dirt under His fingernail.

Get a life!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Now look, I am a serious person. I made a good living for 50 years pontificating about God, Freedom, Immortality, and anything else you wish to mention. I blog, for God's sake, which means that I consider my opinions worthy of memorialization in the cloud.  But when 90-year-old Capt. James T Kirk of the USS Enterprise goes up in a rocket, my heart flutters a little.

Beam me up, Scotty

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


Rereading Rousseau in preparation for teaching next semester has had on me interesting effect that I did not anticipate. It made clearer to me the present situation in the United States. I realized that by any reasonable 21st century construal of Rousseau’s analysis, it is not accurate to say that it is uncertain whether the United States will remain a representative democracy. It is more accurate to say that the United States is not now a representative democracy, if indeed it ever was. Let me explain.


The United States is formally or legally a representative democracy in which one of the two major parties no longer believes that control of the levers of government should be determined by elections. Instead, right now, the Republican Party with the active support of perhaps 35% or 40% of adult Americans, believes that elections are legitimate only when its candidate wins. I do not mean this puckishly or for dramatic effect. I mean quite literally that Republicans at the local, state, and national level are right now attempting to arrange things so that they will never again “lose” an election. In this effort, they are supported by scores of millions of Americans. Now, any time you find 80 million or more people believing something, it goes without saying that there will be countless reasons why they believe it, countless ways in which they believe it, and countless ways in which they act out of this belief. 

Some of the Americans who believe that only elections in which the Republican wins are legitimate believe that because they are white supremacist racists. Others believe it because they are fundamentalist Christians. Still others neither believe it nor disbelieve it but simply find it in their interest to act as though they do. But the total net effect is that somewhat less, but not much less, than half of adult Americans no longer have any functional, operational belief in representative democracy.


Regardless of what happens in the 2022 or 2024 elections – regardless of whether Republicans are literally able to steal the 2024 presidential election, as they are now deliberately, openly, systematically preparing to do – it is clear that the United States is not in the usual understanding of this term, a representative democracy, Wwhich is to say a polity in which it is generally accepted that control of government should be determined by democratic elections of representatives.


Because I so much fear what the Republicans will do with the vast power of the American government if they succeed in seizing control of it, I believe that all of us must do everything in our power to stop them, and that may even involve pretending that we believe American democracy is at risk. But the simple fact is that American democracy no longer exists.


If you respond that it never has existed, I will not argue with you. After all, the next book on my reading list is a little tract entitled In Defense of Anarchism.


I freely confess that it was rereading Of the Social Contract that cleared my mind and made all of this transparently obvious to me in a way that it had not quite been before.


There is something to be said for preparing to teach a course.

Monday, October 11, 2021


I have now completed my rereading of Rousseau’s Of the Social Contract. Once again, I am astonished by how much of it I had completely forgotten. For example, in Book 4 there is a succession of chapters totaling 20 pages in my edition about ancient Rome that the students can without loss skip over. On the other hand, there is a great deal that Rousseau has to say about the political states of his day that carry with it the clear implication that he would consider the United States to be absolutely anything other than a legitimate state with a sovereign people. I can see some interesting discussions developing in class about that subject.


Today I will start rereading the third book to be assigned in the first segment of the course – my little book In Defense of Anarchism. It has been quite some time since I have actually reread that essay and as with the Locke and Rousseau, I will be curious to see what is in it that I have forgotten about.


This is fun.

Sunday, October 10, 2021


My grandfather on my father’s side was born in Paris in 1879 and was named Barnet. The family name was Zarembowich.  In 1880 his parents emigated to the United States, entering at Castle Garden New York. A skeptical immigration official renamed his father Abraham Wolff and so, at least in America, we became the Wolff family. My grandfather was an active member of and a  leader in the Socialist party in New York City, and had a comrade named Abe Shiplacof. When my grandmother, Ella Nislow Wolff and Abe Shiplacof’s wife both became pregnant, Barney and Abe made a little agreement that the first one to have a son would name him Karl Marx. Abe’s wife had a boy, so when my father was born shortly thereafter he was named Walter Harold Wolff, a name of no significance. When the two wives became pregnant again, it was agreed that the first one to have a boy would name him Friedrich Engels, but once again the Shiplacofs won the race and so my uncle was given the name “Robert Ingersoll” after a 19th-century orator known as “the great agnostic.”


My parents’ first child was my big sister Barbara, who almost immediately was nicknamed Bobs.  When I was born, I was named Robert Paul, but it was impossible to have two children in the family named Bobs and Bob, so I became Rob. At some point during my growing up I declared my independence by announcing that I would be known to the world as Bob. To this day, I am known as Bob to my friends but Rob to my family – except for my cousins, the children of my father’s younger brother, Benjamin. For some reason, Barney and Ella did not give Ben a middle name and this lack apparently rankled so deeply that after Ben married Fanny, he gave his two children two middle names each to compensate.  The two of them, inheriting from their father an appreciation of the importance of middle names, always referred to me and addressed me as “Robert Paul.”


When my first wife was pregnant with our first child, we debated about names if it were a boy. We were both rather taken by “Jonathan Edward” but gave that up when we realized that the little boy’s initials would be JEW.  We settled, for no particular reason, on Patrick Gideon Wolff. Since I do not like the name Pat I called our son even when he was a little baby Patrick. Later on, I took to calling him by his initials PG and this morphed into “Peege” which was my special nickname for him. Nobody else in the world called Patrick “Peege” until he started as a teenager competing in high-pressure chess tournaments. The other young hotshot chess players heard me calling him “Peege” and they thought it was amusing so for a while that was what he was called in the chess world.


My younger son we named Tobias Barrington Wolff, the middle name coming from his godfather Barrington Moore, Jr.  Since he was a delightfully cherubic little boy, he quite naturally came to be known in the family as Toby. This ended one day when he informed me soberly that henceforward he would be known as “Tobias.” I took this as it was intended, not as a request but as a command, and from that day to this I have never called him “Toby” again.


So I was “Rob” to my family, save for my cousins Tony and Cora, to whom I was “Robert Paul” and I was “Bob” to the world. I became “Robert Paul Wolff” as a result of a series of comic confusions when I was a young man at Harvard. Starting when I was a 17-year-old sophomore and continuing on as a young Instructor at Harvard I made a good deal of noise about one thing and another politically and got confused with a very prominent, rather conservative, and also rather fat Professor of History named “Robert Lee Wolff.” To distinguish myself from Prof. Wolff, who by 1961 was chair of the Harvard History Department and publicly offended by being confused with a young left-wing whippersnapper, I adopted “Robert Paul Wolff” as my professional name and it has stuck to me for the past 60 years.

Saturday, October 9, 2021


When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
   For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
   That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Thursday, October 7, 2021


Faithful readers of this blog, of which there appear to be a few, will have noticed that I have not been posting much lately. In part this is because I find the world excessively depressing and it is not, as they say, ego syntonic for me constantly to be crying “alack and alas.” But it is also that after a lifetime in the Academy I have not developed the routinized work habits so cherished by capitalist employers.


Sometimes words pour from me as water from the tap, filling the page and lapping over onto the margins. But then there are times when I simply am not moved to write. My thoughts never stop, but the need to express them publicly is quiet.


These days I am obsessed by the efforts to push myself to walk faster each morning so that my heart rate gets up to the level at which, so the doctors have told me, I shall postpone the development of my Parkinson’s disease. For amusement, I do complicated jigsaw puzzles which I find oddly satisfying. That and rereading the texts that I shall be assigning next semester keep an 87-year-old man adequately busy.


Never fear. If experience is any indication, I shall soon enough be troubling you, if not deaf heaven, with my bootless cries.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021


I do not like Marc Zuckerberg. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I did not like the character representing Marc Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg in the 2010 movie The Social Network. So I am delighted that he is getting his ass in a sling over the role that Facebook and some of his other possessions have played in the corruption of American politics. I hope he gets everything that is coming to him, although I seriously doubt that he will. But leaving that to one side, the question what if anything Congress should do about Facebook raises some very interesting issues that I have been idly brooding about.


The New York Times and the Washington Post are newspapers. They publish news, op-ed comments, reviews, and of course a ton of advertisements. Much of that content is written and edited by employees of the newspapers and there are all sorts of laws regulating what they are and are not permitted to publish. If they deliberately, maliciously publish lies about people damaging those people’s lives, careers, and even safety, they can be sued and may end up having to pay large damages.


The newspapers are – or at least were in the good old days when I was young – written on paper and on typewriters and printed on printing presses with ink. In the summer of 1952, when I worked as a copy boy on the old Herald Tribune, I saw those printing presses and typewriters and rolls of paper.


When a newspaper publishes something that violates the law and is sued or even charged with a criminal violation, nobody attempts to go after the companies that make the printing presses and the typewriters and the paper and the ink. It is certainly true that without the printing presses the newspapers could not publish (at least in the good old days) but that fact does not make them liable for the violations of law committed by the newspapers using those presses.


Marc Zuckerberg says that Facebook is not a newspaper. Its employees do not write the content that is posted on Facebook pages. Facebook, he says, is simply a platform. It is the technological modern version of a printing press or a typewriter or ink or paper.


In some sense he is clearly right. Facebook is not a newspaper. It is not a cable news program. It is not the evening news. It is merely a platform. Nevertheless, it and its various subordinate possessions (Instagram, WhatsApp, and the rest) are causing immeasurable harm around the world. Something needs to be done and I freely confess that it is not clear to me what that something is.

Monday, October 4, 2021


I have started doing my preparation for the course I will be teaching at UNC Chapel Hill in the spring. My preparation consists for the most part of rereading the books I shall be assigning. Two days ago I finished rereading John Locke’s Second Treatise Concerning Civil Government. It has been perhaps 55 years since I last read it and I had completely forgotten how much of it is backward looking, arguing against the divine right of kings and such. I realized that to make sense of it to the students I would have to do some stage setting and context explication.


Yesterday I started rereading Rousseau’s Of the Social Contract. I was absolutely stunned. Rousseau is so powerful, so on point, so provocative that I wanted to start teaching right then and there. I also realized that it is really against Rousseau, not Locke, that I am arguing in In Defense of Anarchism.


When I am finished rereading Rousseau, I have to decide which selections from A Theory of Justice I want the students to read. I only want them to read about 125 or 150 pages from the first part of the book. My problem is that I must hold down the amount of money they are expected to spend and the Rawls book is almost $40. I may try to scan what they are required to read into a PDF file and post it on the course website.


Fortunately The Racial Contract by Charles Mills is in a Kindle edition and I am hoping all the students can handle that.  (So are two of the books by me that I want them to read but that is another matter.)


Since I cannot actually do anything about the world except give money to organizations and candidates, it depresses me to brood endlessly about how badly things are going, and unlike some of those who read this blog, I am not really much gripped by the question whether what I see developing in this country is fascism, authoritarianism, white supremacist panic, or just the good old USA. But planning to go in front of a group of students and teach really grips me. It has all my life and even now at the age of 87 it still does.


Sorry to of been away from this site for a week. If anybody cares, I can report that I have cut 10 minutes off my 67 minute morning walk and brought my heart rate up over 100 during at least half of it, so if the literature on Parkinson’s is to be believed, I will be around for some while yet.