My Stuff

https://umass-my.sharepoint.com/:f:/g/personal/rwolff_umass_edu/EkxJV79tnlBDol82i7bXs7gBAUHadkylrmLgWbXv2nYq_A?e=UcbbW0

Coming Soon:

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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

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





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Saturday, September 24, 2022

TIME FOR ANOTHER MATCH

A while back, I offered $1000 in a match 1 for 1 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee or DLCC.  With Marc Susselman leading the way, and David Palmeter putting his $1000 next to mine to make it a 2 for 1 match, we managed to raise $3000 for the campaign.  The time has come to try it again.


I will match each donation to the DLCC 1 for 1 up to a limit of $1000. This time around, let us hear from those of you who did not donate the first time. If 40 of you will give $25 each I will match all of that with my $1000.


We can talk about the deeper meaning of it all later. Now is the time to do our little bit. Let us do it!

Friday, September 23, 2022

NIGHT SWEATS

Teaching Capital this semester has had the effect of focusing my attention once again on the central theme of Karl Marx’s work, which is the exploitation of workers. At the same time, my considerable age and physical infirmities, combined with the death lately of so many persons whom I knew and who were, in one way or another, important to me, has led me to reflect on all the struggles to which I have lent my assistance over the past 70 years.

 

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the union movement, the Civil Rights Movement and Black Liberation, Women’s Lib, Gay Liberation – what would the world look like today, I asked myself, what would America look like today, if all of these struggles had been completely successful? I lay in bed last night at about 1 AM turning this question over in my mind.

 

I tried to imagine an America in which a bit more than half of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were women, in which African-Americans, Latinx Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans were represented at every level in the pyramid of jobs in proportion to their numbers in the population.  I tried to imagine an America in which every citizen had guaranteed healthcare, an America in which the cost of education at every level was socialized so that no one carried a student debt, in which all workers were unionized and the guaranteed minimum wage was $25 an hour, an America in which all elections were free and fair, with no gerrymandering at any level in the electoral process, an America in which all parents, both male and female, had paid parental leave.  Suppose, just to take specific one example, that the principal shareholder of Amazon were not Jeff Bezos but a lesbian Native American.  Would this not be the fulfillment of my dreams? Could I then die, if not happy, at least with the sense that, in the words of Isaiah, every valley had been exalted, and every mountain and hill made low: and the crooked had been made straight, and the rough places plain?

 

But then I thought, even in such an Eden, it would still take a well-paid unionized Amazon worker 3 million years to earn as much as that lesbian Native American “Bezos” would be worth today.  It would still be the case that the grotesque inequality of income and the vastly more grotesque inequality of wealth would remain. It would simply no longer be the case that the inequality was color-coded or gender coded. We would be no closer in that imagined ideal world to the collective ownership of the means of production that Marx correctly identified, a century and a half ago, as the essential next step in the social relations of production.

 

Troubled and unsettled, I drifted off to sleep.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

ANOTHER BITES THE DUST

I just read that Saul Kripke has died at the age of 81.  As I think I have observed on this blog, I knew Saul because he arrived at Harvard in 1959 when I was an Instructor there.  I was supplementing my salary by working as a freshman advisor and one of the students to whom I was assigned was a young man who had come to Harvard from the same Omaha high school as Saul.


Saul actually attended two or three of my lectures on the Critique of Pure Reason the next year before deciding there was nothing in it of interest to him. I have some stories to tell about Saul from those days but I think I have already told them in my autobiography so I will simply note his passing here.

THE GOOD TIMES

In the past few days, comments on this blog by John Rapko and others together with the news I have had of the experiences and career problems of former students have reminded me once again of how fortunate I was to pursue a career in the Academy during what will certainly be looked back on in the future as the golden years of the American academic profession.  I have on several occasions observed that when I went to college in 1950 only five percent of American adults had college degrees whereas now a third do. The enormous expansion of higher education in America after the Second World War created for a time an insatiable demand for professors. Graduate students in elite philosophy departments were getting tenure track job offers before they were ABD! The expansion of the Academy also created a market for academic books which made it almost impossible for publishers to lose money on them. Virtually any academic book would sell enough copies to college libraries and the extended family of the author to enable the publishers to break even. Editors would visit campuses and ask professors whether they had ideas for books, for which they would then write contracts on the basis of a one-page prospectus. At the better colleges and universities, the teaching load was “two and two” which meant two courses a semester. Thus a full-time job consisted of teaching six hours a week, 32 weeks a year.

 

Before the second world war, during the depression, there were very few academic jobs with the result that in a high school like the one to which I went in New York City, a number of the teachers had doctorates and would in better times have pursued careers at the college level. Now, if what I have read is correct, as many as two thirds of the courses offered in colleges and universities in America are taught by adjunct or part-time instructors who are paid a pittance and have no healthcare or pension benefits.

 

Naturally we all thought we were brilliant but in the words of the old saying, we had been born on third and thought we had hit a triple.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL

We all recall that great line of dialogue delivered by Tom Hanks in A League Of Their Own.  It came to mind when I read the astonishing headline that Magnus Carlson, the world chess champion, had resigned after one move in a game against a strong teenage competitor, charging that the young man was cheating.


Cheating? There is no cheating in chess. How could you possibly cheat?


Well, now that there are computer programs that are way stronger than any human chess player, it is at least conceivable that a player might devise a way to be fed a move found by a computer program.


Sigh.  I prefer the old days

Sunday, September 18, 2022

AN OFFER IT IS HARD TO RESIST

Well, the fall semester is upon us and it is time for me once more to offer my services as a zoom visitor to anyone teaching a course at a community college, undergraduate college, graduate University, or adult education program who would like me to visit a class. Because I teach on Mondays, that day is out but any other day is fine and remember, my fee is quite reasonable, namely zero.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

IT IS THAT TIME OF THE SEMESTER

The undergraduates in the course have the option of writing two shorter papers or one longer paper at the end of the semester. For those choosing the two paper option, I have prepared some suggested topics, although they are free to write on a topic of their own choosing if they wish.  I thought some of you might be interested in the topics I prepared for them. Here they are,


1.         In the manuscript on Alienated Labour, Marx presents an inspiring picture of the truly human character of unalienated labour by way of contrast with the appallingly inhuman conditions of nineteenth century factory work.  No doubt that account captures quite nicely how the folks at Apple headquarters in Cupertino feel about their work.  But humans cannot live on apps alone, and even in the wonderful world after the revolution someone is going to have to tend the machines and slaughter the chickens and sew up the seams of new T-shirts and do all that other tedious labor that does not seem quite to measure up to Marx's Romantic vision of unalienated labor.  How, if at all, might this problem be dealt with in a socialist society and economy?

 

2.         The development of capitalism has been quite uneven, progressing in some countries rapidly and in other countries quite slowly.  What problems does that fact pose for the sort of international working class movement Marx envisions in the Manifesto?

 

3.         Write a Marxian critique of the Occupy Movement.  Or, write a critique of Marx from the perspective of the Occupy Movement.  Or, write critiques of both Marx and the Occupy Movement from some other perspective.   I don't care.  Just make it penetrating and interesting and original.

 

4.         What is the difference, if any, between mystification and good old garden-variety stupidity, ignorance, and superstition?

 

5.         Do some research on the concept of the fetish as it turns up in Cultural Anthropology and write a paper on Marx's use of the term in the section of Chapter One of CAPITAL entitled "The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof."

 

6.         Choose some work of Philosophy or Economics or Political Science or Anthropology with which you are really familiar and do an analysis of the relationship between the linguistic structure of the text and the structure of the reality the author is attempting to capture.  [Warning:  this is super hard, and if I were in the business of giving out brownie points, anyone taking this would get extra brownie points just for trying.  On the other hand, it is real easy to crash and burn with this one.]

 

7.         If you have taken a college or graduate Economics course, analyze the difference between the sorts of questions asked by the classical Political Economists and the questions asked by modern neo-classical economists, with special attention to the ideological significance of those differences.

 

8.         And now, the ever reliable and familiar "compare and contrast":  Compare and contrast the language of the Manifesto with that of Chapter One of Capital.


Saturday, September 10, 2022

A RESPONSE TO TWO COMMENTS

 

Thank you, Eric, for sending me Jerry Fresia’s book!  I look forward to reading it.

 

Schug, what a wonderful memory of those old days! Thank you for writing about them. I went back and looked over my files from that time and could not figure out which student you were. But it warmed my heart to know that I had succeeded in reaching you in that class.

 

While I was searching my files, I came across a talk that I gave to The Radical Philosophy Association on April 19, 1986. It is called “Should Marxists Give up the Labor Theory of Value?” I had completely forgotten about it and if I can figure out some way to turn it into a computer file, I will post it here on my blog.

 

Now that I am old, I have been thinking about hiring a graduate student from UNC to work as my assistant and convert a number of things like that into a form in which I can post them on my blog. I wrote a good deal in those days without having any intention of publishing it and I would enjoy having those materials available to anyone who wishes to read them. That was a time when I spent a good deal of effort mastering the mathematical literature on the modern reinterpretation of Karl Marx. I am convinced that movement was intellectually important and ought not to be forgotten.

 

Well, I have had just about all I can take of television commentary on the death of the Queen. I have nothing against the lady, but there is a limit. Meanwhile, I await the outcome of the “special master” kerfuffle. I am absolutely convinced on the basis of no evidence whatsoever that the Justice Department has found Trump either selling or threatening to sell secrets obtained by him from those classified documents, and if I am correct, then that really will be the end of him.

 

It is, I suppose, an evidence of my irrepressible optimism that I am becoming convinced the Democrats will hold the House and pick up two seats in the Senate.

Friday, September 9, 2022

YESTERDAY'S MAIL

Six days a week, I go down to the lobby of the building in which Susie and I live to get the mail. There is always a large pile of mail, and almost all of it is for Susie who is on virtually every promotional mailing list imaginable. Yesterday, when I picked up the mail, there was a small plastic wrapped package for me – anIn intriguing rarity. I opened it and found a copy of a book that I had not ordered and in fact was unaware of.

 

The book was originally published in 1988 and has an intriguing title: Toward an American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution and Other Illusions. I took a look at it and began to read it. The first chapter is called “Afraid to Reflect” and begins with a rather troubling characterization of three 18th-century Americans, who turn out to be Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. At the moment I am swamped with a variety of tasks large and small, but I look forward to reading the book.

 

Oh, did I mention that the author is Jerry Fresia?

Thursday, September 8, 2022

GREAT NEWS

I have just learned that the brilliant essay on Lord of the Rings by Charles Mills did not go missing but was in his papers at his death and has now been published. I have just read, or rather reread, the essay and it is as wonderful as I remembered. Once I manage to get a link to the essay in its published form I will post it here.


So the world is not all bad

Sunday, September 4, 2022

HEARTFELT THANKS

Thank you all for the very thoughtful and supportive responses to my personal reflections on age and disability. Your evident warmth and sympathy supports me and makes it easier for me to deal with my own particular array of problems.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

PERSONAL STUFF

Well, I have fussed as much as I can over my next lecture, in which I confront the very difficult first chapter of Capital. The high point of the lecture will be my imaginary field trips to a medieval Catholic Cathedral and a contemporary supermarket, the rationale for which I think I have already explained. I stayed up late last night watching Serena Williams play her last match, an emotionally rather wrenching experience. And of course, I have been keeping track of the steady march by the Justice Department toward indicting Donald Trump. But none of that is what has really been occupying my mind lately, and I thought I would take a few moments on this Saturday afternoon to write about what has been concerning me. This is quite personal and will be of almost no interest to all of you who comment on politics and such like things on this blog, but I would like to memorialize here what has been going on in my mind. It concerns my ongoing struggle to come to terms with my Parkinson’s disease – to come to terms with it both practically and also emotionally.

 

I have never been any sort of athlete, heaven knows, although 75 years ago I was a member of a gymnastic team in my high school called The Captain’s Corps.  We worked out on the parallel bars, walked around on our hands and such – not very impressive stuff – but I gave all that up when I went to college and that was my last encounter with organized athletics. Still and all, over the decades, I did the Canadian Air Force exercises, swam each morning in the pool I had built in my Massachusetts house with the proceeds from a successful textbook, and when I retired and moved down to North Carolina, I began a regime of daily early morning walks which I kept up for than 10 years. When Susie and I bought the apartment in Paris, I began taking a one hour walk each morning around the fifth, sixth, and seventh arrondissements, some of which I memorialized on this blog.

 

I continued the walks when we moved to Carolina Meadows five years ago and it was a point of great, albeit rather sophomoric, pride that I became known as an early morning walker. I got to know the other early morning walkers and also their dogs and it helped me to deny that I was in fact growing old. Then, a year and a half ago, I developed a tremor in my left hand and after consulting three neurological specialists, looking for one who would give me good rather than bad news, I was finally forced to accept the fact that I had developed Parkinson’s disease.

 

I had seen several people here at Carolina Meadows in the last stages of that terrible disease, bound to a wheelchair, virtually immobile, looked after by their husbands or wives, and although my symptoms were quite mild, I struggled terribly with the fact of my diagnosis. But I continued to take my morning walks, pushing myself to get my heart rate up because of literature I had been given to read by a physical therapist that indicated that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week seemed to have the effect of slowing down the progress of the disease.

 

Then, last October, disaster struck. At the end of one of my walks I developed what is called “festination” which is an uncontrollable ever more rapid walking in which, in effect, your feet run away with you until you fall. I stumbled into the lobby of the building where I live, half fell against the wall, lowered myself slowly to the floor, and could not get up until two security guards saw me and helped me to my feet. My early morning walks were over.

 

I bought a recumbent exercycle and began doing 30 minutes on it five days a week, something that I have kept up faithfully ever since. But I grew more and more unsteady and began to develop what the doctors describe as freezing and stumbling as I walk, particularly when I am turning around or trying to make my way in the apartment from our bedroom to my bathroom or from the kitchen to my study.  I began to use a three wheeled roller which I now take with me everywhere I go.

 

At first, I was embarrassed, ashamed, terribly self-conscious about the fact that I was using the roller, even though in a retirement community like this one a great many other people use similar devices.

 

Little by little, I have started to make accommodations and adjustments in my life in response to the limitations imposed upon me by the Parkinson’s. I have begun to take advantage of the transportation service offered to residents here, both for myself and for Susie.  Several weeks ago when I had some physical therapy sessions, the transportation folks picked me up in front of our building and took me to the health center so that I did not have to park and walk to the building.

 

I have already talked about the fact that the course I am teaching meets not in the philosophy building, which at UNC Chapel Hill is completely handicap inaccessible, but across campus in another building which has a handicap accessible entrance in the rear. To help me with the frustrations and complexities of navigating the UNC website and associated services and to assist me in the classroom posting slides on the screen in front of the blackboard, I hired a young man who has just completed his doctorate in philosophy and who recorded and posted on YouTube my lectures on Marx, Freud, and Kant.

 

All of this is of course relatively trivial and hardly worthy of much comment, except that it has been extraordinarily difficult for me to accept the fact that at the age of 88 with Parkinson’s disease, I can no longer do what was easy for me to do even five years ago.

 

One of the lesser effects of Parkinson’s is a condition called micrographia. My handwriting, which was never very good, has become so crabbed and unsteady as to be unreadable.  Since I never did learn to touch type, I have spent my entire life typing with my two forefingers but the Parkinson’s and the associated tremors make that so random a process that I cannot rely on those fingers to write anymore. Fortunately, there are dictation programs that are really quite good and so as I sit here at my desk, I am speaking into a headphone and writing on the computer much faster than I ever could have before.

 

Because of my condition, which is progressive and not curable, and because I am also the principal caregiver to my wife, I decided to sell our Paris apartment so that we would have the money we will need for ever more extensive care as we grow older. My neurologist has been encouraging – she says that the principal threat to my well-being at this point is my age, not my disease. She expects that I will have 5 to 7 more years perhaps before I am really constrained by the disease, and since at that point I would be perhaps 95 years old, if she is correct I cannot really complain. (Well, to be honest, I can complain and I do so to myself a good deal, but that is neither here or there.)

 

I appear to be cognitively undiminished, but everything is harder for me now and takes me longer. I do not think I could teach two courses or more at the same time as I did without the slightest difficulty during most of my career.

 

But I do not think I shall go gentle into that good night, and I shall most certainly rage against the dying of the light. Meanwhile, I keep my spirits up by imagining Donald Trump indicted.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

GOOD NEWS FOR A CHANGE

I want to say a word or two in a speculative mode about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, but first I must acknowledge my delight at Serena Williams’ victory last night. It was obvious that everyone came expecting her to lose and wanting then to give her an enormous sendoff as she “evolved” into retirement. But then she won, and won decisively, 6 – 3, 6 – 3. Wednesday evening she plays the number two seed.  If she wins that match you can just cancel every other television show until she finally either loses or, against all the odds, wins the title.

 

As for the important news, I am more convinced than ever that the FBI has evidence, in the form of intercepted phone calls or whatever, that Trump not simply had in his possession documents which he was not legally permitted to have but actually did something really, really bad with them. Since the Justice Department is clearly pursuing Trump for the effort to reverse the results of that 2020 election, by sending phony electors of the Congress and so forth, it is inconceivable to me that they would bring down on their heads the storm of trouble that has resulted from their search warrant simply to gain the return of documents Trump ought not to have had.

 

We shall see.

 

Meanwhile, what was not too long ago impossible to conceive, namely that the Democrats should both pick up two seats in the Senate and hold the House, is now considered a “longshot.” My natural Tigger is reasserting itself

Saturday, August 27, 2022

HOMAGE TO JERRY

Jerry Fresia has written a simply lovely response to my exclamation that I love to teach, a response that warms my heart and fills my lungs with air. At the end of his marvelous comment, he writes “sounds to me that Fast Eddie is back”

 

The references of course is to the classic old movie The Hustler from 1961, starring Paul Newman, George C Scott, Jackie Gleason, and Piper Laurie. For those of you who have not seen it (if indeed there can possibly be anybody in this category), the movie concerns a smalltime pool hustler, Fast Eddie Felson, who goes up against the king of the hustlers, Minnesota Fats. In what is, at least for me, the greatest scene in the movie, Eddie takes on Fats in an epic all night match. At one point, Paul Newman runs off a long streak of successful shots, moving around the table like a great cat. He is “in the zone” as great basketball players describe it, and says he cannot miss.

 

That is, in my small way, how I feel sometimes when I am in the classroom explaining a complicated idea to the students, showing it to them in its power and beauty and simplicity. It is at those moments that I feel myself to be most fully and completely who I am. It has nothing to do with winning an argument or being right. It must be the way Yo-Yo Ma feels when he leans back in his chair and seems to be listening to his cello rather than playing it. 

 

The first time I felt that way was in the spring of 1960. I was teaching philosophy 130 at Harvard – CI Lewis’s great old course on the Critique of Pure Reason.  I had been working harder than I ever had before and ever would again to make absolutely clear and simple Kant’s central argument in the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories. The course met on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I had called a special Saturday extra meeting to finish my analysis and all the students had shown up! I spoke nonstop for an hour and a half, until finally I could write on the blackboard those magical letters Q. E. D. When I laid down the chalk and started to walk out of the room, the students burst into applause. I knew then that it was the greatest moment I would ever have in a classroom and reflected on the strangeness of the fact that it came at the beginning rather than at the end of my career.

 

I am 62 years older now and feeling the effects of age and Parkinson’s disease, not to speak of the general awfulness of the world, but last Monday, as I sat in front of my class wearing a mask and speaking of the thought of Karl Marx, there were moments when the look in a student’s eyes or the nod of her head told me that I had reached another mind and had shown the beauty of an idea.

 

 I couldn't miss.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

READY TO ROLL

I am now ready for my third class, which will be devoted to a quick survey of classical political economy: the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo. Then we take a 50 year break for Labor Day, and when we return it will no longer be 1817, the year in which Ricardo published his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, but it will be 1867, the year in which Karl Marx published volume 1 of Capital. Thanks to the indispensable help of Alex Campbell, now Dr. Alexander Campbell, my lecture will be supported by a series of slides projected on the drop down screen at the front of the classroom.  God, I love to teach!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

THIS ONE'S FOR FRITZ

Fritz Poebel comments:  “The world—or the microcosm of it here—awaits your exegesis of the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 verses 16 – 19. So what is God telling us there about work--and workers and their bosses?”

 

Let us begin with the words of Genesis themselves:

 

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

 

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

 

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

 

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

 

This is the seminal moment in the human story, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition. God has created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden, commanding them only that they shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam and Eve disobey God, so he drives them from Eden and lays upon them a curse. This curse becomes the universal human condition, for each of us inherits Adam’s original sin. What is this curse?

 

Labor.

 

For woman, labor is the pain of childbirth; for man, it is the work required to get our bread.

 

For six thousand years, labor is understood as a curse. Labor is done by the lowly, by the slaves, by the peasants, by the serfs. The high born, the nobility, do not labor.

 

Notice that it is not activity that is a curse, but labor. Both in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in the Greco-Roman tradition, activity is a blessing, a sign of divinity. God is conceived as pure activity, and the men meeting together in the public spaces to determine their collective will are manifesting their godlike nature by their activity. To be sure, monks and nuns labor in the fields but they do so as penance for their original sin, not as a fulfillment of their divine nature.

 

In a brilliant tour de force, Karl Marx takes this ancient and universal view of labor as a curse and transforms it. He seizes upon the Romantic understanding of artistic creativity as a self externalization, as a making actual of that which begins as an idea in the mind. The painter, the sculptor, the composer, the poet begins with an idea in mind which he or she then makes actual in the work of art. This act of creation is the fulfillment of the artist, the realization of his or her inner essence.

 

Marx changes this understanding of artistic creativity in two fundamental ways: First, he says that all men and women by virtue of their humanity have the capacity for this process of self externalization. It is not just the artistic genius in his or her garret but the farmer in the field, the weaver spinning flax into thread and weaving it into cloth, the carpenter carving wood into furniture, the potter shaping vases from clay, who engages in an act of creative self externalization; and Second, Marx says, men and women engage in this activity of creative self externalization not as isolated individuals but collectively, through the division of labor and its reintegration into the productive process.

 

Indeed, this act of collective and purposive transformation of nature is what makes us human, for, as he writes in The German Ideology the following year:

 

“Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like.  They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization.  By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.” 

 

Alas, under capitalism this natural fulfillment of our human nature is distorted and corrupted, and it is that distortion and corruption about which Marx writes in the essay on alienated labor.

 

That is where I began my lecture two days ago.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

JUST TO BE CLEAR

Since it appears to freak some people out when I repeat myself over the course of a year or two, I shall not explain why I think Marx wrote the opening chapters of Capital as he did.  Suffice it to say that comic relief had nothing at all to do with the matter. Marx was not telling a few jokes to lighten the mood – to lend humor to an otherwise bald and tedious narrative, to paraphrase Pooh Bah.  He had an exceedingly complex, deep, and utterly revolutionary motive that required him to write as he did. Anyone who is curious as to what that might be can read Moneybags Must Be So Lucky or watch my YouTube lectures on Marx. And yes, since I am so far as I know the only commentator on the thought of Marx who has ever made this argument, I do tend to repeat it.

Monday, August 22, 2022

ANOTHER CLASS DONE

When I was young, they were easy, but now a two hour class takes it out of me.


Next Monday, we spend two hours on Smith, Ricardo, and classical political economy. I am enough of a nerd to really enjoy this stuff but I am under no illusions about the students.


I promised them that after the Labor Day break, for the fourth class, I will take them on two imaginary field trips, the first to 16th century Notre Dame de Paris for a mass, the second to a local supermarket, a Food Lion, for a shopping trip. That will prepare them for chapter 1 of Capital.

CURIOSER AND CURIOSER, SAID ALICE

For some time now, I have been struck by the fact that the readers of this blog – or at least that small group who comment regularly – seem to have virtually no interest in what I actually post on the blog, preferring instead to engage in lengthy discussions among themselves about just about anything else. Lord knows, there is a great deal going on right now in the world that is more interesting and more important than what I say here, but why come to this blog to talk about that rather than to make any sort of comment on what I have posted?

 The

Yesterday, I decided to try a little experiment. I mentioned that I was preparing for today’s class, the first of a series of classes on the thought of Karl Marx, and that I had chosen to begin my lecture today by quoting a passage from the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 verses 16 – 19.  This, I suggested would be a natural-lead in to Marx’s famous 1844 discussion of alienated labor, about which so much has been written.  What sort of response, if any, I wondered, what I get to that statement?

 

Well, it is early in the day but the answer seems to be none at all, save for a tangentially relevant remark by “unknown” on the slightly earlier verses concerning God’s curse laid upon the snake.

 

There are several possible explanations for this total absence. The first of course is that the relevance of that passage to the discussion of alienated labor is so obvious to everyone as not to need comment. Somehow, I doubt that explanation, although of course it may be correct. A second explanation is that the connection between the two is so obscure that nobody has a clue what it is and everybody is too embarrassed to ask. I would like to believe this explanation, because it implies that the readers of this blog have some interest in what I say. But the most plausible explanation is the third, namely that in this as in almost every other case, the commenters view the blog post as simply an opportunity to talk about anything else that is on their minds.

 

I freely confess that this disappoints me but I persevere in the hope, if not the belief, that somewhere out there in the great blogosphere are readers who actually do have some interest in what I say and are hopeful that I will explain the connection at which I hinted.

 

Buoyed by that hope, supported though it is by so little direct evidence, I shall after my class explain what I had in mind. Then the commentators can go on talking about whatever is on their minds, ignoring my explanation as they have my provocative post.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

CLASS TIME

While we have all been watching the Mar-A Lago search unfold (and I am still convinced that there is some major portion of this story that we do not yet know), I have been making final preparations for tomorrow's lecture in my course.


This will be the start of a series of eight long two-hour lectures in which I lay out my complex reading of Marx's thought.  In those lectures, I shall be talking about economic history, philosophy, mathematical economics, sociology, and literary criticism. I am quite convinced that there is nobody who brings to Marx's thought  the complexity and diversity of materials and theoretical viewpoints that I do.  This may well be the last course I teach and I want to make it a good one.


The first text that I have the students read is the famous portion of the Economic–Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 devoted to "alienated labor."  I shall begin, therefore, by reading to them from the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 verses 16–19.  That will permit me both to set the stage for Marx's revolutionary view of labor and also to strike the appropriately devout tone for the beginning of so important to journey.


I shall let you know how it goes.





Tuesday, August 16, 2022

BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN

Back in the classroom after 2 ½ years on zoom. It turned out I did not need my little voice magnifier, which was a great relief. I told the students about the course, tried out some of my old jokes, had each of them introduce him or herself, and generally had a ball. The room has a big screen and a projector connected to a computer on a side table and my assistant, Dr. Alexander Campbell (same person who recorded and posted my lectures on Karl Marx, my lectures on Freud, and my lectures on Kant) took charge of posting slides on the screen as I asked for them. It was just another class on the first day of the semester at UNC but for me it was a big deal and I enjoyed it enormously.

 

Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly clear that Merrick Garland is going full speed ahead against Trump and I may yet have the great pleasure of seeing him hauled off to jail in an orange jumpsuit.

Monday, August 15, 2022

THE FALL SEMESTER BEGINS IN THE MIDDLE OF AUGUST

At long last, after endless preparation, at 1 PM this afternoon I will meet my class on “Marx, Freud, Marcuse: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.” At this point I have 20 students enrolled – several graduate students, several exchange students, and a group of juniors and seniors. Lord knows, I have given the first lecture in my head so often that I sometimes think I have already delivered it. This will be a very unusual course, ranging as it does over philosophy, economic history, mathematical economics, psychology, sociology, politics, and literary criticism. I will report back to let you know how it goes.

 

Meanwhile, of course, I watch the rapid unfolding of the Justice Department’s investigation of Donald Trump’s cache of classified documents in Mar-a Lago. I remain convinced that Merrick Garland has evidence of some sort showing that Trump intends or intended to monetize those documents in some way.

 

I simply adore Trump’s claim that in his mind he declassified every document that he took back to his quarters in the White House, even though he may not have actually revealed this intention to anyone until now. It reminds me of the “think method” of playing band instruments that Prof. Harold Hill articulates in that great old movie The Music Man.

 

I cannot believe that Garland would have done all of this without intending to charge Trump, nor do I believe that when the charges come down they will be restricted to a mere mishandling of classified documents. Obviously, I could be wrong, but I live each day in the hope that it will be revealed via intercepted phone messages or whatever that Trump was trying to sell state secrets to foreign governments for cash. We shall see.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

SPECULATION IS FREE

All right, speculation is free, so I will speculate. Atty. Gen. Garland has ordered the FBI to obtain a court ordered warrant for a search of Mar-a Lago.  This is the very first time that the home or possessions of an ex-president have been searched in this way. It is reported that what was being searched for was government documents illegally brought by Trump to his home.  This is, no matter what anybody says, a relatively minor infraction of the law. It is inconceivable that Garland would take so dramatic a step in order to pursue Trump for so minor a misdeed. So what on earth is going on?

 

I have heard television commentators speculate that in these documents might be something as secret as the nuclear codes. But I assume they have long since been changed several times and although it would certainly be unconscionable for Trump to bring these to his Florida playground, that cannot be why the feds searched his home now.

 

What occurred to me immediately was that the FBI had picked up evidence that Trump is offering to sell US secrets to foreign governments. Despite his bragging, Trump is, I am convinced, perpetually short of cash and hence constantly on the look for relatively small-scale grafts to line his pockets. Is there something in those papers that would be worth a great deal of money to foreign governments now? I do not know, I cannot even guess, but it strikes me as likely that what Garland is after is something along these lines. Otherwise, why break with two centuries of tradition and uncountable norms of government behavior?

 

I have to say, I am feeling more and more cheerful about the next couple of months.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

TIME FLIES, WHETHER YOU ARE HAVING FUN OR NOT

Some of you, although of course perhaps not all, may have noticed that I have not been posting as much on this blog lately, and I thought I would take a few moments to explain why. Until 2008 I was quite unaware of the phenomenon of blogging, but as I approached retirement and became concerned about what I would do with myself, my son, Patrick, suggested that I start a blog and so I did. I began blogging steadily in June 2009 and at first the floodgates opened. It had been a while since I had been writing regularly and I had a great deal to say. In those early years, I wrote a 250,000 word autobiography online, I wrote enough tutorials, mini–tutorials, and appreciations to fill several volumes, which eventually found their way onto Amazon as Kindle books. Thanks for the most part to periodic links by Brian Leiter, I eventually built a readership that seems now to number perhaps several thousand people scattered around the world. I taught adult education courses at Duke University, spent a year visiting at Bennett College in Greensboro, taught several courses close to home at UNC Chapel Hill, and even for two years traveled every Tuesday in the fall to New York to teach at Columbia. I recorded and posted more than 30 hours of lectures on a wide range of topics. In short, I have kept busy since I retired in 2008.

 

Time passes and inexorably I have grown older until now, as I am not too many months from my 89th birthday, I have finally begun to describe myself, albeit reluctantly, as “old.” Somehow along the way I managed to develop Parkinson’s disease – I was diagnosed 2 ½ years ago, but the doctor who made the diagnosis offered the opinion that I had in fact had the disease for two years before that. Almost a year ago, I was forced to give up the early morning walks that had been a part of my life for many years. I took to using what is called a “rollalator.”  What started as a tremor in my left hand has now progressed to “freezing,” a result I am told of insufficient dopamine getting to certain points in my nervous system. Last month my wife and I finally sold the little Paris apartment that has been our delight since 2004.

 

Although I shall start teaching a new and complex course at UNC a week from Monday, I am not the man I used to be and the course, which would have been, 40 or 50 years ago, a demand on my time and energy so slight as scarcely to be noticeable now consumes my days.

 

Added to my personal troubles are of course two rather larger matters that have had an unexpectedly powerful effect on my thoughts and feelings: the two years and more in virtual lockdown because of the Covid pandemic and the serious threats to the very life and continuation of such electoral democracy as we have in the United States. I find myself wondering what it must have been like to live in Germany or Italy or Spain in the years leading up to the onset of fascism in those countries.

 

I am, for the first time since the early 1960s when I was consumed by the threat of nuclear war, perpetually angry.  I have always described myself somewhat wryly as a Tigger rather than an Eeyore, but it has become more and more difficult to maintain a bouncy cheerfulness in the face of the world and my own personal disabilities.

 

I shall continue to blog, but perhaps not as frequently and not at as great length as I have been these past 13 years. As I say, some of you may scarcely notice the change but for those who have noticed I thought I should say something.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

WHEN YOU'RE RIGHT, YOU'RE RIGHT

When the Alito memo leaked, I predicted that overturning abortion rights would become the central issue in the midterm elections. Last night, I got up at 1:30 AM (do not ask) and learned that in a midterm primary with no important contests on the Democratic side, voters had turned out in presidential election numbers to defeat a sneaky effort to deprive Kansans of their abortion rights.  It is just possible that November may not be a disaster it was shaping up to be.


As I lay in bed, trying to go back to sleep, I reminded myself that in seven out of the last eight presidential elections, Republicans have lost the popular vote, lately by enormous margins.  Democrats have won 16 of the last 24 presidential election popular votes. All is not entirely lost.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

A MARVELOUS LINK

My son, Patrick, sent me this link to a 1978 Brian McGee interview with Herbert Marcuse.  I just watched it and it is so perfect for my purposes that I will assign it in my course. It was great fun seeing Herbert again. If you read along the text at the bottom of the picture you can see all the places where they get his words wrong, which fits perfectly with the story I will tell of the first time I met him.

Friday, July 29, 2022

MORE COURSE PREP

I am now almost halfway through One – Dimensional Man and the experience of re-reading it is fascinating for me. It is very dense, rather obscure, quite difficult, and will be an extraordinary challenge for my students. I am not sure when I read it the first time, but I rather think it was shortly after 1964, when it appeared. I can tell us both by the nature of my comments and by the nature of my handwriting which was then very small and very precise. A second set of comments in a much thicker pen and larger handwriting is scattered throughout the book. The first set are skeptical, even mocking, and were clearly written at a time when I was quite unsympathetic to what Marcuse was saying.  I am not going to conceal these comments from the students – I am going to read them to the students and then explain how my understanding of Marcuse evolved. What is most striking to me is the difference between the world as it was when he wrote the book and the world as it is now almost 60 years later.

 

If you include the work of Adam Smith, which I will talk about in my third lecture together with that of David Ricardo, the works and ideas discussed in the course span almost 250 years.  This will give me an opportunity to show the students the relationship between what an  author think and the way the world is when he or she is writing. This is not, by and large, something that philosophers talk about very much but it is essential in understanding their works and nowhere more so than in the books we shall be reading. (Needless to say, this is true not only of Smith and Ricardo and Marx and Freud and Marcuse but also of me.)

 

When I thought up this course it was something of a jeu d’esprit but I now realize that I have some very serious things that I want to try to communicate to the students. Will I succeed? That has been a question with which I have wrestled my entire life. I hope so.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

WELL, SO WE WON'T ALWAYS HAVE PARIS

Tomorrow morning, at 3 AM (9 AM Paris time) our Paris apartment will be sold to a tax lawyer and his wife. It has been a wonderful 18 years, and I have countless happy memories of early morning walks around old Paris, of marvelous meals in restaurants on the left bank, of dishes I prepared in our little kitchen and of the friends we made there.


We bought the tiny apartment (330 ft.²) on a lark and it was the best thing we ever did. It only remains to turn now to the next stage in my life.

BUCKET LIST

 I am old and not long for this world. There are a few things I would very much like to see before I shuffle off and one of them is Donald Trump being led away in handcuffs to prison. It is not too much to ask, is it?

COURSE PREP

I have been rereading Herbert Marcuse’s One – Dimensional Man in preparation for teaching it in my upcoming course at UNC Chapel Hill. I have not read it in many decades and had forgotten how difficult it is, how obscure. At the same time, I believe I can see why it was so appealing to young radical students in the late 60s and early 70s. My job is going to be to make it relevant to students some of whose parents had not yet been born when it was published in 1964.

 

This promises to be a very challenging experience and I am looking forward to it. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

😉

I should like to thank the many commentators who had kind things to say about me in response to my recent post. Perhaps it would be ungracious of me to note that I was speaking wryly, puckishly, self-deprecatingly, I might even dare to say ironically.  The web seems well suited to pontification, anger, burlesque, and the more obvious forms of comedy, but not so much to gentler efforts at humor. Perhaps a judicious scattering of appropriate emojis would help.

Friday, July 22, 2022

PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS

 I am about to start preparing the fourth lecture in the course I will teach this fall, and I am uncertain which of three alternative ways I should choose of introducing students to the opening pages of CAPITAL.  I have at one time or another used all three with varying degrees of success.


The first way requires that students be familiar with the novels of Jane Austen and in particular with Pride and Prejudice.  The second way requires that students know who Fred Astaire was. And the third way requires that students know what the miracle of transubstantiation in the Catholic mass is.


I am so old and my students are so young but I have not really a clue whether I can count on them to know any of these things, and having to explain them along the way sort of robs the intro of its force.


Perhaps I really have, as they say in the dairy aisle at the supermarket, passed my sell-by date.

Friday, July 15, 2022

MY ZELIG MOMENT

I have spent much of today planning my second lecture, to be delivered on August 22. In the lecture I will be discussing the Economic Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and in particular the essay on alienated labor, along with the Communist Manifesto. Although it is not my intention to discuss the historical development of what came to be called Marxism, I do plan to find some way to weave into my lecture an account of John Reed’s report of the 1917 revolution when he was in Russia and was a stringer for the New York socialist newspaper The Call. That report was contained in a 30 page cablegram sent by Reed to The Call, the first report of the revolution by a Western newsman.  I shall tell the students that they can see the actual cablegram, as it came into the offices of the newspaper, in the John Reed Archives at Harvard’s Houghton Library. And I will of course point out to them that it was I who donated it to Harvard.

 

I mean, why not? It is one of a few moments when I brushed up against history and this may well be the last course I ever teach

THANK YOU, ACHIM KRIECHEL

What a wonderful elaboration  of my metaphor! If I should say something like this again (as I am sure to do), I shall include your addition, giving you full credit for it (but omitting the line from Hegel – I am too old to change my ways, alas.)

Thursday, July 14, 2022

KEEPING ON KEEPING ON

I have often observed that when and where one is born, over which one has no control whatsoever, determines the politics of the world in which one lives more than anything that one does or says or hopes or fears. All any of us can do is to fight for what we believe in during the brief few years that we are alive. I uttered my first public protest 71 years ago as a young Harvard sophomore – it was a letter to the student newspaper calling on Harvard’s president to resign because he had stated that he would not hire a communist on the faculty (although, to give him his due, he said he would not fire one if he discovered him or her already on the faculty.)  Well, it is 71 years later and things are not looking good in the US of A.  I was never inclined to go gentle into that good night anyway, but I had hoped to approach the exit at a time more full of hope.

 

Among many of those to whom I gravitated on the left, there seemed to be a belief that effective political protest is somewhat like brain surgery, a complex delicate operation in which the slightest mistake can lead to disaster. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that effective political protest is much more like a landslide, in which huge trees, boulders, and great gobs of dirt roll down the hillside accompanied by vast numbers of twigs, leaves, pebbles, and bits of soil. Our attention might be drawn to a huge boulder crashing by, but without all that insignificant detritus accompanying it, the boulder is just an isolated incident, not part of an event that reshapes the mountain so that it is never the same again.

 

Let me give you a personal example from more than 60 years ago. In February 1960, a group of students from two black colleges – North Carolina A & T and Bennett College – launched a sit-in in the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro that played a large role in energizing the newly emerging civil rights movement in the United States. One of the Bennett College women who took part in that protest was a tiny dynamo of a woman named Esther Terry, who came from the rural North Carolina town of Wise near the Virginia border. Thirty-two years later, that woman, by then the chair of the W. E. B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, invited me to join the department and in doing so changed my life.

 

Back in 1960, I was a young instructor at Harvard. At that time there was a Woolworth’s half a block outside of Harvard Square, and a group of us spent some time picketing it in sympathy with the Greensboro sit-in.  In the civil rights movement, Esther was a sizable boulder or tree in the landslide that changed America. I and my fellow picketers were pebbles or leaves or bits of dirt, if that. But – and this is the point of this story – we were rolling down the right side of the hill and therefore we, with all of the other pebbles and leaves and twigs and great boulders and big uprooted trees were part of a landslide.

 

That is really all we can do. Oh, it is easy enough to pontificate about the world and if you are going to pontificate at all you might as well pontificate big. But when it comes to actually changing the world, most of us are pebbles hoping that we end up tumbling down the right side of the hill.

 

If the truth be told, I have grown weary of pontificating so I will continue to do the little things I can – donating bits of money, making a few local calls for the North Carolina Democratic Party, being sure to get out and vote .  Meanwhile, I will prepare once again to teach because that is what I have always loved to do and happily I still have the opportunity to do so.

 

 

Monday, July 11, 2022

COMIC RELIEF

The combination of Covid and my Parkinson’s has posed certain problems for me as I prepare for the course I shall start teaching August 15. Rather than teaching in Caldwell Hall, where the philosophy department is located, I shall be meeting the class across campus in the Biology building, because Caldwell is utterly handicap inaccessible.

 

I shall be wearing a mask, whether it is required by the University or not, because the latest variant is extremely contagious and I do not want even a mild case of the disease if I can avoid it. But one of the side effects of my disease is that my voice is somewhat compromised and not as loud as it once was so wearing a mask may make me totally inaudible.  The solution is a microphone. I went online to look for one on Amazon and found a great many handheld microphones with built-in speakers – just the thing.

 

There is only one problem. All of them without exception are described as “karaoke microphones.”  I shall explain to the students that if I burst into song from time to time they must be patient with me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

DICKENSIAN WISDOM

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

MEMORIES

I have on several occasions told the story of the time that I sang in the pit chorus in Sanders Theatre when Shirley Jones and her new husband Jack Cassidy showed up in a touring summer stock cast to perform The Beggar’s Opera.  Yesterday evening I again watched the old movie The Music Man in which Jones appears with Robert Preston. Curious, I looked her up on Wikipedia and it turns out she is alive and three months younger than I am! So when I signed up sixty-six years ago to earn one dollar per performance in the chorus, as a young 22-year-old graduate student finishing my doctoral dissertation, she was also 22 years old and starring in the show.

 

I did not meet her, of course. The chorus never made it onto the stage but we watched rehearsals and the performances from the orchestra pit. We were all madly in love with her and thought that Jack Cassidy was the luckiest man alive,



Monday, July 4, 2022

ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF

I have on many occasions mentioned here the series of lectures I delivered at UNC Chapel Hill, one on the thought of Karl Marx and another on The Critique of Pure Reason, which were recorded by a graduate student, Alexander Campbell, and then posted on YouTube. But I am not sure that I have been spoken that much about the first series of 10 lectures that I delivered on the subject of Ideological Critique. I recorded these myself, using a little camcorder I purchased at Best Buy along with a lapel mic. I set the camcorder up on my desk in my study at Meadowmont Village, and then deliver the lectures to nobody at all. The first three lectures dealt with Karl Mannheim’s great work, Ideology and Utopia. The next four focused on Edwin Wilmsen’s devastating critique of ethnography, Land Filled with Flies. The eighth and ninth lectures were devoted to Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s early and quite impressive work, The Signifying Monkey. All of those, I am quite confident, are worth your attention.  But it is the last lecture, the 10th, that is the subject of this post. Rather unexpectedly, it deals with Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, or more precisely, with Edward Said’s construal of that novel as being about slavery. Some words of explanation are called for.

 

In 1993, Said published a collection of essays about British literature entitled Culture and Imperialism. As one might expect, he devoted chapters to such novelists as Rudyard Kipling, but rather surprisingly, he included an essay on Mansfield Park.  In 1999, the Canadian film director Patricia Rozema did a marvelous film of Mansfield Park starring, among others, Nobel laureate Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas. Susie and I saw the movie in a downtown Amherst art theater (if, indeed, one can really speak of “downtown” Amherst.) It was immediately obvious to me that Rozema had been deeply influenced by Said’s essay. Some while later, I was invited by my big sister, Barbara, to speak at a meeting of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, in Washington, DC. I chose as my subject Jane Austen as interpreted by Said and rendered by Rozema.  In the course of doing some background research for the talk, I came to the conclusion that Said was in fact quite correct in his reading, even though he seems not to have known the historical details that I dug up. When I gave a series of lectures on Ideological Critique, I decided to include a version of that lecture as a coda.

 

If you have an interest in ideological critique or in Jane Austen or in Edward Said, or indeed in Patricia Rozema, I recommend the lecture to you. It is only a bit more than 30 minutes long but I think is worth your time.

 

One word of explanation. I found so disorienting the experience of lecturing to nobody at all that after the first of my 10 lectures I conceived the fiction of inviting to each lecture one of the men or women who had been my students over the decades. By the time I reached the last in the series, I was calling the name (as I learn to say in an Afro-American studies department) of nine of my former students.


You can find the YouTube lecture here.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

I SAW IT ON THE TV

The testimony of Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson was a great pleasure to watch. What is not to like about reports of Trump throwing plates of cheeseburgers against the wall of his office so that ketchup drips down and has to be wiped up by aides?  But there was one piece of information that caught me completely by surprise and made me realize that I had actually underestimated Trump’s danger to the country.

 

I had seen replayed several dozen times the clip of Trump’s speech at the ellipse in which he tells the assembled crowd that he will walk down with them to the Capitol.  Since I knew he had not done so, I took this as typical Trump bravado. But Hutchinson made it clear that Trump desperately wanted to go to the Capitol and had been stopped from doing so only by his Secret Service detail.

 

Just try to imagine what would have happened if he had tried to lead that mob into the Capitol. Would the Capitol police have stopped him? I think not. He was, after all, the President of the United States.  He would have entered the chamber, accompanied by the mob, and attempted to take control of the opening of the reports of the electors.  Right there, the last vestiges of American democracy would have evaporated.

 

These are genuinely perilous times and I have no confidence in any of the predictions I have read or heard. We must do what we can and hope.

 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

I HEREBY DECLARE THIS CHALLENGE CLOSED

I have lost track of where we are in this challenge so I have donated my last $200 and declare the challenge completed.  Thank you one and all. $3000 is not nothing and it will go some way to helping local candidates win in states around the country. Let us hope many others follow our example.


Now we can go back to talking about the world historical meaning of the universe.

LAST CHANCE

 C'mon folks, Marc Susselman is putting you to shame.  Last chance to top up the double-matched thousand dollars to save what remains of American democracy.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

LET'S NOT LEAVE ANYTHING ON THE TABLE

There is still $250 on the table to match an additional $125 in donations to the DLCC.  Let us not leave anything to chance! Any small donors to fill up the bucket?

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

ONWARD!

The first day of my challenge was a splendid success. With four donations of $100 each and one donation of $200 matched by $600 from the Palmeters and $600 from me, we have now donated $1800 to the DLCC.  Let us wrap this up today with a total of $400 more in donations to be matched by $800. Remember, any donation of $10 or more will be matched so dig deep, let us know about your donation, and perhaps in 48 hours total we will have generated $3000 for local and state elections in this cycle. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A CHALLENGE

I read the 27 comments to my post yesterday and although they were, as usual, thoughtful and knowledgeable, they offered no guidance on what to do at this terrible moment. Save for one.  David Palmeter suggested we donate to the DLCC – the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Here is what he said.  


"It’s vital, in the coming midterms, not only that Democrats not lose control of the House and Senate, but also that they begin the long climb back to control of a majority of state legislatures. It will not be easy.


When it comes to fundraising, state legislatures are an orphan. The money goes to the big races: Presidential, Senatorial, and Congressional. That’s fine, but if you’re a small contributor like I am, your contribution to a nation-wide or even state-wide race is at most a drop in the bucket. It will not be missed if doesn’t arrive, and will have little impact on the outcome.

The impact of your small contribution to a state legislative race will be far, far greater. A worthy recipient of your small donation is the DLCC—the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee."


So I pose the following challenge to my readers:

 

I will match your donations the DLCC dollar for dollar up to a maximum of $1000. You may donate as little as $10 and as much as you wish. If you will post reports of your donations as comments to this blog post, each time they total $100 or more I will donate an equal amount until I reached my $1000 limit. Obviously I have no way of checking whether you have actually made the donations so I am simply counting on you to be honest.

Monday, June 27, 2022

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

Biden has said that he is not in favor of expanding the Court.  No surprise there. This is a long shot, but I think it is our only chance. First, we must weaponize the outrage at the Supreme Court decision so as to hold the House and win two more seats in the Senate in the midterms. (I did not say this would be easy.) Then the Democrats must use these wins to pass legislation writing the Roe decision into law. This will almost certainly be challenged by opponents of abortion and my guess is that the right wing majority on the Court would use the occasion to prohibit all abortion as in violation of the Constitution. This would then generate a political uprising that would compel Biden to support expanding the Court.  We are in for some hard times, pretty clearly.

 

Apropos my last post about Gregory of Tours, I am going to stop trying to write humorous or witty blog posts. Apparently there is something about the medium that makes humor impossible. Oh well, as Michael Sandel demonstrates, there is always stand up

Sunday, June 26, 2022

LITERARY ECHOES

Gregory of Tours was a sixth century bishop whose work A History of the Franks is one of the few historical accounts of Western European happenings in the Merovingian period and hence much prized by historians. Sixty-four years ago, when I was preparing to teach Social Sciences 5 at Harvard, I read Gregory’s book. Truth to tell, it is a rather boring chronicle of the bloody doings of minor Merovingian lords of the period. I particularly recall Gregory’s account of one especially egregious minor Merovingian aristocrat who spent his life pillaging and killing and generally creating mayhem in his little part of Western Europe. This reprehensible character managed to live to a great old age – perhaps into his 80s – and died peacefully in his bed, “thus demonstrating God’s implacable justice,” Gregory wrote sanctimoniously but not very persuasively.


I thought of old Gregory when I read that Henry Kissinger is now 99 years old and still offering bad advice to all who will listen.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

WE LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES, TO QUOTE THE OLD CHINESE CURSE

I was so angry last night that I lay in bed with clenched fists snapping at our cat. This is now playing out pretty much as I anticipated. There is more than three months before early voting begins so one might imagine that the outrage will die down and people’s attention will turn to other things, like the price of gasoline. But there are now going to be an endless series of attacks in the states on abortion providers, women seeking reproductive health care, blue states offering a haven for those women seeking abortions, But and so on. Every one of those stories will generate enormous attention and trigger great anger. It is even possible that this will produce an outpouring of young people to the polls. Biden’s instinct pretty clearly is to go small on this issue but I do not think the voters are going to allow him to do that.

 

Meanwhile, astonishingly, the Justice Department is going after high officials in the former administration who played a role in stage managing the production of slates of phony electors, and I have begun to think that they are actually aiming to kill the King – or, more precisely, the former king. This may just possibly be a fundamental turning point in American politics and barring some unforeseen accident, I will actually live to see it play out.

 

Before I forget, let me thank the anonymous commentator who explained to me that what I saw on my shower curtain was mold, not dirt. I realize this is not quite as important as the future of democracy in America, but it really warms my heart to gain clarity on this small issue.

Friday, June 24, 2022

GAME ON

And so it has happened, as we knew it would. The Supreme Court decision, coming on the heels of the brilliant presentatio by the January 6 Committee, presents the Democrats with an opportunity, if they have the courage and the wit to seize it. An all-out assault on Trump and the Supreme Court – statehood for DC, enlargement of the court, an all court press to defend individual rights and the elements of democracy. Does Biden have the stomach and the focus and the intelligence for it? Somehow, I doubt it, nothing less will do. Forget gas prices. This is existential.

 

We shall see.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

DELUSIONS OF OMNIPOTENCE

I have on numerous occasions written of the contrast between the world-historical economic, social, and political movements and events about which I offer my opinions on this blog and the tiny, insignificant actions that I can actually take day to day.  Yesterday, the contrast was called to my attention most strikingly. Depressed though I was by the evidences of irreversible climate change, by the rise of fascism United States, and by the ever-increasing economic inequality across the globe, I managed in my own private life to achieve a triumph that left me delighted and empowered. The matter is too trivial even for this blog save as an example of that contrast. Let me explain.

 

Some time ago, I bought a new shower curtain, a sparkling white shower curtain to replace the dingy shower curtain with which I had been living for five years. It was a source of considerable pleasure to me each morning as I took my shower, but a month or more ago it began to accumulate dark splotches of dirt left when the water of the shower evaporated. I tried scrubbing the curtain with a sponge to no effect.  Yesterday I removed the shower curtain from the shower rod – no simple matter given my physical disabilities – and ran it through the washing machine, also with no effect. And then I had an idea. I placed the dirty shower curtain in the bathtub, turned the bathwater on hot and while it ran I took a bottle of Clorox Clinging Bleach Gel and sprayed it all over the shower curtain, using up almost half of the bottle. I pushed the curtain around in the water, turn the tap off, and left it there. An hour later, when I returned, the shower curtain was sparkling clean and white. I rinsed it off and reattached it to the shower rod. I was inordinately pleased with myself.

 

I think that captures quite nicely the limits of my ability to actually change the world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

THREE QUESTIONS

First Question:  Sidney Hook, in a little book called The Hero in History, distinguishes eventful from event making persons (okay, he says “men” but what the hell.) Napoleon was an event making person, whereas Eisenhower was merely an eventful person.  History might have been different if Napoleon had died as a boy but history probably would not have been different in any significant way if Eisenhower had chosen to be a haberdasher.  (Full disclosure: Sidney Hook, Ernest Nagel, my father, and my uncle Bob were all students together at CCNY in the early 1920s and sat together at the same socialist table in the cafeteria.) As I watch the efforts unfold to hold Trump accountable for the fascist movement he now leads, I ask myself whether the near future of American politics would be very much different if Trump were to be indicted, convicted, and jailed sometime in the next several years – or if, for that matter, he were to have a fatal heart attack while swinging a golf ball.

 

This is a genuine question to which I do not have any answer. Trump obviously did not create the fascist forces bubbling up in American politics and his death or incarceration would not eliminate them in any way, but I genuinely cannot get a sense of whether at this moment in American history his role in their development is essential. I would be interested to know what folks think.

 

Second Question:  In the next two weeks the Supreme Court will almost certainly hand down essentially the decision contained in the leaked Alito draft concerning Roe V Wade. I have said before that I believe the issuing of the decision will trigger a tsunami of opposition that may actually carry the Democrats to victory in the House and Senate in next November’s elections. Since I offered that opinion, so much has happened – the Ukraine war, the enormous spike in inflation, and the rest – that I no longer have even such confidence as I then expressed. Absent that decision and the reaction to it, the electoral prospects for the Democrats look dismal this fall.

 

Third Question:  Recent weather events in the Arctic, the Bering Sea, and elsewhere suggest that the effects of climate change are coming upon us more rapidly even than the pessimistic forecasts suggested. The rise in sea levels, shift in agricultural patterns, and massive population displacements that will almost certainly be triggered by this process will have disastrous consequences for a sizable portion of the 7 ½ billion people now inhabiting the world. It seems to me inevitable that there will be seismic political changes as a consequence but I am quite unable in any coherent way to predict what those changes will be. I will not live long enough to see them, of course, but my children and my grandchildren will.

 

Well, as Yogi Berra famously said, it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. Feel free to speculate.