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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, February 26, 2022


My time is now divided between caring for Susie as she heals and watching, mesmerized, the efforts by the Ukrainian people to resist the Russian invasion. Putin is a despicable thug and I hope this effort is his downfall. The Russian army I believe is a conscript army, not a volunteer army, and I continue to wonder what effect it will have upon them to be ordered into what must for many of them be in effect a family feud.

I am afraid I do not have any profound observations, just concern.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022


Well, the responses to my question have been very varied, but I must say that on the whole there are a good deal more interesting than what I have heard on television. Thank you.


I have a question for the room. This is a genuine question posed out of ignorance and curiosity, not, as they say, a rhetorical question. It concerns the prospect of a full-scale Russian invasion of all of Ukraine and unfortunately the time I spent in the Massachusetts National Guard 65 years ago does not really prepare me for answering it.


The question is this: if the Russians launch a full-scale invasion with the 190,000 troops that are positioned on the borders of Ukraine, what is the likely course of the war that will ensue? I have listened to a good deal of commentary in the past several days, some of it by people who seem genuinely knowledgeable, and although I have heard a good deal about what is going on in Putin’s head, I have heard virtually nothing about the likely course of the conflict.


Everyone who comments on the situation seems to assume without argument that the Russian troops will roll through Ukraine and very rapidly conquer the entire nation, whereupon they will establish a puppet regime and start hauling off Ukrainians to concentration camps or simply to be killed. I have heard nobody suggest that Putin might find himself mired in an endless struggle in somewhat the fashion that America did in Vietnam, nor have I heard any useful and knowledgeable evaluation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Russian and Ukrainian armies.


I am aware (or at least I have been told) that some of the Russian troops have been transferred from as far away as Siberia. How many of Russia’s troops have battle experience? What options do the Ukrainians have for an ongoing guerrilla war? Is such a war a probability? And so forth.


Has anybody heard anything useful on these matters? Does anybody have knowledge to share that might illuminate the matter?

Monday, February 21, 2022


I am glad you have been keeping busy while I have been caring for my wife. A great deal is happening in the world both in the United States and abroad but the circle of my attention has narrowed until it encompasses little more than the apartment in which I live. Oh, I keep up with the news, but it is difficult to believe that my offhand pontificating matters very much when the person closest to me in the world needs me so completely.


Yesterday morning, I was lying in bed awake at 4 AM trying to resist our cat’s demands that she be fed, and I realized after a bit that I was engaged in giving a lecture in my head on the financial structure of Continuing Care Retirement Communities or CCRCs, as they are known. Lord knows, nobody has ever asked me to explain that little matter to them but there I was, contentedly sorting the matter out in my head and explaining it to an imaginary audience.


It was borne in upon me, once again, that for my entire life this has been what I most enjoy doing: taking something initially puzzling or complex or confused and thinking it through until it is so clear to me that I can explain it as simply as I would explain the plot of Jack and the Beanstalk or, for that matter, The Critique of Pure Reason. I have of course been politically active and much of my writing is ideologically tendentious but that is not really what I care about most deeply. What makes me happiest and most fulfilled is to clarify something in my mind and then explain it to people so they can see, as I do, its simplicity and conceptual beauty.


I have always thought that it is that desire that makes me a philosopher, regardless of the discipline or sphere of human behavior from which I draw the ideas that I think through, clarify, and explain. I have never much cared whether people agree with me but it has always been enormously important to me that they find what I say clear and simple.


That is why I love to teach and it is why I am so looking forward to returning to the classroom, perhaps for the very last time, next fall. The death of Todd Gitlin somehow brought home to me that I do not have much time left and I would like to spend at least some of it teaching



Tuesday, February 15, 2022


The two biggest events of the past few days have, of course, been the Super Bowl and the crisis in Ukraine. I turned on the Super Bowl but after a while drifted off to Turner Classic Movies where I spent a delightful time watching that grand old film The Music Man starring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Buddy Hackett. I have a special fondness for Shirley Jones films because I appeared with her in summer stock in the summer of 1956 (I am vastly exaggerating my role, it goes without saying, but I really did spend two weeks in the pit chorus of a summer stock traveling performance of The Beggar’s Opera in which Shirley Jones starred. The pit chorus never got on stage and I never met Jones but I did honest to God appear with her in the production. My proudest dramatic moment.) But all of that is neither here nor there. Today I want to say a few words about the Ukraine crisis. Let me begin with a disclaimer: I have never visited any of the territories implicated in the crisis and I do not read, write, or speak any of the relevant languages so take what I have to say with the appropriate grain of salt.


There are two basically different Imperial models which we can think of as the Chinese model and the British model. The Chinese Empire, when the central government was strong, expanded its control west, north, and south into such areas as Mongolia and Tibet. When the central government was weak, it contracted in upon itself. All of this is discussed elegantly in a wonderful old book called The Inner Asian Frontiers of China by Owen Lattimore. Even at its height, the Chinese Empire did not seek to conquer lands not contiguous to the homeland. The British model, by contrast, was based on overseas colonies stretching around the world. This model was also the basis for the French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, and German empires.


Russia followed the Chinese model in its modern expansion. At its height, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics stretched from the contiguous far eastern territories of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Khirgizia, Tadjikistan, and Turkmenistan all the way to the north western republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, to Georgia, White Russia (or Byelorussia – Belarus, as it is now called), and to Armenia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan in the south. The Soviet Union rarely if ever sent its troops to a land that was not contiguous to the homeland. Its most disastrous effort was of course in Afghanistan (interested parties can watch the third Rambo movie for details of the ways in which Americans stood up the Taliban with shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles to defeat the Russians.)


The United States has followed a mixed Imperial model over the course of its several hundred year existence. It started with the Chinese model, expanding westward into spatially contiguous areas, which it incorporated into itself. Unlike the Chinese and the Russians, the United States chose to exterminate the populations of the territories it conquered, confining those it could not kill on “reservations.” To be sure, there were overseas imperial adventures which resulted in the acquisition of Puerto Rico, the domination for a while of Cuba, the acquisition of Hawaii and Alaska and such minor territories as Guam. But it was not until after the Second World War that the United States fully embraced the British model of worldwide imperial expansion through a combination of military force and alliances.


Hitler’s disastrous decision to invade Russia resulted not only in his ultimate defeat but also in the enormous expansion westward of the Soviet Union. At its height, the Soviet Union controlled, in addition to its Eastern European Soviet Socialist Republics, the entire territory of what came to be called the Warsaw Pact, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland.


With the collapse and breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States and its Western European allies were able to establish on the Central European plain the control that had eluded them at the close of World War II. Little by little, the United States has been taking advantage of Russia’s relative weakness to push eastward, seeking even to control in one way or another territories that were originally Soviet Socialist Republics.


All of this has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom, democracy, the fundamental principles of national independence or anything of the sort. It is simply late 20th century and early 21st century imperial struggling and positioning in an ever-changing world.


Vladimir Putin is attempting to reverse somewhat this expansionist thrust of the United States and its allies, aided by an extremely powerful military and the advantage of sizable oil and natural gas resources. There is no neutral objectively correct distribution of geographic control among competing imperial powers.   There is simply an endless struggle for position and control.


Whose side am I on? Well, I am certainly not on the side of Vladimir Putin, and I very much approve of Joe Biden’s decision not to put American troops at risk to maintain the independence of Ukraine. Beyond that, I confess I have no settled convictions in the matter.

Saturday, February 12, 2022


My little blog post, about the time my wife and I spent with a woman in the nursing facility who is approaching her hundredth birthday, has generated more than 60 comments, almost none of which, of course, are about the post.  I cannot say that I have read the entire thread but I did read a number of comments back and forth about implicit bias, unconscious racism, and such and I thought I would say something about that subject based on my experiences in the University of Massachusetts Afro-American Studies Department.


When I joined the department in 1992 I was the only white professor (not the first, by the way). After some years two more white men and an Indian woman joined the department (not Native American, by the way, but Indian). Now, I could of course be wrong, but I never got the slightest sense that my black colleagues cared much about whether the white people on the campus were explicitly or implicitly, consciously or unconsciously biased against them. They cared a very great deal about their quite correct sense that they and their department were not treated in the same way as white colleagues or departments dominated by white professors. That made a lot of difference to them and made them very angry because it stood in the way of their accomplishing what they were attempting to accomplish. They were also quite concerned about what has come to be called structural racism.


In the little book I wrote about my experiences in the department I spent some time developing a hypothetical example to illustrate the concept of structural racism. (The book by the way, is called Autobiography of an Ex-White Man, a deliberate homage to a famous novel by James Weldon Johnson called Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man). My imaginary example demonstrated the way in which a real official US Federal Government policy deliberately designed to discriminate against black homebuyers could have the effect over several generations of creating and perpetuating an enormous difference in the accumulated wealth of two families, one white and one black, whose breadwinners earned identical salaries and hence had identical incomes. The point of the example was that an originally deliberately discriminatory policy could get built into the structure of homeownership and perpetuate inequality long after the discriminatory intention had been reversed and the policies were now being administered by bureaucrats who were simply in a colorblind fashion applying rules and regulations. The inequality was perpetuated despite the lack, conscious or unconscious, of any bias on the part of those administering the policy. You can look up the book if you are interested to see how it worked out.


Let me give you another example – a real example that I encountered during my time as the Graduate Program Director of the doctoral program that I joined the department to help create. In those days (perhaps this is still true, I do not know) The Mellon Foundation ran a program of graduate fellowships for minority graduating seniors. Almost all the recipients of these fellowships came from elite institutions. We were drawing our doctoral students not from the Ivy League but from state schools and historically black schools and I wanted to figure out why none of our students were getting the Mellon fellowships. I discovered that the Mellon Foundation, for reasons of bureaucratic convenience, require that applicants for the fellowships take the graduate record examination in September rather than in December. If the scores came from the December exam they were simply too late to be factored into the decisions of the Foundation. Well, at the elite institutions, promising minority students were spotted in the sophomore or junior year and were guided by their mentors to take the GRE in September, so they were eligible for the fellowships, but at state schools and historically black schools promising black undergraduates were very likely not to be spotted or encouraged until their senior year. By the time someone got around to recommending that they apply for the Mellon grant, and suggested that they take the GRE exams to qualify, they were too late. When I discovered this, I called the Mellon Foundation and spoke to somebody who was on the staff that administered the fellowships. It was clear that this had never occurred to them – it was, I am afraid, also clear that for bureaucratic reasons there was little or no chance that they would change their rules. These were people, mind you, who were consciously, deliberately, and energetically seeking promising minority seniors and hoping to encourage them to go on for doctorates!


A third example. One of our black students in the program was a woman who had grown up in Connecticut. The town had originally been racially quite segregated, and the black high school was not only “across the tracks” but over a hill that divided the town in two. When an effort was made to integrate this high school system, the black students, who were still living in what was originally a black ghetto, had to be bussed some considerable distance around the hill so that they could integrate the all-white high school on the other side of town. This created a considerable inequality in opportunity for the two groups of students and many black students chose to go to the inferior black high school rather than have to take the long bus ride. It was a topographical accident that the two neighborhoods were separated by this hill but by the time the white people in town decided to integrate the school system the disadvantages were, as it were, built into the landscape.


Perhaps it is because of my experience with my colleagues in the Afro-American Studies Department, but I have never thought that the conscious or unconscious, acknowledged or unacknowledged sentiments of Whites concerning Blacks is what really matters. It does however matter a great deal that structurally built-in disadvantages persist long after the discriminatory intent that created them has disappeared. It matters, and deliberate affirmative steps need to be taken to correct that disadvantage.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022


While I have been spending much of each day in the nursing facility here sitting with my wife, the little counter on my blog that keeps track of visits passed the 5 million mark. I have been blogging regularly since June 2009 and taking account of my Paris trips and other vacations from blogging, that comes out to somewhat more than 1100 visits to this blog each day. Now even subtracting my visits and all those of S. Wallerstein, that is over a thousand a day for almost 13 years.  I am no Joe Rogan (I had never even heard of him until this latest kerfuffle) but still, that strikes me as a lot. I suppose it all exists somewhere in the cloud.

Yesterday, while I was visiting my wife, I had a simply wonderful experience. When we moved into building five at Carolina Meadows, across the hall from us was living a single lady named Adabel Pozner.  Addie, as she is known, is Jewish, born in New York City (or more precisely, in Brooklyn) and when Susie had her little mezuzah mounted on our doorjamb, Addie qvelled.  A year and half ago, Addie moved to the nursing facility permanently and yesterday she came downstairs to visit Susie. I found the two of them talking when I walked in yesterday afternoon.  After a bit, I started asking Addie questions about her childhood, her marriage, and her life before Carolina Meadows. She talked on for a long time, telling us all about how she met her husband. Her account was charming, a story from another age, and I wish that I had somehow been able to record it.


In September, Addie will turn 100! She is as alert and sharp as ever.

Sunday, February 6, 2022


When I returned from one of my visits yesterday to the nursing facility to see Susie, I learned of the death of Todd Gitlin.  I was stunned and deeply saddened. As I know I have mentioned on this blog, Todd was my student at Harvard in 1960 – 61. Later on, we both contributed to a little anti-war anti-nuclear weapons publication called Tocsin.  Four years ago, when I was trying to arrange to teach a course at Columbia, it turned out that I needed to co-teach it with a regular member of the faculty in order to satisfy some obscure regulation. My friend, who had been arranging for the gig, came up with the name of Todd Gitlin, who was not only the director of the graduate program in the school of journalism but was also a member of the sociology department. He had no idea of my former connection with Todd. The two times that we co-taught that course, on Ideological Critique, were an absolute delight. Each Tuesday I would fly up from Raleigh-Durham airport to LaGuardia and take the bus to Columbia. I would get there several hours early and Todd and I would have lunch, usually at a curious little place on Broadway called Wu Nussbaum.  It is, if you can believe it, a Chinese Jewish lunch place that features sweet-and-sour pork and everything bagels – a classic Upper Westside establishment.


Todd and I alternated leading the seminar discussions and at the end of the semester read and commented on all of the papers. It was for me a wonderful return to Columbia after almost 50 years.


I knew that Todd had been married three times. What I did not know until I read his obituary was that his second wife was Carol Wolman, a California psychiatrist who also was my student at Harvard! Indeed, she was both my student in the Kant course and my junior year tutee. Carol was a brilliant student who apparently went on to have a very distinguished career and it warms my heart to think that for a while she and Todd were married.


I do not think I have ever felt more like Mr. Chips.

Thursday, February 3, 2022


Monday morning, at 6 AM, Susie was operated on for a torn rotator cuff in her right shoulder. She is now in the skilled nursing facility here at Carolina Meadows.  I have been pretty much straight out either at the hospital, driving back and forth, or trying to get a little sleep.  At times like this my attention narrows until it is all I can do to remember to feed the cat. The world will survive without my comments for a while, I trust. Talk among yourselves.