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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Thursday, June 30, 2022


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022


I have just finished watching. I was deeply moved, and angered by the testimony of the last witness whose life and that of her mother and grandmother have been upended by the assaults on them by the Trump thugs.  I have no idea whether any of this will make a difference but I am glad it is on the record. What we call American democracy may already be dead but long after I am gone some future generation can watch the record of these hearings as they try to rebuild something resembling a democratic state.

Does it make any sense at this moment in history to be preparing and then teaching a sophisticated course on Marx, Freud, and Marcuse?  Sigh.  One does what one can. 


Let me begin with an observation, banal to be sure but nonetheless important. For some mysterious reason, when I turned on our Paris television set I found that I could not get CNN international, but I could get Al Jazeera English. That station was my source for world news for the two weeks we were in Paris. Al Jazeera carried the first hour of each of the January 6 committee hearings, about which more later, but of course it carried a great deal else. One of the events which they covered extensively was a series of street protests in India by the Muslim minority triggered by disparaging remarks made by one member of the government about the prophet Mohammed. (She ostensibly made these remarks in response to some negative comments by Muslims about one of the Hindu gods but since I do not have a dog in this fight I did not track down the details of that affair.) There are something like 200 million Muslims in India – almost 2/3 of the population of the United States – so pretty clearly these protests were a very big deal if we adopt Jeremy Bentham’s caveat in his enunciation of the principle of utilitarianism that “each one is to count as one.” I would imagine the protest got not much attention at all in the United States. Once again I was reminded that fewer than one in 20 human beings live in America.  It is easy to forget this when one is obsessing about the fascist behavior of this or that Republican candidate for state or national office.


For Susie and me the trip was not only bittersweet, because we were selling the apartment that has been our home away from home for 18 years, but also physically extremely difficult. Paris is a walking city and neither of us is capable anymore of strolling casually along back streets and riverfronts.  I have many times written here about the long walks I would take each morning in old Paris but this time simply making it from our apartment to Le Metro, the café in Place Maubert, was a great effort even though the café is a little more than half a block away. Our biggest outing was to have dinner at Brasserie Balzar, one of my favorite restaurants. I called ahead and booked table 36, which I have learned is the ideal spot from which to view the restaurant while having dinner. Susie and I set off, each using a three wheeled roller, and by an enormous exertion of effort managed to walk there and back!  I checked this morning on my computer. The restaurant is only 550 m from our apartment. That was the farthest we managed to get in our two week visit.


Because the apartment has been sold unfurnished, we have to clear it out entirely. It is quite small (31.66 m²) and there is after all not much furniture in that space, but there are a number of things of which we are both very fond and for which we have absolutely no use here at home so all of them will simply be hauled away. One of our friends agreed to take the South African rug made by a woman in Rorke’s Drift, bought by me many years ago in a shop in Durban, South Africa. Another friend took one of the pair of lovely Philippe Stark chairs that we bought at the old Samaritaine store, along with a standing lamp and a set of carved wooden napkin rings that I picked up in the airport at Johannesburg. Our closest friend took the framed 18th-century map of Paris that sat on the wall above my desk for 18 years, along with the other Philippe Stark chair, a Nespresso coffee maker, a heavy Japanese iron teapot, and a vacuum cleaner, which she said she very much needed. On our last day in Paris, I found myself running some glasses and dishes through the dishwasher, even though all of them and the dishwasher itself will simply be hauled away and discarded.


Our friends all expressed the hope that we would return to Paris for yet another visit but Susie and I agreed that it is just too physically hard for us now to manage the Parisian streets. 


The best thing about the trip is that the real estate agent who handled the sale agreed as soon as we left to terminate our TV/Telephone/Internet contract with Orange.  Orange is the most useless Internet provider I have ever dealt with and I will be delighted no longer to be paying their outrageous monthly fees from my Paris bank account.


So there it is. We sold the apartment for rather more than we paid for it, making it perhaps the only good financial investment in my long life. We bought it on a lark in the spring of 2004 and it has been a wonderful addition to our lives ever since.


Oh yes. Our cat gave every evidence of being pleased at our return, which is more than one can usually expect from cats.

Sunday, June 19, 2022


Susie and I returned to Carolina Meadows yesterday evening at about 9 PM, which of course is 3 AM Paris time, so I am still rather exhausted. There are some things I want to say about the experience, about the hearings of the January 6 committee, some of which I managed to see, and also aboutn the different perspective on world events that one gets watching Aljazeera English, but I will just begin today with an account of the extraordinary experience we had yesterday morning taking the plane from Paris to JFK.


For the first time in the 18 years that we have been going to Paris, we made the decision to stay at a hotel at the airport on Friday evening so that there was no problem catching a cab to the airport the next morning. We got up early yesterday morning, had breakfast at the hotel, and took the hotel van to the airport, getting to Charles de Gaulle terminal 2A at just about 9 AM. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 12:15 PM. No problem, right?


Alas, wrong. At Charles de Gaulle the service that provides wheelchairs for passengers is contracted out to a firm not run by the airport.  The American Airlines employees at the check-in counter were very helpful, took us both to the front of the line, and checked us in quite promptly. Because of my Parkinson’s, even though I had taken my three wheel roller with me, I requested a wheelchair for myself as well as for Susie. In each terminal there is a special area where wheelchair passengers wait until someone comes to take them through immigration, security, and to the gate.


The little area was jammed with people traveling, so far as I could tell, to all corners of  the world. I waited politely, then began asking when we would be taken, was put off in the characteristic French manner, and finally began to yell and pound the desk and demand action in English and French. At long last, I think probably because I was making so much trouble, the person running the little space produced two employees to take us to the plane.


Having arrived at the airport at 9 AM, we made it to the gate at 12:15 PM, where, despite the fact that the gate had been closed some 15 minutes earlier, they were holding the plane for us! Our seats were in the very last row of the plane totally packed with passengers so as everyone sat there in their luxury business class quasi – beds or their upscale tourist class+ seats or their 10 across regular tourist class seats, we stumbled down the aisle to the very last row and fell into our seats.

Not one of my best moments.



Thursday, June 2, 2022


Eighteen years ago, in the early months of 2004, Susie and I paid off the mortgage on the house we had built for us when we married in 1987.  Feeling flush with cash, we made two big expenditures.  First, I bought for myself a brand-new flashy Toyota Camry with all the bells and whistles – power doors, power windows, power seats, and cruise control. Then Susie and I bought a tiny 330 square foot apartment on the left bank of Paris just outside Place Maubert.  I was a young, vigorous 70-year-old running the doctoral program in Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts.


For all the years since, we have been going to that Paris pied-ä-terre several times a year, renting it out when we could to cover the costs of owning it. It was there that I spent four weeks learning the viola part of Beethoven’s Opus 59 #3, the third Razumovsky quartet. It was while sitting in a café in Place de la Bastille that I wrote my paper “the Future of Socialism.” In 2010, in the courtyard outside our apartment, I threw a glorious 80th birthday party for my big sister Barbara. And for years each morning when I was in Paris I would take a long walk through the fourth, fifth, or sixth arrondissement, watching the city awaken.


Well, I am no longer young and vigorous  but old and creaky and much slowed down by my Parkinson’s disease. My Camry too is showing its age, although to be honest it runs now a good deal better than I do. Still and all, the time has come. We have sold the apartment to a high-powered Paris tax attorney who will take possession of it in July. Tomorrow morning the Carolina Meadows transportation folks will drive us to the airport and we will leave for one last trip to Paris.


We shall dine at our favorite restaurants, see our Paris friends, sit in the café Le Metro to watch the Parisian world go by, and then, on June 18, lock the door to our tiny apartment one last time and say goodbye, perhaps never to see Paris again.


Buying the apartment was a lark, a jeu d’esprit, a mad idea and the best thing we have ever done. We will indeed always have Paris.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022


Eric, in response to my post about Raymond Geuss’s book, writes the following:


Geuss in describing his take on Prof Wolff's In Defense of Anarchism put into words what I have been feeling:

"The real question for me was, 'Why be so daft as to start from this quasi-Kantian conception of 'individual autonomy' at all? If you do start from that assumption, you have no one but yourself to blame if you end up nowhere.' Wolff, I took it, found it inconceivable that one might simply not adopt or accept something like the conception of 'individual moral autonomy' which one finds in Kant (and also in liberalism) as absolutely fundamental. That, however, seemed to me wrong. Despite his appropriation of a (kind of) Marxist approach, and his self-characterization as an 'anarchist,' Wolff was in this domain something very much like a liberal.
Unless these two very different forms of anarchism [egoistic libertarian anarchism of Max Stirner vs mutualist communist anarchism of Kropotkin] are clearly distinguished and kept separate, nothing but the greatest confusion will result. While liberals can find some common ground with the libertarian form of anarchism, the communist version would be anathema to them. Looked at from this point, Wolff's libertarian anarchism was just a form of liberalism that got out of control."


In view of the intensely personal character of Geuss’s  book, perhaps my best response should be equally personal. When I wrote In Defense of Anarchism in the summer of 1965, I was still deeply committed to finding a justification for Kant’s claim that there is a fundamental principle of morality that can be established universally and a priori by rational argument. In the course of writing my commentary on the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, I came to the conclusion that Kant had failed to sustain his claim. It seemed to me quite natural to conclude  that if Kant could not find an argument for that claim then there was none to be found. 

Contrary to what one might imagine, I found this failure oddly liberating, not at all dispiriting. It freed me to define my life by my free choice of the comrades with whom I would make common cause in our struggles. I frequently told the story of the radical Columbia undergraduate who, after hearing my lectures on Kant’s ethical theory in the fall of 1968 during which I confessed that I was unable to find the argument I was looking for, asked me why it was so important to me to find such an argument. I replied to him rather condescendingly that if I could not find that argument, then I would not know what to do, to which he responded “first you must decide which side you are on – then you will be able to figure out what you what to do.”  As I have often said, this was the wisest piece of advice anyone ever gave me. Ever since that time, I have experienced the world as a series of barricades in which all that really matters in the end is which side of the barricade I am on.


Several days ago, I received from Raymond Geuss a copy of his new book, Not Thinking like a Liberal, which has just been published by Harvard. It is an intense, complex, deeply interior account of his philosophical development first as a boy in a Catholic private school and then as an undergraduate and graduate student at Columbia University.  Geuss, as I am sure you all know, is a distinguished philosopher now retired from Cambridge University, the author of a number of books.


Geuss and I come from backgrounds so different from one another that it is hard to believe we could ever inhabit the same world and yet, for a span of time in the 1960s and a little bit beyond, our lives intersected on the seventh floor of Philosophy Hall at Columbia University.  Geuss arrived at Columbia as a 16-year-old freshman in 1963, graduated summa cum laude, and earned his doctorate in the philosophy department in 1971. I joined the philosophy department as an associate professor in 1964 and resigned my professorship to go to the University of Massachusetts in 1971. Both of us took the year 1967 – 68 off from Columbia, I to teach at Rutgers while continuing to live across the street from the Columbia campus and he to spend the year in Germany.


In this book, Ray gives an intense contemplative complexly thought through account of the life process by which he arrived eventually at the condition he describes as “not thinking like a liberal,” beginning with his education at a Catholic boarding school outside of Philadelphia staffed in large part by Hungarian priests who had fled the communist regime. Far away the greatest influence on young Raymond at the school was a Hungarian priest named Béla Krigler, to whose thought he commits a great deal of time in this book. He goes on to devote a chapter to each of three members of the Columbia philosophy department who had a particular influence on him: his dissertation director, Robert Denoon Cumming, Sidney Morgenbesser, and, rather surprisingly, me (hence the gift of the book.)


Like everyone else who ever met Morgenbesser, Raymond was stunned, fascinated, and flabbergasted by this unique inhabitant of the upper West side of Manhattan. I have met a great many brilliant, impressive, sometimes important thinkers in my long life: Willard Van Orman Quine, Nelson Goodman, Clarence Irving Lewis, Noam Chomsky, Hannah Arendt, Desmond Tutu, Bertrand Russell, Martha Nussbaum, Susan Sontag, the egregious Henry Kissinger, and yet none of them made on me the impression that Sidney did.  It was quite something to be Sidney’s colleague as a fellow senior member of the Columbia University Philosophy Department. Lord knows what it would have been like to encounter him when one was an undergraduate or young graduate student.


I came away from the book with the sense that Raymond Geuss is not only a vastly more scholarly person than I, he is a more complex and interesting person than I am. His intellectual, moral, personal struggle with the distinctive form of Catholicism with which he was presented at boarding school, deepened and enriched by his scholarly engagement with the Greek, Latin, German, and French texts of the European tradition has resulted in a perception of and interaction with the world next to which mine seems, if I may put it this way, jejune.


Geuss clearly had ties of an intellectual and personal sort with Cumming that explain his decision to choose Bob as his dissertation director. That he would devote a chapter to Morgenbesser is not surprising at all – one could hardly write about those years at Columbia and fail to do so. But his decision to devote a short chapter to me I consider a great honor. I am touched that he saw something in me in those years that I am not sure I saw in myself.


I think it is not inappropriate at all that my reaction to this deeply personal book should, after all, be so personal. I will conclude these words with one brief correction. Ray attributes my ability to see into the failings of John Rawls’s political philosophy even before the publication of A Theory of Justice to the fact that I had known Rawls at Harvard and therefore had access to unpublished papers by him. But in fact, the only thing I had then read by Rawls were several of his published papers. That, together with my by then well-settled skepticism about the liberal point of view, was enough to enable me to see that Rawls had clay feet.