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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

Total Pageviews

Thursday, July 14, 2022


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.




Howie said...

Professor Wolff

I have donated to the big and mighty rock, Senator Warnock.
I'm open to suggestions over other Senatorial candidates upon whom to bestow financial support
Are there any close and critical races in the Senate in need of monetary intervention?

Marc Susselman said...


You can find a list of the most vulnerable Democrat and Republicans senators at the following site:

s. wallerstein said...

Professor Wolff,

Your decision to use a mask when you teach is very wise. They have almost stopped covering Covid in the media here and so this information surprised me a bit, maybe it doesn't surprise you, but this short video from Democracy Now on the new Omicron variety and on how little the Biden administration is doing to counter it is very illuminating. Take care of yourself because no one else will.

aaall said...

"Are there any close and critical races in the Senate in need of monetary intervention."

One thing to consider from Marc's list, of course, is to also contribute to the Dems in the Wisconsin and Florida races and the Independent in Utah. Ron Johnson has to be the dumbest Senator ever and ending Little Marco would be sweet and Demings would be a good Senator.

Howard said...

Thanks aaall and everyone :))

I hope my campaign contributions won't worsen the inflation problem

Jim said...

I recommend sending a donation to Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman. He is a progressive working-class candidate who won the democrat PA primary by carrying every single county in the state. The republican nominee that he is up against is none other than Dr. Mehmet Oz, a carpetbagger from New Jersey. Oz sought out and received Trump's endorsement. The local right-wing establishment is furious about this because they consider Oz to be a "Hollywood Liberal." Fetterman is in an excellent position to become another dem vote in the Senate. Your contribution will not be a waste or merely a token gesture.

-- Jim

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

To stick with your metaphor, dear professor, landslides don't just happen. Beforehand, "microscopic" changes have taken place, not infrequently over a very very long period of time. The difference in temperature between day and night, the change of seasons, rain and drought, and the wind have slowly worn down the rock, and then, in a split second ... Here I let Hegel (although you do not like him) and his Phenomenology of Spirit continue: "This gradual crumbling, which did not change the physiognomy of the whole, is interrupted by the rising, which, a flash of lightning, puts down in one time the structure of the new world.

To remain with your metaphor; the rain, the differences in the temperature, everything that happens in a kind of infinite iteration in the time, often escapes our perception. And to close the bow at this point, what you do as a teacher, belongs for me quite clearly in the same category as the rain that falls at night in the mountains.

Tony Couture said...

Philosophy and philosophers move not like the hot monsoon rain that falls and quickly floods the lowlands but like the cold snow that falls in mountains and then makes up glaciers and then floods many years later when the world is overheated and so untrue that is melts.

Adorno wrote in 1945 in his most anti-Heideggerian tone in this glacier like way: "Every horror necessarily becomes, in the enlightened world, a horrific fairy-tale. For the untruth of truth has a core which finds an avid response in the unconscious. It is not only that the unconscious wishes horrors to come about; Fascism is itself less 'ideological', in so far as it openly proclaims the principle of domination that is elsewhere concealed. Whatever humane values the democracies can oppose it with, it can effortlessly refute by pointing out that they represent not the whole of humanity but a mere illusory image that Fascism has had the courage to discard. So desperate have people become in civilization, however, that they are forever ready to abandon their frail better qualities as soon as the world does their worse ones the obligation of confessing how evil it is. The political forces of opposition, however, are compelled to make the constant use of lies if they are not themselves to be completely wiped out as destructive. ... Only the absolute lie now has any freedom to speak the truth. The confounding of truth and lies, making it almost impossible to maintain a distinction, and a labour of Sisyphus to hold on to the simplest piece of knowledge, marks the victory in the field of logical organization of the principle that lies crushed on that of battle. Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no-one can say whether he died or escaped, survives" (Minima Moralia, p 108-9).

Howie said...

Thank you Jim

Will do. Fetterman looks actually competent at politics, that is winning elections, a pleasant departure from the party en masse

aaall said...


Marc: Different POV:

James C. Klagge said...

Thanks for these encouraging words. I know you are not a Christian, but I have gotten a lot of inspiration from Rev. Dr. William Barber through the years ( He recently spearheaded the Poor People's March on Washington.