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Monday, October 10, 2022


In 1989, Thomas Pogge published a book called Realizing Rawls.  The Journal of Philosophy asked me to review it, which I did enthusiastically.  Pogge's goal in the book was to expand Rawls's theory to international relations, but along the way he argued that Rawls had backed away from the quite revolutionary implications of the so-called Difference Principle.  Pogge, by the way, had written his doctoral dissertation at Harvard under Rawls's direction.  Although the review was published, and hence is not one of my "unpublished writings," I included here because it produced a rather odd exchange of letters between myself and Rawls. I will reproduce here the review first, and then the letters

REALIZING RAWLS. Thomas W. Pogge. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989. 296 p. Cloth $36.95, paper $12.95.

In the introduction to this important new book, Thomas W. Pogge characterizes the writings of John Rawls since the publication of A Theory of Justice as exhibiting a trend "toward abstraction, vagueness, and conservatism." He explains this tendency as being "due, in large part, to the widespread criticism of [Rawls's] work, which, in this decade at least, has been predominantly conservative" (4). Pogge's tone, throughout the entire work, is so respectful of Rawls, so sober and responsible, that I am not entirely sure he recognizes what a devastating condemnation of Rawls these observations contain.

The effect of Rawls's concessions, Pogge decides, has been to move "the debate in exactly the wrong direction" (4). Accordingly, he takes it as his central task to follow out the radical implications of Rawls's theory, and to exhibit their "progressive power" (9). His program, as I understand it, has three parts, corresponding quite closely to the three parts of his book: first, a response to Rawls's two most powerful and widely heeded critics, Robert Nozick and Michael Sandel, neither of whom, Pogge thinks, has laid a glove on Rawls; second, a close examination of the core of Rawls's theory in the light of all of his writings since A Theory of Justice, in an attempt to show that Rawls's shifts of doctrine and emphasis, all of which have been conservative, establishmentarian, celebratory retrenchments, are philosophically unwarranted and incompatible with the deeper intuitions of Rawls's own theory; and, finally, a true radicalization of the Rawlsian theory of justice by extending it, in ways that Rawls himself resists, to the global sphere, where, Pogge argues persuasively, application of the two principles of justice on any plausible interpretation would have throughgoingly revolutionary consequences.

In short, Pogge offers himself up as a Left Rawlsian, staking out a relationship to Rawls very much akin to the stance adopted by Marx to that other manic system builder, Hegel.

Pogge succeeds completely in this enterprise, in my judgment, partly, of course, because he is an acute, intelligent, knowledgeable philosopher (some years ago, I came into possession, privately, of elaborate study notes on Kant's Rechtslehre prepared by Pogge for people teaching Contemporary Civilization at Columbia-they were the best thing I have ever read on that subject), but partly also because the thesis he is defending is true-indeed, I would suggest, manifestly true. If one attempts to apply the difference principle seriously, for example, one immediately recognizes that it cries out for reductions in the gap between high- and low-wage jobs so dramatic and far-reaching as to constitute a social revolution.

One of the abiding oddities of Rawls's career has been the flagrant contradiction between the radical leveling implied by his doctrine itself and the apparent absence in Rawls, either as a philosopher or as a citizen, of any reforming impulse. If the advantaged position of those at the top of the income pyramid is really to be justified solely by its tendency to improve the lot of those at the bottom, then on any half-way plausible construal of the facts of economics, psychology, and sociology, some hair-raising redistribution, through either taxation or a national wages policy, is absolutely inevitable. Nozick was quite correct to respond to this challenge by claiming that the riches of the rich are theirs by an absolute, uninfringeable right. Any defense less extreme would not stand a chance against the difference principle.

Pogge cloaks extremely powerful moral condemnations of Rawls's substantive judgments in language so hedged and cautious that the true power of his claims is liable to go unnoticed. Two examples will illustrate this point. First, while discussing Nozick's criticism of Rawls, Pogge writes, in a characteristically cautious fashion: "It is hardly obvious that the basic institutions we participate in are just or nearly just. In any case, a somewhat unobvious but massive threat to the moral quality of our lives is the danger that we will have lived as advantaged participants in unjust institutions, collaborating in their perpetuation and benefiting from their injustice" (36). He then adds, in a footnote: "This sentence, I realize, goes against everyone's favorite moral conviction, namely, that there is nothing seriously wrong, morally speaking, with the lives we lead." A good deal later on, in a section devoted to a devastating critique of Rawls's post- Theory of Justice tendency to elevate considerations of formal political rights above substantive matters of economic equality, Pogge observes:

It is not credible that in the United States today the lowest prospects for developing and exercising the two moral powers would be raised more by overturning the "profoundly dismaying" [Rawls's words] precedent of Buckley v. Valeo (in which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional various congressional limits on election expenditures) than by improvements in the diet, shelter, or education of the poorest citizens (134).

Indeed! Pogge goes on to observe, again in a footnote, that "[r]emoving a restriction on religious freedom… will not improve the situation of those whose prospects for developing and exercising their two moral powers are blocked by severe poverty. Its removal would nevertheless, on Rawls' account, have priority over relieving their poverty."

I must confess that in the past I considered the lexical priority of the equal-liberty principle over the difference principle to be more a consequence of internal systemic needs and constraints than a genuine reflection of Rawls's moral sensibility. It seemed to me too harsh to impute to him, as principled reflective moral sentiments, such appalling views as those exampled by Pogge in the passages just quoted. But by a meticulous examination of the many essays, speeches, and other writings that Rawls has produced since the appearance of A Theory of Justice, Pogge demonstrates incontrovertibly, in my judgment, that Rawls really does believe what his elevation of the first principle over the second implies.

Pogge's strategy, in the first part of his book, is to protect A Theory of Justice by imputing to Rawls the most coherent, intelligent, and internally defensible version of it that he can, and then to show that the criticisms of Nozick and Sandel simply miss the mark. Pogge's discussion is far too detailed to discuss in a brief review. Its core, as I understand him, is a distinction which is simple enough to be summarized, and about which he seems to me to be quite correct. Briefly, Pogge argues that the principles of justice have as their referent the institutional structure of society, not the pattern of particular outcomes resulting from that structure. In this way, we might say, Rawls's view is big league rather than farm league. In farm league (at least as I recall its local version from the days when my sons were little), even after absolutely fair rules had been adopted and enforced, if the outcome was wildly one-sided, the adults who were running things would adjust matters so as to soothe the feelings of the kids unlucky enough to be on the losing side. But in the big leagues, so long as the rules are fair, and are impartially applied, it is just tough luck if the Yankees dominate the American League, or the Reds the National League, for a decade at a time.

To be sure, adjustments in the rules may be adopted to compensate for a certain pattern of distribution of talents-the designated hitter rule, for example, has the effect of adjusting for the fact that pitchers tend to be lousy hitters. And if-to change the example-an African basketball league were to be organized in which teams of Watutsi played against teams of Pygmies, it might be necessary to invent an adjustable backboard that could lower or raise the hoop depending on which team was driving for it. But once such systemic adjustments had been carried out, no player would have a claim of justice against the game on the grounds that he, for example, al- though a Pygmy, found it easier to sink the ball in an elevated than in a lowered hoop.

All of this is perfectly correct, and Pogge manages to defend Rawls quite successfully against Nozick and Sandel, thereby preserving Rawls, undamaged, for use against himself!

In part two, as I have indicated, Pogge shows by a detailed examination both of A Theory of Justice and subsequent writings that Rawls has systematically, progressively, and entirely implausibly moved from his original concentration on the difference principle to an almost complete emphasis on the equal-liberty principle (even elevating the equal opportunity half of the difference principle over the strictly redistributive half). The effect has been to drain the theory almost entirely of its critical power. In his most recent writings, Pogge shows, Rawls has become virtually a flack for the American way of life. Gone is that generous commitment to remedying the structural economic inequities visited upon the underclass, which attracted so many readers to the earliest versions of the theory. (By the bye, Pogge adopts the familiar bibliographical convention of referring to Rawls's various writings by their initials. "Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory" becomes KCMT. This produces a splendidly, but probably unintentionally funny footnote, in which Pogge quotes the following passage from Rawls, a propos the Pecksniffian concern that lazy types might choose not to work and then claim, on the basis of the Difference Principle, a redistributive share of the products of others' labor: "those who surf all day off Malibu must find a way to support themselves and would not be entitled to public funds." This Rawlsian version of the problem of welfare mothers driving Cadillacs is identified as having, as its source, PRIG 257n! which, it turns out, is a citation of a 1988 essay entitled "The Priority of Right and Ideas of the Good.")

The shortest, but clearly, Pogge thinks, most original part of the book is the third, in which his progressive, strongly redistributive reading of the two principles is extended to the global sphere. I will not summarize Pogge's views here-they are not difficult to imagine - but I would like to say something about the inner logical tension in Rawls's theory between the parochial, social contractarian reading of it as applying only within the borders of a nation-state, and the internationalist reading that Pogge advocates.

Rawls's original idea, more than thirty years ago when he published "Justice as Fairness," was to construe the social contract on the model of a bargaining game, in the game-theoretic sense. It was thus formally built into the model of analysis that there were a multipli    facity of parties engaged knowingly in interactions with one another. No sense at all could be given to the idea of a unanimous agreement on mutually advantageous principles without that supposition. In this way, Rawls successfully modeled the situation of a society of citizens deliberating, in an inward looking fashion, about the principles that would henceforward regulate their centripetal relations, so to speak. When he switched to the "veil of ignorance" version of his model, however, in response to certain internal logical failings of the original argument, Rawls effectively (and, I would judge, unwittingly) forfeited the notion of a bargaining game. Instead, he transformed his theory into a quasi-formal analysis of a problem in individual rational choice. Once this change had been made, Rawls no longer had any plausible ground for restricting his principles to the regulation of the internal institutional arrangements of an on-going society. In effect. the veil of ignorance accomplishes the sort of secular universalization that occurred when the Stoics extended Greek moral and political principles to the world stage of the Roman empire.

The merit in Pogge's discussion lies not merely in his exploration of what the Rawlsian principles of justice would look like on a world scale, but in his meticulous demonstration that Rawls himself really has no justification for resisting that transformation of his theory. Realizing Rawls establishes Thomas Pogge as an important new voice in the political philosophical dialogue. I strongly recommend it to the readers of this JOURNAL.


University of Massachusetts/ Amherst

After I published the review, I received the following letter from Rawls.


Harvard University


Department of philosophy                                                    Cambridge MA 02138


Dear Bob:                                                                                January 30, 1991


When I first saw your review of Pogge’s book in the Journal of Philosophy this past December I thought I would not write to you about it. In the meantime, however, several people have urged me to do so and I have decided to take their advice.


I want to make only two points. The first is that I have not changed in the least my support of the difference principle and still hold to it, as I have for the past 30 years or so since I became convinced that it is the soundest principal to regulate social and economic inequalities in the basic structure of a democratic society. The second point is I believe that there are strong reasons for thinking that this principle, while appropriate within democratic societies, is not in general appropriate between societies in a world society of societies. These two points are points about what I believe; I am not suggesting that you should accept my reasons for holding them.


As for the first point, the reasons you cite from Pogge’s book to suggest that I no longer affirm the different principle are, I think, not good reasons and show nothing. The citation about the surfer off Malibu is in a discussion considering what kinds of things can be primary goods. I was suggesting that in addition to the standard primary goods – basic rights and liberties, opportunities, wealth and income and the social bases of self-respect – one could (not that one should include leisure time and other things as well. The surfer was given as an example. I was assuming, as I have always done, a society in which the norm is that people are willing to work and to do their share and that there is no shortage of work in jobs for people to do. Given these assumptions, I think the example is entirely reasonable and not in the least in conflict with the different principle. Some assume, like Philippe von Parjis in a talk here last spring, that jobs are scarce and rationed, especially highly paid ones, that those holding these highly paid jobs might be willing to subsidize the surfer off Malibu to reduce competition. This is an altogether different case and my example does not apply to it. My discussion make certain background assumptions and these cannot be lost sight of.


The other example you cite from Pogge is that in supporting the public funding of political campaigns I appear to neglect needs of the poor in an apparent abandonment of the difference principle. I do not understand this objection. If we look at our country today we find three grave defaults (which together will eventually do us in): one is the control of the military and of corporate interests over foreign policy; another is the control of the wealthier classes over public discussion and the content of public debate, so that the interests of the poor classes are really considered at all, except in so far as their plight makes the wealthier uncomfortable; and finally, the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and income and with it the opportunities of the lower classes. You are aware of these things as well as if not better than I am. They only need mention. These three points are related in obvious ways, which I need not detail to you. My belief in favoring the public funding of campaigns in “Basic Liberties and Their Priority” (1982) was simply that if we cannot get public funding for them, then there is little chance of our seriously addressing the needs and opportunities of the poor and lower classes as the difference principle requires.


The second point about the application of the difference principle to the law of nations, that is, to the relations between societies in a society of societies is more complicated. I do not attempt a statement in this letter itself and I have enclosed instead a brief statement of the law of nations and why the difference principle seems not to belong to it. This statement was revised (in November and early December) from a statement I used at a NYU seminar this past fall.


In writing you this letter including the statement of the law of peoples, I stress again that I am not suggesting in the least that you should find my reasons and arguments plausible, much less convincing. The question only concerns my beliefs and whether I have reasons to hold them that seem plausible to me. Since we have seen each other on past occasions I felt I could write to you about this.


Yours, Jack


PS: I have a MS of about 175 pages that includes three parts which discuss the meaning and application of the difference principle and a reformulation of the argument for it from the original position. I assume you are not interested in this but if you are I would be glad to send it to you.



I found the letter to be rather odd, I must confess, especially the opening paragraph.  I wrote back in what I think I can confidently describe as a rather snarky manner. As I recall (I do not have a copy of the letter), I said something roughly like this:


‘Dear Jack, thank you for your letter. You are of course the world’s leading expert on what you believe so if you tell me that you have not changed your mind about the difference principle, that settles the matter so far as I am concerned. If you would like, I would be happy to write something to the Journal of Philosophy to the effect that you have not changed your position. But I was just reviewing Tom Pogge’s book and reporting what he says about your views.  Tom is, I believe, spending a sabbatical year in Cambridge. Why don’t you talk to him?”


In response I got the following handwritten note:


                                                                                    “Feb 14, 1991

Dear Bob,


            I greatly appreciate your letter. I owe you a reply on two matters. One is that there is no reason at all for you to send the correction to the J Phil. That is not called for and was not in the least my intention in writing you. I view our correspondences between the two of us, like any other correspondence. I would, then, not want you to do that, though I am indeed grateful that you should express your willingness to do so.


The other matter is that you are correct in saying that I should talk to Pogge about these things. I plan to leave you a letter in his box tomorrow – he is a visiting scholar here this year – though he is writing on his own and I really see him. Our differing views about justice between societies we often discussed when he was writing his thesis here. Beyond the indications in your review, I am uncertain why he thinks I have abandoned the difference principle, as I have not yet read carefully at all the second of the three parts of his book. We will talk, I hope, about that. You are right to tell me to do this.


I hope the scholarship fund goes well. And certainly I will give you greetings to Parsons.


Best Jack


P. S. There is no need at all to acknowledge this letter."

I will leave it to you, my readers, to parse this exchange.



LFC said...

This is all very interesting. Because I'm writing this on phone and for other reasons, will make only a brief comment, which is that starting not all that long after Rawls published ToJ in 1971 there were efforts to extend his theory to "the world scale" (to quote a phrase from your review) in one way or another. Pogge's book was one example of that; another was Charles Beitz's _Political Theory and International Relations_ (1979). And there were others.

Btw on the specific point about the connection between public financing of campaigns and inequality etc., Rawls's point was well taken, I think. (I have the Pogge book somewhere but not readily to hand so can't look up that footnote.)

aaall said...

Pogge's observation on Buckley v. Valeo doesn't make sense.

"It is not credible that in the United States today the lowest prospects for developing and exercising the two moral powers would be raised more by overturning the "profoundly dismaying" [Rawls's words] precedent of Buckley v. Valeo (in which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional various congressional limits on election expenditures) than by improvements in the diet, shelter, or education of the poorest citizens (134)."

Since 1946 capital has invested billions in clawing back any advances the New Deal/Great Society legislation, as well as SC decisions, might have given to those "poorest citizens." Rawls has a point.

LFC said...

And the concern about the unfairness and bad effects of the domination of public debate (and campaigns) by the wealthy, expressed in Rawls's 1/30/91 letter, is something that he discussed in ToJ itself.

aaall said...

The recent initiatives to limit the effects of tax havens might be a path to a "world path."

A couple of interesting Crimea background items:

LFC said...

Limiting tax havens is about making sure the very wealthy can't hide their assets from the govts of those countries where they primarily reside and/or where their businesses are based. Limiting tax havens has nothing *directly* to do with global distributive justice, about which there is an extensive literature over the past 40 or so years. All limiting tax havens does is ensure that the U.S. govt, say, gets more tax revenue and billionaires can't shield or hide their assets. That's fine, but it has, to repeat, nothing directly to do w global redistribution (however defined). (I wrote my undergrad thesis on that subject 43 years ago.)

I can't give a bibliography here, but Patrick S. O'Donnell has one, I think, that is accessible via his page. Not exhaustive but prob a decent initial reference pt or entry into some of the literature.

Eric said...

LFC: it has, to repeat, nothing directly to do w global redistribution (however defined)

You cannot redistribute something to which you have no access. So wouldn't limiting tax havens seem to be a first necessary step toward being able to redistribute wealth? (Of course, that shouldn't be taken to mean that whoever is doing the taxing has even the slightest intention of actually redistributing wealth to anyone other than themselves and their friends.)

Eric said...


"that other manic system builder, Hegel"

"One of the abiding oddities of Rawls's career has been the flagrant contradiction"

"It seemed to me too harsh to impute to him ... such appalling views.... But ... Pogge demonstrates incontrovertibly ... that Rawls really does believe...."


"But I was just reviewing Tom Pogge’s book and reporting what he says about your views."


Eric said...

My favorite line:

"Pogge manages to defend Rawls quite successfully against Nozick and Sandel, thereby preserving Rawls, undamaged, for use against himself!"

LFC said...

Ok last comments here.

1) Pogge actually thinks pretty highly of Rawls, the criticisms in his 1989 book notwithstanding. You can determine that by looking at some of what Pogge has written since 1989.

2) Eric -- it's a good step but not an absolutely *necessary* step. Sorry I can't go into this further rt now. Another place to go for an overview of some of this is ch. 5 of Forrester, _In the Shadow of Justice_.

LFC said...

P.s. Though I don't agree w everything Forrester says.

Anonymous said...


aaall said...

"Limiting tax havens has nothing *directly* to do with global distributive justice..."

LFC, that's why I used the term "path." "A journey of a thousand miles," etc. As with Eric's point, I fail to see how one even begins without having the means. Also, I assume folks who make negotiating such agreements part of their agendas would be way more amenable to such a project.

LFC said...

It's really never been a problem of "means," rather of political will, popular support, etc. Anyway, the last time there was a political "window" for this was the 1970s and that window didn't stay open for very long. Today structural reforms take a back seat to pressing humanitarian and refugee crises (of which there are many right now) and climate change etc.

Somewhat under the radar, though, there has been some real progress on aspects of global poverty since the 70s, even as inequality *within* countries has increased. Inequality and poverty, while they are related of course, are two separate issues. (Neoliberals like to cite China and its move to a kind of statist quasi capitalism but that's arguably not the main story. China was tackling extreme poverty well before that. And it did it all while maintaining a pretty autocratic political system, regrettably.) Anyway, I've gotten off the topic, such as it was.

Eric said...

LFC: Today structural reforms take a back seat to pressing humanitarian and refugee crises (of which there are many right now) and climate change etc.

The pressing humanitarian, refugee, and climate crises are caused by those systemic structures. That's one of the primary reasons that the structures need to be completely reformed. The neoliberal mindset cannot, or refuses to, recognize this.

Bill Edmundson said...

Rawls wrote to you:

PS: I have a MS of about 175 pages that includes three parts which discuss the meaning and application of the difference principle and a reformulation of the argument for it from the original position. I assume you are not interested in this but if you are I would be glad to send it to you.

Did you take him up on this, Bob? It seems to refer to what was ultimately published as Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. In it, he makes a big deal of the fact that the difference principle lacks any plausibility unless the fair value of political liberties (i.e., material political equality) is already assured.

LFC said...

Quite off-topic, but some here might be interested in this review of B. DeLong's Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century. (N.b. haven't read the review yet, just skimmed v. quickly)

Eric said...


Here's how that book review starts:
"Humanity, the Berkeley economist argues, spent nearly the entirety of its history condemned to poverty by an insufficient supply of calories and a chronically excessive birth rate."

Let us turn back the clock half a millennium, to when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean. He recorded in his journal (per de las Casas):

12 October 1492
Presently many inhabitants of the island assembled.... They are very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances.... They are all of fair stature and size, with good faces, and well made.... They should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion....

13 October 1492
“As soon as dawn broke many of these people came to the beach, all youths, as I have said, and all of good stature, a very handsome people.... Their legs are very straight, all in one line, and no belly, but very well formed....
This island is rather large and very flat, with bright green trees, much water, and a very large lake in the centre, without any mountain, and the whole land so green that it is a pleasure to look on it. The people are very docile.... I saw one give 16 skeins of cotton for three ceotis of Portugal.... it may be obtained in abundance. It is grown in this island.... ”

13 December 1492
[Columbus’ scout party reached a village which] consisted of a thousand houses, with over three thousand inhabitants....
The Christians related that, as soon as the natives had cast off their fear, they all went to the houses, and each one brought what he had to eat, consisting of yams, which are roots like large radishes, which they sow and cultivate in all their lands, and is their staple food. They make bread of it, and roast it.... They gave their guests bread and fish, and all they had.... The Christians reported to the Admiral that this was a handsomer and finer people than any that had hitherto been met with. But the Admiral says that he does not see how they can be a finer people than the others, giving to understand that all those he had found in the other islands were very well conditioned....
They also said, with regard to the beauty of the country they saw, that the best land in Castile could not be compared with it. The Admiral also, comparing the lands they had seen before with these, said that there was no comparison between them, nor did the plain of Cordova come near them, the difference being as great as between night and day. They said that all these lands were cultivated, and that a very wide and large river passed through the centre of the valley, and could irrigate all the fields. All the trees were green and full of fruit, and the plants tall and covered with flowers. The roads were broad and good.

It seems to me that the people Columbus was describing, in their pre-European state of nature, were fairly well nourished and living in harmony with their environment. The main threats they faced were not lack of calories but bellicose tribes in other islands—and from Columbus, who as soon as he arrived was already hatching plans to enslave the islanders and take their land.

The narrative that humanity always lived on the brink of starvation before the rise of Western civilization fits in well with Western imperialist propaganda, so no surprise that it would appeal to DeLong, if, as the reviewer writes, "DeLong’s story of hegemony as a driver of stability and growth is extremely compelling—but it’s also a nice way of saying that imperialism isn’t so bad when it works."

Marc Susselman said...


Your argument style reminds me of that of many attorneys (usually defense attorneys representing insurance companies), who inaccurately state the facts of a court decision, and then proceed to distort the decision’s ruling.

First, the paragraph you quote is not “how the book review starts.” It actually starts with a paragraph preceding the paragraph you quote, and states: “There is a masterpiece in J. Bradford DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia, and a very interesting muddle.” (Italics omitted.)

Your point about Columbus’s perspective regarding the indigenous population he encountered in the New World, and his plans to exploit it, is well-taken, but has absolutely nothing to do with the general proposition which you quote from the second paragraph that, “Humanity … spent nearly the entirety of its history condemned to poverty by an insufficient supply of calories and a chronically excessive birth rate.” The chronology of humanity, if we are discussing homo sapiens, encompasses a fairly long time, approximately 300,000 years ago to the present. Moreover, its geographic expanse covered a lot more territory than just the Caribbean which Columbus discovered. Taking both of these factors into account, the statement that humanity spent almost all of its history in poverty, attributable to shortage of nutritious food and too many mouths to feed strikes me as probably quite accurate. Reading the history of just the civilizations which dominated North Africa, the Middle East and Europe from 2,000 B.C. to 1700 A.D., a stark truth is that most of the people, outside of the nobility, priests, and military, lived in utter poverty, with the women constantly pregnant (no birth control) in order to provide enough hands to plant and harvest the crops, or to help controlling the herds of sheep and cattle. The well nourished Native Americans whom Columbus encountered were not typical of the inhabitants of other parts of the globe in 1492, and for centuries prior.

Marc Susselman said...


Apropos of my remark regarding the machinations of insurance defense attorneys, I had a prime example during a deposition which I took earlier this week. My client is suing her former attorney for legal malpractice for, among other things, failing to show up for the trial, even though his motion to withdraw as my client’s attorney, had not been granted by the trial judge (who proceeded, notwithstanding that my client was not represented by counsel, to hold the jury trial and granted the judgment in favor of the company suing my client for breach of contract). During my questioning of the principal of the law firm which the no-show attorney joined after he had botched the trial, I asked this attorney whether he agreed, assuming the allegation that his employee had failed to show up for the trial was accurate, that this was below the standard of practice of an attorney licensed to practice law and constituted legal malpractice. The witness furrowed his brow, and answered, “I’m not sure.” (!) On examination by the defense attorney representing the insurance company which had issued a malpractice insurance policy to the law firm which the no-show attorney joined, and which I maintain erroneously denied insurance coverage to the no-show attorney, he asked the witness: “Regarding the question that Mr. Susselman asked you about legal malpractice, do you agree that the allegation that Mr. C failed to show up for the trial is true.” I vehemently objected that that was not my question – I asked the witness to assume that the allegation was true, and if true, constituted legal malpractice. The insurance attorney insisted, over my vehement objection, to ask his distortion of my question, to which the witness of course responded that he did not know if the allegation was true. (The trial transcript demonstrates that the allegation is true.) This kind of crap by insurance defense attorneys really gets my goat.

LFC said...

I was endorsing neither the book (which I haven't read) nor the review (which I spent about 15 seconds skimming).

In the course of those 15 seconds, the names Hobsbawm and Kindleberger, both of which mean something to me, popped up, and that, plus the fact that I know a little bit about DeLong, led me to link it. None of that amounts to saying that I nec. agree w anything in the book (which, to repeat, I haven't read).

You, Eric, might prefer, when it comes to ec history, the late Andre Gunder Frank's _ReOrient_. Or, a different perspective from Gunder Frank, the late Immanuel Wallerstein's classic _The Modern World-System vol. 1_. (I have read Wallerstein. Get an original, unabridged version, complete w the footnotes that sometimes take up half the page.)

Eric said...


Hey, I know you were not necessarily endorsing the views of the book or the reviewer. I was just giving my own take from a skim of the review.

LFC said...

Getting back to the OP, w/r/t this line from RPW's review:

"In short, Pogge offers himself up as a Left Rawlsian, staking out a relationship to Rawls very much akin to the stance adopted by Marx to that other manic system builder, Hegel."

I'm not sure the comparison is completely apt. Hegel was an idealist, Marx a materialist, hence the old line about Marx having turned Hegel on his head. Pogge's approach to Rawls was not quite as drastic: not turning Rawls on his head but, as the review itself says, "follow[ing] out the radical implications [as Pogge saw them] of Rawls's theory, and ... exhibit[ing] their 'progressive power.'"

The book was called Realizing Rawls, after all. Can one imagine Marx having written something called Realizing Hegel?

aaall said...

The history Delong is writing about is the ~10K years since the development of agriculture began in earnest and a world with a human population of ~5M. Columbus gives us a snapshot. We have no idea how long what he describes had been going on and how long it could be sustained. As Marc points out, history is loaded with examples of agriculturally based civilizations waxing and waning.

Also, consider location. Living large on a Caribbean island is always going to be different (and way better) then being a serf or peasant in most of Europe. At the time of Cook's voyages the average Hawaiian had a higher standard of living then the average European. If its the twelfth century CE and you had to choose, would you rather be Chumash eating lobster and venison on the Malibu or a serf or peasant in most of Europe?

I've just bought the book but I've been reading Delong's blog (now Substack) for a couple of decades.

AL said...

Man. Rawls was either a huge dork (a character trait that might explain some of the practical infirmities in his political philosophy) or gave a very convincing impression of being one.

Also: "The surfer was given as an example. I was assuming, as I have always done, a society in which the norm is that people are willing to work and to do their share and that there is no shortage of work in jobs for people to do." As Mark Baum said in The Big Short, "why is he confessing?"

Great, hilarious stuff!

Marc Susselman said...

On a separate note, I was rather surprised by the reaction of relatives of the 17 students who were killed by Nicholas Cruz to the life sentence without parole. I would have thought that the sentence would have been adequate for many of the relatives, but it appears they all preferred the death penalty. Any thoughts?

s. wallerstein said...


Most people want criminals to "pay for their crimes", which means "an eye for an eye": you kill a member of my family and we put you to death for that. People also don't like the idea that their tax money goes to feed and house criminals who "deserve" to be drawn and quartered in the public square.

I'm against the death penalty myself but that's what I see in conversation with most people.

aaall said...

Both parents of a childhood friend were murdered. The perp got the DP which was then set aside for a life sentence some years later. She was very distraught at that. With Cruz case, given his age, it's likely that there will be advocates for modifying the sentence in twenty or thirty years if he survives and gets religion, writes a book, whatever (recall the Manson family). I don't have as much a problem with the DP as how its implemented.

Delong has a take on Keynes:

"Other than Friedman and his colleagues—who knew very well what they were doing in dressing their Keynesian wolfish selves in libertarian sheep’s clothing—and Viner, however, the reaction of conservatives to Keynes was never one of debate, acceptance, and approval for his offering them a potential way forward. It was, rather, unhinged rage."

Marc Susselman said...

I do not oppose the death penalty in all cases, depending on the facts. If the conviction was based exclusively on eyewitness testimony, I am inclined against the death penalty. If, however, the killer's identity is not in dispute (e.g., fingerprint evidence, DNA) and the killer tortured the victim before murdering him/her, then I have less of a problem with imposing the death penalty.

LFC said...


Some days ago the Wash Post ran a fairly long article about the brother of one of the murdered students who opposed the death penalty for Cruz. So it's not *all* the relatives, though probably the large majority of them.

LFC said...

I didn't follow the case closely, but obviously the jury heard what the prosecution, the relatives, and the defense had to say, and they decided on life without parole. In other words he's going to spend the rest of his life in prison. Seems like an adequate sentence to me, in light of the fetal alcohol syndrome and whatever else the defense brought up, but then I'm not one of the relatives.

s. wallerstein said...

There are murderers who seem to "deserve" the sort of execution Foucault describes in the first pages of Discipline and Punish.

However, as a general rule I oppose the death penalty, not just in the U.S. but everywhere.

We all know that everywhere rich people can pay for top lawyers, that the media affect judicial processes, that judges and juries (in places with a jury system) have unconscious biases against certain races, ethnic groups and people with "non-normal"
sexual orientations.

So since you can't change the law case by case, I oppose the death penalty. There are too many cases of someone who was executed because the media fomented a mass hysteria and too many cases of someone with a "smart" lawyer who committed the same crime or worse who
got a lesser sentence or even was acquited.

Marc Susselman said...


I based my comment about the reaction of the relatives on the news report last night on PBS News, in which several of the relatives were interviewed, and all of the interviewees were angry about the sentence. The relative you referred to was not one of the interviewees.

Also, although I did not follow the trail day by day, I am not sure any of the relatives testified in the prosecution's case in chief, unless they were eyewitnesses to the actual shooting. The judge scheduled the sentencing until November, at which time the relatives will have an opportunity to address the court about the effect the death of their loved one has had on their life. But the judge cannot alter the sentence which the jury has already imposed.

LFC said...


My understanding of what happened is different from yours.

I may be mistaken, but my understanding is that Cruz pled guilty, so the only question was what the sentence would be. The court held a hearing on the sentence in which the prosecution argued for the death penalty and some of the victims' relatives testified about the effect of the crime on their lives. Then the defense argued for life without parole. Then the jury deliberated and sided with the defense on the question of the sentence.

LFC said...

P.s. Now it may be the case that when the judge formally imposes the sentence, if he hasn't done that yet, the relatives will have another opportunity to testify. But I'm not sure why, since the sentence has already been decided on. (And as you say, the judge can't alter what the jury has decided. Maybe the judge has some discretion re conditions of confinement, but I don't know.)

aaall said...

I heard that there was one hard "no" (and two go-alongs) which raises the question as to the honesty of that juror during the selection process. Given that the methods used in the process are easily botched and may be inherently inhumane, perhaps that was a factor.

The best example of unrequited mercy was the failure to hang Jeff Davis and the rest of the Confederate civilian leadership. We are still paying for that error.

Marc Susselman said...


You are correct, Mr. Cruz did plead guilty. Some relatives of the victims did testify during the sentencing trial about the impact of the shooting on their lives, but under the Florida statute they have to be allowed to be heard again at the sentencing hearing. It was because the jury came back with the life sentence late in the day, and there was not sufficient time to start the sentencing hearing and allow the relatives to testify, that the judge scheduled the sentencing hearing at a later date.

My wife and I discussed how we would react if our daughter was ever a victim of such a tragic event. I stated that I would be satisfied with a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, since nothing could bring our daughter back. My wife disagreed, and said she would insist on the death penalty.

LFC said...

Thanks for the clarification on the Fla. procedures.

Marc Susselman said...

I have a gripe about something which has been bothering me for some time, and I am wondering if any others share my sense of irritation. Watching the news during the day and every evening, I have noticed that many female reporters – but not all - have a tendency while giving their report to smile a lot more than their male counterparts. I recognize that this is a result of cultural conditioning, that women are expected to be more pleasant appearing than men, and therefore have been conditioned to smile more. But I find it very disconcerting watching a female reporter giving a report on some tragic event – like a mass shooting, or the war in Ukraine – and the reporter is smiling throughout the report. This evening on the PBS News, for example, there was a report about Elon Musk scaling back his company’s financial support for a satellite service being provided to the Ukraine government which has been a significant factor in its ability to communicate with the Ukrainian troops being deployed around the country. The U.S. government is looking for a means to replace the funds which Musk donates, but is considering cutting back on. This is a serious subject, yet the female reporter smiled her way through her report, as if she was proud of being in the news limelight. I should think that part of their journalistic training would be to teach them how to keep a straight face when reporting tragic or serious news. This may sound like a sexist remark, but I view it as a matter of journalistic professionalism.

LFC said...

I listen to the PBS NewsHour -- when I listen to it, which is frequently but not all the time -- on the radio, since it is broadcast here locally on radio as well as TV (and I don't have a TV). Occasionally I will go online and watch a segment if I want the video as well as the audio.

It has not been my impression that when I've watched the video of a segment the women reporters are smiling more. (I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that it's not something I've really noticed on that show.) If you take for instance someone like Jane Ferguson, who has done a lot of reporting for them from zones of conflict, famine or other emergency, refugee crises etc. etc. -- I'd be very very surprised if you saw her smiling inappropriately during her reports. I also never saw that with Margaret Warner, who was their chief foreign affairs correspondent for years (and was first-rate).

Now that's just one program, admittedly. I don't watch the commercial broadcast networks or the cable networks, so can't comment on them.

P.s. My guess, which cd be wrong, is that the younger and more inexperienced the reporter, esp perhaps if they're working on a contract or one-off or stringer basis (or whatever the technical term is), the more likely they will be to smile when they shouldn't. It may be nervousness, perhaps, more than anything else. As for journalistic training, a number of journalists these days don't know how to match up singular subjects with singular verbs -- i.e., they make pretty basic grammatical mistakes in the language they're supposed to be fluent in -- so I'm not sure why you'd expect them to be trained to "keep a straight face" when some of them aren't being trained how to use English correctly.

Turning off computer before an anonymous or other commenter jumps in w a snarky "stop grumping."

Fritz Poebel said...

MS grouses about newscasters smiling inappropriately. I’ve noticed that too. It was one of the things that put me off watching the PBS show “Washington Week” a while back. Too much smirking, with the subtext that national politics is a game or some other form of entertainment. But another thing that really irks me about the courtesy protocol of news/interview shows, such as the PBS Newshour, is the virtual absence of “you’re welcome” The interviewer says “thank you” to the interviewee for coming on the show, and the interviewee says “thank you” in response. At the end of the interview, the ritual is repeated—the interviewer says “thank you” to the interviewee for the interview, and the interviewee says “thank you” in response. Hardly ever a “you’re welcome.” Some months back one of the Newshour correspondents (Lisa Desjardins) actually did say “you’re welcome” to Judy Woodruff when Lisa’s report was done. It doesn’t happen often, and I’ve been wondering what’s (socio-psychologically) going on here. It’s as if people feel the need to thank people for thanking them. It sounds smarmy to me.

LFC said...

@ Fritz Poebel

It's pretty standard now for the interviewer to say "thank you" at the end of the interview and for the interviewee to respond "thank you for having me" (or something like that). Occasionally someone will respond with "my pleasure." Responding with "you're welcome" is less common for some reason, but Lisa Desjardins (as reporter rather than interviewee) does say that when Judy Woodruff thanks her.

s. wallerstein said...

When both say "thank you," the idea is that the favor is mutual or reciprocal.

Marc Susselman said...

I agree with Fritz, and am pleased to find that I am not alone regarding my gripe. (I comment on Prof. Wolff’s blog to know that I am not alone.)

The interviewee is doing the interviewer a favor by allowing him/herself to be interviewed. The interviewee should not thank the interviewer for the privilege. Otherwise, why does the interviewer say “thank you” to begin with? The proper response to the interviewer’s “thank you” is “your welcome”

LFC said...

I understand the logic, but sometimes the interviewer is in effect doing the interviewee a favor by giving him/her the opportunity to appear on, in this case, the NewsHour and to reach its audience with the interviewee's opinions or expertise or whatever.

s. wallerstein said...

And if the interviewee feels that the interview has done them a favor by allowing them a tribune to express their opinions or to get the public to pay attention to their expertise, etc., and if they want to say "thank you" instead of "you're welcome", what's the problem?

Usage changes and perhaps in certain situations in which everyone or almost everyone would have said "you're welcome" 30 years ago, some people who feel that there has been a reciprocal exchange of favors will now say "thank you".

I do it myself in slightly different circumstances, in Spanish. For example, the other day I bought a list of items in a pharmacy (you ask the clerk for the item and they search for it) and the woman was so courteous and had such good vibes that when she thanked me after returning my change, I thanked her in return (for the courteous service which was beyond the call of duty). I assume that she understood. I do the same thing whenever a similar situation occurs.

Anonymous said...

There are surely more and more substantial reasons to be irked or disappointed by the PBS Newshour than the smiling of some of the participants. When was the last time an anti-Establishment figure appeared to discuss one of the Newshour's favorite subjects of the moment? It all strikes me as a bit too cosy. Perhaps that's why there are so many smiles? I think, though perhaps it's only in rosy hindsight, that McNeil-Lehrer used to offer something more critical than a "this is what you're supposed to think today" sort of thing.

Of course, such a one-sided cosiness is by now quite standard, no matter which part of the political spectrum is being cosied up to. So my criticism is limited.


LFC said...

I don't listen to it mainly for the talking heads but for the reporting, which is often v good, e.g. Jane Ferguson (already mentioned), Nick Schiffrin, etc.

They certainly don't cover everything (incl some significant intl stories) and I wd not rely on it as a sole news source. But anti-Establishment voices are available elsewhere and I don't expect the NewsHour to provide them, except on rare occasion. They used to have Andrew Bacevich on occasionally as an interviewee; he counts as anti-Establishment for sure. My recollections of McNeill/Lehrer aren't fresh enough to weigh in on that.

aaall said...

If the interviewee has a new book or cause, being interviewed is certainly something to be grateful for. In most situations reciprocal thank yous accurately delimit the situation.

Anonymous said...

LFC, I've never seen Bacevich on PBS Newshour, though DuckDuckGo shows that he appeared back in August 2021 to discuss Afghanistan. So maybe there are others I just haven't noticed. But my point was that, as I see it, we rarely encounter critical discussion outside a quite narrow framework of acceptability on that program. More ofte than not it's some "expert" explaining the world to us. Suchexplanations are all very well. But it would be good to be advised that on most things human there are competing views and that not all of them are stupid or narrowly ideological.

Fritz Poebel said...

I did not intend to veer this “thread” into off-topic-land by mentioning my annoyance at the demise of “you’re welcome” as a normal response to “thank you” in standard English. Contrarian SW makes it clear that to him the demise of You’re welcome is no big deal, and LFC has interesting dismissive comments on this concern. Their criticisms or caveats seem reasonable to me, but I still don’t like what I’m hearing from journalists who are supposed to be, whatever else they may be, expert practitioners of English usage. LFC says, correctly, that “responding with ‘you're welcome’ is less common [today] for some reason,” and he’s probably empirically right, but I did muse over what those “some reason[s]” for this change might be. Anyway, I looked around and found a few scholarly or quasi-scholarly discussions of this matter. Bryan Garner’s “Modern English Usage” (Oxford, 2016) has a slim discussion on this, but it doesn’t do much to appease my curiosity. Garner (p. 900) says that “The traditional response to Thank you is You’re welcome. Somehow, though, in the 1980s, You’re welcome came to feel a little bit stiff and formal, perhaps even condescending….” You’re welcome then started being “displaced” by other locutions, such as No problem; Not a problem; and No, thank you. Garner goes on to give his dismal prognosis: “The currency of You’re welcome seems to diminish little by little, but steadily. Old-fashioned speakers continue to use it, but its future doesn’t look bright.” To my ear and sensibility, No problem is terrible, the worst of the wretched lot. But Garner’s comment that all this is about You’re welcome coming to sound stiff, formal, and condescending makes me wonder why this is so—as a cultural phenomenon. As I mentioned earlier, it seems that now we’re supposed to thank people for thanking us. (I can see Nietzsche rolling his eyes at all this, peering out at us through the Genealogy of Morals. Equality run amok.)

Marc Susselman said...

Again, I agree with Fritz, especially regarding the ubiquitous “no problem.” Why would there be a “problem”? I never suggested there was a “problem.” Regarding the “thank you/your welcome” issues, Germans have it right. No German would respond to “dankeschön” with a reciprocal “dankeschön.” The appropriate response, “bitte,” meaning “thank you” is standard. Thank you for you research on this issue, Fritz.

What the psycho-social explanation for this linguistic deterioration is, I do not know. But it does seem to reflect an overall tendency towards imprecision in public thought, an imprecision that is only getting worse with the popularization of texting and tweeting and the use of emoges and word abbreviations to communicate. Is this serious? Well, it seems to me that imprecision in the use of language, leads to imprecision in thought and analytical processes, and the facilitation of the dumbing down of a society, resulting in a willingness to accept simplistic falsehoods espoused by political leaders. Query: Are the racist falsehoods which were espoused by John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, when it was standard to respond “your welcome” to “thank you,” worse, in terms of their social impact, than the falsehoods being espoused by Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy?

s. wallerstein said...

I see it this way.

First of all, I'm not invited to TV programs nor do I watch TV in English nor do I live in the U.S.

However, saying "gracias a usted" (thank you) in response to "gracias" (thank you) does occur in Chile with a certain frequency.

I do it myself.

Urban life for me and for many others is to live in a huge impersonal machine called "society". At times it's a Hobbesian "war of all against all", but generally, no one
cares or notices anyone else unless they are unusually physical attractive, which is not the case with me.

Part of living in that impersonal machine is the use of certain formal responses in determined situations, formal responses which no longer mean anything, but just keep the machine rolling such as saying "thank you" and "you're welcome" according to determined social rules.

I myself try to reach out to others, when possible, within the context of that impersonal social machine and one way to do so is to use more spontaneous or less formal verbal expressions. As for example, in the case of the clerk in the pharmacy, which I describe above.

If I thank her back instead of saying "you're welcome" or saying nothing, for 15 seconds she may feel like a human being who is recognized by me for her exceptional courtesy and good vibes. If I simply say "you're welcome", she won't notice because she has no way of seeing that I see her in that case.

Will that change society? No way.

However, for 15 seconds she may feel a bit better about her life and about her job repeating again and again the same motions for an endless line of customers. There's no way I could talk to her more because there's another impatient customer waiting behind me.

In any case, for those of us, who unlike Professor Wolff, doubt that this impersonal capitalist machine is likely to be transformed, it's a small gesture of resistance.

Marc Susselman said...

s. wallerstein,

I have an alternative method of acknowledging the humanity of those who have provided me with a service, particularly at check-out stations. I address people by their first name. People like to be addressed by their first name. So, if the cashier, or the bagger, is wearing a name tag, I note the name and upon leaving, say “thank you Donna,” or “thank you Bill.” If they don’t have a name tag, I asked them what their name is. They are invariably pleased to be asked. By the same token, if I have provided a service, doing my own bagging, when thanked, I respond “your welcome, Donna.” This method preserves the precision of the language, at the same time that it makes a human connection.

s. wallerstein said...


People don't wear name tags in Chile and I suspect that if I ask a woman her name, she'll
suspect that I have ulterior motives, but thanks, it would be a good idea in some situations. I'll use your strategy when possible.

LFC said...

I get annoyed at blatant grammatical errors, including the increasingly common inability, even in writing, to match subjects properly with verbs, but changes in usage -- as opposed to grammatical mistakes -- usually don't bother me much. I say "no problem" frequently -- it's too informal for on-air or print journalism but it's fine in everyday conversation.

If you listen to people, esp perhaps two young people, talk, you realize that informal speech is its own thing. Person X, telling Y about a contentious conversation he had with Z, might say "I was, like, 'What the fuck are you talking about?'" This is not elegant but it's not supposed to be: it's informal speech. The person uttering it is not necessarily incapable of using and understanding English in different registers. (It occurs to me that Shakespeare was very good at mixing demotic and elevated speech in his plays.)

LFC said...

P.s. While "you're welcome" has increasingly gone out of fashion, "you're most welcome" is a little bit warmer and less stiff, though again probably not used all that much now.

Marc Susselman said...

Correction of an obvious error.

"Bitte" means "you're welcome," not "thank you."

Michael said...

"Informal speech is its own thing" - indeed!

It's one thing to imagine that social media and smartphones have had an overall stunting effect on our critical and moral identities; (I don't know if that's actually the case, but it does often bother me to see smartphones sap people's engagement from live, face-to-face conversation and such); but it's another thing to say that "No problem" and other instances of "linguistic deterioration" are symptomatic of the same.

There's a place, or many places, for interactions that are fairly rote, low-effort, and superficial - where it'd be inappropriate to take what's said as a face-value indicator of people's deeper intentions and thought-processes. Think of small talk: It is not expected, and is indeed odd and discomforting, to respond "thoughtfully" and "truthfully" when a cashier or a new acquaintance at a company luncheon asks "How's it going?" (It's not as though the question in those circumstances is remotely in the same sphere as "What aspects of contemporary civilization do you find most demoralizing and alienating?" or "How does your awareness of human mortality affect your sense of the value of life?")

Marc Susselman said...


I believe you are selling casual interactions with cashiers and other service people short. If you actually asked them the last two questions in your comment, they would appreciate that you were taking such an interest in their lives and feel that you were treating them like a fellow human being.

LFC said...

I've worked (though not currently) as a cashier/order-taker in a non-fancy, non-chain food place. Customers walking in were from the whole socioeconomic spectrum, from homeless (or do we say "unhoused"?) to affluent people buying expensive wine etc.

Regular customers would sometimes engage in real conversations and reveal (without being prompted to do do) personal problems, but most interactions were superficial. Often the cashier is very busy, the customer herself is in a rush, and it's not the time to have a conversation about deep matters. Someone at one point, a youngish guy who seemed a bit weird, started out of the blue to make pronouncements about Hobbes and maybe Rousseau, I forget. (This was after the pandemic had begun. He was trying to make some fairly crackpot political point about surveillance and the evils of govt, I don't really recall.) I managed to convey w.o being grossly rude that I thought he had no idea what he was talking about.

To return somewhat to the topic: "How's it going?" in a routine, superficial interaction is not intended to elicit anything other than a routine response ("good," "ok," "hanging in there," etc.).

Michael said...

Marc -

Those two questions? Probably not, haha. I'm sure there are ways to break the ice and actually connect with people in mundane circumstances despite the expectation to be superficially cheerful and blandly inoffensive/"normal" - it just so happens that I'm terrible at finding what those ways are. You strike me as much more of a social risk-taker than me (i.e., much less uninhibited), and I would guess that you've ended up happier for it overall, even if you've possibly gotten some funny looks along the way. :)

Michael said...

(Correction: "much less inhibited")

Marc Susselman said...

Yes, Michael, I am given to striking up conversations with strangers all the time – at the super-market, at the library, at the drug store, … Yesterday, leaving the library, I noticed a young couple and asked them if they were in love. The young woman laughed and said they were, I responded, “Wonderful. Stay young as long as possible.” Her beau laughed and said he liked my hat. I said, “Thank you.” (He did not say You’re welcome,” but his compliment made my day.)

LFC said...

Wow. I can't imagine a universe in which I spot a young couple and ask them whether they're in love. It is none of my business, and nor do I care whether they're in love or whether they're platonic friends or whether they're mainly interested in having sex but are not in love.

That said, Marc has a lot of courage, of a particular kind.

s. wallerstein said...

I myself would not ask a young couple if they are in love because sex and love are very sensitive topics and someone might interpret that remark the wrong way and I might end up with a fractured skull.

However, I do tend to establish social contacts more than most people. I notice that when I visit my sister in Nyack, New York when I go out for a walk, all the neighbors say "hello" to me.

That doesn't happen in Chile, but I still say "buenos dias" to all my neighbors even though they don't greet me. After a while, I might ask them how their kids are doing, if I notice that they have children and that might lead to a more complex conversation about childhood today or about what virtues (always virtues, never defects) I notice in their children, etc.

I also say "hello" to cops, to people sweeping the street, etc.

Marc Susselman said...

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some, but for everyone.”

John Rapko said...

I have found that the mores surrounding public conversation vary by region, even micro-region. The East Village in New York City is (in my experience) the best, in that it seems like you're a yahoo if you don't engage in some banter. Example: my first morning there (c. 1983) I was at a restaurant for breakfast with a friend. The waitress came up and asked, "Are you ready to order?" Friend: 'Sheesh, it's either that or we start paying rent."--I read a great deal in public, at cafes and standing in lines. I can't explain it, but I have found that I'm most attractive to women when I'm reading a book about Chinese painting at a cafe; they rush me and announce without warning that they too are interested in the subject. Contrariwise, when reading a book while standing in line, I've frequently become the object of hostile attention and derision. Real-life example in a pizza line: Unsavory Fellow: 'What are you reading?' Me: 'Stanner's classic study of Australian Aboriginal Dreaming'. He: 'I hate that shit."--It's not a strategy, but rather just doing what comes naturally, when I routinely respond to the server's request by saying, "I don't know. What would you have (or: What's your favorite?)" People almost always seem pleased to be asked, and then I guess from their response whether they'd like to continue the conversation. The only quasi-Susselman conversation I've had was at a bakery recently; I walked up to the counter, and before I could say anything the server excitedly said, "Oh! You give me such a strong sense of earth!" This led to some baseless assertions and pop-metaphysical speculations.--And finally I was struck how my friend showing me around Bogotá would, similar to s. wallerstein, say (just) 'Buenas' to pretty much everybody. Generally I only say 'Hello' to dogs.

Marc Susselman said...

I want to state on the record, here and now, that I have never said to anyone, “Oh, you give me such a strong sense of earth (or Earth)!” - not even to my wife.

aaall said...

I assume earth, water, fire, air. Four elements - yoga, alchemy, etc.

Marc Susselman said...

I have a movie recommendation for an excellent, outstanding recent film, which I watched on DVD last night with my family. The film is titled “C’mon, C’mon” and stars Joaquin Phoenix as a documentarian who travels around the country recording interviews with young people about what they think the future holds; what they think of adults; what they think of about the United States. He has been estranged from his sister over an argument they had about the care to be provided to their dying mother. After conducting interviews in Detroit, he travels to Los Angeles to visit his sister, who has a precocious 9 year-old son and a husband who suffers form severe manic-depression. In order to allow the sister to care for her husband, who needs to be hospitalized, Phoenix takes his nephew with him to New York City and New Orleans where he is scheduled to conduct additional interviews. He and his nephew, whose behavior occasionally frustrates Phoenix, form a bond. The film deals with the challenges of parenting, the challenges facing young adults, and the challenges of life, generally, and how to cope with them. Five stars.

Bob Hockett said...

'The book was called Realizing Rawls, after all. Can one imagine Marx having written something called Realizing Hegel?'

- Indeed one can. Marx was effectively planning it at the time of his death. Cliff's Notes understandings of buzzwords like 'idealism' and 'materialism,' at least when used in connection with 19th century German philosophy, are kinda unhelpful.

Sean said...

I read all your posts, Prof Wolff, and have done so for several years now - but on a feed, so I don't actually visit your website. Whenever you've complained about the commentors going off-topic, I had always thought you were being a bit prissy. I happened to click onto your site today, and now I completely understand your frustrations. P.S. thank you for blogging, i'm sure it means the same to many others like me.