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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

Wednesday, November 30, 2022


I have just learned that In Defense of Anarchism will be translated into Arabic and published in Kuwait.  I guess it is too much to hope that it will be translated into Farsi and published in Iran.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022


One of the continuing challenges in teaching is to figure out what your students do not know. Especially when teaching graduate students, this is difficult because graduate students have learned to put on their game faces and pretend to understand everything, hoping desperately that what they do not understand will be explained along the way without their having to acknowledge that they are mystified. I watch a good deal of cable news and I am struck by how often the “experts” who appear on those shows completely fail to understand what the audience does and does not know. Let me give you some recent examples.


Yesterday, I was listening to a well-known newspaper reporter talk about something she learned through a “foyer” request. I knew that “foyer” or “foya” is the way that the acronym FOIA is pronounced. I also knew that the letters FOIA stand for Freedom of Information Act, a federal law that for almost half a century has made government records available to ordinary citizens. I knew that, and of course everybody on the show knows that, but I would be willing to bet that 80% or 90% of the viewers did not know that and therefore did not really understand what the newspaper reporter was talking about. What is more, it simply never occurred to the host of the show to take 10 seconds to explain it so that the viewers would know what was being talked about.


Here is another example, which I will flesh out with my own made up explanation. Whenever defense or intelligence experts appear on a show to talk about the classified documents that Trump took to Mar-a-Lago with him, they make reference to the possibility that these documents will compromise “sources and methods.” Since this phrase reappears so often in the discussions on television, I assume it is a standard expression used by people who spend their life dealing with government secrets of one sort or another. But the phrase is never explained and therefore it is never clear to ordinary listeners like me exactly how Trump’s having those documents could compromise “sources and methods.” I thought about it for a while and I came up with the following hypothetical example.


Suppose some branch of our government is trying to keep track of who is in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle of advisors. This is important, we may suppose, for getting some insight into his plans regarding the war in Ukraine. Imagine that one of our spies in Moscow, masquerading as a McDonald’s hamburgers executive, learns of some low-level nobody whose job it is to bring tea and coffee and snacks to Putin when he is meeting with people in his office. This nonentity sits in the pantry until a buzzer tells him to get up, pick up a tray, and bring the snacks into Putin’s office. He does so without saying a word and leaves, and he has been doing this every day for years. Our spy somehow gets to this nobody and persuades him to keep track of the people he sees there and report any changes. Some while later, after the information has been passed back to CIA headquarters in Langley, an analyst writes a memorandum calling attention to the fact that there has been a change in the circle of Putin’s closest advisers. He does not say where the information comes from, simply that it is well confirmed.


If one of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago guests manages to take a picture of this document surreptitiously when it sits in Trump’s desk drawer and passes the picture back to Moscow, folks there pretty quickly can figure out that the information must come from one of only three or four people who have regular access to Putin’s inner office.  Our “sources” have been compromised.


This would take only a few moments to explain to several million viewers, who would then have a much clearer idea of why experts are so exercised by the fact that Trump took these documents and kept them in an insecure fashion.


Here is a third example. Senate rules dictate that if the Democrats and Republicans each have 50 senators, then all committees have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, which makes it very difficult for the Democrats to issue subpoenas and also very difficult to get Biden’s judicial and other nominees through committee to the floor of the Senate. If Warnock wins, that will not change control of the Senate, but it will dramatically change what the Democrats can do with their control. This is not rocket science and has actually been mentioned once or twice on cable news shows that I have watched but most of the time the commentators talk as though nothing major is at stake in the runoff as the Democrats already have 50 senators.

Monday, November 21, 2022


Seven years ago, in 2015, I did a deep dive into the rules governing the allocation of Republican Party convention delegates in the different states, and demonstrated on this blog that if Donald Trump could get a steady 30 – 35% of the voters in the various primaries, he would win enough delegates to secure the nomination even without the so-called “superdelegates” allocated by Republican Party rules. I am not aware that any of the states have made significant changes to their rules, which essentially gives the winner of a primary all or most of the delegates. It is my impression, although only that, that Trump can reasonably expect to command at least 1/3 of the delegates in the upcoming primaries for the 2024 election. If, as seems likely, as many as a dozen candidates announce their candidacy, then unless Ron DeSantis can actually secure more than half of the delegates not committed to Trump in the early primaries, Trump will start to build up what will appear to be an unbeatable lead in delegate commitments. The anti-Trump forces in the Republican Party could forestall such an event by all combining behind a single non-Trump candidate, but we know that will not happen.


By the way, being in jail is not an obstacle to running for president. Just ask Eugene Victor Debs, five-time nominee of the Socialist party in the first part of the 20th century, who ran for president the fifth time in 1920 while in jail and got 3 million votes.


Sunday, November 20, 2022


For those who did not recognize the passage quoted by Fritz Poebel in his comment, you will find it in the second paragraph of the Introduction to David Hume’s great work A Treatise of Human Nature. I have long believed that Hume is the greatest philosopher to write in the English language. I first studied the Treatise in the fall of 1951 and love to return to it from time to time.


Well, well, well. Samuel Alito has been outed as having leaked an important Supreme Court decision 10 years ago. John Roberts must be beside himself.


It occurred to me yesterday as I lay in bed thinking that this is now the 75th anniversary of an event that loomed large in my family and in my own teenage years. In 1942, the Westinghouse Corporation established something called the Science Talent Search, a nationwide competition for high school seniors which involved both a written examination and a report of an individual science project. The chair of the biology department in Forest Hills High School, Paul Brandwein, decided to make a big push for the Westinghouse in 1947–48, and my big sister Barbara was one of a number of students at Forest Hills who entered the Westinghouse. She not only did well enough in the examination to be one of the 400 students nationwide to win Honourable Mention, her research project was good enough for her to be selected as well as one of the 40 students who went to Washington DC for a week-long visit, during which the students were interviewed about their projects. (Forest Hills had four winners that year, an astonishing accomplishment.)

At the end of the week, the review committee selected one boy and one girl (that is the way they were talked about in those days) as grand national winners and Barbara was the Westinghouse grand national girl winner. She won a $2,400 scholarship, which paid for four years of tuition at Swarthmore College, from which she eventually graduated summa cum laude.


Barbara’s research project was on phenocopies in Drosophila Melanogaster, which is to say fruit flies. She conducted her research in the basement of our little house in Kew Gardens Hills but some of the critters got loose and would migrate upstairs to the dining room where they hovered in a little cloud over the dinner table each evening.


After many years, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search became the Intel Science Talent Search, and is apparently now the Regeneron Science Talent Search.  Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez was a winner of the Intel competition her senior year in high school.


As Barbara’s little brother, I was of course expected to try out for the Westinghouse as well. My first thought for a project was to take metalworking shop, make a pair of slide calipers, and go to Chinatown to measure their heads of first and second generation Chinese-Americans to see whether there was any difference. When that did not pan out, I had a go at an analysis of the flora and fauna of a pond in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.  Eventually I did some silly analytic geometry project. I did get an Honorable Mention and can still remember telling my girlfriend, Susie (now my wife), how disappointed I was. She tried to convince me that it was still something to get an Honorable Mention, but I knew better.



Saturday, November 19, 2022


In Blazing Saddles, Madeline Kahn does a spectacular send-up of Marlene Dietrich as Lili von Shtupp singing “I’m Tired.”  That is the way I feel. I am sure some of it is age and my struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, but even if I were younger and healthier, I think I would simply be weary of the endless disputes with those who are all on the same side of the great political divide as I am.


Next semester, I have offered to give a series of free lectures in the UNC Philosophy Department on “The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy,” and I hope they can be arranged.  Lord knows, those lectures will not make the world a better place, but I would find it peaceful and soothing to spend my time explaining rational choice theory and collective choice theory and Game Theory to interested graduate students. I mean, it cannot do any harm (save, perhaps, to the reputation of John Rawls, but he can survive my animadversions.)

Thursday, November 17, 2022


                                         Will Trump get the nomination?


Loyal readers of this blog with good memories will recall that seven years ago I carried out a series of speculations and calculations about the Republican nominating process based on information I found online concerning the rules of the various states for selecting delegates to the nominating conventions. The rules governing the selection of delegates in the Republican states, which I do not believe have been changed, give an outsized advantage to an individual who wins a mere plurality of the votes in primary elections. If Trump really has a 35% to 40% block of faithful supporters who vote in primaries, my guess is that he can lock up the nomination before enough people leave the field so that he is only competing against one or at most two opponents in later primaries.  If he gets the nomination, he will lose the election in a landslide. If he does not get the nomination, my guess is he will persuade enough of his supporters not to vote to throw the election to the Democrats,


Speaker of the House


You have all, I am sure, read of the problems Kevin McCarthy is having assembling 218 votes for his bid to be Speaker of the House.  He has the support of a majority of the Republican House members, but he needs all but two or three of them because the entire House votes to choose the Speaker. 


Recall that one does not have to be a member of the House of Representatives to be chosen as Speaker.  If the 214 or so Democrats in the House can pull four or five Republicans with them, they can choose someone to serve as Speaker who is not a member of the House.  Is there someone who might fill that bill?


Let me propose Liz Cheney. To be clear, Cheney’s politics are what used to be called right wing Republican, so there is no way that she would agree to serve as Speaker in order to advance a progressive legislative agenda. But she might very well be prepared to agree to use the power of the Speakership to block efforts, for example, to impeach Biden and other members of his administration.


Just a thought.




Tuesday, November 15, 2022


Sorry to have been away. I am still trying to process the unexpected results of the election. The fact that one week after the election there is still a very slender chance of the Democrats holding the House is astonishing. Considering how well the Democrats did down ballot, I think our little effort giving money to the DLCC was a good choice.


I am coming to the end of my UNC course, which will very probably be the last course I ever teach. The UNC philosophy department does not have the money to hire me in the next academic year and the limitations placed upon me by the Parkinson’s give me little hope of being able to continue beyond that time. However, I have offered to give a series of noncredit lectures next semester on Formal Methods in Political Philosophy and since I am not asking to be paid, I think it may be possible.


I think I will be here to see the 2024 election but that may be my last. I was born the year that FDR was inaugurated for the first time and had almost finished college before I saw a president who was not a Democrat. My older son, Patrick, was born shortly before Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection and I was up in the middle of the night giving Patrick a bottle and watching television in the kitchen when I heard the news that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated.


I was in the card catalog room of Widener Library looking for a book when I noticed a little group of people gathered around a radio at the checkout desk and discovered that Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.


I went to my first political rally in the fall of 1948, a Henry Wallace rally at Yankee Stadium, and when it rained ended up with my friend Johnny Brown watching a Rex Barney no-hitter in the Polo Grounds across the river.  (It is said that when Orthodox Jewish boys start to study Talmud, the teacher puts a drop of honey on the page and tells the boy to kiss it so that ever after he will associate the sweet taste of the honey with the study of Talmud.  I think seeing a no-hitter on the evening that I had intended to attend a political rally had a somewhat similar effect on me.)


Well, it is time to start preparing my lecture on Herbert Marcuse’s 1969 book, An Essay on Liberation.



Saturday, November 12, 2022


There is a good chance that the Democrats will hold the Senate and an outside chance, against all odds, that they will hold the House. The Democrats have done quite well down ballot with the little bit of financial help we gave to the DLCC. 


With only 51 senators at best, here would be little or no chance in the next two years for the Democrats to pass progressive legislation, even if they were by some miracle to hold onto the House. But there is a silver lining.


Many of the provisions in the several pieces of large social and economic legislation that the Democrats passed in the first two years of Biden’s ministration only start to kick in January 1 or even later. Meanwhile, there is reason to hope that in the next year and a half inflation will ease significantly.  So the Democrats should be well positioned to win the 2024 election.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022


I have made an important discovery about myself. I do not do well with only four hours of sleep.

I think we have a very good chance of holding the Senate and even an outside chance of holding onto the House.  That outcome would be little short of a miracle. I have had somewhat the same thought that Marc Susselman expressed about the 2024 election.  If Trump does not get the Republican nomination, I doubt that he will run as an independent candidate but he will almost certainly try to take as many of his own supporters as he can away from the Republicans and that would have the same effect.

The first item on my bucket list, as they call it, is to sit in front of my television set and see Trump led away in an orange jumpsuit.  It does not seem too much to ask for.

Next Monday I start lecturing on Marcuse.  I am not sure whether that is perfectly appropriate or wildly irrelevant. We shall see.

Now, let me take a nap…

Tuesday, November 8, 2022


While I wait for the results to come in, frozen into an immobility of apprehension, let me make one more observation about “tactical nuclear weapons.”


I assume that we are all familiar with the distinction between military strategy and tactics. Strategy may be planned with maps and sand tables, but tactics, according to long-established military wisdom, can only be learned on the battlefield. That is one reason, among others, why those who wish to rise to the rank of general are well advised, early in their careers, to command a platoon or company in battle.


Only two nuclear weapons have ever been used in battle – the two fission devices that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing several hundred thousand Japanese in two momentary flashes.  Neither of those was in any recognizable sense a battlefield use of a nuclear weapon. Several generations of military officers have enlisted, been commissioned, risen to general staff status, retired and died without any of them ever using or even reading about the use of a nuclear weapon on a battlefield.


Thus, when television commentators or military experts or even men and women in uniform talk about “low yield tactical weapons” they have no more direct knowledge whereof they speak then they would if they talked about light sabers.


Will Putin use one or more nuclear weapons in Ukraine? God, I hope not but I have no idea. However I am quite sure of one thing – neither he nor any of his generals has any real idea what a “tactical” use of such a weapon would be.

Sunday, November 6, 2022


 I thought you might find this one of historical interest.

The Farrakhan Fiasco:

The UMass Amherst Reaction to Louis Farrakhan’s Visit

Seven months ago, on March 9th, Minister Louis Farrakhan came to speak at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. An audience of roughly two thousand listened to a three hour speech that was, according to most reports, lively, informative, inspiring, and forceful.

The university administration's reaction to Farrakhan's visit can charitably be described as hysterical. A month before Minister Farrakhan was scheduled to speak, the Chancellor, David Scott, assembled most of his senior administrators and a good many faculty and staff at his home for a lengthy strategy session, after which he issued a two-page statement in which he delicately balanced his commitment to the Constitution and the ideals of free debate against what he described as the ugliness of Farrakhan's message and the pain it could confidently be expected to cause among what he tastefully referred to as certain "communities."

In the face of Farrakhan's visit, which it clearly viewed in roughly the way medieval Europe viewed the approach of the armies of Ghengis Khan, the administration mobilized the entire university. The March 4 issue of the Campus Chronicle, under the headline "Programs, Workshops Pose Counterpoint to Speech," described some of the defensive measures prompted by the impending threat to the university community: A two-week video series on the Housing Services Cable Network "spotlighting the Jewish and African-American cultures"; a workshop for faculty, teaching assistants, residence directors, and student leaders on "Leading Difficult Discussions" guided by three representatives of the Social Justice Education Program; two meetings at the offices of the university Ombud at which trained student mediators from the Multicultural Student Conflict Resolution Team would provide "an opportunity to listen to concerns, issues and feelings related to the Farrakhan speech [before the evening of the speech, note]; an afternoon lecture entitled "Talking About Race, Learning About Racism,"; a session that same afternoon on "Beyond Blacks and Jews: How Students Can Be Allies for Each Other"; another session, the next afternoon, entitled "Anti-Semitism: What's It All About"; and finally, on the night of Farrakhan's visit, a protest co-sponsored by the Newman Center, United Christian Foundation, Episcopal Chaplaincy, Hillel, and other groups.

Grant Ingle, director of the campus's Office of Human Relations, described clearly and rather revealingly the purpose of this extraordinary flurry of activity. "This isn't simply a controversial speaker coming that we have to suffer through," he said. "It's also an educational opportunity." The question explored at meetings he attended was, he said, "how can we come together as a campus in responding to a controversial speaker like Louis Farrakhan?" [Daily Hampshire Gazette, February 11,1994, p.9]

This image of the members of a university community facing a controversial speaker shoulder to shoulder, rather like wildebeest turning to confront a marauding lion, is rather startling, to say the least, as is the notion that controversy on a university campus is a trial to be "suffered through." But that is not the focus of my observations today. Nor shall I address the substance of Farrakhan's remarks, inasmuch as I did not attend his lecture, and know about it only through a partial transcript, the accounts of several of my students, and fragmentary newspaper reports.

My interest in the Farrakhan affair can be summed up in two words: Why Farrakhan? Why was the university thrown into panic by the prospect of a Farrakhan visit? Why did the entire administration, from the Chancellor on down, treat an announced lecture as a threat to the safety, the sanity, the integrity, the very life of the university community? What does this reaction tell us, not about Farrakhan, but about those who run the university? And, inasmuch as the university's reaction to Farrakhan, however bizarre, was of a piece with the reaction of many other American institutions, officials, and individuals to Minister Farrakhan, what does this affair tell us about significant segments of American society?

The administration's answer to these questions can be inferred easily enough from the opening lines of the statement issued by Chancellor Scott a month before the lecture:

The messages from Mr. Farrakhan's organization are prompting intense discussions and deep soul-searching not only among the communities which feel directly the pain of the hate and stereotypes from those messages but also among various quarters of the African American community.

It is to be expected that the same discourse and emotions would take place on our campus at the news of the impending visit of Mr. Farrakhan at the invitation of students.

But this cannot possibly be an adequate explanation of the university's reaction. It is a principle of reason widely understood and well established that what counts as a good reason in one case must count as a good reason in all relevantly similar cases. Now, there are many, many speakers whose messages cause pain to members of the university community and prompt intense discussions in various quarters - speakers who defend the theses of Sociobiology, for example; speakers who celebrate the fall of communism, or the virtues of the free market, or the Christian promise of salvation; speakers who call for "the end of welfare as we know it," or advocate the death penalty; and speakers who insult the intelligence and mock the sufferings of the poor by claiming that in a capitalist economy workers are paid a wage equal to their marginal product.

All of these speakers, and many more, prompt intense discussions and deep soul-searching among the communities which feel directly the pain of the hate and stereotypes from those messages, and yet the Chancellor is not moved by the prospect of their appearance on campus to pull up the drawbridge, lay in provisions for a siege, call emergency strategy sessions at his home, and issue statements to the university community.

My colleague, Michael Thelwell, put his finger on the essential point in a follow-up article printed by the Valley Advocate a week after Farrakhan's visit. Thelwell was asked by the Advocate reporter, "The basic question is, What is your response to the Farrakhan lecture?", and his reply was, "What is your interest in writing about this? Why are you writing about it?"

Michael was not merely being puckish, though he is perfectly capable of that. His point was that the reaction of the entire university and newspaper community to Farrakhan's visit was so disproportionate to the event as to call for an explanation. Clearly, there are certain as yet unidentified differentia that distinguish Farrakhan's visit from all others. What might they be?

The answer appears quite simple: Farrakhan had in the past made statements attacking Jews, among others, statements which others considered ugly and exaggerated. But that cannot possibly be the end of it, because countless speakers make statements that others find ugly and exaggerated.

There are in fact two reasons for the special response to Farrakhan. One of them was perfectly well understood by everyone involved in the affair, though it was not considered acceptable to mention it. The other is equally obvious, though perhaps not so readily available to the self-consciousness of most members of the UMass Amherst community.

The first reason, of course, is that there are well-organized groups of American Jews who have succeeded in getting institutions such as UMass to treat their personal concerns as politically important, regardless of any actual threat to their legally protectable interests. Neither the Nation of Islam nor any other African-American organization or grouping poses any real threat to the interests of American Jews, regardless of what their representatives may say in public speeches. The members of the UMass Amherst Jewish community who protested Farrakhan's visit have no grounds to fear that his language will be transformed into actions inimical to their interests. But they have succeeded in getting others to treat their personal distress or outrage as a fact of such public significance that an entire university campus must be mobilized to provide a context for their distaste for Farrakhan's

Contrast this situation with the reaction of those on welfare for "the end of welfare as we know it." Those statements, uttered in quite socially acceptable language by everyone from the Governor on up and down the political hierarchy constitute an immediate threat to the well-being of welfare recipients. Mothers already struggling simply to feed and clothe themselves and their children must daily face the real and imminent threat of cuts in their support payments, or even a termination of support all together. Since I am not myself a mother on welfare, I cannot pretend to speak for those who are, but an abstract consideration of the matter suggests to me that at least some mothers on welfare find such statements ugly and offensive. Would the Chancellor mobilize a month of defensive seminars and training sessions in preparation for a campaign visit from Mitt Romney or William Weld? I imagine not.

Lest it strike you as too outré to take notice of the sensibilities of welfare mothers, consider an example closer in substance to the Farrakhan affair - the sociobiological attempt to justify the discriminatory treatment of African-Americans. The "pain and the hatred from the messages" of the late Richard Herrnstein, of E. 0. Wilson, of William Shockley, and of countless other socially respectable academics, is felt quite as keenly in the part of the university community I inhabit as any caused by Farrakhan's speeches, yet no strategy sessions have been called at the Chancellor's house to counteract those effects.

The political power of the official Jewish community in America is, of course, not unique. It is a general fact about American public life that there is a sharp distinction between those groups whose interests possess political weight, and hence are accorded respect by governments, by universities, by media commentators, and even by the courts, and those other groups whose interests, however intensely felt, fall outside the realm of public acknowledgement.

The distinction is dynamic and fluid, changing over time in response to political struggle. The greatest victory any group can win in American politics is the fight to become one of the officially recognized interest groups, whose private sensibilities and substantive interests are accorded political significance. One of the striking changes of the past fifteen years or so has been the dramatic decline in the ability of the African-American community to win or preserve political weight for its interests.

I said that there were two reasons for the special response to Farrakhan's visit. The second is that for a very long time in America, white society has found it necessary, at any given moment, to demonize one or two Black leaders, as the price for allowing the rest to enter the circle of social and political acceptability. Having enslaved, oppressed, and exploited people of African descent, whites in America quite reasonably fear an angry response. So they encourage docility, submission to their laws, a willingness to talk, and most of all a commitment to non-violence in those who emerge as leaders in the Black community. Above all else, they cherish and celebrate those leaders whose behavior, speech, and demeanor demonstrate that they look to the white community for validation or approval. Nothing is more threatening than Black leaders who seem more concerned with the approval of their own followers than with admission into the clubs, restaurants, study groups, commissions, universities, or symposia of whites.

In each age since before the Civil War, we can find one or a few Black men and women - more often men than women, interestingly enough - who are seen as outrageous, unacceptable, evil. One of the odder aspects of this familiar phenomenon is that a previous generation's demon may, by a curious metamorphosis, join this generation's pantheon of honored Black leaders. W. E. B. Du Bois was demonized in this fashion during the time when Booker T. Washington was the white man's favorite Negro. Malcolm X stood in as demon during Martin Luther King, Jr.'s apotheosis. We remember faintly, with some bemusement, that King was attacked both for his opposition to the Viet Nam War and for his unconscionable attempt to transform a safely Southern voting rights struggle into a fight for economic justice in the slums of Chicago. And in one of those extraordinary miracles of self-conscious self-delusion, by which history is stood on its head, we now make movies and television specials about Malcolm in which, through the very act of reminding ourselves how thoroughly he was once vilified, we somehow tell ourselves that he was, all along, a tame, proper, acceptable Negro, fit for inclusion in syllabi of even the most inoffensive college curriculum.  

In the end, the Farrakhan fiasco at UMass Amherst is a lesson not in language, but in power. It is a lesson in the power of the Jewish community to win protected status for its sentiments and sensibilities, and in the inability of the Nation of Islam to win the same status for its concerns. It is, of course, also a lesson in the ability of excluded groups to play on the phobias of those within the circle of acceptability, so as to win a degree of attention they would otherwise be unable to command.

In addition, the Farrakhan affair reminds those of us who need reminding of the effort by the white community to deny to the African-American community autonomy in the choice of its leaders. Even such moral monsters as William Bennett, John Silber, George Will, Pat Buchanan, Phil Gramm, Newt Gingrich, and Pat Robertson, who, given their way, would inflict unimaginable suffering on tens of millions of Americans, are treated with respect and forbearance by the arbiters of American social acceptability. One cannot imagine the University of Massachusetts mobilizing itself to "suffer through" a visit from any of these gentlemen.

As always, speech is the garb in which power conceals itself. And the charge of uttering offensive speech is a disguised call for the repression of a group whose interests are a threat to those with power.

Since the Farrakhan affair was about power, not language, and since all politics, as the late Tip O'Neill reminded us, is local, let me conclude with a wonderfully clear and self-aware statement by one of the students who invited Farrakhan to the campus. In the Advocate interview quoted earlier, Mike Thelwell concluded with these remarks:

[T]he students have a legitimate - and this is the most saddening part - need. Those who invited him do in fact feel marginalized on this large white campus. At a public discussion before he came, I asked, "why do you do it?" One student said, "there is this facade and rhetoric of cultural diversity, but there is no real discussion of conditions in our communities, and we thought Farrakhan would do that. When we bring other speakers no one pays attention, it's business as usual. We invited Farrakhan and now the President returns our phone calls and there is discussion in every area of the campus.