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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, May 31, 2023


Rather than respond directly today to the comments posted on my blog yesterday, I should like first to complicate my account somewhat by adding some additional facts.


The response of capital to the various so-called liberation movements has been complex, as one might expect. Let me offer just two examples to indicate this complexity.  In the later 19th century, employers sought to hold down wages by making a devil’s bargain with their white workers. In return for refusing to hire black workers, employers were able to resist the endless pressure to raise the wages of their white workers. In these cases, capital was opposed to the homogenization of the workforce. However, in the 20th century employers embraced the demand by women to enter the workforce because it made it possible for them to reduce the wages of male workers, who no longer required wages that would enable them to support a family. The so-called “family wage” presupposed that the man in the family was the breadwinner while the woman stayed home, raised the children, cooked the food, and cleaned the house.  The statistics from 2021 are suggestive and quite characteristic of the current American situation. In 2021, median household income in America was $70,784 a year, or $1416 a week for 50 weeks of full employment. But the median weekly wage for the same period of time was $1104 for men and $929 for women. Obviously most households depended on the wages of two workers. In general, it has been in the interest of capital to support the elimination of the privileges enjoyed by white men because by increasing the available labor supply capital can keep wages lower. 


One of the principal things Marx got wrong about the development of capitalism was his expectation that the hierarchical structure of skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled workers would gradually be replaced by a more uniform mass of semiskilled machine operators. He believed that this would facilitate the development of class consciousness among the workers, leading them to form powerful collectives in opposition to the ever more unified capital. In fact, what developed was a seemingly permanent pyramidal hierarchy of wages and salaries, with those in the upper reaches of the pyramid being paid salaries and benefits that were forever out of the reach of the majority of workers below.  On the books of a corporation, the worker who cleans the toilets and the president who sits in the corner office on the top floor are both employees and the compensation of each is listed as a cost to the corporation.  But the reality is of course quite different.

Half a century ago or more Samuel Bowles and Herb Gintis wrote a lovely little paper in which they constructed a mathematical model of an economy exhibiting what they called “relative exploitation,” in which capital exploited labor and higher paid labor exploited lower paid labor. That is indeed the situation that the American economy now exhibits and I confess that I do not now see how solidarity can be achieved in the face of that persistent structure of relative exploitation. The Occupy movement with its emphasis on a contrast between the 1% and everyone else was an imaginative effort in that direction, whatever its limitations may have been.


Well, I will stop here for the moment and await comments and reactions to these observations.




John Pillette said...

On the matter of class consciousness and solidarity, one of the deeper ironies of Title VII and its state analogues (DFEH here in California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) is how it has made these two states of mind recede over the far horizon. Workers are now trained up to think in terms of contests between demographic categories.

I was able to observe this first-hand at a very large employer here in Southern California. First, this employer, a health care system, was able to de-unionize using arguments that appealed to the shallowest instincts: “save yourself $10 per paycheck”, that sort of thing. So much for basic solidarity.

Second, such de-unionizing efforts are helped along by the absolutely pervasive anti-union sentiment available everywhere, from all sources. This sort of thing flows out of your media screen like water flows from an open tap.

Unions, incredibly, are now seen as “elitist” and their members as spoiled shirkers, while positive sentiment attaches to the interests of the employer. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to read a vast quantity of in-house corporate propaganda, and what I thought was bizarre 20 years ago has now become the norm.

Third, DEI ideology trains all employees to hunt for offenses (nearly all of which are, on examination, examples of truly ridiculous “micro” aggressions) coming from members of rival identity groups. Each of these employees sees the pant-suited HR officer (who, remember, works directly for The Man, the exploiter) as her “ally” against her wicked co-worker.

Anonymous said...

Do you keep the precise reference of the Bowles and Gintis paper? I would like to have a look at it.

LFC said...

The only thing by Bowles & Gintis I've read is their 1986 book _Democracy and Capitalism_. Don't recall their making the "relative exploitation" argument there, but it's been quite a while since I looked at it.

Ahmed Fares said...

re: a simple Kaleckian model

If we start with a simplifying assumption that workers spend all their income, Kalecki showed that it was impossible for capitalists in aggregate to increase profits by lowering wages. A simple explanation:

An economy has two sectors: a consumption goods sector and an investment goods sector. Being that profit is the excess of income over expenses, we can calculate the profit for each sector.

The consumption goods sector earns as profit the wage bill of the consumption goods sector plus the wage bill of the investment goods sector minus the wage bill of the consumption goods sector. As such, it nets as profit the wage bill of the investment goods sector. (note how if it pays its workers less, it gets less spending back, leaving its profits unchanged.)

The investment goods sector earns as profit what it produces as investment, minus the wage bill of the investment goods sector. (note that if it pays its workers less, it reduces the profits of the consumption goods sector by the same amount.)

Summing the profits for the two sectors, the total profit for the economy is [ (the wage bill of investment goods sector) + (investment - the wage bill of the investment goods sector)].

For the economy as a whole, note how wages fall out, leaving only investment as profit. As such, wages do not affect profits. To think otherwise is a fallacy of composition.

There is an explanation on this page with a nice picture of what I've described:

A Simple Kaleckian Model

sam said...

Anonymous: "The Marxian Theory of Value and Heterogeneous Labour: A Critique and Reformulation," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 173-192.

(Bob has discussed this paper and these issues numerous times on the blog, sometimes at more length - search for "Bowles" in the search bar for entries going back years.)

Anonymous said...

@ sam

Thank you.

Jerry Fresia said...

Given the role of the media and the state over the last few days in raising the debt ceiling, I’m trying to pull the cobwebs from my brain to recall the weight given to propaganda in Marx’s scheme of things.

To wit: we just witnessed Biden and McCarthy construct a neoliberal policy deal on the backs of the most vulnerable and the climate (note, for instance, how not a peep was mentioned in favor of a tax increase on the oligarchs). Further, it is interesting to recall how this particular construction of the public mind was begun and maintained. Yes, neoliberalism as policy arises under Carter and is virulently expanded under Reagan. But it (increased Pentagon and war spending, the gutting of investor taxes, increased debt levels used to reduce social program spending and paint protesting activists as threats to the well being of all)has continued to the present under each and every president. Not surprisingly, this is regularly given a positive spin. Lawrence O’Donnell, responsible, intelligent wordsmith, lavishes praise on Biden who did “an incredibly good job.” It is difficult not to recall Niebuhr’s moral imperative: the need to create “necessary illusions” to protect the social order from itself.

And where did this myth making, this assault on progressive policy begin? In the interest of brevity, I will skip over what was baked in at the Founding and jump to mid-20th century where the National Association of Manufacturers and its allies installed the economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek in the 1940s as high priests (at New York University and the University of Chicago which begot Milton Friedman) of “market fundamentalism.” This fundamentalist magic requires the tamping down of demands (note the contradiction) on the state which do not advance the interests of capital – everything from child labor laws , the federal income tax, workers’ compensation, let alone the pressures brought to bear on capital by full blown liberation movements which blew the mind of Lewis Powell and later the Trilateralists who bemoaned the failure of “our indoctrination centers.”

Bottom line: I believe that the function of “necessary illusions” – aka, mystification, is something Marx sought to expose. Would I be correct in assuming that mystification is no small weapon in the hands of capital in its efforts to protect the opulent few from the majority in “our democracy” as well as in maintaining appropriate levels of worker insecurity and obedience?

Anonymous said...

The logic of the result Ahmed Fares advances goes something like this.

First a definition. The profit business people make is the difference between their business' revenue and cost. That is a truism and as such it is unassailable.

It's important to keep this in mind, because the model intends to describe a capitalist economy, however simplified. And in a capitalist economy business people are driven by profits.

In this simplified economy firms are divided into two sectors. The first, the consumption goods sector, sells its output to people: workers. We are talking about goods that consumers consume in their daily lives. The revenue of these firms, therefore, depends on the wages/salaries of workers. Think of businesses as diverse as supermarkets and travel agencies.

The second sector, the investment goods sector, is very different. It sells its output to firms, not to people. Its clinets are both from the consumption goods sector and the investment goods sector itself. Firms in this sector could be, for example, the manufacturer of commercial fridges, ovens and shelves for supermarkets, or the manufacturer of frozen pizzas. It could also be the manufacturers of giant trucks for the mining industry.

There is one thing, though, where firms in these two sectors are equal: their costs come entirely from their wages bill (we'll come back to this in a moment).

Given the assumption that workers spend what they earn, the owner of, say, a supermarket chain (a part of the consumption goods sector) gains nothing by reducing the wages of his staff: one less dollar paid in wages does reduce his cost, but it also reduces his revenue. Moreover it reduces his revenue by exactly the same amount: $1. So, there is no net gain in profit.

That's one of the things Ahmed highlights.

There's more. If the manufacturer of commercial fridges, ovens and shelves for supermarkets cut the wages of his staff, he may increase his profits, but would hurt the profits of the supermarket owner. The aggregate effect would be that business people as a whole are not richer.

(to be continued)

Anonymous said...

So far, so good, right?

Well, not quite. We could apply the same logic we applied to a $1 wage cut for supermarket (consumption goods) workers to a $1 wage rise. A pay rise would be automatically spent in groceries. At the end of the day, the supermarket owner spent more in wages, but his revenue went up by exacly the same amount. No net effect on profit. Having followed Ahmed's comments, though, I somehow doubt he would advocate for higher wages for supermarket workers.

There's more. Okay, the increased profit of the fridges, ovens and shelves for supermarkets manufacturer may well hurt the bottom line of the supermarket owner. Why should that be a problem for him? He is driven by profits, his profits, not someone else's.

Suppose you are the owner of an expensive fashion label. You cut the wages of your seamstresses and this cuts the profits of the supermarket owner, but these women are not your customers. Your customers are rich people. They are unaffected by your wages cut.

The same reasoning goes the other way. If the owner of Lamborghini gave a pay rise to all his autoworkers, he would not get a cent in additional car sales. He does not sell Lamborghini Veneno Roadsters (price: $8.3 million) to welders.

That model wants to have its cake and eat it too. Those capitalists do not make decisions thinking of their own personal profit. Subtly, their emphasis shifts to them as a class.

Let's to back to something we left hanging above. Remember that the costs of both, consumption and investment goods, come entirely from wages?

Well, that is a bit of a problem, because if costs only come from wages, then whatever the investment goods sector sells must cost a consumption goods firm nothing. After all, it does not enter into the consumption goods price structure.

But it does cost the investment goods firm.

Oh dear.

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

Chomsky isn't a Marxist (nor am I), but his book, Manufacturing Consent, is excellent on
how and why necessary illusions are generated.

Chomsky points out that the proles are fed sports, celebrity gossip, sex and crime (as in Orwell's 1984), while the educated classes, who have to accept the party line for the system to function, are fed a more complex set of necessary illusions (which the media actually believes in general since folks from the media are formed by the same system) in the "quality" mainstream media such as the NY Times, Washington Post and CNN:

LFC said...

There's another "problem."

Let's say I own a chain of supermarket stores, chain X, and I give all employees a $1 wage decrease. That must decrease my revenues, because my employees will have a dollar less to spend in chain X, right?

No. What if half my employees happen to prefer to shop at chain Y? Then I can decrease wages w.o facing a commensurate loss of revenue. There might be some loss of revenue but it wd be more than offset by the wages cut.

John Pillette said...

JF, you are indeed correct, mystification is such a weapon, used by the few against the many. But the interesting thing is that this mystification is readily adopted by the many and used against themselves, is it not? (I know, I know, “false consciousness” and all that). One reason (and maybe the main one) that “exploitation” is utterly foreign as a concept while being ubiquitous, is that understanding one’s own exploitation is too uncomfortable.

Even for the relatively well-off, seeing society as a whole and thereby looking at the “hardended steel housing of modernity” (stahlhartes gehause?) is … disturbing. It makes you squirm to even think about it, insofar as it underscores your own powerlessness. It makes society seem like a vast prison …

John Pillette said...

And BTW, let me demonstrate my mass culture bona fides here by referencing the sci-fi movie “The Matrix”, where the Joe Pataliano character decides (reasonably enough) that life in the real world sucks. He makes a conscious decision to betray his comrades and instead live in a comfortable state of mystification, in the Matrix: “I don’t care if it’s all an illusion” he says. It’s impossible to not sympathize.

Anonymous said...

Focusing just on capitalism’s opportunistic accommodations of alternately the liberation movements and their adversaries, the role of the underclass (however defined) in capitalism is fascinating. On the one hand, capitalism wants to include the underclass to suppress wages. But part of wage suppression requires there to be more workers than (tolerable) jobs, so capitalism also seems to need the concept of an underclass as ideological justification for the mass of people arbitrarily (from a moral point of view) excluded from the political economy.

This duality becomes a win-win for capitalism — liberation movements can be accommodated as adding to the labor pool and, because strategies of ascriptive difference construct their own (artificial) realities, new underclasses can be created to justify the continued surplus of workers needed to keep wages low.

Anonymous said...

Chomsky's claims to being a penetrating exposer of elitism seem rather hypocritical in light of his recently revealed friendship with Jeffrey Epstein -- in the period after Epstein was given essentially a slap on the wrist for sex trafficking a minor.

Per Wikipedia: "While most convicted sex offenders in Florida are sent to state prison, Epstein was instead housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County Stockade and, according to the sheriff's office, was, after 3 1⁄2 months, allowed to leave the jail on 'work release' for up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. This contravened the sheriff's own policies requiring a maximum remaining sentence of 10 months and making sex offenders ineligible for the privilege. He was allowed to come and go outside of specified release hours."

And last week it was revealed that Chomsky received a $270,000 transfer from an account owned by Epstein.

LFC said...

Of course, "actually existing" capitalisms don't always succeed in maintaining a sufficiently large "reserve army of the unemployed" to keep down wages. For ex., in the U.S. at the moment official (at any rate) unemployment rates are low and some businesses have more open jobs than readily available (and interested) workers to apply for them. That, coupled w some pressures at largely non-unionized places (e.g. Starbucks) to disincentivize unionization (when it can't be fought successfully w propaganda alone) means that starting salaries are considerably above the federal minimum wage.

Marc Susselman said...

I suppose I should know better by now, but I cannot seem to help myself by desisting from writing provocative remarks on this blog. But here it goes. I am going to preface these remarks with an anecdote about a legal malpractice case I am handling, in which my client is suing an insurance company which declined coverage for the lawyer whom she is suing for having committed the legal malpractice. (Those of you who hate my legal anecdotes should just skip this comment altogether.) The lawyer committed the legal malpractice while representing my client in a breach of contract lawsuit. He committed many acts and inactions of legal malpractice, the most egregious of which was his failure to show up for the trial. After my client lost that breach of contract lawsuit (which I referred to in a previous thread, where the judge proceeded to hold the jury trial, even though the defendant’s attorney was not present to defend her), the attorney, let’s call him X, joined another law firm. Now X did not have a legal malpractice policy when he committed the legal malpractice. His legal malpractice, I intend to argue, caused my client over $500 hundred thousand in damages. X does not have the financial means to pay such damages out of his own pocket. However, the new firm he joined did have a legal malpractice policy, so I sued the insurance company which had issued the malpractice policy to X’s new employer. While X was working for the new law firm, the malpractice lawsuit was filed against him. He asked for coverage from his employer’s malpractice insurer, and the insurer declined, stating that the policy did not cover acts of malpractice which occurred when he was not working for the insured law firm, and before the insurance policy took effect. I disagree, and maintain that X was entitled to insurance coverage and that by refusing to provide coverage to X, it breached the policy.

I persuaded X to assign his breach of contract claim to my client, which allows her to sue the insurance company as if she is standing in X’s shoes. The main question is how to interpret some very convoluted language in the insurance policy. The policy states that it only provides coverage for an “insured individual” who is an employee of the “insured entity,” the law firm, while the employee was acting “solely on behalf of the insured entity, the law firm.” Now, after X joined the law firm, there is no question that he was working solely on behalf of the law firm. All the files he worked on were files of the law firm. The insurance coverage applies to “wrongful acts” which the insured individual committed, i.e., the acts of legal malpractice. The insurance company maintains that X does not qualify as an “insured individual” because all of the “wrongful acts” he is being sued for are acts, and inactions, he committed before he ever worked at the law firm. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? I don’t agree, because nowhere in the policy does the language of the policy require that the “wrongful acts” in question have to have been committed during the time period when the “insured individual” was acting solely on behalf of the insured entity. (It is a “claims made” policy, which is a kind of policy which is sold to professional businesses, such as law firms, physicians, architects, etc. It provides coverage based on when a claim is made, not on when the conduct which is the basis for the claim occurred. This is different form, for example, an automobile liability policy, which only covers events, i.e., accidents, which occur during the term of the policy. You cannot ask your automobile insurer to cover an accident which occurred one month before you bought the policy.)


John Pillette said...

The primary ”role” of the underclass (those folk whom we are now urged to think of as merely “unhoused”), the part they have to play in the drama of society, is to serve as a collective bogeyman, as a coercive object lesson for the rest of us to take in:

THIS is what could happen to YOU … if you don’t get into the right school, if you don’t study hard enough in school, if you tell your boss to go fuck himself … if you somehow cross an (unwritten) line somewhere, somehow … so, check yourself before you wreck yourself!

The underclass can’t be part of any kind of labor pool, because they are by definition unemployable. Their function is purely symbolic. They are there to keep the rest of us in line.

Marc Susselman said...

So I took the deposition of the claims adjuster, also an attorney, who declined the coverage and asked him to tell me where in the policy was the term “wrongful acts” linked to the definition of “insured individual.” Well, he hemmed and hawed, and insisted “It’s right there,” and I said I do not see the words “wrongful acts” anywhere in the passage you are referring to. He became indignant, and said, “Mr. Susselman, you have to read the policy as a whole.’ I said I have read the entire policy, and I do not see anywhere in the policy where “wrongful acts” are linked to who qualifies as an “insured individual.” He responded, “Well, you have to read the policy as a whole.” I said fine, let’s do that, page by page (the policy is 21 pages long). He said, “You want me to read the entire policy now?” I said Yes, I have time. So we went page by page, and he could not point out any language in the policy linking “wrongful acts” to the definition of “insured individual,” at the end of which I asked him, “Where in the policy does it state that in order for an insured individual to have coverage, the wrongful acts he is being sued for had to have occurred while he was acting solely on behalf of the law firm which purchased the policy?” In exasperation he said, “Mr. Susselman, I have explained to you several times that you have to read the policy as a whole.” Yesterday I finished my motion and brief for summary disposition, requesting that the court rule that X was entitled insurance coverage, and that the insurance company breached the policy by refusing to provide it.

What does this anecdote have to do with this post and the comments following it? Reading them, I get the same sense of circularity that the insurance adjuster’s argument that “You have to read the policy as a whole” leaves me with. There is a sense of indignation in the comments which is critical of how capitalism operates, particularly here in the U.S., and how the deal that Biden and McCarthy worked out is an example of the political system’s and the media’s corruption and “the need to create ‘necessary illusions’ to protect the social order from itself,” as Jerry Fresia puts it. What, I ask, is the basis of this indignation? There is an implicit assumption that the way the system works is “unfair,” that the employer who lowers the wages of the employees is not treating the employees “fairly.” But what is the source of this precept requiring “fairness.” Where is it? Does one have to see “the whole picture,” as the insurance adjuster would claim, in order to discern the imperative of this precept? Most of the people who read or comment on this blog characterize themselves as atheists or, at least, agnostics. So they would not purport to find this precept in the Torah, or the King James Bible, or the Koran. And most have rejected my defense of ethical intuitionism as apocryphal. So, on what basis then, do they condemn the employer who unilaterally decides to reduce the wages of his employees by $1/hour? Prof. Wolff has given up as futile trying to justify his moral precepts by an appeal to logic, stating that one has to decide on which side one is on. But without God or religion, and without ethical intuitionism, how does one justify the side one has chosen and one’s indignation at the employer who reduces his employees’ wages by $1/hr., an indignation with reeks with the judgment that the employer who does this is a “bad” person.


Marc Susselman said...

But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that there is a valid precept which condemns conduct which is “unfair,” that “fairness” is a morally compelled objective in human conduct. How does this precept work in this context? One of the embodiments of the fairness principle appears in the U.S. Constitution, in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It requires that federal and state governments must treat individuals whose circumstances are essentially comparable, in an equal manner; that disparities in treatment of individuals in comparably equal circumstances cannot be justified on the basis of differences in race, religion, gender, or age, for example. This is a fair and eminently sensible moral and legal precept. But assuming, for the sake of argument, that the 14th Amendment applied to a private employer (it doesn’t, but Title VII, which was enacted under the Commerce Clause, does), is it unfair, in the sense of violating equal protection, for a private employer to reduce his employees’ wages by $1/hr. But the employer, and the employer’s employees, are not comparably situated; they are clearly different. And as long as the employer reduces the wage of all the employees by $1/hr., he is not being unfair, in the sense that he is not treating comparably situated individuals differently.

Many of the individuals who comment on this blog assert that they are Marxists. But what does this mean? I am by no means a scholar of Marx. but based on what I have read, including Kapital, Prof. Wolff’s blog, and the comments on it, Marxism condemns capitalism because its ultimate result/objective, is to exploit workers in order to enhance the profits of those who control the means of production, and who employ the workers and exploit them for profit. In advancing this perspective, was Marx making a descriptive, or a prescriptive analysis? Was he purporting to just describe how capitalism works, or was he also asserting that how it works is morally wrong in some sense, it is unfair. If the latter, on what did he base this conclusion? He was not religious, despite being the grandson of a rabbi. Did he intuit it – a basis which most of the commenters on this blog have rejected. On what basis, then, if his analysis was intended to be prescriptive, not just descriptive, did he maintain that it is wrong for the owners of the means of production to take advantage of the workers in order to increase his profits? I would agree that if the owner of the means of production stole the means of production, e.g., the way that many original American settlers stole the land from the Native Americans, or that the Southern slaveholders stole the labor of Africans who were kidnapped and brought to this country against their will, it would be unfair for them to then use those means of production to exploit the workers, using ill-gotten goods to do so. But that is not how Henry Ford, or Thomas Edison, for example, began their businesses, What is unfair about how they treated their workers? They were not violating equal protection, since employers and employees are not empirically or conceptually equal. Henry Ford could say to an employee complaining about the wages being paid, or the conditions in the workplace, if you don’t like it, why don’t you do what I did, and start your own business, and you can decide how you wish to treat your employees, as is your right. As I wrote in a previous thread, the race is not always to the swiftest, but more often than not, it is. Is the winner of the race immoral by virtue of having won the race?

Marc Susselman said...

And if Marx was making a prescriptive judgment, what precisely form of an economy was he proposing to replace capitalism with which did not generate its own forms of unfairness? As I stated in a prior thread, from all according to their abilities, to all according to the needs, hypothesizes a human nature which just does not exist. Moreover, that given that under U.S. law, workers have a right to organize in order to combat an employer’s exploitation, and where there are regulations in place which prohibit an employer interfering with union organizing, where is the unfairness, if those regulations are properly enforce (which admittedly is not always the case, but which is not a given predicate of the legal structure).

One more aspect which I find rather hypocritical. Most of the individuals who assert that they are Marxists are educators, professors, and authors of philosophical and economic treatises, who are working solely for themselves, and who provide little to no employment to others, unlike the capitalist business people whom they criticize and condemn.

In sum, I do not understand the conceptual basis of the intense indignation that is expressed in many of the above comments, and which has been expressed in numerous other threads on this blog. If you are not religious, and do not believe in moral intuitionism, what is the basis for your indignation? And if you do believe in some overriding moral precept requiring that we treat others fairly, how is that precept violated by those who obtain ownership of means of production – either by investing money that they have otherwise earned legally and morally, or by using their cognitive abilities and inherent talents? I find all of this to be circular, as circular as the claims adjuster who insists that X is not entitled to insurance coverage, because his ineligibility is right there, if you just read the policy as a whole.

Let the slings and arrows fly.

LFC said...

The forces of socialization are usually sufficiently strong, at least in middle-class and above strata, that the presence of an underclass as "bogeyman" is not really required.

No one ever said to me when I was growing up "if you don't work hard in school, you'll end up as a homeless person." The "bogeyman" argument is further undercut by the fact that a non-trivial proportion of the "unhoused" suffer or have suffered from mental illness and/or addiction.

John Pillette said...

The underclass have been extruded from society. Not “excluded”, but “extruded”, that is, expelled under pressure.

The causes of this extrusion may be drugs, mental illness, or simple economic misfortune, but the object lesson is the same: accommodate yourself, as best you can, to societal pressures, or suffer the consequences.

John Rapko said...

William Blake on the source of indignation, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert, that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
Isaiah answer'd, I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in every thing, and as I was then persuaded, & remain confirm'd; that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote.”

LFC said...

I don't know where you get the notion that a lot of people here have completely rejected "ethical intuitionism." Just speaking for myself, I think intuitions are an important starting point for moral judgments.

Some people, such as D. Zimmerman, have debated w you about moral realism, i.e. the view that morality is "objective." But one needn't be a professional philosopher to understand that ethical intuitionism and moral realism are two different things.

John Pillette said...

Maybe most interesting of all are the mystifications that the rich are subject to (maybe better said, that they subject themselves to). I was chatting with a pal who works for a non-profit foundation. The word has come down to management from on high: gotta “tighten belts”, in line with the rest of Silicon Valley. So they’ve instituted a hiring freeze.

Now the business of this “business” (if you can call it that) is to GIVE AWAY MONEY. Literally. There is a big pile of money, they are sitting on top of it, it’s growing, and they are required by law to give a certain portion of it away every quarter. There is no OBJECTIVE reason for anything like a hiring freeze. And no, the endowment has not been effected by any kind of a diminution in stock price.

My friend, after scratching his head over this mystery, finally realized that it’s simple monkey-see, monkey-do. It’s pure herd thinking (a herd of expensive, cossetted, thoroughbred horses, maybe, but a herd nonetheless).

The billionaires (and they are BILLIONaires) who run this not-for-profit enterprise talk to other billionaires (who are running for-profit enterprises) and they understand that those other billionaires are “tightening belts”, so these guys (and gals, Title IX fans!) have decided that they must do the same. It’s an exalted form of “playing office”.

If, like me, you had always thought—naively—that being colossally rich would, on its own, give you the opportunity to think for yourself, think again!

David Zimmerman said...


Permit me a moment of pedantry.

The phrase "moral intuition" has two distinct uses in meta-ethics.

One is anodyne: a moral intuition is simply a moral belief that someone is pretty sure about, that one finds immediately compelling, that one is strongly inclined to embrace, without too much theorizing about what it is based upon. In that minimalist sense anyone can have moral intuitions, no matter what her views might be about the meaning of moral terms, the role of truth in moral assessments, the place of reason in moral discourse and the like.

Moral intuitionism proper, by contrast, is a strong semantic/metaphysical/epistemological view about all of those matters. It holds that moral terms like "right" and "good" designate autonomous moral properties and that people have a capacity to intuit moral truths about those properties. Intuitionism in this sense is one form of moral realism. (The other major form holds that moral properties are identical to empirical properties, thus departing from the anti-empiricist metaphysics and epistemology embraced by moral intuitionists proper.)

We all have moral intuitions about such matters as the rightness or wrongness of abortion, capital punishment, the redistribution of wealth and so on and on. But that just means that we all have strong moral opinions about things, which we do not think we need to back up with a lot of theory. You are right to suggest that moral intuitions, in the anodyne sense, are an important starting point for moral judgment. But that idea does not commit us to anything like the strong meta-ethical views of philosophers such as G. E. Moore and W. D. Ross and of commentators on this blog such as Marc S.

End of pedantry.

LFC said...

D Zimmerman
Thank you for the clarification.

What I meant was that moral intuitions, in what you call the anodyne sense, are a starting point for moral judgment.

And btw to Marc: I never said that the employer decreasing wages was necessarily wrong. My presumption is that it usu would be, but there might be circumstances in which is not.

LFC said...

*it is not

T.J. said...

In response to David and LFC on moral intuitionism, I'll just note that the assumption that to reject moral intuitionism would entail moral skepticism is pretty silly. There are, of course, lots of theories of moral epistemology. Rhetorically asking, "well then how do you know it's unfair?" is pretty ineffective when there are lots of alternative theories of how one could know something is unfair without being an intuitionist. I find Sarah McGrath's view that moral knowledge isn't in any way epistemologically special and so we come by it in all the ways we come by the rest of our knowledge to be pretty compelling.

Anyone genuinely interested in moral epistemology might start out by reading the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Ahmed Fares said...


Thank you for fleshing out my argument.

Having followed Ahmed's comments, though, I somehow doubt he would advocate for higher wages for supermarket workers.

Remember that simplifying assumption that was made that workers spend everything they earn? Recall also the Saving-Investment identity (S = I). That means that for a given time period, the amount of saving in a community can never be other than the amount of investment that takes place in that community.

If workers receive wages so high that they now have increased opportunity to save, then we've removed the simplifying assumption and here we now have a new problem in that workers are consuming less than they produce. The extra production ends up as excess inventories, which leads to layoffs and unemployment.

Given that unemployed people continue to consume, their dis-saving is what satisfies the saving desires of the workers who are still working.

So my objection to higher wages is for that reason, i.e., that it hurts other workers in that it leaves them unemployed and/or underemployed. You want the workers to save only the amount that the capitalists are consuming. Any less than that and you get inflation, any more than that and you get unemployment.

As an aside, these arguments show you the power of working with accounting identities, which is where I always start my analysis. Most of that I learned from Keynes, staring with his Paradox of Thrift.

T.J. said...


It's important to note that reiteration isn't argument.

Also, there can be moral truths (like those regarding fairness) without our coming to know them by intuition alone. That's why it's useful to note that there are alternative views of moral epistemology on which we come to know moral facts without only being able to appeal to those facts being self-evident or their being the product of a peculiar faculty of moral intuition.

Rejecting intuitionism doesn't require embracing skepticism. In my view, there are moral truths, intuitionism is just a bad theory of how we come to know them. Like I said above, my preferred view is McGrath's from her 2019 book Moral Knowledge.

Even if you don't like McGrath's view, which is, to be fair, a minority view, you can look to the dominant view in metaethics that the method of reflective equilibrium is how we come to know moral truths. So again, rejecting intuitionism doesn't require one to be a moral skeptic.

Unknown said...

there is an interesting argument put forward by by Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler ( , free on the authors's website)

John Pillette said...

Slavery is always brought up as a reductio ad absurdum in these contexts. But if we de-mystify chattel slavery we can see that it is simply another labor relation. A grotesque form, and one that has (for that reason) been extirpated in modern societies (consigned to history’s recycling bin, buried in the Staten Island landfill of yesteryear, and so on) but one that is not all that dissimilar from “free” labor—which used to be called “wage slavery” for this very reason.

What’s funny is moralists soap-boxing over the evils of chattel slavery yet praising wage slavery, failing to see what it is about the latter that really bothers people, viz., the exploitative and alienating nature of the labor relation. These same moralists see themselves as clued-up, which is a measure of their own mystification.

LFC said...


We've been around on all this before. I never said your view was "indefensible." I disagreed, but didn't use that word.

You persist in saying "the Marxist criticism of capitalism, which they maintain entails the exploitation of workers by those who own the means of production, is necessarily based on this notion of “fairness.”"

No, it isn't necessarily based on a notion of "fairness" (though in some hands, it may be). I don't think Marx himself ever used that word. Look at the end of ch. 6 of Capital vol. 1. Scholars have been debating exactly what Marx's views were on some of these matters for a long time. See e.g. the essays in the collection Marx, Justice, and History (1980), Pt. I, "Marx's Views on Justice and Other Fundamental Ethical Ideas."

Most people start to develop their political views and beliefs -- which are also, to some extent, moral views and beliefs -- before they start to consider philosophical questions about moral truth and how (or whether) it can be known. Many people with firm political and moral convictions would be unable to articulate the meta-ethical or epistemological basis of their views in any way that would pass muster in a philosophy seminar. This suggests to me that your insistence that only your meta-ethical and epistemological position can furnish a ground for moral judgment is questionable, at the least. But we've been around on this before, as I said, and I see little point in going through it again. If T.J. or D. Zimmerman or J. Pillette or anyone else chooses to have it out w you, that's fine.

T.J. said...


I'll go ahead and follow you into this sort of pedantry since it seems to be important to you for some reason.

While a reiteration can be an argument, as in a reiteration of an argument, the act of reiterating isn't the act of arguing. You can reiterate something which isn't an argument but you can't argue something which isn't an argument. So no, reiteration isn't argument. Of course the lesson wasn't supposed to be about reiteration and argument, it was supposed to be about how you shouldn't repeat yourself insistently when someone gives a reason to think you're wrong. You should respond to that reason. That is, you should argue and not merely reiterate.

Moreover, "reiteration isn't argument" isn't a tautology (either attempted or genuine). Tautologies are true by virtue of their form, that is, you don't have to know the meanings of the words to know whether they're true. Marc is Marc is a tautology not because of the meaning of the word "Marc," but because it's an instance of the form "A is A" which is a tautology. But "reiteration isn't argument" is true in virtue of what "reiteration" and "argument" mean, not in virtue of the logical form of the statement. So, "reiteration isn't argument" can't be a tautology.

Marc Susselman said...


You have directed me to Chapter 5 of Das Kapital, Book 1. At the end of Chapter 5, Marx writes:

“It is therefore impossible for capital to be produced by circulation, and it is equally impossible for it to originate apart from circulation. It must have its origin both in circulation and yet not in circulation.

“We have, therefore, a double result.

“The conversion of money into capital has to be explained on the basis of the laws that regulate the exchange of commodities, in such a way that the starting-point is the exchange of equivalents. Our friend, Moneybags, who as yet is only an embryo capitalist, must buy his commodities at their value, must well them at their value, and yet at the end o f the process must withdraw mor value form circulation than he threw into it at starting. His development into a full-grown capitalist must take place, both within the sphere of circulation and without it. These are the conditions of the problem. Hic Rhodus, hic salta! [Here is Rhodes, jump here!]”

The passage is purely descriptive, not prescriptive. There is no discussion of fairness or unfairness, as you point out. Which goes to my point above – was Marx merely offering an economic description of how capitalism develops and operates, or was he also making a value, prescriptive judgment regarding its desirability? There is no prescriptive judgment in the above passage.

In 1875, 8 years after the publication of Das Kapital, Marx expressed his most widely known slogan in Critique of the Gotha Programme, wherein he stated:

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to is needs!”

Here, Marx is predicting that the evolution of capitalism into communism will result in such a bounty of “co-operative wealth” that each individual in the society will contribute according to their ability, and receive according to their need. It is a descriptive prediction, not a prescriptive tenet, as many have interpreted it. My comments above were calling into question the indignation with which some of the commenters were discussing capitalism, an indignation which must be predicated on making prescriptive value judgments.

T.J. said...


You seemed to have missed my point about reiteration and argument. I encourage you to read more closely. To say "reiteration is not argument" is not to say that no instance of reiteration is an instance of argument. If I wanted to say that, I'd say "a reiteration is not an argument." You'll notice the difference is marked by the inclusion of indefinite articles in the second but not the first formulation. The point you made about reiterating an argument (notice the indefinite article again) doesn't have anything to do with whether or not "reiteration is not argument" (notice the lack of indefinite articles). To say "reiteration is not argument" is to say that the two concepts are not coextensive, that the activity of reiterating is not the same as the activity of arguing. Pointing out that there can be a case wherein they overlap doesn't do anything to undermine the claim that the two are not coextensive.

Furthermore, "attempted tautology" is nonsense. A tautology isn't a thing one does or achieves and so it can't be attempted. Perhaps you mean that I was attempting to state a tautology. That's false. Also, I don't see how you would have any knowledge of when I'm attempting to state tautologies and when I'm not.

As for reflective equilibrium, you've used a non-standard piece of terminology and a lot seems to be hanging on it. What does it mean for a belief to be objectively valid?

If what you mean is that the belief is true, then whether the method of reflective equilibrium delivers true beliefs would depend on your theory of truth. A minimalist could say 'yes' (provided a suitable metaethics).

If what you mean is that the belief is justified, then whether the method of reflective equilibrium delivers justified beliefs would depend on your theory of justification. A coherentist could say 'yes.'

A lot of philosophizing to be done before intuitionism has won the day as the only reasonable moral epistemology.

I'll also point you to the distinction between wide and narrow reflective equilibrium. The criticism you quoted only applies to reaching a state of narrow reflective equilibrium. I'll also take the opportunity to point out that reflective equilibrium (wide or narrow) doesn't involve mere consistency but rather coherence. So you're wrong about that too.

If you want better criticisms of reflective equilibrium, the McGrath book is a good place to start.

T.J. said...


We don't do philosophy by reading the dictionary. You won't find any philosophical truths there.

I'll reiterate, though by doing so I won't give you any new reason to believe what I say, that "reiteration is not argument" means that reiteration isn't always the same thing as argument. That you took it to mean reiteration is never the same thing as argument is a mistake on your part. Perhaps English is a second language and I shouldn't be holding your feet to fire over such fine details as the difference between "reiteration is not argument" and "a reiteration is not an argument" but, again, this sort of pedantry seems important to you.

Coherence and consistency are technical terms in philosophy. I went and checked and the encyclopedia entry you cited explains the difference.

I realize that most lawyers don't read, they just skim, but it would benefit one when trying to do philosophy to slow down and pay attention to the details.

John Pillette said...

The ostensible subject is the “persistent structure of relative exploitation” in the American economy, and I’ll submit that we’ve just been given a demonstration of one reason why this structure is so persistent: a William F. Buckley ChatGPT bot couldn’t have been any more thorough in regurgitating the various normative arguments (or “arguments”) in support of the status quo.

Michael said...

In response to some of Marc's comments: From what I've seen (which doesn't include a lot of time spent with primary sources, so take this with a grain of salt)...

Marx doesn't "propose" to replace capitalism with something more equitable, at least not in his role as social scientist. (More on this qualifier in a moment.) Rather, he predicts that it will be replaced, but he doesn't go into detail about what will replace it and how. The large majority of his work is (purportedly) a morally neutral, historical-economic-philosophical exploration of capitalism. (I'm not using any of these terms in a specific, technical way; take this whole comment in the spirit of a cursory approximation.)

Capitalism, on Marx's view, is inherently self-destructive in the long run; it conduces to its own demise and replacement, of its own accord. It's a passing, temporary expression of historical-economic-social forces that by their very nature cannot yield a stable and harmonious system, at least not without passing first through some unstable systemic phases. (I'm not in a place to spell this out in any detail. I'm only patching this together from my limited exposure to various commentators who are well-known around here, and would welcome any correction and expansion.)

But in line with what you've been saying, my suspicion - and really that's all it is - is that Marx the person is (to his credit, IMO) morally opposed to capitalism, that it's a very difficult task for him to suspend this attitude for the sake of adopting a strictly scientific attitude toward his subject-matter, that he doesn't everywhere manage to do so, and that his work is immensely valuable nonetheless (and not just from the standpoint of ethics).

I want to suggest a comparison to the case of Darwin, who was no less a scientist for writing the following (in his journal or correspondence, I believe): "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [parasitic wasps] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars..."

As to the analogy between the slave and the "wage slave," I always figured that it amounts to the view that these two have merely different degrees of (un)freedom. Essentially, their "choice" is: either to surrender their time, energy, and other basic resources to someone more advantaged and powerful, or else to suffer. When, by social-historical contingency (as opposed to inescapable natural law), the alternative to labor is destitution or worse, the labor must be viewed as forced labor, in effect. (Somewhere in debate, Prof. Leiter likens this to making a "choice" with a gun held against one's head.) And it'd be an error to urge that the wage laborer is free to exit this arrangement by changing employers; this wouldn't fundamentally change the character of the "choice," or the dynamic of exploitation.

IMO, the analogy isn't clearly "bad" (i.e. philosophically unsound) so much as...likely to strike most people as deeply distasteful.

Finally, I agree with others that it's very possible for people to have interesting and helpful discussion of these things while paying little attention to metaethics (which warrants its own discussion).

s. wallerstein said...

Bernie Sanders on why he voted against raising the debt ceiling

T.J. said...


You still seem confused, so I'll try to help.

First you said that reflective equilibrium required mere consistency. Now you realize that's wrong and are pretending you never said it in the first place. Good on you for learning something, but it's shameful to pretend that's what you were saying all along.

Coherence and coherentism aren't the same thing. Coherence is a property that a set of beliefs can have. Coherentism is the view of epistemic justification that says being part of a coherent set of beliefs is sufficient for justification. You'll be able to tell the difference by the -ism suffix attached to 'coherentism.'

Coherentism isn't a theory of truth, it's a theory of justification. But of course a belief's being justified doesn't entail its truth. Most justified beliefs have some probability of being false. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. My belief is justified, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be false. Maybe the sun explodes and my belief turns out to have been false. That doesn't seem very likely and it would be irrational for me to reserve judgment on the issue of whether the sun will rise tomorrow. Since my belief is justified, I should hold it even though it might be false. So, you're right that a belief being part of a coherent set of beliefs doesn't guarantee its truth. But no one claimed that it did. Presumably you think the same thing about moral intuition. That one has the intuition that something is unfair doesn't guarantee that it is unfair. We can be wrong about questions of fairness even if we have the relevant intuition. On the intuitionist picture, having the right sort of moral intuition justifies a belief, it doesn't guarantee its truth.

John Pillette said...

Regarding “wage slavery”, if this term is in fact “likely to strike most people as deeply distasteful”, I’d like to see those poll numbers. It may indeed strike most suburban New York Times readers as “deeply” distasteful (this is the crowd for whom the ludicrous “1619 Project” was written, after all). But would the analogy strike most Amazon warehouse workers the same way?

LFC said...

I wrote a very long comment and lost it, which may be just as well.

I'll come back later on w a shorter version, maybe.

For now, I'll just say that I am uninterested in Marc's crusade to show that critics of contemporary capitalism are hypocrites unless they embrace ethical intuitionism (and maybe even if they do).

The comment I lost was an effort to provide a sense of Marx and the context in which he was writing, which Marc doesn't appear to have. Now Marc is completely free to reject Marx entirely of course, but shd first make some effort to grasp what he was doing, as one wd w any thinker. The way to do that is not to scavenge through his work, reading an isolated paragraph here and there.

T.J. said...


There are of course alternatives to the method of reflective equilibrium. McGrath's view is one such alternative, intuitionism is another. So I'm not sure what work that quotation is supposed to be doing. The point I've been trying to make all along is that intuitionism isn't the only game in town. That doesn't require that anything else be the only game in town. The fact of the matter is that there are a variety of views in moral epistemology all of which have their advocates and none of which is obviously correct.

This is important because it undermines your argument that Marxists who deny intuitionism have to be moral skeptics. No they don't. They can embrace one of the other views in moral epistemology.

The method of reflective equilibrium doesn't just assure that one's moral beliefs are coherent. That's the point of bringing in the distinction between narrow and wide reflective equilibrium. If there's a whole community of inquirers trying to make not only their moral beliefs but all their beliefs coherent, then you get a lot more than just one person's moral beliefs being coherent. Is even that enough for justification? Well that's the subject of decades of debate in epistemology with no clear answer coming to the fore.

Your use of the word 'valid' in this non-standard way seems to be confusing things. Are you talking about truth or justification? In either case, there are widely held non-intuitionistic theories which claim to make sense of the positive epistemic status of (at least some) moral beliefs.

So again, it's not true that if a Marxist denies intuitionism, they have to be a moral skeptic. There are lots of other options on the table. Until we've ruled out all the others, your inference simply doesn't go through.

T.J. said...


I don't think they had any particular epistemological theory in mind. That doesn't undermine what they say. If you give to charity, that's good. Even if you don't have a well worked out philosophical theory of why it's good. Similarly, if you say "exploitation is unfair," that's a reasonable position to hold even if you don't have a well worked out philosophical theory of why it's reasonable. We don't have to go all the way down to fundamental philosophy every time we want to operate in the world. Even if I don't know anything about physics, I can still toss a balled up piece of paper into the wastebasket. Making moral judgments and theorizing about moral judgments are two different things. You don't have to succeed at the second to be successful at the first. That there is such a theory that could explain the reasonableness of their making judgments about what's fair is enough to rebut your argument. They don't need to have it in mind or be invoking it.

Anonymous said...

John P. I enjoyed your evocation of the Bay Area landscape, though I myself try to avoid going east of the Berkeley hills during the warm season.

I haven’t seen the warehouse you mention. Besides, when I’m ever in that part of California I recall reading how so much of the fauna was transformed by what the sheep imported on their feet from Spain. Of course, one doesn’t need to cross the hills to be reminded that so much of what we take to be our natural world—I’m now thinking of the eucalyptus trees—was intruded deliberately or accidentally from elsewhere. Capitalism struck again.

I also enjoyed your quotation from Blake. Mentioning him reminds me of a couple of things. First, what you quoted has been coopted by flag waving nationalists—see ‘the last night at the proms’ at the Albert Hall in London

That’s evidently one of the ways—that “last night” is broadcast throughout the land—that an acquiescent ideology is propagated, no matter that the UK is falling apart in so many ways. (Thank god for the militant union members carrying on their strikes in one sector after another.)

But second, and much more important since it refers in a way to some of what this thread occasionally seems to be about, namely, Ken Loach’s film, “I Daniel Blake.” To again preempt others with an inclination to advetise that they know how to use Wikipedia, see,_Daniel_Blake

I just hope no one will read indignation into these remarks, certainly none was felt or intended—some seem to see indignation where other people don’t, I suppose.

s. wallerstein said...

My apologies, Marc.

You know more about law and philosophy than any other lawyer or philosophy grad student/philosopher around.

I've heard that Harvard, Yale and MIT are competing to see which of them will first open a faculty of Marc Studies.

John Pillette said...

One (personal) solution to our (collective) present situation is to develop a fanatical narrowness of mind: if you don’t have to work on a factory floor, then you shouldn’t even think about the conditions there. I do remember being told something like this way back when, in prep school. In the natural world, the ostrich provides a useful example to follow.

And I imagine Marx’s exasperated father-in-law saying something similar: “how is ALIENATION any business of yours ... Quit wasting all of your time in the British Library and GET A REAL JOB!"

Unfortunately, my training back then didn’t stick … I’m not sure why, but I suspect part of it was simple physical revulsion on my part. If the philistines talking this shit were more attractive, or more intelligent, or wittier, or had any kind of a sense of humor, maybe I would have listened? In any event, my bad!

Anonymous said...

Don’t you think, s.w., that a position in “Marc studies” would require a Marc explicator/analyst, psychoanalysts not excluded, not a Marc? (Something about how we’re all in need of a gift—bestowed by some power or other—to see ourselves as others see us seems appropriate here.)

s. wallerstein said...


According to Marx, the exploitation of workers is built into capitalism. That goes back to the labor theory of value and the theory of surplus value.

That is, the capitalist, in order to make a profit, does not pay the worker all the value he or she put into the product.

I will not explain this in more detail here, partially because I don't believe it myself and partially because it has been explained here previously at length and partially because I have no interest getting into another pointless long exchange with you.

In fact, Professor Wolff's main focus in his Marxism is exactly how the worker is exploited in the above terms and if you had studied what Professor Wolff writes, you would understand what it's all about.

Isaac B. said...

Just scrolling through this thread, disputants dismissed as “an idiot,” “feckless,” “incompetent,” “hypocite,” a whiner, “Typically smarmy,” “I read quite carefully, and do a hell of a lot of it, I suspect more than you and in more genres,” Your smug hauteur,” “fatuous,” “your trivial palaver,” “which should be self-evident to anyone who has the ability to reason,”

There were sure no man alive ever to writ such damned stuff as this.

LFC said...

Prof Wolff of course does not accept Marx's LTV as Marx formulated it but still holds that workers are exploited under capitalism. As do others. Last night I ran across a column from last year at Jacobin by Ben Burgis. I only skimmed it but he defends exploitation irrespective of the LTV (citing G.A. Cohen).

As Michael suggested in his comment above, Marx's central project was a critique of the political economy of his day, which was joined to a somewhat more sketchy (i.e. less detailed) theory of capitalism's demise (and of revolution, though that was more Lenin). In that guise Marx is neither a normative theorist nor a moral philosopher. However, there is an implicit, and occasionally explicit, moral criticism of capitalism in his work, which imo has to be understood partly against the backdrop of the mid 19th cent industrial capitalism in Britain that Marx knew more or less at first hand.

Whether workers in an Amazon warehouse in Calif. are exploited, or exploited in the same way as factory workers in 19th cent Manchester, is a question that I will bracket, but it seems to me a clearer case can be made that workers in a garment factory in Dhaka or a chip factory in a Chinese city are, notwithstanding that they are often making more money than they could if they had stayed in the village or rural town.

One of the insights of Marx has to do with the underlying power imbalance betw employers and workers and how it is masked by the surface appearance of capitalist exchange relations (that, I think, is the point of the end of chap 6 that Marc only read the last paragraph of). That doesn't necessarily mean that employers are treating workers "unfairly" or "exploiting" them but it does mean they operate in a system of power imbalances that the (sometimes only theoretical) possibility of forming a union doesn't even out. And as is well known, there has been a drastic decrease over recent decades in the percentage of private sector workers in the U.S. who are unionized, a trend that has only started to be reversed very recently.

aaall said...

"Pres. Biden did not have the authority to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally..."

Which isn't what Sen. Sanders was advocating nor was that included in the options available to pres. Biden and Chairman Powell. The "Debt" in debt ceiling is defined in 31 USC 3101. As I have previously pointed out, there are other legal options besides the coin which is also perfectly legal.

The debt limit isn't enabling legislation for the 14th Amendment. Besides this wouldn't be the first time legislation was found to be in conflict with the 14th - see Wong Kim Ark. Debt authorization was handled in various ways until a 1917 law gave us the current concept. In the early 1980s the Gephardt Rule tied the debt limit to the budget process instead of having a separate vote. Having a separate vote on the debt ceiling is a political choice.

Assuming the Supremes would vote 9 - 0 on telling the Fed it can't do this or that thereby creating a global financial crisis seems unrealistic given that at least a plurality seems bought and paid for by Capital.

"Do you really believe that Senator Sanders doesn't have a lawyer on his staff whom he consulted before writing the article I link to?"

There is a desire amongst some elites to take the politics out of politics. This never ends well, e.g. the 2011 settlement. Sanders and others are making necessary points. Biden needed to shape the ground for the next election - one that needs to be won or what Sanders wants will be impossible.

There was going to be a nasty budget battle in which far more damage was likely and another debt ceiling bill in 2024. Biden took both off the table with minimal damage. Sanders, et al play their role. No lawyers needed.

Isaac B. said...

John Partridge continues to misperceive his true condition. Not only does he continue to believe that he is intellectually alive, he continues to prove to others that he is not so sentient since he continues to interpret disagreement as an attack upon him, as insults. My comments, on the other hand, are in no way to be interpreted as disagreement.

aaall said...

Anon, the eucalyptus trees came from imported seeds which made them pest free. They are extremely fast growing and do very well in many of California's climates. The wood turned out not to very useful save for firewood but they make quick and excellent wind breaks for citrus groves and pastures.

My understand is that the friars sowed mustard seeds as they sowed missions up and down the state. Not good for the native bunch grasses which still do well where I live.

John Pillette said...

Let me withdraw my last comment and re-phrase myself. You may have a colorable claim against the insurer, I don’t really know (or care). But the point I was trying to make is as follows.

If I had, in the past, gone into federal court with a too-clever-by-half argument; lost at the trial level; nevertheless persisted; and had thereafter been dinged by a federal judge for this mulish approach to the practice of law (to the tune of $160,000) …


Well, then I would thereafter be more circumspect about making too-clever-by-half arguments. Not just in federal court, but ANYWHERE, including the blogosphere.

I would also cool it with ad hominem abuse, such as calling that senior federal judge (an African-American Clinton appointee) an antisemite.

But that’s just me, I’m an “incompetent hypocrite” … YOU DO YOU! (As the kids like to say.)

aaall said...

Marc, the term "debt ceiling" refers to specific types of debt. Sanders, as politicians are inclined to do, was using the term loosely to refer to paying bills and meeting obligations.

All folks like DeLong and Krugman are doing is pointing out there are other ways of Biden doing that without issuing bills, notes, and bonds. Outside of some wacky district judges and the deranged Fifth higher courts are not going to invalidate consols and end the economy. It's been normal of late for the Fed to buy troubled securities so what's the problem with buying treasuries, etc? The Fed has a broad mandate that the courts are going to tip-toe around.

The Freedom Caucus wants a fascist US and look to Bruning for inspiration. The relevant Supremes are owned by a different group. Anyway, the Chinese Exclusion Act didn't enable Section 1, it conflicted with it; ditto, IMO, the debt ceiling and Section 4.

Biden made the not unreasonable calculation that now was not the time to possibly die on that hill so he shaped the battlefield that way and McCarthy walked right into it. As the bill was going to pass, Sanders and others played their roles.

aaall said...

BTW, the Gephardt Rule brought the budget/debt process into line with Section 4.

Anonymous said...

aaall, I’m sure some saw eucalyptus trees as having their uses. But like so many other things humans rush into, their possible downsides weren’t considered. Now we know, however, that their root system makes them prone to topple in high winds—one fell on the Berkeley campus not so long ago and killed someone. Then there’s the fire hazard they pose. Once they’re burning they tend to explode, sending burning fragments elsewhere to spread the fire. Australia, the home, I think, of eucalyptus trees, now regularly suffers from massive fires and eucalyptus are a contributing factor. The trees aren’t, to be sure, responsible for that. But they do make the situation much worse. I think that’s why they’ve been thinning them out in Tilden Park.

Anonymous said...

aaall, I should have read this first:

SrVidaBuena said...

Just wanted to break into the thread here to let anyone who may be interested know I'm working on a plug in that will automatically strip out MS's comments. Should make it much more manageable. With my limited skills it may take a while. Perhaps an AI will emerge that can do the job automatically.

David Zimmerman said...

To SrVidaBuena (whoever you may be):

"...I'm working on a plug in that will automatically strip out MS's comments."

Please do not do this: it violates the spirit of free comment that "The Philosopher's Stone" exemplifies.

If you do not like Marc's comments, don't read them.

SrVidaBuena said...

Already do this. Sure hope I'm not missing the secrets of the universe or anything. I'd just like to automate it for myself, and anyone else who has to work for a living, i.e. not enough hours in the day. Retired folks, masochists, etc. of course would be free to continue, have no fear. Seriously the 'spirit of free comment'? That's rich...

GJ said...

Things were going well but then, as usual, the loathsome Susselman piped up with his usual infantile blather. The discussants here are too lenient with him. He's a foul presence, and he's made the comments section of this blog unreadable. After he posts something, the rest of the commenters get bogged down in futile attempts to explain things to him. I mean, ffs, how many times do we have to put up with comments like this: "I do not understand the conceptual basis of the intense indignation that is expressed in many of the above comments, and which has been expressed in numerous other threads on this blog. If you are not religious, and do not believe in moral intuitionism, what is the basis for your indignation? And if you do believe in some overriding moral precept requiring that we treat others fairly, how is that precept violated by those who obtain ownership of means of production..."?

"If you do not like Marc's comments, don't read them."

See my comment above.

aaall said...

Anon, eucs fall down because they've been planted from containers after they've become root bound and the roots don't properly spread out. We get 60 to 100 mph winds here and most trees including eucs survive because they are seed grown in situ or have been planted properly from containers. Parrots and peacocks in southern California also like them.

Eucalyptus at least makes great firewood and, as single specimens, can be easily controlled; plants like Russian thistle and pampas grass are way more invasive and totally useless.

John Pillette said...

In the words of the Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit, Jeffrey Sutton, a George W. Bush appointee, so hardly a bleeding heart liberal:

Gerber—who retained new counsel for this appeal—insists that the court should leave him out of it and just sanction the congregants’ counsel, Marc Susselman, under § 1927. He adds that, as a lay person, he did not understand the nuances of the First Amendment and civil rights law. While we sympathize with Gerber, courts hold litigants responsible for their attorneys’ conduct. Garner, 554 F.3d at 644. The district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees under § 1988, as opposed to another mechanism, after finding that the standard had been met. See id.

Lastly, Susselman, of his own accord, accuses the district court of antisemitism. The basis for this serious allegation? A “series of questionable rulings.” Dr. Brysk’s Br. 32. Not content to stop there, Susselman accuses Judge Clay of racially motivated hypocrisy too. Well-founded allegations of judicial bias, we appreciate, deserve a serious-minded accounting. But Susselman grounds his allegations almost entirely in adverse rulings, which rarely “constitute a valid basis for a” claim of judicial bias. Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994). The only external source for the allegation is a study supposedly finding higher-than-average rates of antisemitic attitudes in the African American community. From this, Susselman concludes that the district judge—who is African American—must have been biased against the congregants. This argument rests on offensive, essentialist stereotypes. It involves enormous logical leaps. And it disserves Susselman’s client by distracting from the merits of the fee issue. If this is the quality of Susselman’s advocacy, the fee award hardly comes as a surprise. Susselman’s bias arguments “find no support in the record,” Dixon v. Clem, 492 F.3d 665, 679 (6th Cir. 2007), and are “not well received,” Gerber, 14 F.4th at 519 n.4 (Clay, J., concurring) (quotation omitted).

We affirm.


Now, there may well be a “right” to make an accusation like “all blacks are jew-haters”; and there may even be a “right” to make this accusation in federal court AGAINST A FEDERAL JUDGE … but is it a smart thing to do? That’s hard to say, I guess I’ll need to do some research on the issue.

Finally, as for my being “scum”, your abuse puts me in some exalted company. Let me have some more and maybe Judge Roberts will invite me to her annual Labor Day pool party.

John Pillette said...

I’ll admit that I find your behavior … fascinating. You are so crude as to hurl racist abuse at a senior federal judge IN FEDERAL COURT … but I’m the one who is “exceeding the bounds of decency”?

Over the last few years Freud has gotten a lot of stick in the pages of the NYRB. I always thought it was unfair, especially as it was coming from a Cal English professor. Because without Freud, how would we otherwise understand psychological defense mechanisms, like projection?

R McD said...

Please, RPW, terminate this thread and please, please, please, institute some control over what's said here. Leiter, for example, exercises quite strict control and it works to prevent inappropriateness (even while, it should be conceded, it doesn't limit what he writes). Some who appear here also appear there and on Crooked Timber, but I don't see happening on these sites the things I see here. Surely it's obvious that Marc Susselman in particular--who as someone said seems incapable of distinguishing between a disagreement with his points of view and personal attacks upon him (and others, usually as I see it provoked by him sometimes get around to responding in kind)-- is a disruptive presence here; almost every thread you start quickly deteriorates into him going off on his usual chosen missions and self-advertising. You did, I think, block him once before when his behaviour became so disruptive that anything approaching a serious conversation simply didn't happen.

Enough is surely enough. Best wishes for getting your blog to conform to what I imagine you've always hoped it would be: a place of vigorous, mutually respectful discussion on the subjects you initiated.

s. wallerstein said...

R McD,

RPW is ill, as you know and cares for his wife, who is also ill. He may not have the time or energy to police this mess.

Wouldn't it possible of us, the regular participants, to police things here?

We can't ban anyone and maybe shouldn't, but we can refuse to answer someone who resorts to insults. We can establish a set of basic rules of civilized behavior and if someone does not follow them, we can shun them, isolate them and simply leave them to simmer in their own psychic bad vibes.

Most of us dream of a better more civilized society. Why can't we at least achieve that in this virtual mini-space?

GJ said...

S. Wallerstein,

"Wouldn't it possible of us, the regular participants, to police things here?"

Good idea, but nothing of the kind has happened.

"We can't ban anyone and maybe shouldn't, but we can refuse to answer someone who resorts to insults."

Susselman has hurled countless insults at you and others, but you continue to respond to him. Why?

John Pillette said...

SW, as usual, your suggestion is eminently reasonable. Henceforth I will ignore. My apologies for causing or adding to any disruption.

s. wallerstein said...


You're right. I do respond to Marc's insults, not always, but at times yes.

However, if it's a collective decision, I'll stop just as I stopped smoking back when everyone else around me stopped smoking.

SrVidaBuena said...

"Well, as I anticipated, the slings and arrows have come fast and heavy, simply because I dared to raise questions regarding ..."

Wrong. I'm simply not able, let alone interested in reading anything that takes as many words as you use... it's about volume not content. When did you get the idea that this blog was about you? Have you said anything at all about the posted topic?

LFC said...

Crooked Timber and Leiter's blog are venues where there is so-called pre-moderation. One submits a comment and waits for it to be approved. It requires much more energy than I think Prof Wolff has. He"s 90, isn't he, and has physical/health problems that he has written about. Not only can he not do pre-moderation; I doubt he could do more ordinary moderation. (My impression is that much though not all of what he posts is repetition of what he's said before. That's not a criticism, just an observation. Recently RPW said he would be responding to some comments. He didn't. Instead he wrote a post referring to an article by two economists that he'd written about before.)

Years ago Crooked Timber used to be a lively if somewhat unruly place. Then they instituted pre-moderation and the comments sections shrunk.

I prefer no pre-moderation. Here this poses some problems, but so be it. Anyway, given the circumstances already referred to, your call for RPW to establish order is, in my view, unrealistic, however unfortunate that may be.

John Pillette said...

No pre-moderation does give a certain absurd “Lucha Libre” flair to the proceedings. And my late father-in-law (a staunch Dem) used to enjoy watching Fox news just for the fun of it (because why not?) And after SF instituted obligatory composting (and provided little pails for that purpose) I used to enjoy watching my fruit peelings turn green …

David Palmeter said...

I've been skimming, not really reading, the posts on this and many prior threads for sometime simply because I prefer a conversation rather than a debate, and I detest the ad hominems. I also dislike the ignoring of the original post to which we're allegedly responding. Sometimes that may be appropriate, but if it occurs it should occur rarely and with an opening acknowledgment that it is Off Topic.

I like the idea of GJ and s. wallerstein--just ignored those posts. Don't bite at the lure. We don't have to respond to everything.

Fritz Poebel said...

The discussion here is, after all, in writing. Nobody is drowning anybody else out—like some crazy uncle at an annual family get-together. If you can’t stand (what might seem to you to be) paroxysms of wayward self-display, then ignore them—and just stick with the themes set by Professor Wolff. Starve the beast. I’m with Professor Zimmerman on this: keep things open. Talk of “policing” is toying with censorship. There’s no need to go there. (Years ago, I went several times to the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, in London, and listened to some of the oratory there. I liked a lot of it, and also liked that I could walk away from it, when I didn’t like it.) I would also add, and I suspect that this is treading on now dangerous ground (but so be it), that the tone of the discussions here would generally be better (=more civil) if there were some/more women commentators on this site. Males might be more respectful of one another if they’re mindful that women read this stuff and are part of the discussion. But women seem to be silent in this venue. That has to be a bad thing.

aaall said...

Marc, perhaps folks like Aquinas, Spencer, Marx, etc. see order and direction as comforting while in reality we are only apes on a roll just working things out in order to survive. Story is that Spencer was quite unsettled by his visit to the US and seeing how Americans applied his theories.

We shouldn't forget that whatever their talents folks like Carnegie and Ford had to survive in a world of Goulds, Drews, and Durants. Carnegie and Ford needed their thugs like Frick and Bennett. There's a reason Moe Green doesn't have a statue (actually he does and Frick has a museum). Lindell is merely a grifter who got lucky and is in way over his head.

Of course, the far left and right running things seems to turn out worse - e.g. Martov dies in exile, Stalin becomes General Secretary. Capitalism does provide openings for change.

Tom Putney said...

Part One

I would like to query one of the points made by M.S. in response to LFC @ 10:31 AM. Since I am British, my observations may well be biassed by that point of view, just as many of the comments here, including the one I am responding to, are quite US-centric. Such bias is surely difficult to avoid and does not necessarily undercut the points that are made. But such bias is also problematical when one is considering a global system such as capitalism, even though it is a global system with particular national features. At the least, this surely means that statements about capitalism in its general sense are to be made and treated cautiously.

My problem with what M.S. says in his second paragraph about the possible political avenues available to workers is that the political role of capitalism is, I think, misrepresented. M.S., as I read him, takes the sphere of politics to be one in which workers and capitalists may both engage to the degree that they are willing and able to do so. Hence, the burden on each of them is to make good use of what is available to them in pursuit of their interests. But it seems to me this misperceives just how much capitalism has been and is as much a political project as an economic one and a global one at that. In other words, the political system is, to borrow from a currently much contested phrase, systemically capitalist. It is not just that “big money” can inflect the electoral process’s outcomes—something that seems to me to be irrefutable given all the evidence respecting fundraising, “dark money,” etc. It is that the entire set of political arrangements in many of its parts is constructed to advantage and preserve capitalism and to limit challenges to it. In other words, it is a game workers can almost never win.

To be sure, small wins may be won; modifications may be made to that capitalist-political order. But they are invariably piecemeal (in good Popperian fashion) and they rarely challenge and begin to displace its commanding heights, much less the entire order.

Tom Putney said...

Part Two

At this point, I suppose it is customary to mention the American New Deal and the democratic socialist ventures in Western Europe and elsewhere. But as Gary Gerstle, for one, points out, the New Deal was intended to save capitalism not to replace it. Similar observations may be made about the first post-War Labour government’s reforms as well as about other social democratic reforms elsewhere in post-War Europe. And what is again irrefutable is that these modifications have been attacked and to some degree undercut by their capitalist opponents since the moment of their inception, something that the capitalist-political order facilitates. (Just take a look at how the National Health Service in Britain has been systematically weakened and cut to pieces by underfunding and creeping privatisation since the 1950s by both Tory and Labour governments.) In other words, the capitalist-political order, while it may be responsive to challenges that threaten it—another point Gerstle makes when he argues just how much the Republican business class came around to supporting the New Deal in a period when Cold War facts and ideology led them to think that they had to do something to appease workers to try to prevent them from turning to communism—it approaches all such things tactically and strategically in order to preserve itself and the wealth and privileges of its basic constituency. Furthermore, when movements arise to try to challenge the capitalist-political order in rather more substantive ways, they are quickly brought to heel by a variety of means both fair and foul. (See, e.g., what happened to the Mitterand-led movement in France, the Corbyn-led movement in Britain, and the Whitlam-led government in Australia. The process of undercutting and eliminating has taken longer in the Scandinavian countries, but it has also proceeded quite far even there.)

And so again to my point: to suggest that workers can use this capitalist-political system to protect and advance their interests by exercising their right to vote is to overlook that what has to be defeated is much more than just electoral opponents. How one engages with a system so monumentally constructed to frustrate the attempts by those sytemically injured by it to alter the basic circumstances of their lives is very puzzling. But the enormity of the task facing, shall we say, the 99 percent, should at least be acknowledged, as should the very real plight of the many who now inhabit this “planet of slums.” (Dilip Gaonkar notes that the number of the world’s slum dwellers will rise to 4 billion people by 2030.)

LFC said...

@ Tom Putney

Those are good points -- thanks.

s. wallerstein said...

One thing that has not been discussed here is the tremendous psychic toll of neoliberal capitalism.

Mark Fisher in his book Capitalist Realism talks about the increase in mental health disorders since the neoliberal era began in the 1980's.

During the mass protests against the neoliberal system in Chile in 2019 one slogan was "it's not depression, it's capitalism".

People work under incredible stress, in many jobs obligated to show a fake smile or a cheery voice during the entire work day.

A woman friend worked in a call center where everything she responded to clients was monitored by a Foucaultian panopticon and if she did not answer as a cheerful robot, that was held against her and could lead to her losing her job.

I'm not claiming that work will be fun under a more socialist system, but some of the stress factor and pressures from managament, the managers themselves being pressured by
owners to increase profits at the cost of the psychic health of workers, could be lessened.

I'm not claiming that there are no biological factors behind depression and other psychic disorders, but constant stress is a major factor, I'm sure of that.

Some will link to articles showing that depression is wholly biological and I am aware that this issue is under debate, but my position is that expressed above.

aaall said...

"The process of undercutting and eliminating has taken longer in the Scandinavian countries, but it has also proceeded quite far even there.)"

TP, rust never sleeps and the 1% never entirely surrenders.
While Marc's take on capitalism is a bit too Panglossian for me, there is a kernel there. The same impulses that lead to robber barons in one system seems to lead to oligarchs in others. An Elon Musk with an army wouldn't be an improvement.

Capital never gives up is the lesson from the New Deal and the Social Democratic ventures in Europe. I guess we learn the lesson and keep fighting while knowing we never entirely win.

aaall said...

s.w., good point but there are Stakhanovite impulses in every system. A commissar is just as likely to be a petty rat bastard as a supervisor or manager (add in academic administrators, I guess).

Side note Marc but you mentioned the debt recently. If we merely undid the Bush and Trump tax cuts that would mostly be fixed. Recall the budget was balanced at the end of the Clinton Administration. Of, course it would be even better if we increased the gas tax a few cents, eliminated carried interest, went to a 70% top marginal rate, taxed buy-backs, and put a transaction tax on trades.

David Zimmerman said...

For progressives, this article from The Lever should be the final verdict on the debt ceiling deal, a deal that reveals in stark terms what really matters to Establishment Democrats (Hint: it's not the well-being of ordinary people):

s. wallerstein said...


I'm sure that you are aware that among those of us in this blog who believe that some form of democratic socialism could function, no one is a fan of the Soviet Union or Mao's China or Fidel's Cuba.

aaall said...

s.w., indeed some form of democratic socialism or social democracy is desirable but some of the commenting here is often based on some version of heightening the contradictions (thank you Jill and Ralph!) or ignoring actual conditions (explain how one overcomes Joe Manchin saying "no!" when Joe's "yes" is necessary - I guess we could give him a pipeline now which we couldn't in a reconciliation bill).

There was an opening in 2009 but between Obama's neoliberalism, our perennial racism, and the ameliorating effects of the New Deal/Great Society automatic stabilizers little beyond the ACA happened.

The article DZ linked above is a perfect example of the perfectionism that defeats. I believe that a separate debt limit conflicts with the mandate in section 4 of the 14th Amendment just as the Chinese Exclusion Act conflicted with Section 1 of the 14th. Would the majority of the present court agree? What direction would a stay until decided go? Ripeness? Given the media with which we are afflicted how would all this play?

I suspect Biden, Powell, and Yellen took McCarthy to the woodshed, slapped him around, and put some pancake on the bruises. Given our media and the Congress, Biden took the least risky path to 2025. We have a sucky political system - that seems hard for some to understand.

s. wallerstein said...


I see socialism as an ideal, as a horizon, not as a system that can be imposed in 24 hours or 24 weeks as Lenin tried to.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric says, "vamos lento porque vamos lejos", which can be translated as "we're going slowly because we're going on a long journey". There's an alliteration in the original Spanish which the translation misses.

A quick look at Google informs me that the phrase comes from a song.

aaall said...

s.w., I agree but consider your recent constitutional assembly which produced a pie in the sky document that, in my understanding left the rusting nuts and bolts in place and produced an unrealistic wish list. Now you have a convention with a Right majority.

The Right understands this which is why we have decisions like Shelby County and Rucho. Biden understands which is why he got a two year debt and budget bill. Bernie understands why is why he will both endorse Biden and do a performative no vote on a bill he knows will pass.

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

II make it simple for myself; I agree with Marc, the most serious problem that the so-called western democracies have is that the middle class, which forms the majority in every single one of these countries, lies to itself.

I myself experience many examples like Marc's conversation with the bank employee from my own environment. And I must confess that the psychology of these people is often not quite clear to me. To give the most blatant example, it was never clear to me why a person who has sleepless nights because he does not know how he will get financially to the next paycheck believes that a narcissistic criminal billionaire will free him from his misery.

I believe that Marx did not expect this psychology either. Conversely, one could say that he did not expect that capitalism could develop methods that function like brainwashing and that dissolve the consciousness of a structured working class or do not allow it to emerge.

I could imagine a list of individual mechanisms of this psychology in the absence of a coherent theory that might provide an adequate model.

One item on the list would be the persistent and subliminal existence of the middle class belief that rich people must be more intelligent than poor people and that this disparity is directly related to the amount of wealth they have. With this subliminal assumption, the stupid poor person then becomes the real exploiter and the rich person becomes the defender of the rights of the middle class.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

John Pillette,
Welcome to the group despised and considered scum by the verbose one. There is no profit in engaging with him. He writes at great length on topics of he has no direct knowledge, e.g., he knows Herbert Marcuse was a bomb-throwing commie after misreading an interview. In this thread, Karl Marx is the victim of his arrogance and ignorance. As I recall, this is the Dunn-Kruger effect at work.

John Pillette said...

CM, Wasting everyone’s time in the comments section of a blog is merely annoying. Incompetence in the practice of law and seriously injuring a client thereby is another thing altogether. Lawyers like this are common enough in the profession (and other lawyers do like to swap these stories among themselves), but this is the worst example of it I’ve ever personally come across.

I understand that others feel that they ought to accommodate this sort of thing on here by saying “what’s the harm?” but let’s acknowledge that the Sixth Circuit is pointing to the harm. Stupid ideas (about the First Amendment, about state action, about Marx, about Marcuse … about God knows what), when put into action in the form of a lawsuit, end up costing REAL people REAL money.

The problem is, when guys (and gals) like this do finally get disbarred, in this day and age that just gives them more time to spend “on line”.

I vividly recall reading an article by Hugh Kenner in 1989 or 1990 about the proto-internet. (I recall reading it in Harper’s, but later couldn’t find it in their online archive.) Kenner was, inter alia, an early computer nerd, and he had wangled a connection to DARPAnet at Johns Hopkins, and he described how scholars were using this new tool to share information among themselves. “Wow”, I thought, “that’s amazing!”

Twelve years later, I had my own connection to this new thing called the “internet” and was puzzling over a minor technical problem with my motorcycle. A lightbulb finally went off: “I know, I will ask the internet!” So I went to the appropriate “forum” and I asked the folks assembled there, “How do I fix problem [x]?”

The responses I got were all either (1) completely irrelevant, or (2) abusive, or (3) a combination of both. The joke was on me … I was picturing a bunch of Hugh Kenners out there, not a bunch of trolls. Just to make sure, I tried this three more times, with three more further technical problems, on three more separate fora, but the results were the same. This gave me some interesting sociological insight, but that’s as far as it went.

(As for the original problem, I finally learned that there was no solution to the problem the old fashioned way, by talking to an expert face-to-face: “they all do that … they’re made in Italy.”)

What’s frustrating is that the discussion on here is otherwise interesting and edifying.

LFC said...

Fwiw, my view is that the way Marc conducts his pro-bono law practice is none of my business, nor do I see it as a matter of general concern. It's between him and his clients, and him and the courts. And I'm pretty sure no one has ever been disbarred or even disciplined for filing a suit that a particular judge deems frivolous. That happens a lot, I would think. Now if someone did nothing but file suits that push the boundaries or are clearly meritless, that might be a different story, but afaict that's not the case here.

John Pillette said...

If misconduct (viz., the filing of a clearly frivolous lawsuit, for the improper purpose of suppressing speech you don’t like), resulting in a big fat sanction and, on appeal, a reported Sixth Circuit opinion doesn’t qualify as a “matter of general concern”, then nothing does.

The first amendment “argument” was meritless; as was the theory of state action put forward in this forum … as have been any number of other “arguments”.

Anyone is of course free to say that all of this is “none of my business” (because none of this affects me personally, I guess) but I’m afraid that as an officer of the court I've been told that it IS my concern as a matter of law. And on a more purely sentimental level, as a citizen generally I do feel that it is my concern.

John Pillette said...

I’ll confess that viewing “the courts” as some abstract entity that exists elsewhere and that deals with problems that don’t effect me personally and that for that reason can be disregarded, is—now that I think about it—quite the right way to go about things.

Maybe now I’ll be able to finally sleep at night …

John Pillette said...

Hang on … isn’t “viewing ‘the courts as some abstract entity that exists elsewhere and that deals with problems that don’t effect me personally and that for that reason can be disregarded” … a form of … (wait for it) …


Michael said...

Couple days late here, sorry, but two replies to Marc and John, who were responding to my comment from June 2 at 10:44 AM.

(1) Marc says (paraphrasing): Marx - in his capacity as social scientist - has no reason to be indignant about capitalism, because on Marx's very understanding, capitalism is "natural" (i.e. inevitable at this point in history) and in any case destined to go away.

-My response: This is plausible and very interesting, and I'm not sure how to respond to it. One suggestion is that Marx simply "relaxes" his scientific posture when he denounces capitalism. Marx is a human being; humans aren't put together to think and speak "scientifically" at all times (cf. Hume: "Be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy, be still a man"); and crying out against things that hurt and oppress one's fellows is something humans do, even when the hurt and oppression are simply "part of life."

There seems to be a very interesting question here regarding the right attitude for a philosopher to have toward "necessary evil," or the place of scientific objectivity (or "detachment") in human life.

(2) Marc also asks: "Does Marx argue that as an inevitable by-product of capitalism the degradation in wages and working conditions is unavoidable and a necessary component of capitalism? If so, where does he state this?"

-My response: I don't know about Marx specifically. I'd guess "probably"; someone else can fill you in. But here's a suggestive excerpt from the IEP's article on socialism (link). I'd bet that this sort of perspective owes a lot to Marx.

Capitalism, many socialists hold, is wild and wasteful, prone to great booms and tremendously destructive busts. The argument goes like this: capitalist competition greatly augments society's forces of production. Each firm, merely to stay in business, must innovate. As a result, productivity soars. Ever more output can be produced for ever fewer inputs, labor included. Abundance looms.
But this very abundance, paradoxically, is an economic problem. Gluts drive down prices as supply overwhelms demand. Profits decline. Firms, forced to cut costs, sack workers and slash wages. As unemployment and economic insecurity mount, demand plummets still further: people simply don't have much money to spend. With reduced demand comes reduced opportunities for profits, hence, reduced production. What was a boom has turned into a bust, and society faces the absurd spectacle of idle farms next to hungry people; empty shoe factories beside shoeless workers; foreclosed houses alongside the homeless.

(3) Lastly, John is skeptical about most people finding the expression "wage slavery" deeply distasteful. Of course I don't have any polls on this. I just think back to my own experiences as a cashier, file clerk, etc., the feeling of being helplessly stuck as my life was dominated by a cycle of mindless drudgery... And yet, FWIW, I'm sure it would've dropped my co-workers' jaws if I said something like, "Now I have a better understanding of what it means to be enslaved." I complained a lot about my work life, to the point of requiring psychiatric intervention, but even my complaints didn't go quite that far!

This isn't the same as saying the analogy between wage labor and slavery is without philosophical interest - and merit. There is a common conceptual core, and it'd be easy to find a number of serious, respected thinkers and activists who see it this way. I just think the analogy would be pretty likely to misfire in conversation - somewhat as it reliably misfires to draw analogies between concentration camps and factory farms. ("Are you saying Jewish people are like chickens and pigs?!")

s. wallerstein said...

John and Marc,

This is getting surreal.

Couldn't you both take a deep breath and a brisk walk around the block (or jog if you're in better shape than I am) and then in the future avoid one another in this blog?

Think of Professor Wolff. Do you really want him to read your latest comments?

Marc Susselman said...

s. wallestein,

I didn't threaten to sue Pillette.

Correction: "who sued whom"

s. wallerstein said...

Seriously everybody including myself.

Professor Wolff is 89 years old, has led an exemplary life as an academic and activist and in his extreme old age tries through this blog to communicate a life time of philosophical reflection to a community of scholars and thoughtful leftwingers.

It must hurt him to see us fighting among each other, threatening to sue one another, insulting each other with barroom insults.

Wouldn't "the right thing to do" be to think for a second about Professor Wolff before we click on "publish your comment"?

He's gone out of his way to communicate his knowledge and wisdom with us. Couldn't we all be (including myself) a bit more considerate with him, whatever our opinion may be of others who comment in this blog?

That sounds preachy and I generally try not to be preachy, but...

aaall said...

Not unreasonable!

Anonymous said...

Pillette and Susselman: you are imbeciles and, as lawyers, utterly unbecoming.

This blog has become a swamp. RPW should turn off the comments. He never responds to them anyway, except to yell at people for ignoring him.

Anonymous said...

I'm just gonna leave this here:

aaall said...

Perhaps a humorous palate cleanser:

“The stage was decorated with a swastika and a picture of Hitler. The speakers started ranting. There were only 15 of us, but we went into action. We … threw some of them out the windows … Most of the Nazis panicked and ran out. We chased them and beat them up … We wanted to show them that Jews would not always sit back and accept insults.”

— Meyer Lansky, gangster, remembering breaking up meetings of the pro-Nazi German-American Bund in Yorkville on New York’s Upper East Side in the 1930s.

Anonymous said...

s. walerstein

An excellent post. Thank you.

John Rapko said...

The video induces the thought that the commentators should divide themselves into two groups with mutually exclusive streams of comments: the 'chimps' who carry on amongst themselves as at the zoo; and the 'bonobos' who resolve their disputes through gestures of submission, grooming, and buggery.

John Pillette said...

If the phrase “wage slavery” is apt to be misinterpreted in conversation today (and I think you’re probably right about that, especially among college freshmen) why is that? I’ll submit that the reason for this is …

(You know where I’m going with this) …



Mystifcation (thanks, NY Times!) results in us seeing chattel slavery and wage slavery (a/k/a workin’ for the man) not for what they are, two similar forms of labor relation, but as two things that are so far apart that EVEN USING THE TERM “wage slavery” is not permissible in polite company.

DDA said...

Marx on wage slavery

aaall said...

It helps to get granular instead of dealing with "capitalism" and the PMC:

John Rapko said...

Brian Leiter just posted a podcast where he discusses at some length the very points that incited such zoo-mayhem in these comments, that is, Marx on exploitation and wage slavery as-or-versus chattel slavery. For what it's worth, I very largely agree with Leiter, although I would put a bit more stress on capitalism as abstractive (on this see Moishe Postone's Time, Labor, and Social Domination). I quite fervently agree with Leiter's emphasis on Rosa Luxemburg's saying. The remarks on exploitation start at 1:02:08, Luxemburg's slogan at 1:13:22, and wage slavery at 1:14:38.

aaall said...

Given the current rage tweeting it seems likely that someones getting indicted.

s. wallerstein said...

John Rapko,

Excellent interview with Leiter. Thanks.

Those who criticize Marx without knowing him well should listen to it.

LFC said...

I said in an earlier comment directed to Marc that the labor theory of value as Marx formulated it is not much accepted any longer, so Leiter's statement that Marx's labor theory of value is "discredited," if that is indeed what Leiter said, should not have come as much of a surprise to Marc.

But that particular point is, admittedly, somewhat solipsistic on my part. It's more important, I think, to note that a *lot* of people have written about Marx, exploitation, and related matters. In addition to RPW and G.A. Cohen, both of whom I mentioned earlier, one might mention, as a very partial sample, Immanuel Wallerstein, David Harvey, Michael Harrington, Jon Roemer, Robert Heilbroner, M. Postone, Robert C. Tucker, F. Wheen, Jonathan Wolff, Anwar Shaikh, Samir Amin, Jonathan Sperber, and the list could go on and on.

Leiter is knowledgeable, but it would be unfortunate if his, so to speak, privileged position in the online ecosystem, coupled with his reputation as a leading writer on Nietzsche and jurisprudence, were to result in his being seen as the definitive interpreter of Marx or the definitive contemporary purveyor, advocate, explicator, or conduit of a Marxian perspective. His forthcoming co-authored book on Marx will doubtless be worth reading, but it shd be kept in mind that he is one of many voices on the subject.

s. wallerstein said...

There are many different facets to Marxism.

For example, in his book, Marx's Concept of Man, Erich Fromm stresses the concept of alienation found in Marx's early writings and the heavy psychic damage that capitalism produces in workers and consumers.

The Frankfurt School, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Benjamin, etc., also point out the way capitalism narrows our minds and our souls, turning everything and everybody into a commodity.

In his book, Considerations on Western Marxism, Perry Anderson details many of the less
orthodox currents in Marxism.

Life is tough, to be sure, but capitalism makes it a lot tougher for most of us.

LFC said...

Immanuel Wallerstein, _Utopistics_ (The New Press, 1998), p. 66:

" not consider the present world-system the best of all possible worlds. I am not even sure it is the best of all worlds we have already known. Still, I do not want to reargue this case here. It is in some ways irrelevant to demonstrate what I consider to be the limitations of our existing world-system. I have been arguing that enough people consider it to have limitations such that it is not going to survive. The real question before us is what we want to replace it."

Michael said...

In the second part of his comment from June 5th at 7:32 PM, Marc argues that the analogy between wage labor and slavery is ludicrous because the wage laborer can sometimes achieve more freedom and improve their situation by learning and applying a skill in ways that other people will pay for, etc.

At the end of the day, I don't care that much how strong a parallel can be drawn between wage labor and slavery specifically. I'm fine to drop the question and simply look at the more general claim that our economic system is unjust, irrational, or simply - to use a less loaded term - needlessly cruel.

As I see it, Marc's commentary there is not sufficiently attentive to the fact that the opportunity to improve one's situation is not available to all workers in the same way or to the same degree. If I work as a store cashier, but am single and childless and live with my rich parents, it'll be easier for me to go to college and become qualified to work in a better-paying field. Or maybe college isn't for me, in which case I might try to compete with my co-workers for a promoted position, if it happens to be available, or seek out some less disagreeable entry-level position. Either way, hooray for me if I can make it, but not everyone else is equally well-positioned to do so, and even my own position is to some extent precarious. (Maybe I or my parents get sick, etc.)

"Sorry, that's life." Eh, I'm not so sure. I hear stories about small pockets of individuals who have more money than entire vast segments of the population, and though I don't know the details, I strongly suspect that a lot (or even a modest portion) of this money could be moved around in ways that promote wider, less precarious opportunities for people to secure a decent existence. Seems to me worth trying. (And although I can't do much of anything to bring it about, I do make a habit of sharing my perspective from time to time, and voting against the politicians most explicitly hostile to it.)

I guess there's a libertarian-style objection to having the government simply take money from rich people for this purpose - a sort of "enforced charity." (Speaking of slavery analogies, doesn't Nozick equate taxation to slavery?) But this violation of liberty would IMO be easier to stomach than...the world as it is now. Plus, it's something that we already tolerate in principle anyway, by having any taxpayer-funded public goods at all; and don't hopeful Marxists envision a "withering away of the state" at some point?

Howard said...

Dear Michael:

A non-socialist alternative to capitalism in its current form is possible.
An ethicist who goes by the name 'the philosophers beard' has posted among other things how to bring such a reformed capitalism about
It's worth a look.
If you disagree with him, engage him in his comments; he is a very effective debater

anon. said...

I recall a professor who at the time would, I think, have termed himself a Marxist, though what he is now I don’t know, bemoaning to his seminarians that liberalis/capitalism enjoyed in the Western cultural domain what might be termed a thick intellectual culture where internal conceptual and analytical disagreements were what provided it with a great deal of its strength: it was permitted the time, space, and freedom by the dominant culture to construct a complex and therefore strong structure within which its “errors” were viewed as relatively minor compared to the size and magnificence of the overall structure, and were even heralded as a source of needed internal criticism and necessary reformulation.

I hope that is comprehensible. If not, I’m sorry. (I don’t take comprehensible to mean agreement.)

But to continue with what he bemoaned, AND LOOKING AT IT SOLELY FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF ITS PRESENCE WITHIN A HOSTILE DOMINANT CULTURE, every similar internal debate and reformulation within the Marxist sphere of discourse was pointed to, often derisively, as a fundamental and thoroughly disqualifying error. And so—thus goes the self-satisfied and self-comforting paean—‘Marxism is thus thoroughly refuted.’ (I see from some of the comments here that—no surprise!—such sweeping disqualification still goes on.) Thus, unlike the equally problematical liberal/capitalist discourse, which is allowed the scope to develop and redevelop itself, and where its intellectual and practical errors are readily forgiven, if they’re even perceived to be errors, the anti-liberal/anti-capitalis discourse has remained stunted, on the defensive, vis-a-vis society at large; every one of their errors deemed a fatal one. Hence, too, no need to take seriously their criticisms of liberalism/capitalism.

And I haven’t even begun to review just how leftist thought and action have been quite suppressed, often quite brutally, in so many places. But I’d add the possibility that at least some of the difficulties within the left in pursuing disagreements in a fruitful rather than a mutually destructive way are, perhaps, a consequence of them being embedded within a hostile dominant culture.

I hope all that is comprehensible too. If not, again I’m sorry. (And again, I don’t take comprehensible to mean agreement.)

s. wallerstein said...


Very true what you say.

People on the left (I'm not really a Marxist) like myself often feel that we have to apologize in some way for our positions, we are constantly reminded by the mainstream media and their defenders (who are numerous) that we are "weird" or "misfits", that "common sense" (well analyzed by Gramsci) is against us, that there are certain social and above all work situations where it's more prudent not to voice our beliefs, in general, as you say, we're always on the defensive in psychological terms and that weakens our position and leads us into a pointless dogmatic Maginot line type of mentality.

aaall said...

Came across this today:

When the term "wage slavery" is used perhaps we should consider the actual conditions in effect when the term originated.

Prof. Leiter posted this today:

"I should clarify that my phased blogging retirement may last a long time--I won't wholly abandon the philosophy blogosphere to the Wokerati and those hell-bent on destroying the field!"

When one adopts the framing of those who would actually destroy one out of annoyance at things that will ultimately shake out as trivial...

Anonymouse said...

To be fair to Leiter, he has been explicit that the danger posed by "the Wokerati" pales in comparison to Trump, DeSantis, et al. And on his blog he tends to criticize both in almost equal measure -- which makes him worlds better than the Greenwalds and Taibbis and Aron Matés of the world, who claim to be somehow leftist even as they only ever criticize Democrats and liberals while heaping praise on the most odious elements of the Right. (And I would say Freddie DeBoer somewhat belongs in that camp as well, Leiter's recent praise of him as "a man of the actual Left" notwithstanding.)

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting perspective on what I suppose might be called the 'postmodern left,' which I perhaps erroneously take to be the intellectual foundations of the wokerati, in the following:

Anonymous said...

I for one will not be sad to see the end of Leiter's blog. He is a voice of the left, to be sure, but there is a meanness to him - he can be vindictive and nasty on his blog. I find his obsession with institutional status and rankings, too, kind of ugly.

s. wallerstein said...

I've exchanged emails with Leiter on various occasions and if you're courteous with him, he's extra courteous with you. In our email exchanges we've argued and he is always a perfect gentleman and scholar.

He's nasty to people who attack him for sure and to their allies.

aaall said...

s.w., I agree. My only problem is that for sure academics/students can be annoying but that has been the case since forever. I just find it unsettling to see christian nationalist/fascist framing getting wider acceptance.

s. wallerstein said...


I often find it hard to decipher your cryptic remarks, but if you're claiming that Leiter is anti-woke because he's accepted the christian national/fascist framing for being anti-woke, I don't believe that is the case.

Leiter is anti-woke, I believe, because he thinks that woke diverts the attention of the left from class and economic issues to identity politics and that in some sense alienates many sectors of the working class.

For example, in the video John Rapko links to above, Leiter challenges the woke narrative about the death of George Floyd, that racist cops are massacring black people out of race hatred and points out that statistics show that cops kill poor people independent of their race, it being the case however, that more blacks are poor.

Leiter is not buying into the pro-cop narrative of the fascist right at all when he criticizes the woke narrative.

LFC said...

I believe it's the case that police are more likely to stop Black motorists, esp Black men, than others irrespective of whether they're poor or not. So to that extent there has been and remains a racialized aspect to policing in the U.S, which may be gradually changing, at least in some places. That's not a "woke narrative." In _Between the World and Me_, Coates tells the story of a friend of his, a middle-class or upper middle-class young Black man, who was killed by police after some vehicular interaction. I read the book a while ago and don't recall the details but I do remember it as a sort of outrageous case in that the young man was not doing something that warranted his dying.

LFC said...

P.s. That doesn't go specifically to the George Floyd case, and it may be that class rather than race was the more important factor there, though it also may be that they're not always easy to disentangle.

s. wallerstein said...

I googled "police killing race Leiter report" and this appeared first. There are other posts.

aaall said...

s.w., you write as if "Woke" is a thing with a long agreed upon meaning - sort of like "fish." "Woke" in the current sense came out of nowhere a few years ago. I read a number of right-wing sources and all of a sudden it was "woke" everywhere. Folks like Rufo and Dreher were all over it. We are currently at the stage where using woke validates the Right's use of the term which is grounded in the usual far-right grievances - race, LGBTQ, choice, etc. We seem to be moving into the stage where the use of the word marks one as clueless. Trump is an idiot but also a savant and his recent ridiculing of DeSantis' use of the term is perhaps a marker. Words can be reclaimed - e.g. queer. So "woke" which had its origins in Black culture may go full circle. Currently there is no valid use of the term on the left.

The race/class thing is an orthogonal hobby horse with some on the left who overstate class as a motivator.

s. wallerstein said...


Since I don't use English on a daily basis except to comment here, it would be ridiculous for me to argue with you about the current use of "woke".

I suggest that you write Leiter. In my experience he is extremely courteous if you are courteous with him and he answers the emails he receives, although some times he does not reply for several days.

aaall said...

s.w., I have on a few topics and found his replies to be fair and courteous. I was motivated by your use of the word which may be due to your being out of the loop, so to speak. I assume Prof. Leiter finds some of the performative nonsense in academia trying. Still, it would be good if folks on the left avoided the word to describe annoying things.

Moving on, I see that Tucker Carlson has gone full anti-Semite and referred to Zelensky as a sweaty, rat-faced persecutor of Christians. Good times!

LFC said...

Leiter has been engaged in a long-running battle w certain people, mostly I think certain philosophers w a presence in social media, who hold particular positions on "identity politics" issues.

Leiter thinks, as s.w. said, that the emphasis on identity politics is a superficial and silly diversion from the economic issues the left shd be focused on. It's in these contexts, I think, that Leiter uses the terms "woke" and "Wokerati."

aaall's assertion that there is *no* "valid use" of the term "woke" on the left is bizarre. It won't be the same as the Right's use of "woke" as a blunt instrument to stigmatize all kinds of things they don't like, but more narrowly defined as an emphasis on identity politics, and within the academy as an emphasis on the various phenomena connected with DEI, there is indeed a "valid use" of the term on the left.

But it shd be used w some precision (and discretion), not as a blunderbuss in the way the Right does. I personally wd likely only or mostly use the term in casual or informal off-line conversation.

s. wallerstein said...

As for Zelensky, Chilean President Boric conversed with him by phone or zoom and offered humanitarian (not military) aid to Ukraine. Afterwards, Zelensky said some nice things about Boric, the kind of bland stuff that presidents say about one another after conversing.

The Chilean hard left reacts by calling Boric "a tool of imperialism".

In an event held by Recolecta mayor and communist Daniel Jadue, a representative of the Chilean hard left, Atilio Borón, an Argentinian political scientist and a star of the Latin American left, spoke for about an hour lauding Putin as the world champion anti-imperialist, the current incarnation of Che Guevara.

The moderator, Hassan Akram, very leftwing himself, but gifted with a certain sense of perspective, pointed out that whatever the sins of U.S. imperialism, Putin did start the war and that Putin is misogynist and homophobic.

Borón replied that while being misogynist and homophobic are not good, the key thing is Putin standing up to U.S. imperialism. Borón was wildly applauded by the audience, no applause for Akram.

John Rapko said...

On the use (or lack of use) of the term 'woke' from the left: About a month ago I noticed that there seemed to be an imminent small wave of publications criticizing 'Woke' from the left: Walter Benn Michaels's and Adolph Reed Jr's new book; Norman Finkelstein's I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get To It; and Susan Neiman's Left Is Not Woke. I was intrigued and decided I'd read the books in the order I could get ahold of them. I read Neiman's book a couple of weeks ago, and then spent a few hours writing up a summary with a few critical remarks and questions appended. I was struck how nebulous and peremptory Neiman's account of 'Woke' was; the very short book is really a plea for the idea that the Enlightenment, particularly as culminating in Kant's later essays and with a quasi-Kantian conception of reason, is all we need to correct the Woke. She blames bad 'theory', mentions then bypasses the proximal obscurantists Judith Butler and Homi Bhabha, and then engages in quite a bit of Foucault-bashing. If anyone wishes to join my .7 devoted readers, my review is at

LFC said...

So apparently for Boron, the end justifies the means (i.e., it doesn't matter how many war crimes you commit so long as you're standing up to U.S. imperialism).

s. wallerstein said...

In his blog Borón (who has a Phd from Harvard in political science) links to an article by Jeffrey Sachs (translated to Spanish) saying that the U.S. provoked the war.

In English:

Even if what Sachs says is true, there is no excuse for invading and for war crimes.

Fritz Poebel said...

JR: You mention "proximal obscurantists"; what do you mean by that?

John Rapko said...

FP: What I meant by referring to Butler and Bhabha as 'proximal obscurantists' is: (a) I, like Neiman, think they are obscurantists (Neiman characterizes their writing as requiring a great deal of decoding to figure out what they're trying to say) and (b) Neiman indicates that, although they are prominent and influential figures purveying the bad 'theory' that corrupts leftists, it is not primarily through reading their writings that the Woke generate (that is, that they and their writings are not 'proximal' causes); rather, 'theory' is now pervasive in the culture and its (corrupting) ideas are treated as self-evident, so Woke emerges, as Samuel Johnson would have put it, not through education but through contagion. For Neiman, theory's crucial mistakes are adopting tribalism (rather than universalism), collapsing the distinction between justice and power relations, and denying actual moral progress in history.

Fritz Poebel said...

JR: All right. I had read your blog review and there you refer to Butler (and that other person, whom I’ve never even heard of) as “prominent academic obscurantists.” The “prominent…” there made immediate sense to me, but the “proximal” here puzzled me. I know that Butler works at Berkeley (which, I believe is near you, or in any case is your alma mater), so I thought that maybe you were alluding to her being close by, as opposed to distal. Whatever. I also wondered whether I was learning some new aesthetics terminology. Your explanation here of “proximal” in this case makes sense to me now. I understand it better than I understand woke, Susan Neiman notwithstanding.

John Rapko said...

Thanks for letting me know. Quite honestly, I'm never sure that my 'explanations' communicate very well; I spent way too much of my life 'explaining' things to students, and so by reaction I tend to give overly condensed explications here and elsewhere.--I was in graduate school in the Rhetoric Department at UC Berkeley for much of the 1990s. People used to intone the name 'Homi Bhabha' as if they were saying 'Our Lord and Savior'. Bhabha's writing is drivel, even by the low standards of theory-addled academics. I recall Arthur Danto once referring to him as a 'well-meaning obscurantist', and so I too use that appellation. Sometime around my second year there Butler gave some lectures in the English Department; everybody was buzzing, and the consistent gossip was that they were a de facto job talk, and indeed she was immediately hired by the Rhetoric Department. Butler's writing is chock full of wholly unsubstantiated appeals to authority, and stuffed with the locution 'I would argue X', which in practice for her just means 'I shall assert without argument or evidence'.--There went the neighborhood. The main thing I learned in graduate school is which authors not to read: Bhabha, Butler, Kaja Silverman, Avital Ronell, Anthony Cascardi, and a few others.

s. wallerstein said...

John Rapko,

Thanks for being courageous enough to confirm publicly what many of us already suspected.

Jerry Fresia said...

I suspect it has crossed the minds of many of you, but the absence of the Professor for such an extended period is concerning.

May I ask, is all okay Professor?

s. wallerstein said...

Professor Wolff just posted in his blog!!!