My Stuff

Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Sunday, June 16, 2024


 I managed to make it through college, graduate school, and a Harvard instructorship without owning a car, but in 1961, As I set out from Cambridge, Massachusetts to find out whether there was a world beyond Harvard Square, I decided I needed transportation, so I bought Sam Todes' ancient Plymouth for a $100.  The next year, when I got married, I decided wanted to get rid of the car but I could not find anybody to buy it or even take it away. I will never forget calling the police department and having a Sgt. lean in conspiratorially to the telephone as he said "dump it in the river." Eventually i did find a garage that would take it away for $25 (that is to say, I paid them $25 to take it away.)

Now, 63 years later, I have decided my car owning days are over, so I shall do something or other with my 20-year-old Toyota Camry and rely from now on on the transportation of others.As losses go, it is small one.

Friday, June 14, 2024


Yesterday, by way of an anonymous comment on this blog, I learned for the very first time the devastating news that Noam Chomsky a year ago had a massive stroke and is still recovering slowly from it.  There is really nothing I can say save to hope that he makes a full recovery in time. Norm is five years older than I and I suppose it is hardly surprising that he is having serious health problems, but if anybody wants further proof of the nonexistence of a good God one can simply reflect that Henry Kissinger lived to be 100.  Lord knows, it is long past the time when my prayers would have any effect even if I knew to whom or to what to direct them. If anyone has recent news of how Norm is doing. I would appreciate an email.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024


In the past three weeks, I have suffered a dramatic and significant decline in my mobility, for reasons that my doctors have not yet figured out.  My ability to get around with a three wheeled roller is almost nil, I have fallen four or five times at home although fortunately have not hurt myself seriously, and even getting to and from my car is almost impossible for me. However, I have just discovered that my retirement community has just purchased a bus that is wheelchair accessible. Today, when I went to see my doctor, I got on my three wheeled electric scooter, which I use everywhere in my home, went down via elevator and out to meet the bus, got on the bus, got off the bus, made my way to my doctor’s office, saw him, came back home, and never once had to get off my scooter until I was safe at home. That may not seem like much to you youngsters in your 60s and 70s but believe me, to a 90-year-old with Parkinson’s disease it is miraculous


Now, if I could just fix the world everything would be fine withal

Thursday, June 6, 2024



Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Friday, May 31, 2024


There is a lovely scene in The Sting when Robert Redford, a two-bit grifter, goes to see the legendary Paul Newman. who is hanging out in a whorehouse, to find out how to play the big con.  After sobering up, Newman tells Redford, "you won/t get everything, but you will have to be satisfied with what you get."

I have always considered that wise advice in politics as well as in grifting.

Guilty on all counts is something. It is not everything I want, but I will have to be satisfied with that. It is pretty good!

Wednesday, May 29, 2024


 I was dictating t my phone.  I meant Achim, of course.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024


 for that thoughtful and kind comment. I was much touched by.

Monday, May 27, 2024


Eric Erickson, in his finest book, Childhood and Society, writes wisely that “An individual life is the accidental coincidence of but one life cycle with but one segment of history.”  In my 91st year, as I approach the end of my lifecycle, I often reflect on how much my view of the world has been shaped by the particular accidental coincidence of my lifecycle with one segment of history. My father’s father was born in 1879. He devoted his life to the Socialist party in New York City and died in 1944, just before the second world war ended. I was born late in 1933, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his first term as president. I was a senior in Harvard College before I saw a Republican elected to the White House. My early years were obsessed with the dangers of nuclear war and as I grew older, despite the terrible inequities of race and sex and class that beset my country, it was possible for me to believe that things were getting steadily better. The last half of my life has been spent in an increasingly frustrating struggle against the retreat from those early advances. Now, I await the outcome of an election that may effectively end whatever dream of democracy I had as a youth.


This past semester, I had the great pleasure of leading a study group at Harvard in a close examination of volume 1 of Capital, a book which I remain convinced is the greatest work of social and economic analysis ever written. In the last of my 12 two hour lectures, I spoke to those young people about the necessity of continuing the struggle without Marx’s confidence in the eventual victory of socialism to which he devoted his life’s work.


I am constitutionally unable to give up the struggle or retreat into a literary quietism, but I no longer believe alas that the arc of history bends toward justice.  Bound by my Parkinson’s to a desk chair or television set, I must take my pleasures where I find them and hope during this coming week to see Trump convicted in a court of law. I do not believe that will change the world, but it will certainly give me some pleasure, and that is perhaps the most I can ask of it

Thursday, May 2, 2024


56 years ago, I was a young associate professor in the Columbia philosophy department, on leave for the year to teach at Rutgers University, but still living half a block from the Columbia campus on 115th St. between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. My wife and I had just had our first child, Patrick, who was about two months old when things blew up on the campus. It is not an important part of the story, but it is worth noting just for the sake of keeping the history correct, that there were actually two student protests that spring. The first was carried out by a group of white students associated with SDS, who occupied the administration building to protest Columbia’s involvement in war work supporting the Vietnam war. The second was carried out by a group of black students who occupied Hamilton Hall to protest Columbia’s announced intention to build a new gymnasium and Morningside Park, which the residents of Harlem considered part of their world.  The new gymnasium, needless to say, would be open only to Columbia students, not to residents of Harlem. 


And here we are again. In 1968, the Columbia University administration, headed by Grayson Kirk, handled the whole matter very badly, with the result that David Truman, a distinguished political scientist who was widely thought to be the next president of Columbia, was forced to complete his career as the president of Mount Holyoke College instead.


How might the current president of Columbia have handled the matter better? The answer seems to me to be obvious, but for reasons which are equally obvious I am sure it never so much as occurred to her. As soon as the first evidence of student concern about the disaster in Gaza popped up, she should have called in the managers of the Columbia endowment and told them to sell all the shares in companies in any way involved with Israel’s attack on Gaza. I gather the Boeing Corporation makes bombs that the United States has been delivering to Israel and that Israel has been dropping on the Palestinians. I am sure there are other holdings in the endowment that are suspect in the same way. There are undoubtedly also ways in which the University is involved with Israel, and they should have been put on hold by the president. Then she should have asked for a meeting with all of the students, of any faith, and whatever their position on the current situation in the occupied territories. She should have told them that the official position of the University was that there should be an immediate cease-fire, a commitment by all parties to a two state solution, massive aid to the people of Gaza, and a demand that the US government withhold military aid to Israel so long as Netanyahu continues to insist that he is going to continue the war. She should have stated that if they wished to establish an encampment on the Columbia campus, they were welcome to do so and that so long as they did that she would join them there, conduct the business of the University from the encampment, and call on all faculty and students to join with her.


This would, of course, have had a dramatic effect on the political situation and it would have encouraged other private universities and colleges to do the same. (There is some question whether public universities could take this sort of political position but there is nothing to stop the presidents of those universities from announcing their personal support for a similar political stance.)


It is I think obvious that there is not the slightest possibility that anything like this will ever happen. As I say, they never learn.

Monday, April 22, 2024


It has been just short of a month since I last posted on this blog. During that time, the average number of visits per day to the blog, as measured by Google, has roughly doubled – a rather humbling fact, I must say. My time has been spent preparing my weekly lectures on Marx and dealing with the depredations of Parkinson’s disease and the burdens of being the primary caregiver to my wife, who is struggling bravely with the problems of being 91 years old. Just in the past two days, I have learned of the deaths of two old and good friends – Charles Parsons, my college classmate, graduate apartment mate, colleague at Columbia, and lifelong friend, and William Strickland, my colleague and friend from the Afro-American studies department at the University of Massachusetts. Charles was 91 and Bill was 87. Since I am now 90, their passing is a cautionary tale for me.


I decided to return today to make what might be considered a terminological quibble, but one with some larger significance. A number of people have described the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel as a form of apartheid.  This is a mistake. Let me explain. “Apartheid” is an Afrikaner term to describe an elaborate and complex system of racially-based oppression developed in South Africa by the whites. The system, justified by some rather distressing phony philosophical arguments derived from a misunderstanding of European philosophical doctrines of the earlier 20th century, involved classifying the population of South Africa into four major categories: Whites, Africans, Coulereds, and Asians.  The aim of the system was simultaneously to keep as much separation as was manageable of the four categories of people from one another (hence apartheid, which is to say apartness or separation) while also making it possible for the whites to exploit the labor of the nonwhites. The Africans, descendent of the original inhabitants of the area, were needed both for agricultural labor and for work in the mines. In addition, they were used as domestic workers of all sorts. To keep them separate from the white population, the Afrikaner government had several devices. The first was the creation of 10 “homelands,” territories ostensibly represented as independent states, one each for the 10 racial and linguistic groups that the Afrikaners imagined the Africans to be divided into. The second was the creation of single-sex hostels or residences where African mine workers lived for 11 months a year, being permitted to make brief trips home to their families and the homelands. The third was the townships, segregated communities outside major white cities where people whose labor was needed in the cities would be forced to return each evening. The best known of these, of course, was Soweto, a community whose name is an acronym formed from the words “Southwest Township” and which is located outside Johannesburg. In addition, there were so-called “informal settlements,” which is to say collections of shacks scattered along roads and elsewhere in the officially white parts of South Africa.


The goal of the system of apartheid was not to get rid of the nonwhite population – that would have been an economic disaster for the whites. Rather, the goal was to exploit their labor while keeping them officially out of sight, as it were.


I may be wrong, but it is not my impression that the Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is based on a desire to exploit their labor. I think many Israelis would be quite happy if the Palestinians were simply to disappear. In that way, their attitude toward the Palestinians is much closer to the attitude of the European settlers toward Native Americans. By and large, the European settlers sought to exterminate the Native Americans, and when they could not quite accomplish that, to push them into reservations on land for which the settlers did not have much use. Needing large amounts of labor to develop the New World in ways that would make them money, the settlers first brought a good many indentured servants from England, and then brought Africans whom, over more than a century, they enslaved after revising the English Common Law to permit such a status to exist.


I am not sure this makes a great deal of difference to the struggle now going on, but I do think there is something to be gained from being more accurate in the terms we use to describe the horror as we observe. 

Carry on.

Sunday, March 24, 2024


What can Biden do right now, today, to avoid even more deaths of innocent people in Gaza? I am not asking what he can do if he gets Congress to approve a bill in two weeks when they return from their break; I am not asking what the United Nations can do in a week; I am not asking what America’s negotiators can attempt to achieve in the next several days. I am asking what Biden can do today about the starvation now afflicting 2 million people in Gaza?


Here is what I think he can do. First, he can take all of the food on the aircraft carriers in the Middle East, put it on airplanes, and airlift it to an Egyptian airport, telling the Egyptians to get out of the way.  He can commandeer trucks, cars, whatever in Egypt and announced that the aid is being taken into Gaza, regardless of whether they have permission to do so. He can tell the Egyptians to get out of the way and my guess is that they will. At the same time, he can ship more food by air to the carriers to replace the food sent to Gaza. Meanwhile, he can underwrite the efforts of anybody, any organization, attempting to help the Gazans and announce to the world that American troops are going to take the food into Gaza. Meanwhile, he can cancel all military aid to Israel until they stop the creation of illegal settlements in the Palestine Authority.  He can tell Israel that if its troops fire on American troops bringing food to the Gazans, he will cancel all further military aid to Israel for as long as he is president.


Will he do any of these things? No. Could he do them? Yes.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024


Thank you to whomever it was who posted this link to the New York Times story.  It is terrifying and all quite plausible. Keep in mind that these terrible descriptions concern the effects of fission bombs, not fusion bombs which are a thousand times more powerful.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024


The decision by the Supreme Court to take the case only grants Trump de facto immunity if he wins the election. If he loses the election, the trials continue and sooner or later he will go to jail. But if he were found guilty in the January 6 case on or about the time when he was nominated as the Republican candidate for president, he would still stand for office and if he won, the rule of law would end and he would be dictator for life.

So the fact remains, we have to beat him at the polls and we have to hang onto that victory in the Congress in whatever way we can so that Biden is inaugurated for a second term.

If Trump wins election it does not matter what happens in Georgia – even if the trial were held and he was found guilty, he would simply refuse to abide by the decision and deploy the military to quell any attempt to force him to abide by it.

Monday, February 19, 2024


Can anybody point me to someplace where I can get information on the value of capital in the United States not including homeownership? As a start perhaps could anybody point me to a site that would tell me the dollar value of all publicly owned companies? Piketty is quite useful but he includes homeownership in his figures (because that is the way it is listed in the sites that he uses as sources for his information). 

Sunday, February 11, 2024


It has been quite a while since I have posted on this blog, and I thought that as I wait for the Super Bowl to get started I ought to just say a few words about where I have been and what I have been doing.

I have been right here in Chapel Hill, of course, even more limited by my Parkinson's than previously, but I have been working very hard on my lectures at Harvard on volume 1 of Capital.  This is for me an extremely exciting coda to my career, and I am putting everything I have into it. I only hope those who are attending and participating are enjoying it as well.

I am so appalled and distressed by the carnage in Gaza that I cannot speak about it rationally. I  have no idea what it is going to happen and of course I have no influence on it at all so all I can do is anguish.

As for American politics, I am both optimistic about the election and terrified. I remain convinced  that Biden will beat Trump more decisively this time than last, helped by the total dysfunction of the Republican Party and by the issue of abortion, which is our secret weapon.  

Perhaps if I do a good enough job in my lectures, it will inspire one or two of those listening to take up the struggle as I pass from the scene.

Be well, all of you, and try to be nice to one another. In the larger scheme of things, we are all on the same side.

Thursday, January 25, 2024


I gather that the lectures will be recorded and that it is quite possible to remove from them any indications of the identities of the people listening to them. Let me emphasize that my concerns grew out of my anxieties, not out of theirs. For all I know, everyone planning to attend the study group would be happy to have his or her name published.  I pursued my career during a time when it was almost impossible not to succeed. In the immortal words of Ann Richards, we were born on third and thought we had hit a triple.  But these are times when grand jury members have their personal details posted online and members of the House Republican caucus who do not support Jiim Jordan for the speakership get death threat calls.

I will let you know whether I can make the  lectures available, and if I can I will.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024


This morning I read through the enormously long series of comments you folks have posted to my last blog post. Hidden in that series were several requests, from Jerry Fresia and others, that I make my Marx lectures available to all. Let me explain why I have decided not to do that.

There are now 37 people signed up for the study group, including large numbers of undergraduates, several graduate students, and 10 or 11 members of the faculty. It is going to be hard enough to get the undergraduates to speak up in the presence of the faculty. I plan to make a little joke about it, suggesting that I am so old that they all look the same age to me, but I am sure we all know that the norm would be for the undergraduates to sit quietly and wait to hear what the faculty ask or comment.

I am genuinely fearful that if I make available on the Internet lectures on Karl Marx in which the faces of undergraduates are clearly visible and in which some of them actually ask questions or make objections, it is entirely possible that they will be identified, attacked, have their futures compromised professionally, and so forth. In light of what has been happening in this country lately, I do not think my fears are irrational. My primary commitment is to those students and I simply will not take the chance that some of them may be targeted or harmed, either professionally or personally, by their participation in the study group.

Monday, January 15, 2024


While you folks have been having all sort of interesting conversations in the comments section, I have been hard at work preparing for my Harvard study group on volume 1 of Capital.  The enrollment is now up to 35, with nine faculty, 23 undergraduates, and three graduate students. As I am sure some of you can imagine, this study group is for me, at the age of 90, both a great challenge and a very exciting opportunity.  I have been thinking about very little else, except for the unavoidable problems of my Parkinson's. I watch a good deal of television news and keep up with the ins and outs of the legal cases enveloping Trump, but although I have all sorts of expectations, I have little or no professional knowledge and experience that would make my speculations any more useful than those I see on television.  The same is true for the events unfolding in the Middle East.  

The more I think about volume 1 of Capital, the more persuaded I am that it is the most important work of social and economic theory ever written.  It has all sorts of problems, God knows, and important parts that are clearly wrong but the core idea is so powerful, and so original, that the book stands head and shoulders above everything else written on the subject. I hope very much that I can communicate that to the participants in the study group.

Thursday, January 4, 2024


Turning 90 has had an unexpected effect on me.  All my life, I have struggled against my limitations and against my tendency to veg out. I have not really worked very hard save for a few moments in my life, but I have done a lot of worrying about whether I am doing enough.  I have been struggling with my Parkinson’s disease for several years now and as I grow steadily less able to move around or even to walk very well at all, I have fretted about it and struggled against it. Being 90 years old seems to have given me permission to relax and accept my limitations. In effect, I say to myself, “you are 90 years old, of course you cannot do as much as you used to, it is all right.”


Right now of course all my attention is focused on the study group I will be starting to teach at the beginning of February. Since I will be talking about things that I have been working on for 40 years, I do not really need to do much planning but I lie in bed giving lectures in my head, sorting out what I want to say and in what order, enjoying the fact that I am being given this one last chance to teach, which is what I most love to do.


Meanwhile, I will take great enjoyment from watching the so-called originalists and textualists on the Supreme Court struggle to find ways to avoid applying the obvious meaning and intention of article 3 of the 14th amendment. These days, you must take your pleasures where you find them.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024


Well, I looked at some of former president Gay's supposed plagiarisms, and they were not very impressive. I would hardly call them plagiarism.  But then, the essays in which they were to be found were not terribly interesting either. Out of curiosity, I did a little searching for information about the people who have been president of Harvard since I was an undergraduate there. James Conant was an impressive scientist. Nathan Marsh Pusey was not an impressive intellect at all, but he resisted McCarthy in his former position and that was a good thing. Derek Bok was a reasonably impressive legal scholar. Most of the presidents of Harvard in the past 70 years have been people one would not really be interested in talking to if one had a chance.

I actually met Conant when he was the head of the American portion of a divided Berlin. Since I was a traveling Sheldon fellow he agreed to see me. Not very exciting. I also had lunch once with a committee that was meeting with Pusey.  He seemed to me very much like a retouched photograph of himself.  Academic administrators by and large are people who do just enough to get tenure and then go into administration.

I should not imagine any of this will have an effect on my Marx study group, which starts February 2.  Eight faculty and 25 students signed up for it and I am really excited to have a chance to teach again.

I do not know yet whether I will be permitted to record the sessions or whether that is a good thing. I will let you know. Meanwhile, I am safe and protected in my retirement community while all the rest of the  world is going to hell. I gave another thousand to the DLCC.  It is pretty much all I can do.