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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Monday, May 22, 2017


African-Americans have an extremely sophisticated relationship to language, as I explained at length in my videotaped lectures on Ideological Critique, a sophistication manifested in many ways – in oral traditions, in literary works, even in music.  One of the best known and most delightful examples of this linguistic skill and complexity is a verbal game in which one member of a group starts by directing an imaginative and playful insult at another member, who is his or her target.  At this, everyone sits up and takes notice, aware that a performance has begun.  The target of the insult responds with a variation on the insult that raises its level.  The insults fly back and forth, each more elaborate, outrageous and extravagant than its predecessor, until one of the players gets off an insult so utterly over the top that the opponent cannot immediately come back with a topper.  At that point, everyone collapses in laughter and the winner is acknowledged.  This game is called Playin’ the Dozens, or simply The Dozens. 

There is a political version of this game, played by left-wing intellectuals, that consists in making more and more devastating condemnations of contemporary society in an effort to gain the upper hand over one’s fellow radicals as the most unrelentingly negative member of whatever group has assembled.  If one player says that Donald Trump is a liar, another replies that Trump is a sociopath.  The first player responds that Trump is really different from all Republicans, to which the second responds that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats these days.  This is topped by the argument that there has never been a difference between Democrats and Republicans.  At this point, another player enters the game and annihilates both opponents with the statement that there could not be a difference, because all are merely mouthpieces for capitalism.  Everyone collapses, if not in laughter, than in shared angst.

I was reminded of The Dozens this morning when I read an essay by Chris Hedges posted yesterday on Truthdig entitled “The Death of the Republic.”  Taking as his text the Roman “year of the five emperors” [AD 193], a sure sign of a serious Political Dozens player, Hedges rehearses the manifold, structural, incurable evils of our current politics, and concludes “Our Republic is dead.”  At which point, presumably, all the rest of us in this contest having been silenced by this pronouncement, we can applaud, relax, and go about our daily business, reassured that nothing any of us does can reanimate the rotting corpse.  It is an oddly comforting game, comforting perhaps in the way that post-apocalyptic movies are comforting.

Although I agree with almost every single statement in Hedges’ indictment of modernity, or of America, or of humanity [the precise object of his attack is unclear], I am not at all as a consequence inclined to inaction.  Get rid of Trump?  Hedges responds, “The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.”  Retake the House in 2018?  “The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater.”  Perhaps one of the risks those of us must face who choose action is that most devastating of accusations, that we are na├»ve.  It is a risk I am willing to take.


I have now returned from my trip to San Francisco, where I saw my son, Patrick, and his family.  I had the great pleasure on Saturday of watching my grandson, Samuel, get a hit and an RBI in his baseball game.  Samuel’s team lost, but they are assured a slot in the semifinals for the league championship and will play again tomorrow.  Since this was San Francisco, all the kids are rabid Giants fans, and I sat in the little stands with the cheering parents wearing a Giants cap provided by my son.  The teams are all named after big league teams [Samuel plays for the Rockies], all except the L. A. Dodgers, the Giants’ mortal enemies.  Samuel explained to me that the kids who had to play for the DODGERS would feel bad.  When I was a boy, seventy years ago, I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and the New York Giants were the enemy, but grandparental loyalty takes precedence over childhood memories, so I soberly agreed that it would indeed be terrible for a kid to be saddled with the stigma of playing for the Dodgers.

I have a Southwest visa card on which I have amassed a ton of points, so my trip out and back was free, but you know Southwest.  Coming home I flew from San Francisco to Milwaukee to Orlando [!!] to Raleigh Durham.  For my foreign readers, just take a look at a map and you will see how insane that is.  On the other hand, all the flights were on time or early, and no one was dragged off kicking and screaming.  You can’t ask for more than that.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


One of the curious quirks of American culture is the popular fascination with zombies.  I get vampires -- that is all about menstruation.  But why zombies?  The latest manifestation of this obsession with the undead is the surfacing of Joe Lieberman as the leading candidate for the position of Director of the FBI.  Hasn't anyone ever driven a stake through his heart?


Once more, I am decamping, this time to San Francisco for the weekend to see my older son, Patrick, his wife Diana, and my two grandchildren Samuel and Athena.  I realize that I am taking the coward's way out by suspending my commentary on the passing scene for a few days, but things are happening so quickly that even taking my morning walk keeps me out of the loop for at least two news cycles.

Before I go, let me comment briefly on one recent revelation, this one concerning General [and former National Security Advisor] Mike Flynn.  It seems that in the last weeks before Trump's inauguration, Flynn advised against, and thus killed, a plan by the previous administration to support Kurdish troops fighting ISIS in Syria AT A TIME WHEN HE WAS IN THE PAY OF THE TURKISH GOVERNMENT, WHICH OPPOSED SUPPORTING THE KURDS, A FACT THAT WAS KNOWN TO THE TRANSITION TEAM PREPARING FOR THE NEW ADMINISTRATION.  

This seems to me to be treason, pure and simple. 

Flynn informed the transition team that he was under investigation for working for the Turkish Government without having registered as a foreign agent, and was listened to and appointed National Security Advisor anyway.  What is more, simon-pure boy scout Mike Pence was in charge of the transition team and thus knew all about this, a fact about which he subsequently has lied several times.

In a decent well-run country, Flynn would be taken out and shot.


Professor Christia Mercer of the Columbia Philosophy Department has been working on a great plan to link skilled professionals to progressive organizations for whom they could then volunteer.  Here is a link to project pro bono.  Check it out and get involved.  There is a movement afoot in this country, and it needs all of us!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


When I blog about Marx or Kant or Game Theory or the theory of democracy, I do so with a certain confidence that I have some idea what I am talking about.  Readers may disagree with me -- Lord knows they always do! -- but I have at least a prima facie claim to knowledge on those topics.  By contrast, when I blog about the current political crisis, I am painfully conscious much of the time of simply echoing what I have read online or heard during my endless surfing of the TV news stations.  Nevertheless, I think it is essential to speak about what we are confronting.  "Attention must be paid," as Willy Loman's wife insists.  Herewith, therefore, my view, offered with full awareness of its lack of authority.

The current administration, despite its extraordinary chaotic incompetence, is steadily doing genuinely terrible things that either seek to threaten the lives of countless millions or actually succeed in doing so.  Here is just one example among scores.  Trump's action will deprive millions of women of essential health services, particularly in Africa, leading to countless preventable deaths and illnesses.  That is sheer evil.  There is no other word for it.

The men and women Trump has appointed to his cabinet will do immeasurable harm to the environment, to women's reproductive health, to education, to worker's rights, and to voting rights.  They will greatly increase the number of men and women incarcerated for long periods for non-violent crimes.   All of this is the deliberate intention of the entire Republican Party, not merely of the Trump Administration.

I do not for a moment believe that Congressional Republicans will act to remove Trump from office, no matter how manifestly egregious his actions, principally because they fear opposition at the polls from Trump supporters.  I predict that Trump will survive all scandals, all revelations, and serve out his term unless he actually comes utterly unglued and must be led off in a straight jacket.

From all of which I draw the conclusion that the only way to limit the harm being done to millions of Americans is to take back the House of Representatives in 2016 and the White House in 2020.  This will by no means end the harm being inflicted by this Administration -- see the example linked to above, which is an example of presidential action alone.  But it will limit the damage.

How to accomplish this overthrow of the Republican majority in the House?  My guess -- not grounded in genuinely deep political knowledge or experience -- is that calls for impeachment will be ineffective, but that a ceaseless hammering on the Republican threats to health care can be a winning strategy.  Repeatedly I have heard anecdotal reports from reporters and politicians that outside the Beltway, health care remains a red hot issue while impeachment only agitates the reliable Democratic voters.

Meanwhile, I freely admit that I am mesmerized by the chaos and self-inflicted wounds of this White House.  But I shall try not to be seduced from  attending to the issue that can win back the House.


This just appeared on TPM, one of my favorite progressive blogs:

It appears that four months into his presidency, Donald Trump hasn’t developed any keener of an interest in his daily national security briefings.

According to a report published Wednesday by Reuters, Trump is more likely to read national security briefing materials if his name is mentioned in as many paragraphs as possible.

Unnamed officials who have briefed the President and others familiar with his learning processes told the publication that Trump still prefers one-page memos and visual aids.

One unnamed source told Reuters that since Trump “keeps reading if he’s mentioned” in briefing materials, officials on the National Security Council have learned to insert the President’s name into “as many paragraphs as we can.”

In such a world, how on earth is one supposed to write thoughtfully about ideological mystification and capitalist exploitation?