Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Monday, July 24, 2017

TRUMP HAS MADE ME STUPID

When I was a young man, words poured from my pen like a torrent of water from a fire hose.  I published my first book in 1963.  By the time I left Columbia, eight years later, my thirteenth book was in press.  The flood slowed to a stream, and then a trickle, as the years went by.  Books on Kant’s ethics, on John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, several edited books, then the long, deep investigation of the thought of Karl Marx, which yielded two books and a series of long articles.  In 1992, I transferred to Afro-American Studies, and other than a memoir of that extraordinary experience, the periodic editions of a textbook, and two volumes about my parents and grandparents never intended for publication, my pen fell silent.  For eight wonderful years I even made a serious study of the viola and played string quartets with three friends, until retirement brought that to a close.

Through the many years of silence, words had accumulated unheeded in my mind, and when I launched this blog on the last day of June in 2009, a dam broke.  Over the next few years, I wrote on-line a three volume autobiography, a book about the use of formal methods in political philosophy, and countless “tutorials,” some of them twenty or thirty thousand words long.  In all, I wrote more than 500,000 words, the equivalent of six or seven books.  And all the while, silently, for the most part unnoticed, I grew older, until, when I looked up from the keyboard, it seemed I was eighty-three years old.

Slowly, my blog acquired a small, rather distinguished circle of regular readers and commentators, a grand unending seminar in which I was as much tutee as tutor.  Somehow, after a lifetime of teaching and writing, I had found the ideal intellectual community, an international friendship of minds and voices which, or so it seemed, would sustain me for the rest of my life.

And then Trump happened.  At first, I found words to express my dismay and horror, words to encourage others to take action, to resist, words to articulate some understanding of the sheer evil that Trump and his entourage visited thoughtlessly, carelessly, on any too weak to defend themselves.  But little by little, the words grew banal, feeble, inconsequent.  The words that had been my life stilled.


Trump has made me stupid.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A CANARY IN THE MINE SHAFT

There have been several news stories in the past forty-eight hours that have received a good deal of attention and about which I should perhaps comment.  The first, which is really quite unimportant, is that Sean Spicer has resigned as Presidential spokesperson, apparently because he had been sidelined by the appointment of a scrimy character named Anthony Scaramucci as head of the White House press operation.  One of the relaxing features of the present Administration is that it is possible, with no close study, to despise them all.   We will miss Melissa McCarthy’s send-up of Spicer on Saturday Night Live, but beyond that, out of sight, out of mind.

The second story, rather less attended to, is that the Senate referee [who knew they had one?] has ruled a number of elements of the Senate health care bill ineligible for a process called Reconciliation that permits bills to pass with only 51 votes.  Among the clauses not permitted is one stopping women from getting health care from any organization that supports abortion.  Since without this clause, several extreme rightwingers will not vote for the bill, it is now effectively impossible for it to pass.  To be sure, the chances of passage were already slender, but this kills the Republican health care effort dead in its tracks.  This is very good news indeed, since any version of the Republican health care legislation would be devastating for millions of people.

Meanwhile, the reliably execrable Jeff Sessions is in deeper trouble than before, always a good thing.


Mind you, one must be an utterly incorrigible Tigger to take any comfort from this news at all, but I have only one life to live, and I insist on celebrating anything that offers even the slightest warmth to my cold heart.

A MESSAGE FOR JERRY

Jerry, your response to my brief post about my trip to the Musee d'Orsay has prompted a number of interesting comments.  Would you want to write a guest post on some aspect of art and politics?  Remember, if it should result in any significant sales, I get the usual agent's ten percent.  :)

Friday, July 21, 2017

DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU

Well, folks, here we go.  The Washington Post reports that Trump's team of lawyers are now discussing the scope of the President's power to pardon, including even whether he can pardon himself.  And it isn't even August!  So much for the Impressionists.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A CULTURAL MORNING

Susie and I went to the Musée d’Orsay this morning, the grand museum fashioned out of what was once a train station.  I am not much for museums, I confess, but this one has a special place in my heart, in part because it was there, several years ago, that we heard an exquisite performance of Allegrhi’s Miserere by the Tallis Singers, one of the truly great experiences of my life.  The d’Orsay’s collection of Impressionist paintings is of course world famous.  Surrounded by masses of tourists [Paris has overcome its terrorist attacks and is again the premier destination in the world for tourists], I took these IPhone shots of a pair of famous paintings by Renoir.  I am not sure you can see it in my amateurish pictures, but the treatment of the dresses by Renoir is breathtaking.


Dance in the City:



Dance in the Country



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

AROUND THE FIFTH

While I was taking my morning walk [along the circumference of the 5th arrondissement], I reflected on several very significant recent developments in American domestic politics.  [I shall reserve to a later post my responses to the wealth of interesting comments about morality and international affairs.]  I refer first to the revelations regarding the meeting between Kushner, Trump jr., and Manafort and an ever expanding roster of characters, and second the collapse of the efforts of Senate Republicans to do something, anything, about the Affordable Care Act.

The daily revelations about the meeting make it more and more likely that there was a sustained, extensive, conscious, deliberate attempt by Trump himself and his closest advisors to work hand in glove with agents of the Russian government to defeat Hilary Clinton, in return for which assistance Trump would deliver a lifting of economic sanctions and other desiderata of the Putin government.  You may adopt any evaluative stance toward this effort you wish, but it is becoming more and more implausible to deny that it occurred.  Since Clinton was an historically awful candidate, she would no doubt have contrived to lose the election all on her own, but pretty clearly laws were broken, and Robert Mueller will, I should imagine, prosecute a number of the members of Trump’s family, unless, as I expect, Trump intervenes and issues a raft of plenary pardons.  I rather doubt there could be revelations sufficiently awful to prod the Republican House to vote a bill of impeachment.  We shall have to wait and see.

The failure of Senate health care initiatives is splendid news, for two reasons.  First, it stops the Congress and President from doing terrible, terrible harm to tens of millions of people.  Second, it establishes the political truth that health care is now indeed the third rail of modern American politics, as Social Security once was.  [For the youthful among you, when subways powered by electricity were introduced, the trains ran on a pair of parallel rails through which no electricity flowed.  The power was delivered by a third rail.  You could jump down onto the tracks and touch the first two rails with impunity, so long as you got back up before the next subway train ran over you, but if, when doing so, you touched the third rail, you got electrocuted.]  The third rail became first a metaphor and then a cliché for a legally established right or program it was political death to touch.

The Democrats, even those suicidally bent on resurrecting the Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council’s Third Way, have taken notice of the spontaneous upswelling of resistance to the Republican efforts to repeal the ACA and seem collectively to possess the wit to make opposition to those efforts the centerpiece of their 2018 campaign.  By one of those bizarre turns that makes politics so hard to predict, in the midst of this ground level resistance, Single Payer seems to be gaining support.


By the way, merely flying to Paris seems to have made it possible for me to squelch the tendency to view American politics as the natural center of the universe.  Very liberating.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY

This will be an extended post, beginning with the personal and grandparental and ending in an extraordinary and really unforgivable bit if self-congratulation perhaps justifying an intervention or clinical help.  I apologize for this in advance, but have decided that the confessional has a place on the web.  Put it down, if you wish, to my advancing age.

My granddaughter Athena will be nine on the first of August, and I asked her mother for suggestions for appropriate presents.  Apparently on a recent family trip to Tokyo, Athena bought a little treasure box and has now begun a collection of objets d’art.  Could I find in Paris an appropriate addition to the collection?   I had not a clue, but went on a ramble in our Place Maubert neighborhood and ended up some while later in front of a shop at the end of our street called Avanti Musica which is stocked with all manner of little knick-knacks.  There I found what I hope will be the perfect gift, a decorated miniature treasure chest cum music box with a dancing ballerina.

Buying presents for my grandchildren is difficult because their doting parents have given them virtually everything that is both age appropriate and available.  Last December, faced with the same problem for Samuel, who was turning eleven, I decided that instead of asking his mother and father for guidance, I would give him a present that no one else in the world could give to him:  a copy of In Defense of Anarchism, inscribed by the author.  Now, I may be self-absorbed, but I am not yet totally dotty.  I had no thought that Samuel would welcome this present or even look at it.  But I wanted him to have some physical evidence that his grandfather was not just the old guy back East.  Perhaps in future years, even after I had passed away, he would be moved to read it.  I had the fantasy, I confess, that in nine or ten years, when he was in college, he would take a course in which the book was assigned, and could bring in his copy to show the professor.

When you have spent your entire adult life writing books and have arrived at the age of eighty-three, perhaps it is natural to wonder what it all amounts to.  Will anything you have written survive your death?  Is it all fated to blow away like autumn leaves?  I found myself thinking that perhaps this one little book, no more than an extended essay, would somehow manage to live, that it might even become, in a small and subsidiary way, a part of the canon of works in the Western tradition of political theory.

The works that have acquired that relative immortality are, in at least one way, quite similar:  although each book was written at a particular moment in reaction to a particular constellation of contemporary texts, it rises above that situational embeddedness by setting forth an argument that lays claim to universality.  No one anymore reads John Locke’s First Treatise on Civil Government, which, for those of you who have always wondered, is a devastating attack on Sir Robert Filmer’s defense of the divine right of kings.  At the time, Filmer’s position was widely held, but it very quickly was overtaken by history.  Locke’s Second Treatise, on the other hand, although manifestly a work of the late seventeenth century, is read to this day by every serious student of political theory.  The same is true of Rousseau’s Of the Social Contract and Mill’s On Liberty

Because of the peculiar circumstances under which In Defense of Anarchism was written, it contains almost no references to contemporary philosophical debates.  It is virtually devoid of scholarly footnotes and addresses a single fundamental philosophical question sub specie aeternitatis.  It could have been written two hundred years ago, not fifty-two, or indeed one hundred years from now.


Will it live?  I would like to think so.  In the nature of the case, I shan’t be around to find out, but perhaps eighty years from now, Samuel’s grandson will tell his old grandfather about a little book he has just read in college, and Samuel will take out a present from his grandfather and offer it to the young man for show and tell.