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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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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Monday, May 21, 2018

HAVE PEN, WILL TRAVEL


Like one of the old Greek sophists, I go to any city state that will have me and talk on anything I am asked about.  My first publication was in the Harvard Crimson, my second in Astounding Science Fiction.  Over the years, my words have appeared in many settings, but this morning is a first.  I have been asked to contribute to a comic book.  A scholar at UPenn is soliciting one sentence statements about Herbert Marcuse for a comic book on him to be introduced by Angela Davis [I am not making this up.]  Naturally, I agreed.  There seem to be thirty or more others.  Here is my sentence:

“Herbert Marcuse, the imposing presence who teased me, just after I had published my first book on Kant’s Critique, by proposing to Barrington Moore and me A Critique of Pure Tolerance as the title of our little volume, reassuring me when I objected that “No one will ever read it,” the Germanic philosopher who sat on the floor with my three year old son twirling a toy globe to show him the countries of the world, the world-historical presence who was that rarest of beings in the exalted realm of high theory and kulturkritik, a good friend.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

STRANGE TIMES


This a strange time politically.  It feels oddly unsettled, fractured, uncertain.  The report of a second meeting with Don Jr., this one with representatives of countries other than Russia, gives the feeling of an investigation that is metastasizing.  Recent Democratic Party primaries suggest that at the moment the party is moving to the left, which I welcome, despite the risk it poses in the November elections.  Inasmuch as turnout is everything in the midterms, this may be a conjuncture when the left can make real gains.

Meanwhile, as I prepare for my last Plato class, I am struck again and again by how extraordinary it is that the Gorgias, one of the most topically current of Plato’s dialogues, was written two thousand four hundred years ago.

As soon as the course is ended, I must prepare my Marx lecture for Brussels [or actually Gent – the location has been moved.]  Like Gorgias himself, I will travel to any city state where there are a few gathered to hear me orate.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

ARM CHAIR SPECULATION


I assume readers of this blog are aware of the main outlines of the unfolding negotiations between North Korea and the Trump Administration, leading to North Korea’s abrupt cancellation of a projected meeting with South Korea and threatened cancellation of the Kim-Trump summit.  Prominent in North Korea’s announcement was a direct attack, by name, on John Bolton, Trump’s new National Security Advisor.  Bolton had gone on TV not merely to lay out the demand that North Korea completely give up its nuclear weapons, but also to explicitly reference the Libyan example as America’s model for North Korea.  Inasmuch as Ghaddafi ended up being shot dead in a drainage ditch some years after giving up his nuclear weapons, Kim not surprisingly expressed discomfort with that model.

John Bolton is a thoroughly despicable human being, but he is far and away the smartest, most knowledgeable, most experienced member of Trump’s administration.  I suggest that it is an absolute certainty that Bolton made that statement as a deliberate effort to scuttle what he patently considers Trump’s wrong-headed decision to seek out and agree to one-on-one talks with Kim.

It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WHAT PUBLIC REPRESENTATIVES SOUND LIKE IN SOME PLACES

Take the time to watch this, courtesy of William Polk.

WHAT I AM DOING TODAY


This afternoon, I shall give the fifth of six lectures on Plato’s dialogues, this one on the Gorgias.  Out of curiosity, I looked back over my extensive files of the courses I have taught during my long career, and found that I first taught the Gorgias in the Fall of 1955 as a twenty-one year old Teaching Fellow in Harvard’s Philosophy 1.  There were four Teaching Fellows in the course taught by the grand old man of the department, Raphael Demos.  Each of us covered two sections.  In my file for the course was a copy of the mimeographed sheet listing the questions each of us posed to his sections on the mid-term hour examination.  Mister Raymond, Mr. Schiller, and Mr. Chacon asked serious, probing questions, suitable for so elevated a subject.  Then there was me.  Here is my first question:

There once was a rhetorical man
Who said, “Flatter the public I can.”
He boned up on knick-knackery,
All four forms of quackery,
And for Ruler of Athens he ran.

Outline Plato’s theory of true and false arts, and explain how a false politician would use the “knacks” to gain power in a state.

Ah, those were the days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

IT NEVER STOPS

I was all set to write a light-hearted post about the class I will teach tomorrow on Plato's Gorgias when I came across this story on The Daily Kos.  The first paragraph reads:

"Michigan isn't the only state where Republicans are pushing a Medicaid work requirement that’s blatantly racist. Ohio and Kentucky are running the same play, passing a work requirement for Medicaid but exempting mostly white, rural counties. The claim is that the exemptions are for places with high unemployment rates where people simply can’t find work—but cities with high unemployment rates often don’t get the same treatment, because they’re surrounded by (and within county lines of) wealthy suburbs that pull the county’s overall unemployment down. The end effect is that, in what a health law scholar described to TPM as “a version of racial redlining,” work requirements apply to poor black people but not poor white people."

The unrelenting ugliness of the Republican Party drains the energy out of my body.  There is nothing to do but fight back at the ballot box, and I will, but I do not want to live in this world, I really do not.

A RESPONSE TO JERRY FRESIA

I suppose, Jerry, that I could say it was April 17, 1961 when I stopped feeling that this is my country.  [The Bay of Pigs invasion, for those too young to remember.]  I went to bed on the 16th thinking of myself as a progressive Democrat, and woke up the next day to wonder who I was and what I stood for.  I am thoroughly American, despite my Paris apartment, but I do not think of myself as a loyal American.  It was not until I wrote Autobiography of an Ex-White Man that I was able to tell a story of this country that was a substitute for the familiar story of a City Upon a Hill and American Exceptionalism, and I learned that new story from my Black colleagues in Afro-American Studies.  But I have never been a rootless citizen of the world, and that is the source of my despair.