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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

WESTERING

I shall return next Tuesday with news of the West Coast.

AN INSOLUBLE PROBLEM


With the third lecture up on YouTube and gathering views, my mind naturally has turned to Lecture Four.  There will however be a one week hiatus, because early tomorrow I fly to the west coast for a gathering of my entire extended family:  my big sister Barbara, my two sons Patrick and Tobias, my daughter-in-law Diana, and my two grandchildren Samuel and Athena.  I return late Monday, so the next lecture on Marx will be on February 26th.  This gives me time to mull over a fundamental problem I face for which there is no natural solution.

As I indicated at the end of Lecture Three, I will now turn to Capital itself, and my first task is to answer the complex and deeply important question: Why did Marx write that way?  I have, I believe, an entirely new and important answer, in the explication of which I must engage in a literary critical analysis of the opening chapters of the book.  Not a problem, you may say.  But I have no reason to believe that either the twenty or so people in the room or the many more viewers in the Cloud have ever read Volume I of Capital.  Imagine carrying out a deep literary analysis of The Brothers Karamazov or Moby Dick for an audience that has never read the book! 

I can read passages aloud, of course, but there is a limit to how much of that people will put up with.  What to do?  I am struggling with the answer, and in a week and a half you will be able to see whether I have handled this problem.

Now I must stop blogging, because it is time for me to sign in exactly twenty-four hours before my flight with Southwest to get my number in the boarding queue.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

THEY JUST KEEP COMING!

Here it is, the third lecture on the Thought of Karl Marx.  If I can keep the masses coming back after this one, I am home free.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

TRYING NOT TO DRIVE THEM AWAY

Tomorrow's lecture will be a mad dash through Classical Political Economy, complete with equations.  If this does not drive away the masses, then they are hooked.  I guess I am a total nerd -- this is the stuff I like the best.  It is remarkably interesting, especially the Ricardo.  One of the things I have always liked about Marx is his genuine respect for Smith and Ricardo, whom he recognized as having first rate minds.  Would that modern neo-classicals exhibited a similar classiness.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

THE ONION STRIKES AGAIN

It is raining this morning, so in lieu of a walk, I surfed the web for a bit and came up with this gem from THE ONION.  I will reproduce it rather than just link to it.

WASHINGTON—Heartbroken over the resignation of boyfriend Rob Porter from the Trump administration following reports that the now-former White House staff secretary had physically and emotionally abused his ex-wives, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told reporters Friday she wished only to find one nice guy in the executive branch’s autocratic personality cult. “Every time I think I’ve found someone who shares my values in this legion of totalitarian sociopaths, they turn out to be nowhere near as good a guy as I first thought,” said Hicks, noting that the dating pool of single, oppressive pricks is fairly small, and connecting with a draconian tyrant who is also sweet and caring is increasingly difficult. “I just know the perfect, ruthless monster for me is out there somewhere in this fanatical hive mind of unfeeling narcissists—a selfish, vicious bastard who will sweep me off my feet. I just have to find the one for me.” As of press time, White House sources reported Hicks had been seen making eyes at a male colleague rumored to have good looks, kind eyes, and the appealing personality of a serial killer.

Friday, February 9, 2018

MARX, MATH, AND WIFE BEATERS


My preparations for Monday’s lecture are now complete, with 24” x 36” show-and-tell sheets on which – gasp – little equations are displayed.  [This is where I lose my burgeoning audience.]  I thought, therefore, that I would take a few moments to comment on the White House scandal involving Chief of Staff John Kelly’s second in command and right hand man Rob Porter.  Porter is a tall, handsome upper class guy, a graduate of Harvard, a Rhodes Scholar, a former aide to Senator Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, the current lover of White House Chief of Communications Hope Hicks and, it turns out, a serial wife beater.  [You can’t make this stuff up.]  I do not care about Porter, who has now joined the lengthening trail of White House staff who have quit or been fired.  What interests me is Kelly, and more particularly the talking head commentary on Kelly, which strikes me as exhibiting an important misunderstanding.

Kelly initially responded to the public revelation that Porter’s two former wives had both accused him of serious physical and emotional abuse by defending Porter as a man of honor and integrity.  He stuck to this praise even after a photo was released showing a really ugly black eye that Porter had given one of his wives.  Kelly only backed off a tad after the public outcry became politically embarrassing, at which point he released a statement condemning spousal abuse.
Beetling around, the TV commentariat quickly surfaced a clip in which Kelly was heard musing sadly last Fall that when he was growing up, “Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor.”  This was taken to be in conflict with his defense of Porter, and so the talking heads wondered whether working in the White House had caused Kelly to lose his way.

Such comments, I suggest, reveal a deep and actually rather important misunderstanding of the way many men think and feel about women.  There is in fact no contradiction at all between Kelly’s extolling of women as sacred and his embrace of a serial wife beater.  For reasons that I explored at length in my videotaped lectures on the thought of Sigmund Freud and will therefore not repeat here, little boys and girls handle their ambivalent erotic feelings about their mothers and fathers by a process of splitting.  They separate off the love from the hate and split the image of the parent in two, feeling the love toward the positive image of the parent and the hatred toward the negative image, thus allowing them to preserve both feelings intact and uncompromised.  If you want familiar examples of this very common psychodynamic process, look at fairy tales:  the sainted [but dead] mother whom the little girl reveres and the wicked stepmother whom the same little girl hates; the safely dead father of Jack and the hated ogre who lives at the top of the beanstalk and can be killed with impunity, enabling Jack to live happily with his mother.

Men who put women on pedestals and worship them as sacred are quite likely at the same time to view other women as whores who need to be beaten up.  The very same wife who is revered in public, sincerely so, may in private when the man gets angry become the object, also sincerely, of his hatred and violence.
I do not think for a moment that Kelly has been changed by his White House stint.  Nor do I think he is a hypocrite.  My guess is that he really thinks he reveres women as saints and equally really believes that a fine man like Rob Porter must have good reason to beat his wives.

I would suggest to Hope Hicks that she think twice about her choice of lovers.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A PASSING THOUGHT


Sixty-two years ago, an American political scientist named Samuel Lubell published a little book called The Future of American Politics that I believe has some lessons for us today.  Briefly, Lubell argued that it was a mistake to think that located somewhere in the middle of the road between loyal Democrats and loyal Republicans were a sizeable number of middle-of-the road voters who were open to persuasion and were more rational, more open minded, than the lockstep party voters on the left and the right.  Lubell argued that almost all of the voters he interviewed had fixed views on a number of hot button political issues [different then than now, of course] about which they were not very dissuadable at all.  The two major political parties had staked out positions on most of these issues, sometimes but by no mean always in internally consistent ways.  Some voters agreed with one party or the other on the great majority of these issues, and hence always voted for that party.  But some voters held views that aligned them on some issues with one party and on other issues with the other party.  Hence they tended to move back and forth from supporting one party or the other depending on exactly which issues were in the forefront of debate at a given time.  These so-called swing voters were not more persuadable or open to argument than any others, and they did not change their minds of issues any more often.  It just happened that their individual collection of issue commitments did not comfortably align with either party.  Nor were they more moderate, whatever that meant.

I thought of Lubell as I was yet again musing on the November elections and on what would be a good strategy for the Democratic Party.  There has been a good deal of foolishness about the unwisdom of staking out “extreme” positions, such as single payer health care or higher taxes on the wealthy, most of it issuing from what is now the Clinton wing of the party. 

What to do?  Well, let me offer one thought, based on some elementary numerical calculations.  There are roughly 711,000 people in each Congressional District.  Let us assume [to make the numbers easy to manage] that there are 420,000 eligible voters in a District.  The number actually varies widely, but never mind.  Experience shows that ordinarily in off years only about 1/3 of eligible citizens vote.

Now, imagine this is a bright red 60-40 district.  In other words, this is a district with 252,000 voters who will vote Republican if they vote, and 168,000 voters who will vote Democratic if they vote.  In an off year, 140,000 people will vote, of whom, in all likelihood, 84,000 will vote Republican and 56,000 will vote Democratic, a formidable 28,000 vote margin.

The Democratic Party has a choice.  It can tack to the right, hoping to persuade 14,000 Republicans to vote Democratic, a strategy that rests on the false assumption that there are a large number of “moderate” Republicans who are more than ordinarily open to persuasion and reason;  Or, it can try to up its reliable Democratic voter turnout from 33% to 50%, which will give them 84,000 votes – a dead heat in a bright red district.

The second option makes a great deal more sense, especially since the more the Party sticks to its progressive stance, the larger the number of its regular supporters are likely to turn out.

Just a thought.