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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE MORNING AFTER

Two elections were held yesterday.  In Delaware, a by-election filled a State Senate seat that had been held by a Democrat who was elected Lt. Governor.  The Democrats needed to keep the seat to maintain control of the State Senate.  An unprecedented outpouring of volunteers from Delaware and surrounding states resulted in a decisive victory.  Meanwhile, Tom Perez narrowly defeated Keith Ellison for the position of Democratic National Committee chair.  The party officials voting also turned down a proposal to ban big money contributions.

I was enormously cheered by the Delaware vote.  This was the first chance to see whether the post-election outpouring of energy and enthusiasm on the left could be converted into focused political action, and the result suggests that the answer is Yes.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the DNC vote.  Perez was the Establishment choice [where Establishment here means the choice of Obama, Biden, and probably the Clintons as well.]  The DNC is the cozy home of the Democratic Establishment.  That Keith Ellison did as well as he did is dramatic evidence that the Democratic Establishment has lost its grip on the party.

Now, let me be honest.  I was rooting for Ellison without knowing much about him.  On substantive policy, he and Perez appear to have differed only on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Ellison opposes and Perez supports.  I have not read the TPP and really am not at all competent to explain why one should support or oppose it.  Perez is described as quite progressive, and for all I know, he is.  I was more dismayed – but again, not surprised – by the refusal to turn down big money.  This is worth a few words of explanation, although after Bernie’s great run for the nomination, it should not require much.

The norm in America is for the people – the great unwashed, as they used to be called – to pay no attention at all to politics save during national elections, while small numbers of professionals who control the local and national party machinery go about their business, funded mainly by rich people who seek to buy influence.  This arrangement is comfortable, predictable, and safe for all involved.  The paid jobs that the professionals hold and defend are not really great jobs, as things go in America these days.  A professional politician, for the most part, does not make as much as a tenured professor, and certainly not as much as a medical specialist or a corporate lawyer.  But it is a job, and for the men and women who have it, it is a living.

Much is made about the high cost of elections, but in fact, in a nation as large and rich as America, the amounts spent are really not terribly impressive.  In 2016, in all federal elective races, the candidates and their surrogates spent about 6.8 billion dollars – somewhat more, but not much more, than Americans spend in a year on pet grooming.  Bernie demonstrated that if you could get enough people energized about a campaign, you could fund it quite nicely with small donations. 

Suppose, for example, that a real national movement gets started, of the sort that now seems to be coming into existence on the left.  And suppose you can get thirty million people to donate ten dollars a month regularly.  That is somewhat less than the price of a movie ticket [if you aren’t a senior citizen living in a backwater like Chapel Hill], and does not include the concession stand purchases, which is where most cinemas make their money.   That is $3.8 billion a year, much more than is needed to pay for a vibrant grassroots political campaign.  Is it at all realistic to imagine that many people donating regularly?  Well, scores of millions of Americans make just such regular donations to churches, synagogues, and mosques, and the total well exceeds one hundred billion dollars a year.

The refusal of the DNC to reject big money donations has nothing to do with need, and everything to do with maintaining the comfortable, cozy relationship between professionals and rich, manageable donors.

What should we do?  Chris and Jerry Fresia disagree.  Here is what they say:

Chris said...”And Obama-Clinton backed Perez just won DNC chair over Sanders backed Ellison, after voting to continue to allow corporate lobbyist donations into the DNC.  This party is a fucking joke, and backing them in any fashion is only a roundabout way of ensuring more Trumpism. Sorry, I'm washing my hands of the Democratic Party for good.”

Jerry Fresia said...”I lean toward Chris' contempt for corporate Democrats; however, until or unless there are structural changes which transform our two party system into a multi-party system, I think efforts to take-over the Democratic party - perhaps through leftist primary challenges - ought to be considered.”

I sympathize with Chris, but I think that Jerry is strategically correct.  Let me explain why.  The Democratic Party is a well-established bureaucratic organization entrenched at the local level and integrated with the local laws and ordinances governing elections, primaries, campaigns, and the like, laws and ordinances that in many cases they have themselves written.  This bureaucracy is an enormously valuable resource, into which many different and competing interests can be poured.  It would take the efforts of millions of people over many decades to duplicate such a bureaucracy.  To turn away from it rather than to try to seize it and bend it to one’s purposes must, I think, be a last resort.

During Obama’s eight years as President, the Democratic Party lost a thousand state legislative seats.  The result has been a flood of state legislation suppressing the vote, attacking abortion rights, targeting the LGBT community, undermining what remains of the union movement, attacking the public schools, and in general turning large parts of America into a vast moral and political wasteland.

The election of Donald Trump seems to have produced a convulsive reaction on the left quite unlike any I have seen in my lifetime.  If the Delaware by-election should prove a harbinger and not an anomaly, we may be able to win back House seats, state legislative seats, governorships, and – along the way – control of the national Democratic Party.

I am willing to commit my energies and money to that effort, at least for the next several years, in order to see what can be accomplished.  If we fail, there will be time enough for me to join Chris.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

The Trump cabal has begun rounding up undocumented Americans for summary deportation.  With characteristic bullying bravado, Trump characterized this effort as “military,” a description he was then forced to walk back.  But be not misled – it is military in its spirit and inspiration, and I have no doubt the effort will be expanded, to the cheers of his supporters.  This morning, during my walk, I began to speculate on ways that I might seek to protect targets of this round-up were the opportunity to present itself.

There is, of course, historical precedent for such an effort in this country, namely the Underground Railroad that helped runaway slaves make their way to territories where they would be free.  America is a large and varied country.  There are cities, and in some cases entire states, prepared to serve as sanctuaries for prospective deportees.  It may become necessary – indeed it may already be happening – for networks of citizens to form who can help the undocumented to move from areas of maximum danger to areas of relative safety.

I invite anyone reading this blog who is aware of such efforts to contact me by email, which is relatively a good deal more private than a blog, to let me know whether there is anything I can do to assist such efforts.

Yes, I am aware that the Obama Administration deported upwards of two and a half million undocumented persons.  I did not support that action, and I hold no brief for Obama.  So let us not become distracted by the keeping of scores.  Our country is under siege, and such democracy as we have is at peril.


THE LISTS

The Friday Lists just get longer and longer.  I think it is working out as a good idea, a way for us to create a community, to seek approval for what are otherwise rather lonely acts, to encourage others who may be reading this but not yet phoning in, as it were.

Keep it up.  We have a very long way to go.

FRIDAY LIST 5

David said...
1.  I just returned from a march to, and demonstration at, the office of Congressman Dave Reichert (R-in hiding). At least a thousand people attended, many with the creative signs we've come to expect from this new era of protest. My favorite chant: "Where's Dave? Dave's not here!"

Dave Reichert has been in office since 2004, but this year his district went for Clinton. His refusal to meet with constituents at a town hall is bringing him some much-deserved bad publicity, and with a decent challenger next time, 2018 will mark the end of career in the House.

2. Called the office of Rep. Jayapal to thank her for her work on behalf of immigrants.

3. Attended a meeting of our Neighborhood Action Coalition.

Will said...
1) Donated to Ossoff campaign.
2) Met with Senator Shelby's state political director to discuss concerns.
3) Called local senators and representatives about particular legislation.
Howie wrote, Joined the ACLU.  Felt good.
Me: 
Signed up for a small monthly donation to John L. Lewis.
Gave some more to Jon Ossoff's campaign.
Called newly elected Democratic NC Governor Roy Cooper, for whom I rang doorbells, and congratulated him on withdrawing efforts to defend NC's hideous voter suppression bill in the courts.
Called Senators Burr and Tillis to protest their support of Trump's new draconian assault on undocumented residents.
 Tom Cathcart said...
Called Rep. Faso's (R) office and asked when his Town Hall would be. The phone-answerer told me that he would be having a "Tele-Town Hall." I asked her to convey my stong disappointment that Rep. Faso would not be meeting with his constituents. A few days later, an org. called Citizens of the Hudson Valley emailed that they would be holding their own Town Hall (tonight) with or without Faso. I emailed a talk show on the local NPR station with the time and place, and they read it on the air. It also engendered five minutes of discussion. Hope to get back from NYC in time to go.

Gave some money to Osoff (GA) and Campoverdi (CA) and Stand Up America.

Moved the ball about two yards down the field in my effort to get our church to take a stand on the refugees. It's now second and eight.
Anonymous Howard said...
Joined the ACLU
Blogger I. M. Flaud said...
Joined the Not My Presidents Day protest on Central Park West, near Trump International Hotel on February 20th, where I found that chanting such things as "we need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!" was not only ego-syntonic, but therapeutic. Contributed to two candidates and one Daily Kos action through Act Blue. Also opened a Twitter account to follow breaking news from journalists covering our descent into autocracy (35% of the population want this--Prof Wolff's question, "What side are you on?" is urgent and serious), rogue federal agency accounts, as well as luminaries like Corey Robin, Sam Wang, etc.  I also sent even more money to my senator's re-election campaign, but didn't mention it for Friday
Blogger DML said...
Attended a local Our Revolution meeting (basically my little suburban town and the adjacent one). We made a plan for upcoming (tomorrow and Monday) health care rallies, and how to connect with other local "Indivisible" groups to pursue larger actions. Side note: between these two suburban communities there are maybe 30,000 people, and I know of at least four different groups that have formed in the last month.
February 24, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Charles Perkins said...
Lurker here!

1. I called my Congressional Representative (Patrick McHenry) and complained about his weekly newsletter's description of Obamacare. (Trying to find different ways to voice the same concern.)
2. The call worked well, so I resolved to reply to his weekly letter with a phone call every week. It won't be hard to find something that ticks me off.
3. Started reading _The Dialectic of Sex_ by Shulamith Firestone in my free time. Will see if I can voice some angry second-wave feminist concerns in class discussion.
4. Convinced my mother (a family nurse practitioner) to call Congress and complain about the plan to repeal Obamacare, too. They wanted me to get off the phone, but they said they would pass her message on to the Congressman.
David said...
1. Joined about a thousand people in a demonstration outside the office of Rep. Dave Reichert (R). Reichert is refusing to hold town hall meetings with his constituents.

2. Called the office of Rep. Jayapal to thank her for her work on behalf of immigrants.

3. Attended a meeting of our Neighborhood Action Coalition.

I increased my monthly donation to the ACLU and did quite a few online petitions.

I was planning on attending "Little Marco's" town hall here in Tampa, but he slithered out of it like the snake in the grass that he is...

Continued my accelerated pace of reading to help understand (I'm not sure it's working, lol!)
DeleteCritton Childers said...
=Sent message "Don't Let Congress Strip Family Planning Funding!" to the following recipients: Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).
=Signed White House petition "Remove Steve Bannon from National Security Council"
=Donated again to North Carolina Democratic Part



Christopher M. said...
* On Wednesday, there was a rally downtown calling on our city to divest from Wells Fargo. I didn't make it to the rally, but I did call one of my city councilmembers to voice my support for the idea.

* Left a message with the North Dakota governor urging him to veto bills that criminalize protest.

* Gave to Stephanie Hansen's campaign (Democrat for State Senate in Delaware)

* Gave to Jon Ossoff's campaign

* Contacted Elizabeth Warren (via https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=email_senator) thanking her for introducing the Presidential Conflicts of Interest bill

* Emailed Disney's CEO (robert.a.iger@disney.com) asking him to make a public statement against the Muslim ban.

* Signed up for the email list at https://www.sisterdistrict.com/volunteer


A RESPONSE TO A COMMENT, AND ONCE AGAIN HEGEL

James offers a long and thoughtful comment on Arendt and her relationship to the Frankfurt School, in the course of which he inquires into my antipathy to Hegel.  I have written about this before.  My antipathy is not the outcome of a deep and sustained engagement with Hegel's writings.  It is a visceral dislike, prompted more than anything else by Hegel's tendency to make simple ideas needlessly complicated, as though their value was somehow measured by their obscurity.  I, on  the other hand, have spent my entire life struggling to make difficult ideas as transparent and comprehensible as possible.

Inasmuch as I have devoted much of my career to a study of the thought of Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx, no one, I trust, will accuse me of a penchant for the superficially elementary!  But, as my books show, I strive always to render the deepest ideas of these great thinkers so clearly that my readers or students can contemplate the beauty of those ideas and feel their power immediately.  Hegel's work has always seemed to me to be the antithesis of this ideal.

However, this is a matter of taste, and, as the Romans wisely claimed, de gustibus non est disputandum.

CORRECTION

Several readers have challenged my inclusion of Hannah Arendt in the group known as the Frankfort School.  They are right.  I was wrong.  I did not misspeak.  That would imply that I knew the truth but somehow did not manage to utter words that communicated that knowledge.  I was just wrong.

My apologies.

Friday, February 24, 2017

FRIDAY LIST 5

David said...
1.  I just returned from a march to, and demonstration at, the office of Congressman Dave Reichert (R-in hiding). At least a thousand people attended, many with the creative signs we've come to expect from this new era of protest. My favorite chant: "Where's Dave? Dave's not here!"

Dave Reichert has been in office since 2004, but this year his district went for Clinton. His refusal to meet with constituents at a town hall is bringing him some much-deserved bad publicity, and with a decent challenger next time, 2018 will mark the end of career in the House.

2. Called the office of Rep. Jayapal to thank her for her work on behalf of immigrants.

3. Attended a meeting of our Neighborhood Action Coalition.

Will said...
1) Donated to Ossoff campaign.
2) Met with Senator Shelby's state political director to discuss concerns.
3) Called local senators and representatives about particular legislation.
Howie wrote, Joined the ACLU.  Felt good.
Me: 
Signed up for a small monthly donation to John L. Lewis.
Gave some more to Jon Ossoff's campaign.
Called newly elected Democratic NC Governor Roy Cooper, for whom I rang doorbells, and congratulated him on withdrawing efforts to defend NC's hideous voter suppression bill in the courts.
Called Senators Burr and Tillis to protest their support of Trump's new draconian assault on undocumented residents.

 Tom Cathcart said...
Called Rep. Faso's (R) office and asked when his Town Hall would be. The phone-answerer told me that he would be having a "Tele-Town Hall." I asked her to convey my stong disappointment that Rep. Faso would not be meeting with his constituents. A few days later, an org. called Citizens of the Hudson Valley emailed that they would be holding their own Town Hall (tonight) with or without Faso. I emailed a talk show on the local NPR station with the time and place, and they read it on the air. It also engendered five minutes of discussion. Hope to get back from NYC in time to go.

Gave some money to Osoff (GA) and Campoverdi (CA) and Stand Up America.

Moved the ball about two yards down the field in my effort to get our church to take a stand on the refugees. It's now second and eight.

Anonymous Howard said...
Joined the ACLU

Blogger I. M. Flaud said...
Joined the Not My Presidents Day protest on Central Park West, near Trump International Hotel on February 20th, where I found that chanting such things as "we need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!" was not only ego-syntonic, but therapeutic. Contributed to two candidates and one Daily Kos action through Act Blue. Also opened a Twitter account to follow breaking news from journalists covering our descent into autocracy (35% of the population want this--Prof Wolff's question, "What side are you on?" is urgent and serious), rogue federal agency accounts, as well as luminaries like Corey Robin, Sam Wang, etc.  I also sent even more money to my senator's re-election campaign, but didn't mention it for Friday

Blogger DML said...
Attended a local Our Revolution meeting (basically my little suburban town and the adjacent one). We made a plan for upcoming (tomorrow and Monday) health care rallies, and how to connect with other local "Indivisible" groups to pursue larger actions. Side note: between these two suburban communities there are maybe 30,000 people, and I know of at least four different groups that have formed in the last month.

Charles Perkins said...
Lurker here!

1. I called my Congressional Representative (Patrick McHenry) and complained about his weekly newsletter's description of Obamacare. (Trying to find different ways to voice the same concern.)
2. The call worked well, so I resolved to reply to his weekly letter with a phone call every week. It won't be hard to find something that ticks me off.
3. Started reading _The Dialectic of Sex_ by Shulamith Firestone in my free time. Will see if I can voice some angry second-wave feminist concerns in class discussion.
4. Convinced my mother (a family nurse practitioner) to call Congress and complain about the plan to repeal Obamacare, too. They wanted me to get off the phone, but they said they would pass her message on to the Congressman.

 Delete