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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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




Total Pageviews

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A PURELY PEDANTIC QUIBBLE

The reports you all are posting of marches in your cities are remarkable and enormously encouraging.  But since I am, when all is said and done, a pedant, not an organizer, I will pause to give voice to an utterly irrelevant pet peeve.  I apologize for the interruption.  The revolution will continue momentarily.

For a variety of reason having mostly to do with its mongrel pedigree, English exhibits a distinction between what are called strong and weak verbs.  Weak verbs form the past tense by adding "ed."  I walk, I walked, I cook, I cooked, I kiss, I kissed.  Strong verbs form the past tense by altering the present tense itself:  I run, I ran, I bring, I brought, I think, I thought, I fly, I flew [except when I am playing baseball, in which case I fly to left field, I flied to left field, not I flew.]

"Freight" is a noun meaning, roughly, cargo put aboard a ship or truck.  It was originally the present tense of the verb "to freight," which is to say "to load with goods for transport."  The past tense of freight is fraught.

So, to say of a situation that it is fraught with significance or danger is essentially to say that the situation is loaded or weighed down with significance or danger as though [metaphorically] with cargo.

It doesn't make any sense to describe a situation, simpliciter, as fraught.

Now, back to the revolution.

IN THE BUNKER [NOT ARCHIE]

A bunker, for those of you who missed World War Two, is a concrete and metal reinforced shelter, mostly underground, where troops can crouch and protect themselves from bombs or incoming artillery fire.  In modern times, every Presidential Administration has had a complex relationship with the press, and more broadly, with the world outside the White House.  On the one hand, the White House crew want to use the press to put out their positive, rosy message about the wonderful things they are doing for the American people, so the person charged with dealing daily with the Press, the White House Press Spokesperson, cultivates a personal relationship with the reporters regularly assigned to the White House, favoring them with inside tips, learning their names, joking with them, and wooing them in an effort to extract from them favorable coverage.  On the other hand, even the tamest of reporters has shark DNA, and circles for the kill if there is blood in the water.  When things are going smoothly for an Administration, a skilled Press Spokesperson balances these forces reasonably well, but when really bad things are going down, the White House loyalists form a protective circle around the President like African buffalo threatened by a pride of lions.  They are then said to be “in the bunker.”  The Johnson White House, as the Viet Nam War went bad, was in the bunker.  So was the Nixon White House during Watergate.

Yesterday, the newly appointed Press Spokesman, Sean Spicer, met the White House Press Corps for the first time, barely more than twenty-four hours after Donald Trump took the oath of office.  Did he walk in smiling, greet those reporters he knew by name, make a few jokes, lighten the mood, and generally do everything he could to gain the best possible press for his boss and the new Administration?  Fat chance.  He stalked in, read a prepared speech accusing the people in front of him of lying, warned them that he would be targeting them for attack, and stalked out.

One day, and the Trump White House is in the bunker.


Bizarre.

MORE

David and DML give us wonderful descriptions of their experiences yesterday, one in DC, the other 3000 miles away in Seattle.  Take the time to read them in the comments section of this blog.  This could be big, folks.  I am enormously encouraged by the endless repetition of the call to further action, both by Michael Moore and other speakers and by people in the marches.  There is something extraordinarily appropriate that the focus of this march was the rights of women.  Lord, let it be!

PIERRE AT THE BATTLE OF BORODINO

All of you will have seen the pictures and read the stories of the extraordinary world-wide outpouring of opposition to Trump.  There has never been anything remotely like this in the history of the United States – not the Viet Nam era war protests, not the Million Man March on Washington, not the inauguration of Barack Obama [which was bigger in D. C. but not nation-wide.]  I was there, and my aim in this post is to give you a worms-eye view of the Washington March.  I was just one old man wandering, like Pierre at the Battle of Borodino, in and out of the crowds in one small area of the event.  I spent only about two hours at the festivities, and I never was able to get close enough to the reviewing stand to see or hear any of the speakers.  I leave it to television to tell you about that.

It began for me at 5:00 a.m. when I left for the airport.  RDU airport was not jammed, and I easily made my way through security [because I am over 75 I can leave my shoes on] and to the gate.  As I sat there, people gathered for the flight to DC.  Virtually all of those at the gate were women, many carrying rolled up signs and a few wearing the signature bit of protest clothing – a red knitted hat in the shape of a cat – a so-called pussy hat [and yes, the double entendre was intentional, as many of the signs at the protest made clear.]  The flight was full, with maybe four men total, and I received pats of approval from young women and grandmothers for my presence.  I was asked whether this was my first political action, and I allowed as how not quite, my first big protest having been a Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard fifty-four years ago.

After breakfast at Washington National Airport, I made my way to the Metro, expecting crowds.  Not a bit of it.  There was no problem buying a day pass, and the train was mostly empty.  “Hmm,” I thought, “maybe the predictions have been a bit overblown.”  Two stops later, masses of people got on, and pretty soon, the train was so jammed that people were sitting on the laps of strangers.  One lady carrying crutches declined the offer of my seat because she was so jammed in that she could not move the five feet to accept.

When we got to Federal Center SW, the closest stop to the rallying point of the march, the train slowed but did not stop.  The platform at the station was so jammed with people on their way to the march that it looked as though you had to make a reservation to go up the escalator.  At the next stop, Capitol South, we were allowed off the train, and surged toward the escalator.
I followed the crowd from the Metro in the direction of Independence and 3rd St. SW, trying to reach ground zero.  When I got up to C Street, which runs east-west a block south of the Mall, I turned and looked to my right.  C Street rises gently as it goes east, and as far as I could see, perhaps a mile or more, the street was completely filled with people all walking west toward the protest site.  They moved slowly, like a great river, fed by tributaries right and left.  Where were they coming from?  I had no idea, but it occurred to me that these might be the folks who had arrived by bus, since the parking place for the buses was RFK Stadium, about two miles due east of the Capitol.  Permits had been granted for 1800 buses, I read.  At 50 people a bus, that would be 90,000 marchers.

I walked alongside the marchers, who were joined at every street corner by more people coming from the Metro stations, or maybe just on foot.  The crowd was mostly women, but with a pretty good sprinkling of men – some young with their partners, some older with their daughters and wives, a few old like me.  The crowd was a sea of pink knitted caps.  People carried hand-made signs and printed signs, some calling on Trump to keep his tiny hands off their pussies.  One tall, slender blonde young woman dressed in a diaphanous white gown, with a white scarf tied around her eyes like a blindfold, stood on a marble stanchion and posed as Justice [no scales, alas], while people took her picture.  Long lines had formed at each of the Porta-toilets, and the event even sported the inevitable doomsayer with big sign and portable speaker calling on all present to repent.  Every now and then, a spontaneous high-pitched shout would start and roll back along the march up C Street.  The atmosphere was festive, casual, cheerful, despite the message of the signs, which was militant in the extreme.

As the C Street marchers moved steadily, relentlessly forward, they encountered a blockade at 3rd Street SW.  As best I could tell, that was the back of the reviewing stand, on the other side of which the BIG NAMES were speaking.  “Where on earth are they going to go?” I wondered, with tens of thousands coming behind them.  Then I saw that as each line of marchers reached the barricade, it split right and left and fed around it, presumably to reassemble in the Mall and on Independence Avenue.

I was too timid to thrust myself into the line of march and make my way to the other side, so I simply stood on the sidewalk and watched.  One young woman wearing a bright red wig, suddenly started squealing with excitement and waving her arms wildly.  When I asked her what had happened, she said, in a kind of ecstasy, “I just saw Cher!”  After a long while, I started back to the Metro station for the trip to the airport, and when I walked another block south, I discovered that tens of thousands of other folks were there as well, walking west.  The entire even was not so much a gathering or a march as a migration, as if all of Washington D. C. had decided to be pick up stakes and move to a new city.

All day, I had been calling my wife, my sister [who lives in DC] and my sons to reassure them that I was all right, but of course there was nothing to worry about.  It was the most peaceful gathering possible. 


When I got home, I turned on the television and only then learned of the size of the worldwide demonstrations.  As I listened to commentators talk about the Washington march, the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, LA, Paris and London marches, a small voice inside me said, very quietly, “I was there.”  

I felt quite spontaneously and unjustifiably proud.

Friday, January 20, 2017

THERE IS A FRESH WIND BLOWING, WATSON

[A line from an old Sherlock Holmes movie.]

Even as I was writing the warning I have just posted, several of you were putting up splendid comments that give me hope.  Matt and David, thank you.  And to Barry Levine, thank you for the historical reminder.

I too take hope from the extraordinary outpouring of resistance to the new regime.  This will be a long struggle.

TAKE NOTE

I cannot watch the televised coverage of the Inauguration, so this afternoon my wife and I will go to the movies and see Hidden Figures.  Then I will return home, print out my boarding passes for tomorrow’s flights, make dinner, and return to my crossword puzzle book.  This morning, however, I should like to spend a little time writing about my first visit to South Africa, thirty years ago.  I have written about this experience here before, but it bears repeating.  I learned a lesson that speaks directly to what we face from 12:01 p.m. today.

A word of background, for those of you who are unfamiliar with South Africa’s apartheid past.  When the National Party took control in 1948, it passed a series of laws designed to separate the different racial groupings, as they conceived them, both legally and spatially, a program rationalized by a pretentious pseudo-philosophical rationale claiming roots in the theories of, Edmund Husserl, of all people.  The African linguistic groups, eleven or so in number, were consigned to “homelands” ruled by puppet governments.  The mixed-race Afrikaans speaking Coulereds of the Western Cape and the Indian or Asian populations of Natal Province were relocated into so-called townships established outside the White cities.  The theory was that each race would live autonomously, but of course that was impossible, because most of the work, and all of the physical labor, required by the economy was performed by non-Whites, who had to live close enough to the mines and factories to show up for work each day.  In addition, the household servants had to be available for dawn to dusk service to their White masters and mistresses.  So Black townships came into existence, such as the SOuthWEstTOwnship near Johannesburg, Soweto. 

Many of the men who worked in the mines had been relocated with their families to the Homelands, far from their work sites, so single-sex hostels were built near the mine pits, where for months on end those men lucky enough to get the dangerous, exhausting, dirty jobs lived, separated from their families.  But even all of these living arrangements were inadequate for the 80% and more of the population that was non-White, so large, ramshackle squatters’ camps, or “locations,” sprang up on unused land, filled with corrugated tin hovels and serviced, fitfully, by electricity stolen by dangerous, illegal exposed lines tapping into power mains.

When I arrived at Jan Smuts Airport in the Spring of 1986, to spend five weeks teaching the thought of Marx to White undergraduates at the English-language Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, I was driven to the city along broad, impressive six-lane highways, arriving in Melville, a tree-lined, elegant suburb of the city, where I would stay.

In the following weeks, I taught at the University, went to dinner in lovely restaurants, and chatted with academics who all seemed to read New German Critique and The New Left Review.  I felt completely at home intellectually and culturally, and also racially, though I would not have been so crude as to say that.  The National Party had arranged things so that Whites could enjoy the labor of the non-White population without actually seeing the people providing it.  There were no “inner city ghettoes” that they might drive through or past on the way from one academic gathering to another.  Five-sixths of the population had been made invisible to the other sixth.  

To be sure, on the drive in from the airport, I had passed stretches hidden from view by fences, but if one did not already know that behind the fences were sprawling shack settlements, there were no signposts or other indications.  And a trip to Soweto, which I arranged for myself one evening, was an expedition.  When I traveled to Cape Town to speak at the University of Cape Town, I stayed with a philosopher friend in his lovely house in the suburb of Oranjezicht, just under Table Mountain.  My closest friend, Sheila Tyeku, stayed with her relatives in Khayetlitsha, a township southeast of the city.

What is the point of this extended stroll down memory lane?  It is this:  Only in movies or history books is fascism front and center, all nicely labeled so that one cannot miss it.  If one happens not to be inclined to express opinions that the State forbids, it is quite easy to go through the day imagining that one is free, and that the protestors fitfully observed from your car window are simply malcontents or young people feeling their oats.  And if you are not a member of a sub-population targeted for suppression or elimination, you can live an easy, comfortable life.  You may even find that the trains run on time.

We are entering a dangerous time.  The media will present it as normal, amusing, gossipy, suitable for light commentary.  Do not be fooled.  Fascism can be quite attractive to those not made the object of its repressions.  Most of us go from one year to the next without having need of the Rule of Law.


Right now, today, is the time to start resisting.

HISTORICAL CAUTIONS

I will remind you that both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini came to power through legitimate democratic elections and only then transformed their regimes into one-party dictatorships.  Both men were quite popular.  Am I being melodramatic or hysterical.  I do not believe so.   

Trump attempted, unsuccessfully, to arrange for a Soviet, North Korean, or Nazi style military parade, complete with tanks and rocket launchers, to commemorate his ascension to power.  He had to settle for an air force fighter jet flyover.  It would be a very bad mistake to adopt an air of superior, passive amusement.