Profiles in Academic Courage and Class: Robert Paul Wolff


I have been following the kerfuffle surrounding a recent blog post by The New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz and the consternation it has caused within academic circles with amused interest.  The timing of this dust-up could not be more exquisite, for Peretz is about to be honored by Harvard, his alma mater and employer.  Marty, who is also a benefactor of Harvard, being as he is a major donor and a member of the faculty, landed in hot water because he wrote

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Needless to say, them fightin’ words gave NYT opiner, sensitive Nicholas Kristof, a bad case of the vapors, which he relieved by firing back in his Sunday, September 12 column with incite-full words of his own, “For a glimpse of how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become, consider [Martin Peretz’s] blog post in The New Republic this month.”

Nicholas Kristof (r) reminds Martin Peretz to watch his p's and q's.

Venomous? Debased? Aren’t those terms more rightly applied to the activities of certain Muslims, the activities that might’ve led Peretz to his conclusion? The sectarian violence in Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia, for example. The Muslim-on-Muslim attacks that generally result in bombed-out mosques replete with the late worshippers’ assorted body parts in such disarray so as to suggest that the “religion of peace” is actually the “religion in pieces.” Peretz couldn’t possibly have had that in mind when he wrote those words. Nor is it likely he was thinking about the many ways in which Muslim girls and women are killed in the name of family honor. When it comes to the final solution for flirtatious females, only the imagination limits the choices available to the dissed fathers, sons and brothers: beheading, stoning, burying alive, hacking, flinging acid at the offender. Take your pick. They do. Nicholas Kristof apparently doesn’t like to think about that, so he resorts to name-calling those who dare state the obvious.

Also offended by what Peretz had to say is University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor Robert Paul Wolff.  In his blog, Wolff wrote:

Back in 1960, Marty was an egregious little wannabe hanger-on to the group of young proto-lefties who called ourselves “The New Left Club of Cambridge,” but subsequently, he married money, bought The New Republic, and turned that fine old progressive magazine into a flack for the State of Israel. Marty has done well for himself, if you ignore the sort of person he is. It seems there is a Martin Peretz Professorship of Yiddish Literature at Harvard, no less. A scholarship fund will now be set up in his name at Harvard, and he will be honored at the lunch.

When I heard that I was going to be sharing the podium with Marty, I thought seriously about canceling. I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth, and somehow spending even a lunch of it in the presence of Marty Peretz doesn’t strike me as a good use of my time. But I am genuinely proud of my small role in the establishment of Social Studies, and besides, Susie and I have arranged to have dinner Friday evening with our old friends, Milton Cantor and Margaret Taylor. So we will go.

The good professor will deign to accept his honor, but not without setting stern, non-negotiable conditions: “I told Anya Bernstein, the current Head of Social Studies, that I was well brought up and will behave myself at the lunch, but I begged her not to seat me next to Marty at the head table.” Can’t you picture Professor Wolff stomping his foot in high dudgeon and, yes, with righteous indignation as he laid down the law to Dr. Bernstein?

Professor Wolff: I get so jeal--er,--mad when I think about Marty Peretz.

There is no figure more risible than the academic whose tenured status relieves him of the obligation to be accountable for his behavior, or even to have the thought enter his head that the standards to which he holds others apply to him too. Well, maybe there is one more risible: the professor who won’t let his principles stand in the way of chowing down on a free lunch.

Dr. Bernstein agreed to Professor Wolff's demand to seat Martin Peretz elsewhere.

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9 thoughts on “Profiles in Academic Courage and Class: Robert Paul Wolff

  1. Martin Peretz should be honored that you chose to use a photograph of the immortal Franklin Pangborn to represent him in your blog.

    I’m quite sure that Nicolas Kristof is a pretty big deal over at the NYT, in his own mind and at the truly fashionable cocktail parties he graces with his presence, but this mantra of self loathing and contempt for others that seems to permeate everything he writes clearly point out what an unhappy, disturbed person he is.

    It seems as though Kristof is frantically trying to curry favor with the very forces that want to destroy the institutions, concepts and ideas that have allowed him to lead such a wise and superior life.

    “young proto-lefties” a remarkable use of words. I immediately have a vision of clumsy, slightly brutish beatniks laboriously fashioning protest signs out of branches and uncured animal hides. I wonder did the proto-lefties have smaller brain cases than their descendants? Were their brow ridges more pronounced?

    Once again I have to reveal my country bumpkin sensibilities (like it wasn’t painfully obvious already). I can only imagine how grand and important it must be to have a diner party with Milton Cantor and Margaret Taylor otherwise the Wolfman wouldn’t have mentioned it right?

    So it all comes down to Kristof and Wolf dismissively sniffing that Franklin Pangborn A.K.A. Martin Peretz is just a money grubbing little ***. Happy April 20th guys.

  2. Loathsome professors AND Franklin Pangborn, all in the same blogpost!

    There IS a real issue here- how does one think about the issue of free speech as regards those who wish to use it as a weapon to destroy the very society that is based on the Constitutional freedoms that we (well, not you, Governor Patrick) hold dear.

    As for racism- I believe that many in the Muslim world wish us ill, and I wish our government would do more to stop them. Take the Department of Ed’s budget and use it to fight Wahabbism around the world
    .
    As for Marty Peretz- he may be a liberal- but he’s one who can tell the good guys from the bad guys- and folks, the Israelis aren’t the bad guys!

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