Noam Chomsky
by Christian Garland
In International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Immanuel Ness, ed., Blackwell Publishing, 2009
Noam Chomsky is a US political theorist and activist, and institute professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Besides his work in linguistics, Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most critically engaged public intellectuals alive today. Chomsky continues to be an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and its ambitions for geopolitical hegemony and the neoliberal turn of global capitalism, which he identifies in terms of class warfare waged from above against the needs and interests of the great majority.

Chomsky is also an incisive critic of the ideological role of the mainstream corporate mass media, which, he maintains, "manufactures consent" toward the desirability of capitalism and the political powers supportive of it.

Over the past five decades, Chomsky has offered a searing critical indictment of US foreign policy and its many military interventions across the globe, pointing out that the US's continued support for undemocratic regimes, and hostility to popular or democratic movements, is at odds with its professed claim to be spreading democracy and freedom and support for tendencies aiming toward that end. Indeed, as Chomsky argues, the current concern from Washington with so-called "Rogue States," as much as the stated goal of aiding democratic movements in other countries, is not supported by successive administrations' support (either direct or indirect) for political and military dictatorships across Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. As Chomsky stated: "As the most powerful state, the US makes its own laws, using force and conducting economic warfare at will." It also threatens sanctions against countries that do not abide by its conveniently flexible notions of "free trade."

On the role of the mass media, Chomsky argues that the vested corporate interests controlling newspapers, television, and radio, no less than the content of what these outlets offer, form what he and Edward Hermann in their seminal study Manufacturing Consent call a "propaganda model" supine in the service of power.

Chomsky has described his own politics variously as anarchist, anarchosyndicalist, and libertarian socialist, allying himself with both classical anarchism and the critical libertarian Marxist and left communist traditions equally hostile to orthodox Marxism and Leninism. Chomsky maintains that these currents represent the logical development of the Enlightenment precepts of rational and critical inquiry engaged with the social world of which they are part. Chomsky's position on achieving small victories in the short term which "expand the floor of the cage" -- for example, struggles to defend universal public services from privatization -- has not been without controversy, with some anarchists accusing him of reformism and in some cases "statism." Chomsky has countered such accusations with the response that short-term victories aimed at expanding the cage in which we are trapped by capital and state should be seen as "preliminaries to dismantling it."

SEE ALSO: Anarchism; Anarchosyndicalism; Anti-Vietnam War Movement, United States

References and Suggested Readings

Barsamian, D. & Chomsky, N. (1997) Expanding the Floor of the Cage: Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian. Available at www.chomsky.info/interviews/199704.htm.

Chomsky, N. (1970) Notes on Anarchism. Available at www.zmag.org/Chomsky/other/notes-onanarchism.html.

Chomsky, N. (1998) The United States and the "Challenge of Relativity." Available at www.chomsky.info/articles/199811.htm.

Herman, E. & Chomsky, N. (1994) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. London: Vintage.

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