The Anti-Chomsky Reader Continues a Soviet-Style Assault
CoreWeekly, January 13, 2005
Noam Chomsky is typically described as one of the great minds of our time.
The 76-year-old MIT professor has spent a lifetime championing human rights, and is also renowned for his linguistics work.
But Chomsky is reviled by the right-wing and is received not much better by mainstream liberals.
Chomsky’s mortal sin: Asserting that state policies ought always to support human rights and peace.
“One moral truism that should not provoke controversy is the principle of universality: We should apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others—in fact, more stringent ones,” writes Chomsky (Khaleej Times, August 6, 2004).
Now comes the Anti-Chomsky Reader (Encounter Books, 2004). Editors David Horowitz and Peter Collier have complied an anthology purporting to “offer a response and an antidote to the millions of words Noam Chomsky has emitted. …”
The writers attack him personally and so vehemently that the editors’ ambition of a character assassination project comes through as the perversity of their disdain for the man starts to make you feel sorry not for Chomsky, but for these embittered ideologues.
The Anti-Chomsky Reader is mired in a thick haze of loathing and hard-right ideology, short on verifiable facts and long on ideologically-steeped assertions.
Consider “Whitewashing Dictatorship in Communist Vietnam and Cambodia,” by Stephan J. Morris. Morris writes that Chomsky’s writing is an attempt “… to reconstruct the anti-Western ideology of the New Left; it also is the most extensive rewriting of a period of contemporary history ever produced in a nontotalitarian society.” (pp. 8–9).
A reader ought to do what any rational person advises and read the source material. Read the Political Economy of Human Rights, Volumes I and II and then reread Morris’ chapter, it will make for an amusing day.
As for all the weird personal defamations; they do not merit a response.
Not content to rain ad hominem attacks on Chomsky’s political analyses, the editors take up Chomsky’s linguistics, enlisting opponents who write that his linguistics demonstrate “a deep disregard and contempt for the truth. . . ..” (ix).
Horowitz and Collier are like two old Soviet commissars ordering the banishing of a nonbeliever for counterrevolutionary work and ideological illness.
Chomsky is condemned for “ferocious anti-Americanism.” Horowitz and Collier do not mean that Chomsky opposes the Bill of Rights and classical liberal notions of autonomy. Chomsky’s crime is not toeing the party line and suggesting that citizens comment on perceived defects in state policy.
In fairness, Horowitz and Collier have plenty of company. Consider journalist Andrew Sullivan. After Chomsky’s appearance on HBOs “Real Time with Bill Maher” on November 5, 2004, guest Sullivan let loose, saying that “people who support the Soviet Union, as Chomsky did for so long … do not deserve fundamental respect. ....”
Anyone who reads Chomsky knows his disdain for the Soviet Union. I sent Sullivan two e-mails challenging him on the point, copying in Chomsky.
Reading a Chomsky reply e-mail, I could imagine him laughing as he wrote about denunciations from noted contemporary totalitarians:
“I don’t know if you are aware of how funny the line about my supporting Russia is. Two minutes research would have shown him that I've been strongly anti-Leninist throughout my life, in fact from childhood. He may not know it, but the Kremlin surely did. I was utter anathema there, so much so that my entire professional field [linguistics] was banned. I couldn’t even send technical papers to colleagues and friends in Eastern Europe because it would get them into trouble. It wasn’t until the mid-80s that there were any openings. One of the favorite weeks of my life was in about 1980, when I received two dailies denouncing me furiously for my work on transformational grammar: One was Izvestia, denouncing it as counterrevolutionary, and the other was Argentina’s La Prensa (at the peak of the neo-Nazi military dictatorship), denouncing it as dangerously revolutionary. They’re all basically alike, and Sullivan fits in probably better than he knows.”
Yes, ideologically, Sullivan does fit it with that crowd, as do Horowitz and Collier.