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Noam Chomsky on Trident & Austerity

NoamChomskyForTwitter-2Kiltr are bringing you a live discussion with Noam Chomsky on the implications of Trident & Austerity (7.20pm BST, 29 Sept). Go here to sign-in.

Noam Chomsky is the world’s leading public intellectual. While he may have come to the fore in the ‘60s with his pioneering work on structural linguistics, which completely redefined the field, particularly through the concept of universal grammar ,that’s not why he is so known and loved by the public.

While teaching and working at MIT since the late ‘50s, in the late ‘60s he became involved in the anti -Vietnam War movement, an influential essay entitled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” setting out his stall. Since, he has been mounting an engaged one-man campaign against the US’ involvement in wars abroad for their own political and material gain. The much-feared Third World War may not have happened, although, as Chomsky has shown us, it in a way it was actually fought by proxy, in the Third World. Chomsky, in such works as “ Hegemony or Survival”, has meticulously documented abuses of foreign policy by the US from Vietnam to Nicaragua, from El Salvador to Iraq.

Post 9/11, the Bush government would find an excellent excuse to propagate their “war on terror”; Chomsky would argue that, rather than being the world’s policeman, the US is the world’s no 1 rogue state. As he trenchantly stated, “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”

Perhaps Chomsky’s most important legacy, and one that is integral to understanding how the US gets away with its foreign strategy, is his work on the role of propaganda in the liberal Western state, as laid out in “Manufacturing Consent; The Political Economy of the Mass Media”. This book, which was able to further disseminate Chomsky’s views through the very successful film version, alerted many people to the way in which mass media hoodwinks the public into unquestioningly accepting the wisdom and ideology of the state, even when it runs counter to their own interests and experiences. We all grow up on war movies and news presenting the Americans as the good guys, saving the world from itself, a viewpoint extending into news reporting and political discourse; we have news, while North Korea has propaganda.

Chomsky brilliantly shows how our news and media also function as propaganda to maintain hegemony; and the purpose of this? “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

Indeed, this viewpoint can lead him to go as far as claiming that World War II ultimately functioned as a means to destroy the power of the European proletariat. A controversial view, but Chomsky embraces freedom of speech, once coming under flak for supporting a Holocaust denier’s right to publish. As he has stated, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

Ultimately, Chomsky is a libertarian socialist, essentially an anarchist, one whose views were formed at an early age by seeing police attack striking women workers, while hearing of the anarchist communes being set up during the Spanish Civil War. One can see a link between his work as an activist and linguist in his essentially hopeful, positive views on both human creativity and humans’ potential to work together; “Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.”
This ultimately optimistic view of humanity famously brought him into conflict with French post humanist, Marxist philosopher Michel Foucault in a legendary TV interview. There may not be such a dramatic encounter on Kiltr tomorrow, but we’re honoured and excited that Professor Chomsky is speaking to us.

I’ll leave the last words to the man himself: “Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below.”


Comments (5)

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  1. Jim says:

    “Indeed, this viewpoint can lead him to go as far as claiming that World War II ultimately functioned as a means to destroy the power of the European proletariat.”

    Could you point me in the direction of the article in which he said that? I’m not entirely sure what that statement even means.

  2. Lenny says:

    I took part in one of these live discussions with Noam Chomsky via Edinburgh University about ten years ago.

    No one could understand a word the man was saying. Basically he comes across as a very poor communicator.

  3. Dougie Blackwood says:

    The basic premise is exactly right. The state uses the media to guide the thoughts of the people to follow whatever route the state wants to pursue. In the 40s,50s & 60s the USA, followed by UK were afraid of communist revolution in the west.

    The policy In USA was to have the McCarthy witch-hunts looking for “Reds under the Bed” all reported in the media leading the people to hate and fear communist Russia. In UK we had a socialist government for a little while providing life changing public services; this was followed by Tory governments the carried on most of the great things done. The change came when Margaret Thatcher was elected and ideas of equality and jobs for everyone were put aside. Chomsky saw the change and commented on it.


    We see the results of successful propaganda now where the sensible idea of Scotland running it’s own affairs is routinely derided in almost all of the press and dismissed as nonsense in the state broadcaster. This was the reason we are not yet preparing for independence. Let us hope that by using the excellent articles in places like Bella we can counteract the pernicious and pervasive state news management and convince the population of Scotland, of all ethnic origins, to take the plunge.

    1. Clydebuilt says:

      “Let us hope that by using the excellent articles in places like Bella we can counteract the pernicous and pervasive state news”

      Well said Dougie

  4. Frank says:

    Just for the record Michel Foucault was not a Marxist philosopher. His views on Marx (or Marxism) were at times contradictory, but in no way could he be described as a Marxist philosopher. The labels post-modernism or post-structuralism do not apply either. As he once famously said, ‘do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same’.

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