Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Choam Nomsky

[posted by Callimachus]

Yeah, I know that's not his name. I just like to write it like that. I used to post fictional sound-byte reactions to news stories in Chomsky's voice and I gave them that name. And ever since then I've gotten a few hits every month from people Googling that name. Evidently they think it's his name. So it amuses me.

Chomsky has been pegged so often and so well in his contradictions that I don't generally feel the need to add to the work of Oliver Kamm and others. I could neither expand nor ornament what they've already said.

Still, I do enjoy reading a fresh take on the old problem, and here's a gem.

To his supporters Noam Chomsky is a brave and outspoken champion of the oppressed against a corrupt and criminal political class. But to his opponents he is a self-important ranter whose one-sided vision of politics is chosen for its ability to shine a spotlight on himself. And it is surely undeniable that his habit of excusing or passing over the faults of America's enemies, in order to pin all crime on his native country, suggests that he has invested more in his posture of accusation than he has invested in the truth.
To describe this posture as "adolescent" is perhaps unfair: After all, there are plenty of quite grown-up people who believe that American foreign policy since World War II has been founded on a mistaken conception of America's role in the world. And it is true that we all make mistakes--so that Prof. Chomsky's erstwhile support for regimes that no one could endorse in retrospect, like that of Pol Pot, is no proof of wickedness. But then the mistakes of American foreign policy are no proof of wickedness either.

This is important. For it is his ability to excite not just contempt for American foreign policy but a lively sense that it is guided by some kind of criminal conspiracy that provides the motive for Prof. Chomsky's unceasing diatribes and the explanation of his influence. The world is full of people who wish to think ill of America. And most of them would like to be Americans. The Middle East seethes with such people, and Prof. Chomsky appeals directly to their envious emotions, as well as to the resentments of leaders like President Chavez who cannot abide the sight of a freedom that they haven't the faintest idea how to produce or the least real desire to emulate.

Success breeds resentment, and resentment that has no safety valve becomes a desire to destroy. The proof of that was offered on 9/11 and by just about every utterance that has emerged from the Islamists since. But Americans don't want to believe it. They trust others to take the kind of pleasure in American success that they, in turn, take in the success of others. But this pleasure in others' success, which is the great virtue of America, is not to be witnessed in those who denounce her. They hate America not for her faults, but for her virtues, which cast a humiliating light on those who cannot adapt to the modern world or take advantage of its achievements.

Prof. Chomsky is an intelligent man. Not everything he says by way of criticizing his country is wrong. However, he is not valued for his truths but for his rage, which stokes the rage of his admirers. He feeds the self-righteousness of America's enemies, who feed the self-righteousness of Prof. Chomsky. And in the ensuing blaze everything is sacrificed, including the constructive criticism that America so much needs, and that America--unlike its enemies, Prof. Chomsky included--is prepared to listen to.

Chomsky is so important now because he never was a Marxist. Every blame-it-on-America intellectual who was one went down with that ship in 1989. Which makes Chomsky's nasty barge the only boat still afloat in that navy.

I do, however, disagree with Chomsky critics who praise his linguistics work while wishing he'd stuck to it instead of dabbling in politics. The two halves of Chomsky are of one piece: They are consistent, and the importance and the flaws and the excesses exist in both halves. His feuds with biologists over Darwin are as legendary, in their way, as his political polemics. The view of the human mind and its working that informs his linguistics is at the root of both.