June 24, 2011

Born to Jewish parents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928, Noam Chomsky has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955. In 1961 he was appointed full Professor in MIT's Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics (now the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy). From 1966 to 1976 he held the Ferrari P. Ward Professorship of Modern Languages and Linguistics. In 1976 he was appointed Institute Professor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Professor Chomsky is “the most cited living author” and ranks just below Plato and Sigmund Freud among the most cited authors of all time. While acknowledging that he is reviled in some quarters for his ferocious anti-Americanism, a recent New Yorker profile calls Chomsky “one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.”

Chomsky is without question the most politically influential living academic among other academics and their students. He is promoted by rock groups such as Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam at their concerts the way the Beatles once promoted the Guru Maharaji, with the performers solemnly reading excerpts from his work in between sets and urging their followers to read him too. The devotion of Chomsky’s followers is summarized by radio producer David Barsamian, who describes the master’s effulgence in openly religious terms: "He is for many of us our rabbi, our preacher, our rinpoche, our sensei."

Manufacturing Consent, a documentary adapted from one of Chomsky’s books with the same title, has achieved the status of an underground classic in university film festivals. And at the climactic moment in the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting, the genius-janitor, played by Matt Damon, vanquishes the incorrect thinking of a group of sophomoric college students with a fiery speech quoting Professor Chomsky on the illicit nature of American power.

Any analysis of Chomsky must address linguistics, the field he remade so thoroughly by his scholarly work of the late 1950s that he was often compared to Einstein and other paradigm shifters. Those who admire this achievement but not his politics are at pains to explain what they take to be a disjunction between his work in linguistics and his sociopolitical ideas. They see the former as so brilliant and compelling as to be unarguable -- in all a massive scientific achievement -- and the latter as so venomous and counter-factual as to be emotionally disturbing.

Paul Postal and Robert Levine, linguists who have known and worked with Chomsky, take the view that the two aspects of his life’s work in fact manifest the same key properties: "a deep disregard of, and contempt for, the truth; a monumental disdain for standards of inquiry; a relentless strain of self-promotion; notable descents into incoherence; and a penchant for verbally abusing those who disagree with him."

Chomsky’s work in linguistics allowed him to make a transition from the university to the public arena in the mid-1960s and to be taken seriously as a critic of the war in Vietnam. In a series of influential articles that appeared in the New York Review of Books and other publications, he distinguished himself by the cold intellectual ferocity of his attacks on American policy. Although a generation older than most members of the New Left, he shared the latter's eagerness to romanticize the Third World.

Chomsky was one of the chief deniers of the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, which took place in the wake of the Communist victory and American withdrawal from Indochina. He directed vitriolic attacks towards the reporters and witnesses who testified to the human catastrophe that was taking place there. Initially, Chomsky tried to minimize the deaths (a “few thousand”) and compared those killed by Pol Pot and his followers to the collaborators who had been executed by resistance movements in Europe at the end of World War II. By 1980, however, it was no longer possible to deny that some 2 million of Cambodia's 7.8 million people had perished at the hands of the Communists. But Professor Chomsky continued to deny the genocide, proposing that the underlying problem may have been a failure of the rice crop. As late as 1988, Chomsky returned to the subject and insisted that whatever had happened in Cambodia, the U.S. was to blame.

This conclusion is the principal theme of what may be loosely termed Chomsky's intellectual oeuvre: Whatever evil exists in the world, the United States is to blame. His intellectual obsession is America and its “grand strategy of world domination.” In 1967 Professor Chomsky wrote that America “needed a kind of denazification.” The Third Reich has provided him with his central metaphor for his own country ever since.

The long conflict with the Soviets and the fact that it was fought out primarily in the Third World allowed Chomsky to elaborate on his analogy with the Nazis and to spin his narrative on the evils of American power. The Soviet dictatorship was not only "morally equivalent" to democratic America, in Chomsky’s view, but actually better because it was less powerful. The chief sin of Stalinism in his eyes was not the murder of millions, but the fact that he had given socialism a bad name.

Professor Chomsky has denounced every U.S. President from Woodrow Wilson and FDR to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as the front men in “four-year dictatorships” by a ruling class. In his view, the U.S., led by a series of lesser Hitlers, picked up where the Nazis left off after they were defeated in 1945. According to Chomsky, a case could be made for impeaching every President since World War II because “they’ve all been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war crimes.”

Chomsky also detests the state of Israel, a country he regards as playing the role of Little Satan to the American Great Satan and functioning strategically as an “offshore military and technology base for the United States.”

According to the website, Chomsky has made the following statements about Israel, Jews, and the Holocaust:

Of a pattern with this animus toward Israel is Chomsky’s involvement with neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionism. This saga began in 1980 with Chomsky’s support of Robert Faurisson, a French anti-Semite who was fired by the University of Lyon for his hate-filled screeds. (“The alleged Hitlerite gas chambers and the alleged genocide of the Jews form one and the same historical lie,” Faurisson wrote.) Chomsky penned a preface to a book by Faurisson, explaining that the latter was an “apolitical liberal” whose work was based on “extensive historical research” and contained “no hint of anti-Semitic implications.”

In the post-9/11 political ferment, Professor Chomsky’s reputation, which had suffered because of his support of Pol Pot and his dalliance with figures like Faurisson, was revived by the anti-war Left. His following has grown, particularly in Europe and Asia, where his views have helped inform an inchoate anti-Americanism, and on the university campus, where divesting from Israel (a cause he has championed) and attacks against the War on Terror are de rigueur.

Professor Chomsky’s most recent book, Hegemony or Survival (2003), casts America as a threat to global survival. The New York Times and Washington Post both treated Hegemony and Survival as a significant work, with Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power writing in the Times that Chomsky’s book was “sobering and instructive.

Chomsky dismisses the atrocity of 9/11 as one that was dwarfed in magnitude by Bill Clinton’s 1998 missile attack on a factory in the Sudan following the bombings of two U.S. embassies by al Qaeda, in which no one was injured.

Telling an MIT audience of 2,000 that the U.S. military response against the terrorists in Afghanistan was a calculated “genocide” that would cause the deaths of 3 to 4 million Afghanis, Chomsky denounced America as “the world’s greatest terrorist state.” He also traveled to the Muslim world to repeat the charges of U.S. genocide and terror to millions in Islamabad and New Delhi. (None of Chomsky’s predictions of “genocide” and “famine” came to pass in Afghanistan, thanks to $350 million in food shipments supplied by the United States. Chomsky himself was aware of these shipments even as he made his accusations.)

Chomsky sees the 9/11 attacks as a turning point in history when the guns that were historically trained on the Third World by imperialist powers like America, were turned around. He sees this as a positive development, because in Professor Chomsky’s eyes unless American “hegemony” is destroyed, the world faces a grim future.

In September 2007, Chomsky was praised by Osama bin Laden as "one of the most capable" citizens of the United States.

In 2010, Chomsky lauded Bradley Manning, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who had stolen and distributed, to the Julian Assange-founded website WikiLeaks, hundreds of thousands of classified documents containing sensitive information about the American government and its military. According to Chomsky, Manning was a man of "courage" and "integrity." At one time, WikiLeaks listed Noam Chomsky as a volunteer administrator of its Facebook page, although Chomsky denied the association.

After U.S. Navy SEALs found and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 1, 2011, Chomsky said:

"It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim ...

"Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

"We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a 'suspect' but uncontroversially the 'decider' who gave the orders to commit the 'supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole' [quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal] for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

"Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders."

Chomsky is a longtime member of both the Democratic Socialists of America and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and  Socialism. He is also a board of advisors member with the Free Gaza Movement.