Monday, February 01, 2010

Noam Chomsky on the History of US Imperialism

I, like many others the world over, owe much of my political awareness to the work of Noam Chomsky. Described in 1979 by the New York Times, indeed of his many targets within establishment politics and media, as “arguably the most important intellectual alive, Chomsky’s dissection of political affairs certainly benefits from his formidable intellectual capacities. A study done by the Arts and Humanities Index in 1992, showed that between 1980 and 1992, he was the 8th most cited source in arts and humanities journals during that time. The complete list ran: Marx, Lenin, Shakespeare, Aristotle, the Bible, Plato, Freud, Chomsky, Hegel and Cicero. So it is not without substance that one can state that he ranks on a par with the greatest intellectuals in history including antiquity.

However it is not his intellectual capacities that makes him such an unparalleled incisive commentator. There are 2 factors that make him stand out:

1. His range. He knows an unbelievable amount of detail about an unbelievable number of topics. From libertarian anarchism, to American militarism, to the origins of the US Republic, to economics, to every conflict the West has been involved in the world over for the last few centuries, his passion for social justice is surely what fires his voracity for knowledge in these domains. As a result, his command of the facts regarding any particular situation will often immediately put him far ahead of any other commentator or detractor.

2. His moral clarity. So detached is Chomsky from the indoctrinations of propaganda systems that condition us to see black as white, that he is able to make observations that are startling and penetrating solely for their simplicity. When Condaleeza Rice stated that for violence in Iraq to cease there would need to be an end to “foreign fighters coming over the border”, though no mainstream journal noted it, it was left to Chomsky to point out the absurdity that the US army was precisely such an army, and one would be correct in concluding that they were indeed responsible for the bloodshed, as Rice unwittingly intimated.

Moral clarity is not something that is complicated- it usually just requires detachment from ones own interests in a given situation. We all know what is right and what is wrong. Where Chomsky rises above other intellectuals and writers in my eyes, is the fact that he combines not just the intellectual powers of a great scholar with the depth of knowledge of a hardened journalist, but also the moral clarity and steadfastness of any of the great popular leaders of the last century. It is the fusion of these 3 elements that make Chomsky what he is.

The following video is, even by Chomsky’s standards, just indispensable viewing.