User:Russil Wvong/Chomsky

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Chomsky's influence as a political activist[edit]

Draft text for a new section on Noam Chomsky, following "Chomsky's political views."

Opposition to the Vietnam War[edit]

File:Chomsky in 1971.jpg
Chomsky at a debate with Michel Foucault in 1971

Chomsky became one of the most prominent opponents of the Vietnam War in February 1967, with the publication of his essay "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" [1] in the New York Review of Books.

Allen J. Matusow, "The Vietnam War, the Liberals, and the Overthrow of LBJ" (1984) [2]:

By 1967 the radicals were obsessed by the war and frustrated by their impotence to affect its course. The government was unmoved by protest, the people were uninformed and apathetic, and American technology was tearing Vietnam apart. What, then, was their responsibility? Noam Chomsky explored this problem in February 1967 in the New York Review, which had become the favorite journal of the radicals. By virtue of their training and leisure, intellectuals had a greater responsibility than ordinary citizens for the actions of the state, Chomsky said. It was their special responsibility “to speak the truth and expose lies.” ... [Chomsky] concluded by quoting an essay written twenty years before by Dwight Macdonald, an essay that implied that in time of crisis exposing lies might not be enough. “Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code,” Macdonald had written, “only they have the right to condemn.” Chomsky’s article was immediately recognized as an important intellectual event. Along with the radical students, radical intellectuals were moving “from protest to resistance.”

A contemporary reaction from Raziel Abielson, Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at New York University [3]:

...Chomsky's morally impassioned and powerfully argued denunciation of American aggression in Vietnam and throughout the world is the most moving political document I have read since the death of Leon Trotsky. It is inspiring to see a brilliant scientist risk his prestige, his access to lucrative government grants, and his reputation for Olympian objectivity by taking a clearcut, no-holds-barred, adversary position on the burning moral-political issue of the day....

Chomsky also participated in resistance activities, which he described in subsequent essays and letters published in the New York Review of Books: withholding half of his income tax [4], taking part in the 1967 march on the Pentagon, and spending a night in jail. [5] In the spring of 1972, Chomsky testified on the origins of the war before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by J. William Fulbright.

Marginalization in the mainstream media[edit]

After the Vietnam War ended, Chomsky became increasingly marginalized by the mainstream media in the U.S., which tended to either ignore or misunderstand his views.

In 1979, Paul Robinson wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today." However, Robinson goes on to describe Chomsky's political writings as "maddeningly simple-minded."

A 1995 Boston Globe profile by Anthony Flint, "Divided Legacy", described Chomsky's marginalization [6]:

The New York Review of Books was one soapbox for Chomsky--but only until 1972 or so. Chomsky says that's because the magazine's editorial policy abruptly shifted to the right around then. But he couldn't seem to find a home with other publications, either. He went from huddling with newspaper editors and bouncing ideas off them to being virtually banned. The New Republic wouldn't have him, in part because of his unrelenting criticism of Israel. The Nation? Occasionally. But for the most part, mainstream outlets shunned him. Today, his articles on social and political developments are confined to lesser-known journals such as the magazine Z.

More succinctly, Paul Berman wrote in Terror and Liberalism (2003): "In the United States, the principal newspapers and magazines have tended to ignore Chomsky's political writings for many years now, because of his reputation as a crank." [7]

Since Chomsky's 9-11 became a bestseller in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Chomsky has been getting more coverage from the mainstream American media. For example, the New York Times published an article in May 2002 describing the popularity of 9-11 [8]. In January 2004, the Times published a review of Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival by Samantha Power [9], and in February, the Times published an op-ed by Chomsky himself, criticizing the Israeli West Bank Barrier for taking Palestinian land [10].

Worldwide audience[edit]

Chomsky has a large readership and devoted following worldwide, contrasting sharply with his marginalization in the mainstream US media. He is interviewed at length in alternative media [11] and has a brisk schedule of speaking events worldwide, including major events like the keynote speech at the second World Social Forum. Chomsky's lectures routinely draw standing-room-only crowds. Many of his books are bestsellers, including 9-11. [12]

The 1992 film Manufacturing Consent, shown widely on college campuses and broadcast on PBS, gave Chomsky a younger audience. In a 1995 article in REVelation, Alex Burns described the film as a "double edged sword—it brought Chomsky's work to a wider audience and made it accessible, yet it has also been used by younger activists to idolise him, creating a 'cult of personality.'" [13]

Chomsky's popularity has become a cultural phenomenon. Bono of U2 called Chomsky a "rebel without a pause, the Elvis of academia." Rage Against the Machine takes copies of his books on tour with the band. Pearl Jam ran a small pirate radio on one of their tours, playing Chomsky talks mixed along with their music. R.E.M. asked Chomsky to go on tour with them and open their concerts with a lecture (he declined). Chomsky lectures have been featured on the B-sides of records from Chumbawamba and other groups. [14] Many anti-globalization and anti-war activists regard Chomsky as an inspiration--a dissident [15], like Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov in the Soviet Union. Chomsky's supporters often question his marginalization by the mainstream media in the US [16] [17]. They are also quick to react to perceived criticisms of him: for example, Lawrence McGuire's "Eight Ways to Smear Noam Chomsky" [18] attacked Adam Shatz for his article "The Left and 9-11" [19].

Chomsky is widely read outside the US. 9-11 was published in 26 countries and translated into 23 foreign languages [20]; it was a bestseller in at least five countries, including Canada and Japan [21]. Outside the US, the mainstream media gives Chomsky's views considerable coverage. In the UK, for example, he appears frequently on the BBC. [22]