Friday, June 13, 2003

Manufacturing Dissent
Noam Chomsky and the Dialectics of Treason

“Woe to them that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter…Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight…”
Isaiah 5:20-21

Trying to sort out the tangled web of organizations and ideologies that make up the current Left is daunting by any stretch of the imagination. Adding in the tendency of these groups to misrepresent themselves before the public, and their talent for vicious infighting, the task can seem downright pointless and impossible. How does one understand the forces that can bring Muslim Fundamentalists, ultra-feminist groups, and anti-globalization anarchist cells into the streets simultaneously. That can find atheistic communists chanting “God is great” in Arabic while holding signs comparing George Bush to Hitler and attacking him for being religious. What unites these people, and who incites their passions enough to bring them all into the solidarity of direct action?

Of course, all of these people espouse something like an ideology, one which is almost identical to that of the various anti-American intellectuals and intellectual movements whose manipulations of their students and takeover of academic institutions provides the political base for the extreme Left in America. Where they all came from and how they managed to get together is a tangled web of ideological histories hardly worth going into here, but at the end of it, one often finds a total and unqualified admiration for a single intellectual – or perhaps intellectual is a misnomer – a single figure: a semi-obscure professor of linguistics at MIT named Noam Chomsky. Almost the entire American Left, the entire alphabet soup of organizations and ideologies breaking windows and clogging streets, almost the entire gaggle of campus organizations and their faculty enablers are, to a man, Chomskyians.

In Noam Chomsky we have a strange life story. The author of an endless stream of insomnia-inducing tomes and high school level political pamphlets and a regular speaker on radical campuses and Mainline Protestant churches who ought to know better, Chomsky has no background in the subjects about which he normally writes – politics and foreign policy. His professional background lies entirely in the realm of linguistics, an esoteric and entirely theoretical field especially prone to demagoguery and academic charlatanism. Chomsky came to prominence as the formulator of a theory known as Universal Grammar which claimed language was inborn and biologically determined, hardwired into the human species from birth. An unscrupulous academic infighter, Chomsky established his theory in the 1950s through violent defamation of his opponents, a pattern he has continued into his second career. Chomsky seems to have a pathological, almost childlike need to vilify his opponents in vicious and often outright offensive terms, indicating a basic personality flaw that is likely psychological in origin.

Although entirely discredited now – it is seen as overly simplistic and Eurocentric in nature, Universal Grammar bearing a suspicious resemblance to English – Chomsky’s influence in the ‘50s was immense, and he began to be spoken of in hushed tones by both his colleagues – who may or may not have understood his theories – and laymen admirers – who most certainly didn’t – by the early ‘60s he was known as one of MIT’s resident geniuses.

It was the Vietnam War that would propel Chomsky into the world of radical politics, although, like most high profile scientists, he had been attracted to the extreme Left at an early age. Beginning with his pro-North Vietnam tract American Power and the New Mandarins, Chomsky would become the darling of the academic Left wing establishment which was expending enormous amounts of money and power to engineer an American defeat and a Communist victory in the Vietnam War. Norman Mailer’s seminal Pulitzer Prize winner Armies of the Night provides a fascinating picture of Chomsky as a semi-schizophrenic nerd who can effortlessly flit from a thousand-strong march on the Pentagon to a radical chic cocktail party in the wealthy Massachusetts resort town of Wellfleet. Chomsky has never ceased this artfully dualistic existence, assaulting the American elite for all manner of crimes while gliding effortlessly through the rarified circles of established wealth and academic power.

There is little doubt, however, that Chomsky is a true believer, more then willing to lie, slander, and obfuscate in the name of his ideology. By the early 1970s, Chomsky’s blind fanaticism was becoming disturbing even to his former acolytes. The Cambodian genocide proved to be a definitive moment in Chomsky’s career, the point at which he ceased to be a completely benign and acceptable figure and questions began to be asked, even among Left wing circles, about the darker aspects of his ideology.

The complete story of the holocaust unleashed upon the Cambodian nation by the Khmer Rouge Communist regime, under the leadership of the psychotic dictator Pol Pot, is now well known. An astounding 3 million people lost their lives at the hands of Pot’s death squads, nearly a third of the Cambodian population. When the news began to leak out via courageous refugees and the occasional foreign journalist, the Left was immediately faced with a horrifying dilemma. They had campaigned long and hard for a Communist victory in Vietnam and indeed throughout the region of Southeast Asia. One of the arguments against an American withdrawal had been that the region would become a bloodbath at the hands of Communist tyrants should the US withdraw its support from non-Communist governments. The Left, Chomsky foremost among them, scoffed at this idea and charged that the bloodbath was already happening at the hands of the Americans. Now, however, it seemed that, not only had the Left been proven wrong and the Americans right, but the bloodbath had been larger, more widespread, and more horrific than anyone had predicted.

Some Leftists called for military intervention to stop the slaughter, some blamed it all the machinations of the CIA, some sought to differentiate between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese forms of Communism, though they were tripped up by the North Vietnamese’s own atrocities. Chomsky, however, chose an entirely different tack: he simply denied the whole thing had happened in the first place.

In attempting to discredit the genocide, Chomsky used a technique which has now become something of a trademark, the systemic nitpicking of tiny facts and sources while ignoring the larger issues and charges at hand. Chomsky attempted to disprove certain specific sources, or at least cast enough doubt on their veracity to leave a certain measure of ambivilence in his more sympathetic interlocutors. More then anything else, this tactic was marked by the use of Chomsky’s preferred method of debate: character assassination. Chomsky’s main defense, as it has been in nearly all controversies in which he has been embroiled, was to cast aspersions on his critics, attacking their intellectual competence, their ideological motives, and, most viciously of all, their personal character. His preferred term of opprobrium, as it has been ever since, was racism, an accusation he has employed with such soporific regularity and childish recklessness that he now seems to consider himself and a handful of his personal friends to be the only people on earth who are not, in fact, racists.

As many of Chomsky’s critics have noted, the Cambodia controversy both killed Chomsky’s career and gave it a new lease on life. Although he became viewed by some of the more mainstream Left as an irresponsible distortionist and a possibly dangerous crank – and found himself banned from their publications, including the New York Review of Books and The New Republic – he used his denial of the Cambodian genocide as the blueprint for a broader analysis of American society which would become the defining worldview of the Far Left for the next twenty years.

Extrapolated most famously in his pamphlet What Uncle Sam Really Wants and the anti-media screed Manufacturing Consent, the Chomskyian worldview sees the United States as the new Nazi Germany triumphant. A government and media run by business corporations manipulates the unsuspecting American public into believing they live in a representative democracy, all the while pursuing the imperialist aims of their corporate overlords, who desire to enslave the entire world under the regime of global capitalism, run from its nerve center in the United States.

Discredited as a public intellectual by his defense of mass murder, Chomsky turned to a new audience, the semi-underground network of leftist academics, radical churches and campus groups, and the worlds of hardcore and punk music – to whom Chomsky has become the most unlikely of gurus. This new following, politically unsophisticated and temperamentally inclined towards rebellion and hatred of authority, embraced Chomsky as a kind of totalitarian Supreme Leader in miniature. When a major issue emerges in the news, be it social security or the War in Iraq, they rush immediately to their bookshelf or the internet to find out what their favorite professor thinks on the matter. To them, he is the last honest man in America, a fearless and incorruptible teller of terrible truths about the evils of his own society.

Within this group there is another, inner circle, one which has elevated Chomsky to an almost mystical status. To them, Chomsky is the sole arbiter of reality itself. Nothing they see on television or read in the papers is true until Chomsky says it is, everything their parents or teachers taught them is a lie until Chomsky informs them differently. They travel miles to attend his lectures in obscure churches and community colleges, they tape record his speeches and share them over the internet, they sit rapt in the first row scribbling the great man’s words into shabby looking spiral notebooks. The cult of Chomsky, the highly un-egalitarian, near idolatrous worship of a single individual, with its shades of Stalinism and fascist-style leader-worship, is the worst kept secret of the American Left in the 21st century. The fact is that that the lion’s share of the Left’s ideas, concepts, and talking points – the propaganda of a movement claiming to represent the masses – are the work of a single man whose assertions are swallowed uncritically by his dutiful followers. The worldview of today’s Left, which believes America is a fascist dictatorship consolidating its imperial power through oppression and murder, is unmistakably Chomskyian. The slogans of the anti-war movement, proclaiming all wars the product of American malfeasance, American exploitation, American imperialism, American oppression, comparing America’s leaders to the heads of the Nazi Party, and all but accusing the government of pursuing a policy of genocide towards the Third World, are nothing more then regurgitations of Chomsky’s most violent accusations. The “facts” cited by the Left to support its charges are clearly drawn from Chomsky’s many revisionist histories of America’s foreign policy, and the moral equivalencies posited between America and its enemies are often lifted verbatim from Chomsky’s books. That a single intellectual of dubious credentials in the realm of political analysis has managed to gain such sway on the Left is, perhaps, an indication of the bankruptcy of the 21st century Left, but it is a moral bankruptcy as well as an intellectual one, for no intellectual of the past twenty years – however radical – has engaged in intellectual atrocities as debased and ugly as Noam Chomsky.

Just how ugly began to become clear by the 1980s, when Chomsky began his flirtation with Holocaust Denial. He had been a longtime hater of Israel, declaring himself a partisan of the PLO Covenant, which called for Israel’s destruction, and denouncing Zionism in the familiar tones of the extreme Left and Arab propaganda. By the ‘80s, however, Chomsky’s hatred of Israel had hardened into a bitter and repulsive racism. He routinely referred to Israel as a Nazi state, and its soldiers as storm troopers, he endorsed books charging that the evils of Zionism were the result of essential ills hardwired into the Jewish religion, such as the concept of Jewish Chosenness and the inherent intolerance of monotheism, he denounced Israel’s supporters in the United States as conspiratorial manipulators of money and power, echoing anti-Semitic charges of Jewish control of politics and media. He ardently supported and defended terrorist acts against Israeli civilians and has never wavered in his call for the genocide of the state itself, even going so far as to denounce the Oslo Accords as a sellout of maximalist Palestinian demands.

Holocaust Denial, however, was something else entirely. Even in the violently anti-Israel atmosphere of academe, denying the Holocaust was still taboo. When Chomsky took up the cause of Robert Faurisson, it set off a firestorm which disturbed even some of his fervent admirers. Faurisson was a French Holocaust denier with connections to the French fascist Right and the anti-Israel Left. He had been fired from his university professorship over a book he had written charging that the Zionist Movement had concocted the Holocaust in order to provoke sympathy for their claims to Palestine. In ideological terms, Faurisson had accomplished a rhetorical sleight of hand which must have been quite seductive for Chomsky: unlike other Holocaust Deniers, who had merely attempted to absolve Hitler, Faurisson had linked the “concoction” of the Holocaust to the Zionist Movement, thus both absolving Hitler and “discrediting” one of the major historical reasons for the creation of Israel. Such a convergence must have been too much for Chomsky to resist. And indeed, it is startling how closely Chomsky’s ideology mirrored Faurisson’s. Faurisson had credentials not only as an anti-Semite but as a partisan of the Palestinian cause as well, he straddled the extreme Left and Right seemingly effortlessly, and more then anything else, Faurisson's methods of falsifying history echoed Chomsky’s uncannily.

Like Chomsky's, Faurisson’s books were copiously documented and purported to be reasoned explications of discoverable facts. In actuality, Faurisson’s methods of footnoting were, like Chomsky’s, highly creative, to say the least. His sources were often blatently pro-Nazi propaganda sources, others bore no resemblance to what Faurisson had claimed they contained, in others, Faurisson had extracted a single phrase or sentence which, removed from its place in a larger work, took on an entirely different meaning than its original author had intended. All of these methods of falsifying data and history were familiar to those who had waded through the copious footnotes of Chomsky’s tomes and discovered scholarly methods best described as dubious and, at worst, blatently manipulative and dishonest.

It may be that Chomsky saw himself in Faurisson, they shared the same violent attacks on established history, the same reckless disregard for scholarly conventions, the same brutal “persecution” for holding unpopular beliefs, and, of course, in Israel and the Jews – who in their eyes exploited their “myth” of the Holocaust to further their oppression of the Palestinians – they shared the same enemy. Nothing else can explain why Chomsky would have been so reckless – or arrogant – as to engage in an open defense of Holocaust Denial.

But defend he did, and with his usual alacrity and disingenuousness. Having both publicly condemned Faurisson’s firing and contributing an introduction to one of his books of Holocaust Denial, Chomsky was out of his depth from the beginning. His old techniques, character assassination and a subtle changing of the subject, worked badly this time around. He attempted charging his opponents with being unscrupulous Zionists, but this placed him dangerously close to actually formally endorsing Faurisson’s thesis, something he was desperately attempting to avoid, and also placed him in the unsympathetic position of hurling insults at critics who were often survivors of the Holocaust themselves. He clutched at a civil libertarian defense, claiming he was simply defending Faurisson’s right to express controversial and unpopular opinions without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, this tack ran against the entire history of Chomsky’s career. He had never been a Free Expression absolutist in any sense of the word. He had often been at the forefront of attempts to ban speakers whose opinions he despised – such as Henry Kissinger – from college campuses, and was well known in academic circles for using his numerous Establishment connections to suppress criticism of himself and his opinions in academia and the mainstream press. Chomsky seemed unable to grasp that he had crossed a line. He had spent a lifetime defending the indefensible and it had only made him more popular, it had only served to increase his cache in the radical circles whose approval he so coveted, but now a wider audience was suddenly listening, and they were horrified at what they heard.

The truth, however, is that no one who had been following Chomsky’s career should have been in the least bit surprised at these developments. Chomsky had made a career out of cheerleading for any number of murderous totalitarian regimes and then endeavoring to deny or minimize their crimes. In his revisions of 20th century American foreign policy, the Soviet Union was portrayed as the innocent victim of American economic and military aggression, its brutal crimes were glossed over in the name of concentrating on American atrocities. He had lied relentlessly about the nature of the North Vietnamese regime, which he knew from his travels to be a brutal communist tyranny. He had outright denied the eclipse of humanity which – with the assistance of Western intellectuals like him – had turned Cambodia into a bloodbath. He had defended Arab racism and terrorism against Israel for decades, endorsing the destruction of the state itself and the massacre of its population. He had served as a dutiful propagandist for communist and communist supported tyrannies throughout Africa and Central and South America. His entire career swam in an ocean of blood. His whole body of work amounted to little more then shameless propagandizing in service of the 20th century’s most brutal totalitarianisms. Holocaust Denial was merely one more step in the descent, for he had long since disabled whatever braking mechanism might once have existed. Having denied the genocide of 3 million people, what was the denial of 6 million people? Only a matter of degrees, only numbers on a page, easy to wipe out, easy to erase.

And this underlines the most central and disturbing aspect of Chomsky’s career: some intellectuals are mere gadflys, a few are genuine loons, Chomsky is a monster. He is a monument to all the perversities of 20th century intellectual life: the sycophantic worship of power, the inversion of moralities by which crime and inhumanity are hailed as proof of revolutionary veracity, the erasure of millions of dead for ideological purposes, the double-speak that allows one to embrace racism, totalitarianism, and mass murder while claiming to condemn them all, the seemingly existential need to denounce and destroy the fabric of one’s own society, the relentless dehumanization and demonization of one’s opponents and the resulting paralysis of rational debate, the unwavering, ruthless, ultimately psychotic dedication to one’s own ideology, finally at the expense of truth itself, and, most of all, the destruction of truth and its resurrection in one’s own image, the appointment of oneself as the sole arbiter of truth, of justice, and finally of reality itself, the seemingly unquenchable desire to erect a totalitarianism of the mind, with oneself as Supreme Ruler.

This legacy of malevolence is by no means finished, and may have yet to reach its nadir. The 9/11 attacks have given Chomsky’s career a rejuvenation which, despite his failing health and odious reputation, has made him once again the central figure of the extreme Left. The anti-war movement, so utterly convinced of their own righteousness and the historically unprecedented depth of American turpitude, is unabashedly Chomskyian. His book 9/11 has successfully reached the 100,000 copy mark, the outer mark of the Leftwing book-buying audience, proving the ubiquity of Chomskyian ideas across the Leftist spectrum. He speaks across the world, proving particularly popular in the Middle East, where he holds court on the evils of American imperialism and attempts to incite anti-American violence by engaging in such slanders as charging the US with planning to commit genocide in Afghanistan, eerily echoing, in his inability to reach a coherent number of the projected dead – at one lecture 4 million, at another 10, another 8 – the perennial Leftwing boogeyman Joe McCarthy. His acolytes, dutiful as any religious cult, release a steady stream of CDs, websites, and videos dedicated to the dissemination of his ideas. He has become an icon to a subculture of artists, actors, rock and punk musicians who see in his ideology a reflection of their own violent impulses and semi-pathological hatreds of American society, garnering him endorsements from such unlikely quarters as Bono from U2, the actor John Cusack, and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam – figures otherwise unlikely to grant endorsements to esoteric ivy-league intellectuals of dubious integrity. And he has become the unquestioned figurehead of the numerous campus organizations and NGOs which march under the Leftwing banner. Despite the best efforts of some of the more conscientious Leftwing intellectuals, the rank and file, the disaffected bourgeosie who march in the protests, work in the NGOs, buy the pamphlets, publish the ‘zines, sign the petitions, hurl the rocks at the police, break the windows and get arrested, have given themselves over body and soul to Chomskyianism. He is their St. Augustine, their commandante, their fuehrer. It is clear, moreover, that this cult is pushing whatever remains of the rational Left further and further into the abyss. Chomsky is not a man who sees historical events and reacts to them, his ideology is religious in nature, immutable and unchanging. He is not a man who wrestles with his conscience, his righteousness is axiomatic. This willful blindness to reality, this disconnect from the truth in the name of egomania and leader-worship can result only in the fossilization and implosion of a once dynamic ideology. When the madman becomes the sole arbiter of truth, when people begin inverting their most cherished values to conform with the preachings of a fanatical demagogue, the fall from grace is inevitable. The entire Leftwing world, from the anarchist cadres to the well-heeled editors of academic journals, is living with a terrible secret: the Left is dying of the Chomskyian cancer. It is morphing into something terrible: violent, dictatorial, racist, and ultimately betrothed to treason. When Michael Walzer asked, as he recently did in Dissent, “Can There Be a Decent Left?” he might as well have been asking “Can There Be a Left Without Chomsky?” When one looks with open eyes upon the shambles before us, the Left after the descent into Chomskyianism, the answer, Mr. Walzer, must be no.


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