Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian

Originally published at the World Affairs Journal

By Michael J. Totten

My friend and colleague Benjamin Kerstein has published a number of books, and this summer he released what is perhaps the most blistering critique of the radical leftist ideologue Noam Chomsky ever to appear in book form. It’s called Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite and is a collection of essays, reviews, and take-downs that originally appeared on his blog of the same name during a three-year period from 2004 through 2007.

I read most of the material in this book when it first appeared, and now I have it all in one place in trade paperback on my bookshelf. Kerstein and I discussed Chomsky and his new book last week.

MJT: What possessed you to spend three years writing about Noam Chomsky?

Benjamin Kerstein: That’s a huge question, and lest people start thinking I’m completely obsessive, I should note that I was doing a lot of other things at the same time. The short answer is 9/11. I grew up in an extremely liberal community where Chomsky was very popular, and as soon as 9/11 happened I knew that all those people I used to know would go straight to him in order to find out what they should think about it, and what they would come back with would be very nasty indeed. I regret that I was proven absolutely correct in that. It was really a disgraceful display by some very disgraceful people. Chomsky had become quite marginal in the years before that, but after 9/11 the left disinterred him and put him back on a pedestal. The New York Times, for example, ran a ridiculously fawning profile of him. He was being mainstreamed again and I felt strongly that someone had to say something.

I like to think that I and the others who were speaking out against him managed to make a small difference. For years he was spewing this stuff out with basically no opposition at all. I hope we managed to give people some material that helped them apply some critical thinking to his claims.

MJT: Can you boil down your case against him into a couple of sentences or paragraphs?

Benjamin Kerstein: There are a couple of main points that should be made. First, Chomsky is an absolutely shameless liar. A master of the argument in bad faith. He will say anything in order to get people to believe him. Even worse, he will say anything in order to shut people up who disagree with him. And I’m not necessarily talking about his public critics. If you’ve ever seen how he acts with ordinary students who question what he says, it’s quite horrifying. He simply abuses them in a manner I can only describe as sadistic. That is, he clearly enjoys doing it. I don’t think anyone ought to be allowed to get away with that kind of behavior.

Second, Chomsky is immensely important to the radical left. When it comes to American foreign policy he isn’t just influential, he’s basically all they have. Almost any argument made about foreign affairs by the radical left can be traced back to him. That wasn’t the case when he started out back in the late ’60s, but it is now.

Third, he is essentially the last totalitarian. Despite his claims otherwise, he’s more or less the last survivor of a group of intellectuals who thought systemic political violence and totalitarian control were essentially good things. He babbles about human rights all the time, but when you look at the regimes and groups he’s supported, it’s a very bloody list indeed.

Communism and fascism are obviously dead as the proverbial doornail, but I doubt the totalitarian temptation will ever go away. The desire for unity and a kind of beautiful tyranny seems to spring from somewhere deep in the human psyche.

Fourth—and this may be most important—he makes people stupid. In this sense, he’s more like a cult leader or a New Age guru than an intellectual. He allows people to be comfortable with their prejudices and their hatreds, and he undercuts their ability to think in a critical manner. To an extent, this has to do with his use of emotional and moral blackmail. Since he portrays everyone who disagrees with him as evil, if you do agree with him you must be on the side of good and right. This is essentially a kind of secular puritanism, and it’s very appealing to many people, for obvious reasons, I think. We all want to think well of ourselves, whether we deserve it or not.

There is an intellectual side to this, as well. You see it clearly in his famous debate with Michel Foucault. Chomsky says at one point that there is a moral and ethical order that is hardwired into human beings. And Foucault basically asks him, why? How do you know this hardwired morality exists? And even if it exists, how can we know that it is, in fact, moral in the first place? We may feel it to be moral, but that doesn’t make it true.

Chomsky’s answer is essentially: Because I believe it to be so. Now, whatever that is, it isn’t thinking. In fact, it’s an excuse for not thinking. Ironically, Chomsky later said that Foucault was the most amoral man he ever met, whereas I would argue that Foucault was simply pointing out that Chomsky’s “morality” is in fact a form of nihilism.

I think people come to Chomsky and essentially worship him for precisely that reason. He allows them to feel justified in their refusal to think. They never have to ask themselves any difficult questions or provide any difficult answers. It’s a form of intellectual cowardice essentially, but I’m sure you can see its appeal.

This may be one of the reasons for Chomsky’s hostility to psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis may be many things, but it is certainly a method of gaining self-knowledge, of asking difficult questions about one’s self and others. And that is precisely what he, and his followers, want to avoid.

My apologies for the length of this answer, but I think you’ll agree that, of all the bad things people are capable of, their refusal to think is one of the worst, mainly because it leads to most of the other bad things of which they are capable.

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  • Chezwick

    In addition to Chomsky's intellectual and moral bankruptcy, there is the issue of his God-awful writing style. He often begins his assertions with a phrase like…"As is well known, blah blah…" It is straight from Stalin's hand-book.

    Chumpsky was a fraud as a linguist….and he was a fraud as a polemicist. In a sane world, the verdict of history regarding his collective works would be a fusion of contempt and dismissal.

    • BS77

      The left praises Chumpsky since he is "one of their own"…however, I would bet less than 1% of the strident leftists and Occupy morons have ever read one page of his doggerel ….and less than that would even guess what it means. Chumpsky…..eminently forgettable.

    • Eva

      Chomsky's "linguistic masterpieces" were mandatory reading for the language students in the former Soviet Union. Even then some inquisitive young minds justly recognized them as utter garbage and a product of a self-centered degenerate leftist mind. I just yawned throughout the lectures. Boring, stupid, but dangerous nevertheless.

  • Thom

    I've always Chomsky would've made an outstanding Mad Mullah in Iran's terror regime. He missed his true calling.

    I love the use of the word, "disinterred."

  • poohbum

    Tried watching an argument for abortion that had Noam on it, he just re-frames arguments, avoids issues and tells blatant lies (as the article suggests), it is amazing. VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzY0L2g1f64

    The guy is a joke.

  • Terry

    chumpsky is a traitor to the Jewish People, a traitor to G-d, and a traitor to civlised values. The good news is that he's old. That means that other things being equal, rachel corrie should have a cell mate in hell quite soon

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Darwin Award winner Saint Pancake?

      She played with fire and got burned. Lesson learned too late.

  • John Dawson

    Noam Chomsky was a prominent apologist for the Khmer Rouge and its Western cheerleaders throughout the 1970s, rejecting reports of atrocities and ignoring the bias of the cheers. Publicly he called reports of Khmer Rouge atrocities and failures “Distortions at Fourth Hand”, privately he called them a “flood of lies”. When the flood became a sea of eyewitness accounts that even he couldn’t linguistically analyze his way around Chomsky started to move ground on the atrocities, but not on American culpability. In After the Cataclysm, which he co-authored with Edward Herman, Chomsky described Pol Pot’s achievements thus:

    "With the economy in ruins, the foreign aid that kept much of the population alive terminated, and the artificial colonial implantations no longer functioning, it was a condition of survival to turn (or return) the populations to productive work. The victors in Cambodia undertook drastic and often brutal measures to accomplish this task, simply forcing the urban population into the countryside where they were compelled to live the lives of poor peasants, now organized in a decentralized system of communes. At heavy cost, these measures appear to have overcome the dire and destructive consequences of the U.S. war by 1978." (Chomsky, 1979, p viii)

  • Rothschild

    I despise Chomsky too…but I think it's in poor taste to use a photo of him, that looks like he has Alzheimer's…and I think he is Jewish, something, I am not as a half-Jew… so your defaming your own, and giving more fuel to those that hate the Jews.

    You superman Jews, need to be more humble.

    • Mo Schlotion

      Would those who hate Jews include yourself? Just asking.

      • Rothschild

        No, I do mot hate the Jews, but if the s**t ever hit the fan in the US…. I no doubt would be in a philosophical battle with Marxist Jews, that would attempt to use my half-Jewish blood as a political football…. probably for their survival with Islamic powers; for example, if the Muslim terrorist countries ever get a nuclear bomb.

        I would probably, then, but I do not now grow to deeply despise a type of Marxist Jew, that existed in history named Chaim Weizman.
        http://jtf.org/israel/israel.treason.story.beyond
        An Israeli Treason Story
        Beyond All Belief
        (Originally published by JTF.ORG on November 4, 1998)
        Self-hating Marxist Jew Chaim Weizmann consigned millions of Europe�s Jews to slaughter during the Holocaust

  • ★FALCON★

    If the truth be known – the Conservative movement (founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley) deserves some of the blame for not stomping out these radicals and allowing them to fester and flourish like a cancer on mankind.

    We certainly wouldn't have had Bill Ayers and Barack Obama's brand of radical communism disguised as Hope and Change when it's still government slavery.

    I hope this latest chapter of the Bolshevik Revolutionary ends with lamp posts and boot straps.

    McCarthy was right.

  • Trebuchet

    As far as linguistics go, Professor Irwin Corey made far more sense that this bozo ever did.

  • Schlomotion

    Anybody who has read "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media" would know how abysmally stupid it is to label Noam Chomsky a totalitarian. Noam Chomsky is a lot things, a stodgy intellectual, a limousine liberal, and a man whose greatness was really from 1968-1975. But he is not a totalitarian. Most of his political works are against totalitarianism. That doesn't mean they are exciting or forceful, but they certainly aren't totalitarian. This accusation by Mr. Chomsky's former bandmates at Ramparts can be summed up as political tripe. Benjamin Kerstein sums up his motivations well. The left likes Noam Chomsky, therefore, character assassination Ron Radosh style. And of course… a book for sale.

    • Mo Schlotion

      Do you have a good recipe for political tripe? What do you serve with it?

    • Neils60

      Schlomo, How does one define Chomsky's "greatness" from 1968-1975? Backing fellow moonbats who overlooked, not most, but all of the excesses of far-left despotic regimes? More recently, his criticism of making Osama bin Laden fish bait was even worse than that. What's the attraction? How anyone could admire a guy like this is beyond my comprehension.

      • Schlomotion

        He made great strides in the science of sentence diagramming.

        • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

          And if he had been truly great he would have had decent sentences to diagram.

  • clarespark

    Chomsky is writing in the anarchist tradition of Bakunin, very fashionable in the New Left. As for his lying, I wrote an essay all about his mischaracterization of Walter Lippmann here: http://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-mi…. "Noam Chomsky's Misrepresentation of Walter Lippmann's chief ideas on manufacturing consent." My most viewed essay ever, and it was once up on Chomsky's website!

  • Jim_C

    I dismiss Chomsky, politically, because his default position is "Blame the U.S."

    But like Schlomotion, I would urge anyone to look into "Manufacturing Dissent" and tell me Chomsky's critique of our media isn't powerfully constructed and at least worthy of serious argument.

  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    My next encounter with Chomsky revolved around his writing an introduction to a book by an anti-Semite named Robert Faurisson who denied that the Holocaust took place, that Hitler’s gas chambers existed, that the diary of Anne Frank was authentic, and that there were death camps in Nazi occupied Europe. He claimed that the “massive lie” about genocide was a deliberate concoction initiated by “American Zionists” “and that “the Jews” were responsible for World War II. Chomsky described these and other conclusions as “findings” and said that they were based on “extensive historical research.” He also wrote that “I see no anti-Semitic implication in the denial of the existence in gas chambers or even in the denial of the Holocaust.” He said he saw “no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson’s work,” including his claim that “the Jews” were responsible for World War II. He wrote an introduction to one of Faurisson’s book which was used to market his anti-Semitic lies.

  • Omar

    Noam Chomsky is a pseudo-academic who supports almost every despotic regime to date and has had connections with Holocaust deniers. He hates the United States so much that if he had been alive during the American Revolution in the 1770s and early 1780s, he would have supported King George III and the British.

  • Ghostwriter

    I once went to Chomsky's website and tried to read some of his books. I didn't get very far. There seemed to be an inherent nastiness and smugness in a good deal of his stuff. To me,he'd make a good villain in any story and I'd thought of creating a villainous character based on this guy.
    As for Schlomotion's endorsement of one of his books,all I can say is that Noam Chomsky is one Jew he'd like,possibly because he hates the rest of them,just like Schlockmotion.

  • http://tarandfeathersusa.wordpress.com/ Iratus Vulgas

    Using the cult leader and his followers is an apt way to describe any number of radical movements embraced by the Left. Both employ the Orwellian concept of "double think." which allows one to "tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them." Then when the lie becomes inconvenient, "draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed." Intellectuals on the Left have been masters of keeping "the lie always one leap ahead of the truth."

  • jewdog

    It's certain people who are, morally speaking, monsters. Chomsky has become famous because he resonates with their worldview. He is really only supplying a demand in the intellectual marketplace. If it wasn't Chomsky, it would be someone else.

  • http://tarandfeathersusa.wordpress.com/ Iratus Vulgas

    Let's remember that on the Left, this burlesque parade of mayhem is called "direct action." Admittedly, it does sound a lot better than "riot." In one sense, these demonstrations may be providing a public service: activity for the chronically unemployable.

  • g_jochnowitz

    Chomsky, like all leftists, is totally committed to anti-Zionism, the force that holds the left together and that explains the existence of the Marxist-Islamic Alliance. In this respect he is not unusual. However, his defense of Pol Pot really sets him apart and defines him as crazier than any of his allies. http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/EnemiesPolReg.ht

  • Joe Ordinary

    Chompsky is a moral monster stoned on LSD.