Avram Noam Chomsky is an intellectual prodigy, a famous linguist and a well-known philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, historian, political critic and activist. In a 2005 poll, he was voted the “World’s Top Public Intellectual”. His articles that contain a strident criticism of US Foreign Policy appear in a number of international newspapers and journals.
Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928 to a family of Ukrainian and Belarusian Jewish immigrants. Chomsky’s parents both taught at a Hebrew school. He was raised in a middle-class family and he himself witnessed injustices all around. In 1945, he began studying philosophy, mathematics and linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania where his teachers included the famous philosopher and systems scientist C. West Churchman, the distinguished philosopher Nelson Goodman and the renowned linguist Zellig Harris.
He once said: ‘If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.’
These words vividly describe that Chomsky is a libertarian socialist, a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism and is considered to be a key intellectual figure within the left-wing of American politics. He is considered “one of the most influential left-wing critics of American foreign policy” by the Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers.
Although Mr Chomsky is renowned for his linguistic theory, it is his political writings that have made him the most revered with both activist and public readers. This is in part due to the fact that Chomsky doesn’t theorize in the traditional sense of the word. He doesn’t seek universal, a priori principles or superstructures of thought as part of his critical analysis. Rather, his political analyses come directly from empirical observations.
Chomsky’s disdain in theorizing about issues such as justice comes from his intense opposition to what he calls “the intelligentsia” or “the liberal intelligentsia.” By this term, he refers to academics and even reporters, placing them under the umbrella of “propagandists” “for the state.” Whether or not this charge holds up under critical scrutiny, it deeply influences how Chomsky approaches political analysis: in a word, un-theoretically. In using this approach, Chomsky openly acknowledges the influences of socialist thinkers from Karl Marx to Mikhail Bakunin; from Wilhelm von Humboldt to Daniel Guerin and Rudolf Rocker.
When it comes to Chomsky’s philosophy of global justice, it is most effectively understood as being innate in his political writings. His overt concern has consistently been quite specific: US government’s moral hypocrisy regarding its stated values compared with its foreign policy. Chomsky founds his ideas on his understanding of human nature, the essence of which is free, creative self-expression, and voluntary association with others. This leads him to embrace what he refers to as anarcho-syndicalism (sometimes called “libertarian-socialism”). Thus, for Chomsky, the value of freedom, while primary in his understanding of justice, is itself functional: it is the means by which humans are able to fulfil their nature, not an end in itself.
‘Justice” says Chomsky, ‘would be engaged when social structures are in place to allow the full flowering of human freedom. This entails dissolving all illegitimate authority in all institutional structures. In its place, Chomsky advocates an anarcho-syndicalist social structure, whereby the workers control the means of production and directly control their representatives.
Historically, the state and the capitalist system, particularly in the US, have combined to concentrate power for the benefit of those who have it’ i.e. the wealthy. The method Chomsky uses to demonstrate the abuses of state and capitalist power is to delineate numerous single acts of brutality and oppression that issue from the corporate state. Because he is an American citizen, he focuses on the abuses of power and the oppression of people done by the US government. He compares such acts against the “elementary moral truism” that what one nation does it must condone all others doing.
When it comes to global justice, Chomsky opines that there can be no justice as long as the inherently oppressive state continues to exist, which acts solely in the interest of corporations while denying other nations and peoples the ability to act for their own perceived good. The US, in particular, judges states “unstable” when they do not allow US corporations to have open access to their resources and markets, and uses terms such as the “national interest” to disguise the interests of the economic elite in dictating foreign policy and the choices of those states against whom they wish to war.
With his unrelenting attack on the contradictions of the US government policies, it is unsurprising that Chomsky has drawn many critics. These critics charge him variously with highlighting only US immoralities, not defining significant terms, being too utopian, using assertion as proof, and even falsifying evidence. While some of these charges are themselves one-sided and poorly supported, some of them do carry weight. For example, Chomsky could stand to define his terms instead of side-stepping the “liberal intelligentsia” when they demand a bit more structure in his political analyses. Part of what draws such attacks is by Chomsky’s own making, in that he engages in stinging vocabulary and cynical remarks.