The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Noam Chomsky

Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and creator of the Chomsky hierarchy, a classification of formal languages. His works in generative linguistics contributed significantly to the decline of behaviorism and led to the advancement of the cognitive sciences. Outside of his linguistic work, Chomsky is also widely known for his activist socialist political views and his criticism of the foreign policy of the U.S. and allied governments. Chomsky describes himself as a libertarian socialist and a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism.

The eponymous adjective Chomskyan has come to be used to refer to his ideas; however, Chomsky has disparaged the term as making "no sense" and belonging "to the history of organized religion". The term is generally used in reference to his linguistic, rather than political, ideas.



Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Hebrew scholar William Chomsky, who was from a town in Ukraine later wiped out by the Nazis. His mother, Elsie Chomsky née Simonofky, came from what is now called Belarus, but unlike her husband she grew up in America and normally spoke "ordinary New York English". Their first language was Yiddish, but Noam says it was "taboo" in his family to speak it. He describes his family as living in a sort of "Jewish ghetto", split into a "Yiddish side" and "Hebrew side", with his family aligning with the latter and bringing him up "immersed in Hebrew culture and literature".

At the age of eight or nine, every Friday night was spent reading Hebrew literature. [1] Later in life he would teach Hebrew classes. In spite of this, and of all the linguistic work carried out during his career, Chomsky claims "the only language I speak and write proficiently is English".

Chomsky remembers the first article he wrote was at the age of ten, and was about the threat of the spread of fascism, following the fall of Barcelona. From the age of twelve or thirteen he identified more fully with anarchist politics.

Starting in 1945, he studied philosophy and linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, learning from Zellig Harris, a professor of linguistics with whose political views he identified.

Chomsky conducted much of his doctoral research during four years at Harvard University as a Harvard Junior Fellow, and received his Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. In his doctoral thesis, he began to develop some of his linguistic ideas, elaborating on them in his 1957 book Syntactic Structures , perhaps his best-known work in the field of linguistics. After receiving his doctorate, Chomsky taught at MIT for nineteen years, receiving the first award from the Ferrari P. Ward Chair of Modern Languages and linguistics.

It was during this time that Chomsky became more publicly engaged in politics: he became one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War with the publication of his essay "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" [2] in The New York Review of Books in 1967. Since that time, Chomsky has become well known for his political views, speaking on politics all over the world, and writing numerous books. His far-reaching criticism of US foreign policy and the legitimacy of US power has made him a controversial figure. He has a devoted following among the left, but he has also come under increasing criticism from liberals as well as from the right, particularly because of his response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index , between 1980 and 1992 Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any living scholar, and the eighth most cited source overall.

Chomsky's name

Avram is a Hebrew name meaning "high father" (English version: Abram) taken from the biblical forefather figure (see Genesis 12:1) later known as Avraham meaning "father of many" (English version: Abraham) (see Genesis 17:5). Noam is a Hebrew name which means "pleasantness" (male version of the female No'omi — Eng. vers: "Naomi" or "Noemi"). Chomsky is the Russian name . The original pronunciation, using the International Phonetic Alphabet, is /avram noam 'xomskij/. This is normally Anglicized to /'ævɹæm 'nəʊm 'tʃɒmpski/, or /'ævɻæm 'noʊm 'tʃampski/ in an American accent, which is how Chomsky himself seems to pronounce it.

Contributions to linguistics

Syntactic Structures was a distillation of his book Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1955,75) in which he introduces transformational grammars. The theory takes utterances (sequences of words) to correspond to abstract "surface structures," which in turn correspond to more abstract "deep structures." (The hard and fast distinction between surface and deep structure is absent in current versions of the theory.) Transformational rules, along with phrase structure rules and other structural principles, govern both the creation and interpretation of utterances. With a limited set of grammar rules and a finite set of terms, humans are able to produce an infinite number of sentences, including sentences nobody has ever said before. The capability to structure our utterances in this way is innate , a part of the genetic endowment of human beings, and is called universal grammar. We are largely unconscious of these structural principles, as we are of most other biological and cognitive properties.

Recent theories of Chomsky's (such as his Minimalist Program) make strong claims regarding universal grammar — that the grammatical principles underlying languages are innate and fixed, and the differences among the world's languages can be characterized in terms of parameter settings in the brain (such as the pro-drop parameter, which indicates whether an explicit subject is always required, as in English, or can be optionally dropped, as in Spanish), which are often likened to switches. (Hence the term principles and parameters, often given to this approach.) In this view, a child learning a language need only acquire the necessary lexical items (words, grammatical morphemes, and idioms), and determine the appropriate parameter settings, which can be done based on a few key examples.

This approach is motivated by the astonishing pace at which children learn languages, the similar steps followed by children all across the world when learning languages, and the fact that children make certain characteristic errors as they learn their first language, whereas other seemingly logical kinds of errors never occur (and, according to Chomsky, should be attested if a purely general, rather than language-specific, learning mechanism were being employed).

Chomsky's ideas have had a strong influence on researchers investigating the acquisition of language in children, though some researchers who work in this area today do not support Chomsky's theories, often advocating emergentist or connectionist theories based around general processing mechanisms in the brain.

Generative grammar

The Chomskyan approach towards syntax, often termed generative grammar, though quite popular, has been challenged by many, especially those working outside the United States. Chomskyan syntactic analyses are often highly abstract, and are based heavily on careful investigation of the border between grammatical and ungrammatical constructs in a language. (Compare this to the so-called pathological cases that play a similarly important role in mathematics.) Such grammaticality judgments can only be made accurately by a native speaker, however, and thus for pragmatic reasons such linguists often focus on their own native languages or languages in which they are fluent, usually English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Japanese or one of the Chinese languages. However, as Chomsky has said:

The first application of the approach was to Modern Hebrew, a fairly detailed effort in 1949–50. The second was to the native American language Hidatsa (the first full-scale generative grammar), mid-50s. The third was to Turkish, our first Ph.D. dissertation, early 60s. After that research on a wide variety of languages took off. MIT in fact became the international center of work on Australian aboriginal languages within a generative framework [...] thanks to the work of Ken Hale, who also initiated some of the most far-reaching work on Native American languages, also within our program; in fact the first program that brought native speakers to the university to become trained professional linguists, so that they could do work on their own languages, in far greater depth than had ever been done before. That has continued. Since that time, particularly since the 1980s, it constitutes the vast bulk of work on the widest typological variety of languages.

Sometimes generative grammar analyses break down when applied to languages which have not previously been studied, and many changes in generative grammar have occurred due to an increase in the number of languages analyzed. However, the claims made about linguistic universals have become stronger rather than weaker over time; for example, Richard Kayne's suggestion in the 1990s that all languages have an underlying Subject-Verb-Object word order would have seemed implausible in the 1960s. One of the prime motivations behind an alternative approach, the functional-typological approach or linguistic typology (often associated with Joseph Greenberg), is to base hypotheses of linguistic universals on the study of as wide a variety of the world's languages as possible, to classify the variation seen, and to form theories based on the results of this classification. The Chomskyan approach is too in-depth and reliant on native speaker knowledge to follow this method, though it has over time been applied to a broad range of languages.

Chomsky hierarchy

Chomsky is famous for investigating various kinds of formal languages and whether or not they might be capable of capturing key properties of human language. His Chomsky hierarchy partitions formal grammars into classes, or groups, with increasing expressive power, i.e., each successive class can generate a broader set of formal languages than the one before. Interestingly, Chomsky argues that modelling some aspects of human language requires a more complex formal grammar (as measured by the Chomsky hierarchy) than modeling others. For example, while a regular language is powerful enough to model English morphology, it is not powerful enough to model English syntax. In addition to being relevant in linguistics, the Chomsky hierarchy has also become important in computer science (especially in compiler construction and automata theory).

His best-known work in phonology is The Sound Pattern of English, written with Morris Halle. This work is considered outdated (though it has recently been reprinted), and Chomsky does not publish on phonology anymore.

Criticisms of Chomsky's linguistics

While Chomsky's is the best known position in linguistics, his views have been criticized. Current linguistics literature boasts many important alternatives to Chomsky's specific models of syntax, though most owe much to Chomsky's work. Prominent among these are Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar and Lexical Functional Grammar. These proposals differ from Chomsky's principally in the types of structures assumed, and in the search for "representational" alternatives to step-by-step computation (called "derivation" in Chomskyan work). Another more radical alternative to Chomsky's position is that proposed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Their cognitive linguistics was developed out of Chomskyan linguistics but differs from it in significant ways. Specifically, they argue against the neo-Cartesian aspects of Chomsky's theories, and state that Chomsky fails to take account of the extent to which cognition is embodied.

Another strong source of criticism of Chomsky's linguistics comes from some researchers who study language acquisition. Many researchers in this field do not take a Chomskyan approach, and some, such as Michael Tomasello and Elizabeth Bates, have been very critical of the Chomskyan approach to language learning. Most of this criticism surrounds Chomskyan concepts of innateness . Controversy surrounds the extent and nature of evidence for the principles and parameters approach to language acquisition (which suggests that a significant portion of language learning involves setting a finite and predetermined set of parameters. Tomasello has argued that children's early utterances lack syntactic structure, and suggests that these results are far more compatible with connectionist or emergentist views of learning, which do not need to posit any preexisting structure. In reply, researchers such as Kenneth Wexler and Lila Gleitman disagree with the assertion that children's early utterances have no syntactic structure and argue that there is in fact evidence for the acquisition of syntactic parameters in early speech — for example, acquisition of the "verb second" property of German in the second year of life.

Some researchers in computational linguistics are also critical of Chomsky's approach to language learning. The principles and parameters framework for syntax acquisition does not include any element of statistical inference. Yet, most research in this field has had to rely on statistics to produce working models of syntactic comprehension. This has resulted in very little computational linguistics work being done within the principles and parameters framework.

In a much more radical way, philosophers in the tradition of Wittgenstein (such as Saul Kripke) argue that Chomskyans are fundamentally wrong about the role of rule following in human cognition. In a similar way philosophers in the phenomenological/existential/hermeneutic traditions oppose the abstract neo-rationalist aspects of Chomsky's thought. The contemporary philosopher who best represents this view is, perhaps, Hubert Dreyfus, also famous (or notorious) for his attacks on artificial intelligence.

Another criticism of Chomskyan analyses of specific languages is that some analyses force languages into an English-like mold, so that even VSO (verb subject object) languages are underlyingly SVO (subject verb object), just like English. However, not all Chomskyan analyses have assumed an underlying SVO order for all languages; the idea is relatively recent and controversial even among Chomskyan linguists.

Some critics hold that Chomsky's approaches to grammar overgenerate, that is, they account not only for the data observed, but also for non-occurring data. According to these critics, Chomskyan grammar is too powerful; another way of putting it is that they are insufficiently constrained.

Perhaps the strongest criticism of the Chomskyan approach is that it does not conform to the scientific method, in that the theories cannot be falsified. For example, Chomskyan approaches incorporate empty categories, deep (or underlying) structure, and movement. Like the Ego, Superego and Id of Freudian psychology, there are no data external to the theory to support their existence, and are inherently incapable of being proven or disproven.

Contributions to psychology

Chomsky's work in linguistics has had major implications for psychology and its fundamental direction in the 20th century. His theory of a universal grammar was a direct challenge to the established behaviorist theories of the time and had major consequences for understanding how language is learned by children and what, exactly, is the ability to interpret language. Many of the more basic principles of this theory (though not necessarily the stronger claims made by the principles and parameters approach described above) are now generally accepted.

In 1959, Chomsky published a long-circulated critique of B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior, a book in which the leader of the behaviorist psychologists that had dominated psychology in the first half of the 20th century argued that language was merely a "behavior." Skinner argued that language, like any other behavior — from a dog's salivation in anticipation of dinner, to a master pianist's performance — could be attributed to "training by reward and penalty over time." Language, according to Skinner, was completely learned by cues and conditioning from the world around the language-learner.

Chomsky's critique of Skinner's methodology and basic assumptions paved the way for a revolution against the behaviorist doctrine that had governed psychology. In his 1966 Cartesian Linguistics and subsequent works, Chomsky laid out an explanation of human language faculties that has become the model for investigation in other areas of psychology. Much of the present conception of how the mind works draws directly from ideas that found their first persuasive author of modern times in Chomsky.

There are three key ideas. First is that the mind is "cognitive", or that the mind actually contains mental states, beliefs, doubts, and so on. The former view had denied even this, arguing that there were only "stimulus-response" relationships like "If you ask me if I want X, I will say yes". By contrast, Chomsky argued that the common way of understanding the mind, as having things like beliefs and even unconscious mental states, had to be right. Second, he argued that large parts of what the adult mind can do are "innate". While no child is born automatically able to speak a language, all are born with a powerful language-learning ability which allows them to soak up several languages very quickly in their early years. Subsequent psychologists have extended this thesis far beyond language; the mind is usually no longer considered a "blank slate" at birth.

Finally, Chomsky made the concept of "modularity" a critical feature of the mind's cognitive architecture. The mind is composed of an array of interacting, specialized subsystems with limited flows of inter-communication. This model contrasts sharply with the old idea that any piece of information in the mind could be accessed by any other cognitive process (optical illusions, for example, cannot be "turned off" even when they are known to be illusions).

Opinion on criticism of science culture

Chomsky strongly disagrees with deconstructionist and postmodern criticisms of science:

I have spent a lot of my life working on questions such as these, using the only methods I know of; those condemned here as "science," "rationality," "logic," and so on. I therefore read the papers with some hope that they would help me "transcend" these limitations, or perhaps suggest an entirely different course. I'm afraid I was disappointed. Admittedly, that may be my own limitation. Quite regularly, "my eyes glaze over" when I read polysyllabic discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a fraction of the total word count. True, there are lots of other things I don't understand: the articles in the current issues of math and physics journals, for example. But there is a difference. In the latter case, I know how to get to understand them, and have done so, in cases of particular interest to me; and I also know that people in these fields can explain the contents to me at my level, so that I can gain what (partial) understanding I may want. In contrast, no one seems to be able to explain to me why the latest post-this-and-that is (for the most part) other than truism, error, or gibberish, and I do not know how to proceed.

Chomsky notes that critiques of "white male science" are much like the anti-Semitic and politically motivated attacks against "Jewish physics" used by the Nazis to denigrate research done by Jewish scientists during the Deutsche Physik movement:

In fact, the entire idea of "white male science" reminds me, I'm afraid, of "Jewish physics." Perhaps it is another inadequacy of mine, but when I read a scientific paper, I can't tell whether the author is white or is male. The same is true of discussion of work in class, the office, or somewhere else. I rather doubt that the non-white, non-male students, friends, and colleagues with whom I work would be much impressed with the doctrine that their thinking and understanding differ from "white male science" because of their "culture or gender and race." I suspect that "surprise" would not be quite the proper word for their reaction. [3]

Chomsky's influence in other fields

Chomskyan models have been used as a theoretical basis in several other fields. The Chomsky hierarchy is often taught in fundamental Computer Science courses as it confers insight into the various types of formal languages. A number of arguments in evolutionary psychology are derived from his research results.

The 1984 Nobel Prize laureate in Medicine and Physiology, Niels K. Jerne, used Chomsky's generative model to explain the human immune system, equating "components of a generative grammar ... with various features of protein structures". The title of Jerne's Stockholm Nobel lecture was "The Generative Grammar of the Immune System".

Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee who learned 125 signs in ASL, was named after Noam Chomsky.

Political views

Chomsky is one of the best known figures of left-wing American politics. He defines himself as being in the tradition of anarchism, a political philosophy he summarizes as challenging all forms of hierarchy and attempting to eliminate them if they are unjustified. He especially identifies with the labor-oriented anarcho-syndicalist current of anarchism. Unlike many anarchists, Chomsky does not always object to electoral politics; he has even endorsed candidates for office (almost always Democrats). He has described himself as a "fellow traveller" to the anarchist tradition as opposed to a pure anarchist to explain why he is sometimes willing to engage with the state.

Chomsky has also stated that he considers himself to be a conservative (Chomsky's Politics, pp. 188) presumably of the classical liberal variety. He has further defined himself as a Zionist; although, he notes that his definition of Zionism is considered by most to be anti-Zionism these days, the result of what he perceives to have been a shift (since the 1940s) in the meaning of Zionism (Chomsky Reader). In a C-Span Book TV interview, he stated:

I have always supported a Jewish ethnic homeland in Palestine. That is different from a Jewish state. There's a strong case to be made for an ethnic homeland, but as to whether there should be a Jewish state, or a Muslim state, or a Christian state, or a white state — that's entirely another matter.

Overall, Chomsky is not fond of traditional political titles and categories and prefers to let his views speak for themselves. His main modes of actions include writing magazine articles and books and making speaking engagements.

Chomsky on terrorism

In response to US declarations of a "war on terrorism" in 1981 and 2001, Chomsky has argued that the major sources of international terrorism are the world's major powers, led by the United States. He uses the definition of terrorism from a US Army manual, which describes it as "the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological." Thus terrorism is an objective description about certain actions, whoever their agents may be. As he notes in relation to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan:

Wanton killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against terrorism. (9-11, p. 76)

On the efficiency of terrorism:

One is the fact that terrorism works. It doesn't fail. It works. Violence usually works. That's world history. Secondly, it's a very serious analytic error to say, as is commonly done, that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Like other means of violence, it's primarily a weapon of the strong, overwhelmingly, in fact. It is held to be a weapon of the weak because the strong also control the doctrinal systems and their terror doesn't count as terror. Now that's close to universal. I can't think of a historical exception, even the worst mass murderers view the world that way. So take the Nazis. They weren't carrying out terror in occupied Europe. They were protecting the local population from the terrorisms of the partisans. And like other resistance movements, there was terrorism. The Nazis were carrying out counter terror.

As regards support for or condemnation of terrorism, Chomsky opines that terrorism (and violence/authority in general) are generally bad and can only be justified in those cases where it is clear that greater terrorism (or violence, or abuse of authority) is thus avoided. Chomsky considers that terrorism (as defined in the US Army manual) carried out by the US government does not pass this test, and condemnation of this terrorism is one of the main thrusts of his writings. He is also skeptical that other acts of terrorism pass the test, and has thus condemned such things as Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia, the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and similar acts.

Chomsky’s reaction to the September 11th, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington DC were widely criticized from people on different sides of the political spectrum. One critic was the author and journalist Christopher Hitchens. In an exchange between the two, Hitchens also said that Chomsky’s opposition to military action in Afghanistan coupled with his portrayal of the NATO military action in the Balkans as naked aggression and persecution of the Serbs as evidence that Chomsky was in fact soft on terrorism and fascism. He also criticized Chomsky’s comparison between Al Qaeda’s attacks and the 1998 bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical facility as an attempt of moral equivocation. [4]

Criticism of United States government

Chomsky has been a consistent and outspoken critic of the United States government, and criticism of the foreign policy of the United States has formed the basis of much of Chomsky's political writing. Chomsky focuses on the United States for two reasons. First, he believes that his work can have more impact when directed at his own government, and second, the United States is the world's sole remaining superpower and so, Chomsky believes, it acts in the same offensive ways as all superpowers. (However, Chomsky will criticize official enemies like the former Soviet Union in passing.)

One of the key things superpowers do, Chomsky argues, is try to organize the world around themselves using military and economic means. Thus, the US government bombed Vietnam in the Vietnam War and the larger Indochina conflict for daring to break away from the US economic system. He has also criticized US interference in Central and South American countries and military support of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

Chomsky has repeatedly emphasized his theory that much of the United States' foreign policy is based on the "threat of a good example" (which he says is another name for the domino theory). The "threat of a good example" is that a country could successfully develop independently from the US sphere of influence, thus presenting a model for other countries, including countries in which the United States has strong economic interests. This, Chomsky says, has prompted the United States to repeatedly intervene to quell "independent development, regardless of ideology" in regions of the world where it has no inherent economic or safety interests. In one of his most famous works, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Chomsky uses this particular theory as an explanation for the United States' interventions in Guatemala, Laos, Nicaragua, and Grenada.

Chomsky believes the US government's Cold War policies were not entirely shaped by anti-Soviet paranoia, but rather toward preserving the United States' ideological and economic dominance in the world. As he wrote in Uncle Sam: "What the US wants is 'stability,' meaning security for the upper classes and large foreign enterprises."

While he is almost uniformly critical of the United States government's foreign policy, Chomsky expresses his admiration for the freedom of expression enjoyed by US citizens in a number of interviews and books. According to Chomsky, other Western democracies such as France and Canada are less liberal in their defense of controversial speech than the US. However, he does not credit the American government for "giving" freedoms but rather the long history of mass movements in the United States that fought for them. He is also sharply critical of any government suppression of free speech.

Views on socialism

Chomsky is deeply opposed to what he calls "corporate state capitalism", practiced by the United States and its allies. He supports many of Mikhail Bakunin's anarchist (or "libertarian socialist") ideas, requiring economic freedom in addition to the "control of production by the workers themselves, not owners and managers who rule them and control all decisions." He refers to this as "real socialism," and describes Soviet-style socialism as similar in terms of "totalitarian controls" to U.S.-style capitalism, saying that each is a system based in types and levels of control, rather than in organization or efficiency. In defense of this thesis, Chomsky sometimes points out that Frederick Winslow Taylor's philosophy of scientific management was the organizational basis for the Soviet Union's massive industrialization movement as well as the American corporate model.

Chomsky has illuminated Bakunin's comments on the totalitarian state as predictions for the brutal Soviet police state that would come. He echoes Bakunin's statement that "...If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Czar himself," which expands upon the idea that the tyrannical Soviet state was simply a natural growth from the Bolshevik ideology of state control. He has also termed Soviet communism as "fake socialism," and said that contrary to what many in America claim, the collapse of the Soviet Union should be regarded "a small victory for socialism," not capitalism.

In his 1973 book For Reasons of State, Chomsky argues that instead of a capitalist system in which people are "wage slaves" or an authoritarian system in which decisions are made by a centralized committee, a society could function with no paid labor. He argues that a nation's populace should be free to pursue jobs of their choosing. People will be free to do as they like, and the work they voluntarily choose will be both "rewarding in itself" and "socially useful." Society would be run under a system of peaceful anarchism, with no state or government institutions. Work that was fundamentally distasteful to all, if any existed, would be distributed equally among everyone.

Though highly critical of the Soviet Union, during the 1960s and 1970s Chomsky was more positive in his assessment of Communist movements in Asia. In a 1968 essay, "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship", Chomsky praised aspects of the Chinese and Vietnam communist revolutions, noting "certain similar features" with the Spanish anarchist movement of the 1930s (which he greatly admires), while at the same time cautioning that "the scale of the Chinese Revolution is so great and reports in depth are so fragmentary that it would no doubt be foolhardy to attempt a general evaluation." In December 1967, while participating in a forum in New York, he said that in China "one finds many things that are really quite admirable", and that "China is an important example of a new society in which very interesting and positive things happened at the local level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step." [5] Similarly, in a speech given in Hanoi on 13 April 1970 and broadcast by Radio Hanoi on 14 April 1970, Chomsky spoke of his "admiration for the people of Vietnam who have been able to defend themselves against the ferocious attack, and at the same time take great strides forward toward the socialist society". [6]

In later years, however, Chomsky was much more critical of Communist China. In a 2000 essay, "Millennial Visions and Selective Vision" [7], he referred to China's "totalitarian regime" and described the starvation of 25–40 million people during the 1958–1961 famines caused by the Great Leap Forward — not widely known until after Mao's death — as a "terrible atrocity."

Mass media analysis

Another focus of Chomsky's political work has been an analysis of mainstream mass media (especially in the United States), its structures and constraints, and its perceived role in supporting big business and government interests.

Edward S. Herman and Chomsky's book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media explores this topic in depth, presenting their "propaganda model" of the news media with numerous detailed case studies demonstrating it. According to this propaganda model, more democratic societies like the US use subtle, non-violent means of control, unlike totalitarian systems, where physical force can readily be used to coerce the general population. In an often-quoted remark, Chomsky states that "propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state." (Media Control)

The model attempts to explain this perceived systemic bias of the mass media in terms of structural economic causes rather than a conspiracy of people. It argues the bias derives from five "filters" that all published news must "pass through" which combine to systematically distort news coverage.

  1. The first filter, ownership, notes that most major media outlets are owned by large corporations.
  2. The second, funding, notes that the outlets derive the majority of their funding from advertising, not readers. Thus, since they are profit-oriented businesses selling a product — readers and audiences — to other businesses (advertisers), the model would expect them to publish news which would reflect the desires and values of those businesses.
  3. In addition, the news media are dependent on government institutions and major businesses with strong biases as sources (the third filter) for much of their information.
  4. Flak, the fourth filter, refers to the various pressure groups which go after the media for supposed bias and so on when they go out of line.
  5. Norms, the fifth filter, refer to the common conceptions shared by those in the profession of journalism. (Note: in the original text, published in 1988, the fifth filter was "anticommunism". However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been broadened to allow for accounting of shifts in public opinion.)

The model describes how the media form a decentralized and non-conspiratorial but nonetheless very powerful propaganda system, that is able to mobilize an elite consensus, frame public debate within elite perspectives and at the same time give the appearance of democratic consent.

Chomsky and Herman test their model empirically by picking "paired examples" — pairs of events that were objectively similar except for the alignment of domestic elite interests. They use a number of such examples to attempt to show that in cases where an "official enemy" does something (like murder of a religious official), the press investigates thoroughly and devotes a great amount of coverage to the matter. But when the domestic government or an ally does the same thing (or worse), the press downplays the story.

They also test their model against the case that is often held up as the best example of a free and aggressively independent press, the media coverage of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. Even in this case, they argue that the press was behaving subserviently to elite interests.

Critics of Chomsky and Herman's mass media analysis, including author and historian Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution severely disagree with Chomsky and Herman's theories. They see the idea of "Manufacturing Consent" as nothing more than a recycling of the Marxist idea of "false consciousness" in where the masses have been so manipulated that they have neither the perspective or intellect to see beyond the propaganda and require superior intellects like Chomsky's to point out to them the real truth. Arch Puddington of the Hoover Institution also points out what he sees as virtually no empirical evidence in media coverage, specifically with Chomsky and Herman’s analysis of the mass media’s treatment of Cambodia and East Timor, to back the claims made in “Manufacturing Consent”.

Stephen J Morris, a critic of Chomsky’s position on Cambodia, evaluates Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model by reviewing their analysis of media coverage during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Chomsky and Herman's claim that the "flood of rage and anger directed against the Khmer Rouge" peaking in early 1977, was a concrete example of their "propaganda model" in actions. They argued that the media was selectively singling out Cambodia, an enemy of the United States, while under reporting human rights abuses in American allies like South Korea and Chile. Sharp points to a study performed by Jamie Frederic Metzl (Responses to Human Rights Abuses in Cambodia, 1975–80 ) analyzing major media reporting on Cambodia in which Metzl concludes that media coverage on Cambodia was more intense when there were events with an international angle, but had largely disappeared by 1977. Metzl also argues, contrary to Chomsky and Herman's claims, that of all the articles published regarding Cambodia, less than one in twenty dealt with the political violence being perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge.

Chomsky and the Middle East

Chomsky "grew the Jewish-Zionist cultural tradition" (Peck, p. 11). His father was one of the foremost scholars of the Hebrew language and taught at a religious school. Chomsky has also had a long fascination with and involvement in left-wing Zionist politics. As he described:

I was deeply interested in...Zionist affairs and activities — or what was then called 'Zionist,' though the same ideas and concerns are now called 'anti-Zionist.' I was interested in socialist, binationalist options for Palestine, and in the kibbutzim and the whole cooperative labor system that had developed in the Jewish settlement there (the Yishuv)...The vague ideas I had at the time [1947] were to go to Palestine, perhaps to a kibbutz, to try to become involved in efforts at Arab-Jewish cooperation within a socialist framework, opposed to the deeply antidemocratic concept of a Jewish state (a position that was considered well within the mainstream of Zionism). (Peck, p. 7)

He is highly critical of the policies of Israel towards the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. Among many articles and books, his book The Fateful Triangle is considered one of the premier texts among those who oppose Israeli treatment of Palestinians and American support for Israeli government policies. He has also condemned Israel's role in "guiding state terrorism" for selling weapons to apartheid South Africa and Latin American countries that he characterizes as U.S. puppet states, e.g. Guatemala in the 1980s, as well as US-backed right-wing paramilitaries (or, according to Chomsky, terrorists) such as the Nicaraguan Contras — see Iran-Contra Scandal. (What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Chapter 2.4) In addition, he has consistently condemned the United States for its military, financial and diplomatic support of successive Israeli governments. Chomsky characterizes Israel as a "mercenary state", "an Israeli Sparta", a militarized dependency, within the US system of hegemony. He has also fiercely criticized sectors of the American Jewish community for their role in obtaining unconditional US support, stating that "they should more properly be called 'supporters of the moral degeneration and ultimate destruction of Israel'" (Fateful Triangle, p.4). He says of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL):

The leading official monitor of anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, interprets anti-Semitism as unwillingness to conform to its requirements with regard to support for Israeli authorities.... The logic is straightforward: Anti-Semitism is opposition to the interests of Israel (as the ADL sees them).
The ADL has virtually abandoned its earlier role as a civil rights organization, becoming 'one of the main pillars' of Israeli propaganda in the U.S., as the Israeli press casually describes it, engaged in surveillance, blacklisting, compilation of FBI-style files circulated to adherents for the purpose of defamation, angry public responses to criticism of Israeli actions, and so on. These efforts, buttressed by insinuations of anti-Semitism or direct accusations, are intended to deflect or undermine opposition to Israeli policies, including Israel's refusal, with U.S. support, to move towards a general political settlement. [8]

See also: Middle East Politics, a speech given at Columbia University in 1999

Chomsky's influence as a political activist

Opposition to the Vietnam War

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" [9] in the New York Review of Books.

Allen J. Matusow , "The Vietnam War, the Liberals, and the Overthrow of LBJ" (1984) [10]:

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 [11]:

...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 [12], taking part in the 1967 march on the Pentagon, and spending a night in jail. [13] 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

Despite Chomsky's prominence during the Vietnam War, after the end of the war Chomsky became increasingly marginalized by the mainstream media in the US. Chomsky's supporters, who regard him as a dissident, often criticize his marginalization [14] [15]. For example, Milan Rai has suggested that the controversy over Chomsky's 1979 comments on the Khmer Rouge was manufactured as part of a propaganda campaign to discredit Chomsky.

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 increasing marginalization [16]:

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." [17]

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 [18]. In January 2004, the Times published a review of Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival by Samantha Power [19], and in February, the Times published an op-ed by Chomsky himself, criticizing the Israeli West Bank Barrier for taking Palestinian land [20].

Worldwide audience

Despite Chomsky's marginalization in the mainstream US media, Chomsky is one of the most globally famous figures of the left, especially among academics and university students, and frequently travels across the United States, Europe, and the Third World. He has a very large following of supporters worldwide as well as a dense speaking schedule, drawing large crowds wherever he goes. He is often booked up to two years in advance. He was one of the main speakers at the 2002 World Social Forum. He is interviewed at length in alternative media [21] Many of his books are bestsellers, including 9-11. [22]

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.'" [23]

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 took 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. [24] Many anti-globalization and anti-war activists regard Chomsky as an inspiration.

Chomsky is widely read outside the US. 9-11 was published in 26 countries and translated into 23 foreign languages [25]; it was a bestseller in at least five countries, including Canada and Japan [26]. Outside the US, the mainstream media gives Chomsky's views considerable coverage. In the UK, for example, he appears frequently on the BBC. [27]

Criticism of Chomsky's political views

Chomsky's political views are highly controversial, and have provoked criticism and debate across the political spectrum. The specific criticisms discussed below are presented in roughly chronological order.

Distortion of truth, misuse of evidence

The most common criticism of Chomsky's writings is that he distorts the truth and misuses evidence.

A response to Chomsky's essay the Responsibility of Intellectuals came from E. B. Murray [28], criticizing Chomsky's alleged misuse of evidence to downplay Chinese aggressiveness, specifically with respect to the 1950 occupation of Tibet, Chinese infiltration into North Thailand, and Chinese involvement in the Malayan insurrection. Chomsky in turn responded to Murray and other critics. [29].

In a 1970 exchange of letters [30], Samuel P. Huntington accused Chomsky of misrepresenting his views on Vietnam.

Mr. Chomsky writes as follows:
Writing in Foreign Affairs, he [Huntington] explains that the Viet Cong is "a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist." The conclusion is obvious, and he does not shrink from it. We can ensure that the constituency ceases to exist by "direct application of mechanical and conventional power…on such a massive scale as to produce a massive migration from countryside to city…."
It would be difficult to conceive of a more blatantly dishonest instance of picking words out of context so as to give them a meaning directly opposite to that which the author stated. For the benefit of your readers, here is the "obvious conclusion" which I drew from my statement about the Viet Cong:
... the Viet Cong will remain a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist. Peace in the immediate future must hence be based on accommodation.
By omitting my next sentence—"Peace in the immediate future must hence be based on accommodation"—and linking my statement about the Viet Cong to two other phrases which appear earlier in the article, Mr. Chomsky completely reversed my argument.

With respect to this specific accusation, Chomsky replied as follows:

... I did not say that he "favored" this answer but only that he "outlined" it, "explained" it, and "does not shrink from it," all of which is literally true.

Attribution of motives without evidence

In a 1969 exchange of letters, Stanley Hoffmann, a fellow opponent of the Vietnam War, described the nature of his disagreement with Chomsky [31]:

We do disagree on the subject of American objectives in Vietnam. Professor Chomsky believes that they were wicked; I do not. I believe that they were, in a way, far worse; for often the greatest threat to moderation and peace, and certainly the most insidious, comes from objectives that are couched in terms of fine principles in which the policy-maker fervently believes, yet that turn out to have no relation to political realities and can therefore be applied only by tortuous or brutal methods which broaden ad infinitum the gap between motives and effects. ...
I detect in Professor Chomsky's approach, in his uncomplicated attribution of evil objectives to his foes, in his fondness for abstract principles, in his moral impatience, the mirror image of the very features that both he and I dislike in American foreign policy. To me sanity does not consist of replying to a crusade with an anti-crusade. As scholars and as citizens, we must require and provide discriminating and disciplined reasoning on behalf of our values.

In 1989, historian Carolyn Eisenberg noted that Chomsky's description of US foreign policy during the early Cold War as motivated by economics rather than fear of the Soviet Union did not agree with the documentary evidence. In the 1950 document NSC 68 [32], for example, which assessed the world crisis and made recommendations for US foreign policy, it is clear that US officials were sincere in their belief that the Soviet Union was a threat. Chomsky replied that US officials only believed that the Soviet Union was a threat because it was convenient for them to do so. [33] (See Cognitive dissonance.)

It was largely due to his perception of this tendency in Chomsky that Paul Robinson declared that Chomsky presents a "maddeningly simple-minded" view of the world.


Much of the early accounts of Khmer Rouge atrocities was documented by François Ponchaud , in his book Cambodia Year Zero published in 1977. After several favorable reviews in the US media, Chomsky began to critically write about what he saw as the media's slanted coverage of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. Chomsky and Edward Herman wrote Distortions at Fourth Hand for the Nation Magazine in 1977 in an attempt to criticize the negative reports coming from Ponchaud.

Distortions at Fourth Hand is criticized for relying heavily on Khmer Rouge sources and , by George Hildebrand and Gareth Porter . Porter and Hildebrand's work is notable for its largely uncritical and sympathetic treatment of the Khmer Rouge, allegedly including defense of the evacuation of Phnom Penn and the use of peasants as agricultural beasts of burden. Porter distanced himself from Starvation and Revolution in 1978 when in an interview with CBS he lamented the atrocities being committed in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.

Describing the media coverage of Southeast Asia as a "farce", Chomsky and Herman contrasted the grim reports on Vietnam by New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield with the more favorable comments of the members of a handful of non-governmental groups. This, Chomsky and Herman asserted, was evidence of a campaign of disinformation.

In After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology, Chomsky and Herman, claim that the American media used unsubstantiated refugee testimonies and distorted sources with regard to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge to serve US government propaganda purposes in the wake of the Vietnam War. He also denied that the Cambodian violence was inspired by Marxist ideology, maintaining that it was "the direct and understandable response to the violence of the imperial system".

Chomsky argued that he had acknowledged the atrocities. In Manufacturing Consent (also co written with Ed Herman), Chomsky responds:

As we also noted from the first paragraph of our earlier review of this material [i.e. After the Cataclysm]..."when the facts are in, it may turn out that the more extreme condemnations [of the Khmer Rouge] are in fact correct", although if so, "it will in no way alter the conclusions we have reached on the central questions addressed here: how the available facts were selected, modified, or sometimes invented to create a certain image offered to the general population. The answer to this question seems clear, and it is unaffected by whatever may yet be discovered about Cambodia in the future."...

Christopher Hitchens, who once defended Chomsky against charges of being a Pol Pot apologist in a 1985 article titled The Chorus and the Cassandra, has since changed his mind on the subject. He believes that Chomsky and others on the far left have become so determined to resist American domination that they are willing to overlook the true nature of America's enemies.

The Faurisson affair

Main article: Faurisson affair

In 1979, Robert Faurisson published a book which claimed the gas chambers at Auschwitz did not exist. Faurisson's political views are not clear ("I am nothing politically", he has said), but unlike most Holocaust-deniers he is not seen as a neo-Nazi since he speaks of the "heroic insurrection of the Warsaw [Jewish] ghetto" and praises those who "fought courageously against Nazism" in "the right cause". His claims were interpreted as defense of Nazism, and he was suspended from teaching by his university.

He was then convicted of defamation and subjected to a fine and prison sentence. Chomsky was one of many who signed a petition to give Faurisson "free exercise of his legal rights" in line with the concept of free expression regardless of the views expressed. Chomsky then wrote an essay called "Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression" explaining the importance of freedom of speech. He also notes that Faurisson does not appear to be a Nazi anyway, and that not believing in the Holocaust is not in itself proof of anti-Semitism (he later elaborated: "[for example,] if a person ignorant of modern history were told of the Holocaust and refused to believe that humans are capable of such monstrous acts, we would not conclude that he is an anti-Semite"). Faurisson subsequently used this essay, without asking Chomsky , as a preface to his Mémoire en défense, a book in which he defends himself.

Chomsky was attacked by various individuals and groups for the position he took: he was accused of supporting Faurisson's ideas and not just his right to express them. His impression of Faurisson as "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort" was taken to be a cover-up for Faurisson's anti-Semitism. The wording of the petition he signed was criticized for speaking of Faurisson's research and findings in uncritical terms. He was accused of guilt by association regarding his personal friendship with Serge Thion (who has links with Holocaust-deniers). He was accused of writing his essay on freedom of speech specifically as a preface to Mémoire en défense. In another essay, "His Right to Say It", Chomsky clarifies that Faurisson's views are contrary to his own and presents his version of the affair. Chomsky was also criticized after Noontide Press , the publishing arm of the holocaust denying Institute for Historical Review, published The Fateful Triangle — a move that saved the beleaguered publisher and institute.

Chomsky's statement that "I see no anti-semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers or even denial of the Holocaust." has resulted in his critics describing him as sympathetic to holocaust denial. Werner Cohn 's book "Partners in Hate: Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers" (ISBN 0964589702) [34] being a prime example. Chomsky has replied once to Werner Cohn's allegations, calling him "a pathological liar" [35].


In recent years, Chomsky has often been accused of being anti-American. His critics accuse him of having reflexive hostility to the United States by exaggerating its alleged crimes and iniquity, while defending its official enemies against criticism.

Paul Krugman, in a 1999 exchange with Kathleen Sullivan, describes Chomsky as epitomizing "the left-wing view that all bad things are the result of Western intervention" [36].

Adrian Hastings , reviewing The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo in 2001, writes, "Chomsky just has not entered deeply into what he is talking about and he is not greatly interested in anything except digging out material for anti-American invective." [37]

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, when Chomsky's immediate response was to describe the attacks as "major atrocities" that needed no further discussion, and move straight on to talk about Bill Clinton's bombing of al-Shifa, the foolishness of missile defense, and Israel's using American arms against the Palestinians. [38], even liberals and fellow leftists criticized him for his alleged lack of sympathy for fellow Americans who were killed.

In an opinion piece published in The Guardian in September 2001, Todd Gitlin referred to "[s]neering critics like Noam Chomsky, who condemn the executioners of thousands only in passing". [39]

In a September 2002 article in The Nation discussing the American left's reaction to the September 11 attacks [40], Adam Shatz described Chomsky's reaction:

The MIT linguist and prolific essayist Noam Chomsky has emerged as a favorite target of those keen on exposing the left's anti-Americanism. Although Chomsky denounced the attacks, emphasizing that "nothing can justify such crimes," he seemed irritable in the interviews he gave just after September 11, as if he couldn't quite connect to the emotional reality of American suffering. He wasted little time on the attacks themselves before launching into a wooden recitation of atrocities carried out by the American government and its allies. ...
Much of what Chomsky said—his argument that the United States should treat the attacks as a crime, rather than an act of war, and that it should apprehend the terrorists and bring them before an international court rather than declare war on Afghanistan—was echoed by more centrist thinkers, including the British military historian Michael Howard in Foreign Affairs and Stanley Hoffmann in The New York Review of Books. The problem was not so much Chomsky's opposition to US retaliation as the weirdly dispassionate tone of his reaction to the carnage at Ground Zero, but, as Todd Gitlin points out, "in an interview undertaken just after September 11, the tone was the position."
"There's a humbling insight into the US pretension of occupying the moral high ground in Chomsky's work," international legal scholar and Nation editorial board member Richard Falk reflects. "Part of what he's saying is true. Objectively viewed, the United States isn't the victim but in many contexts, including its response to terrorism, the perpetrator." But, adds Falk, he's "so preoccupied with the evils of US imperialism that it completely occupies all the political and moral space, and therefore it's not possible for him to acknowledge that even without intending to do so, some US military interventions may actually have a beneficial effect."

Samantha Power , in an otherwise sympathetic review of Hegemony or Survival [41] (New York Times Book Review, January 2004), writes:

For Chomsky, the world is divided into oppressor and oppressed. America, the prime oppressor, can do no right, while the sins of those categorized as oppressed receive scant mention. Because he deems American foreign policy inherently violent and expansionist, he is unconcerned with the motives behind particular policies, or the ethics of particular individuals in government. And since he considers the United States the leading terrorist state, little distinguishes American air strikes in Serbia undertaken at night with high-precision weaponry from World Trade Center attacks timed to maximize the number of office workers who have just sat down with their morning coffee.

In a talk given in 1997, Chomsky ridiculed the concept of "anti-Americanism" as a symptom of totalitarian thinking:

It's the kind of term you only find in totalitarian societies, as far as I know. So like in the Soviet Union, anti-Sovietism was considered the gravest of all crimes. ...
But try, say, publishing a book on anti-Italianism and see what happens on the streets on Rome or Milan, people won't even bother laughing, it's a ludicrous idea. The idea of Italianism or, you know, Norwayism or something like that would just be objects of ridicule in societies that have some kind of residue of a democratic culture inside people's heads, I don't mean in the formal systems. But in totalitarian societies it is used and as far as I know the United States is the only free society that has such a concept. [42] (audio [43])


On 20 August 1998, following the al-Qaeda bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum was destroyed in cruise missile strikes launched by the United States, with the stated justification that there was evidence the factory had been used to manufacture chemical weapons for al-Qaeda. In Summer 2001, Werner Daum, the former German ambassador, wrote an article [44] in which he stated that the attack may have caused "several tens of thousands" of deaths of Sudanese civilians. The regional director of the Near East Foundation , who has direct field experience in the Sudan, published in the Boston Globe another article with the same estimate. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the attack would worsen the "terrible crisis" gripping Sudan [45]. Noam Chomsky has quoted these sources more than once when making comparisons between these attacks and the attacks on New York on 11th September 2001, arguing (in a reductio ad absurdum) that if the US had the right to bomb Afghanistan in retaliation for the latter attack, then "Sudan [would have] every right to carry out massive terror [against America] in retaliation" for the attack in Khartoum.

On 16 January 2002, Suzy Hansen of telephoned Chomsky and conducted an interview [46] in which he said, "That one bombing, according to the estimates made by the German Embassy in Sudan and Human Rights Watch, probably led to tens of thousands of deaths", thus implying that Human Rights Watch had put a number on it. This led to Carroll Bogert, communications director of Human Rights Watch, writing to to deny they had made such an estimate.

In subsequent clarifications made in an article on [47] and elsewhere, Chomsky has asserted that any ambiguity in a "telephone interview [which] does not have quotes, details or footnotes" is easily cleared up by "turn[ing] to what is in print".

Criticisms by Horowitz and Hitchens

Conservative author David Horowitz is one of Chomsky's more vocal critics. He has described Chomsky as the "Ayatollah of Anti-American Hate" and "the most treacherous intellect in America" claiming Chomsky has "one message alone: America is the Great Satan" [48]. Horowitz claims "It would be easy to demonstrate how on every page of every book and in every statement that Chomsky has written the facts are twisted".

Peter Collier and David Horowitz compiled a set of critical essays in 2004, called The Anti-Chomsky Reader that analyze some of Chomsky's more popular work. The Anti-Chomsky Reader argues that many of the sources in Chomsky's works are himself. Thomas Nichols' essay Chomsky And The Cold War discusses Chomsky's attitude towards anti-communists after the Soviet Union fell apart. There is also extensive criticism of Chomsky's claim that the US invasion of Afghanistan would result in millions of deaths, labeled by some critics as the "Silent Genocide" claim.

Chomsky has not responded in detail to Horowitz's allegations, and is dismissive of Horowitz himself.

Following the September 11 attacks, Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of the threat of radical Islam (what Hitchens termed "Islamic Fascism") and of the proper response to it. On September 24 and October 8, 2001, Hitchens criticized Chomsky in The Nation, leading to a series of rebuttals and counter-rebuttals ([49][50][51][52]). Approximately a year after the September 11 attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation, in part, he said, because he believed its editors, its readers, and people such as Chomsky considered John Ashcroft to be a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden[53].

Charges of anti-Semitism

Although a Jew and a self-described "Zionist" (though he notes his definition of Zionism is usually considered anti-Zionism today), Chomsky is highly critical of the behavior of the state of Israel. For these views, he has been accused of being an anti-Semite.

In 2002, the president of Harvard University Lawrence Summers drew attention by claiming that the "Noam Chomsky-led campaign" to have universities divest from companies with Israeli holdings is "anti-Semitic in effect, if not in intention". In fact, Chomsky opposes the boycott campaign, though he "understand[s] and sympathize[s] with the feelings behind [the] proposal" [54].

The viewpoints that Chomsky expressed on such matters have occasionally caused his political adversaries to accuse him of supporting "left-wing fascism".

Criticism from pro-Palestinian activists

Although he routinely condemns the Israeli government's actions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Chomsky has recently come under fire from pro-Palestinian activists for his advocacy of the two-state plan, as described by the Geneva Accord. Chomsky responds to this by stating that proposals without significant international backing are not realistic goals:

I will keep here to advocacy in the serious sense: accompanied by some kind of feasible program of action, free from delusions about “acting on principle” without regard to “realism” — that is, without regard for the fate of suffering people. (ibid.)

Criticism from anarchists

Chomsky is generally respected among anarchists, but has occasionally come under criticism for being too reformist or for articulating only a general left-wing, humanitarian analysis of imperialism instead of a full anarchist critique. The anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan, for example, expresses such views, and goes as far as to say that "[t]he real answer, painfully obvious, is that he is not an anarchist at all" [55]. Zerzan also criticizes Chomsky's focus on US foreign policy, not for being "anti-American" (Zerzan notes disapprovingly that Chomsky is motivated by his duty as an American citizen), but for representing a certain conservative "narrowness" not befitting an anarchist.

His support for John Kerry was controversial amongst anarchists, who are critical of the Democratic Party and electoral politics more generally. Chomsky was not enthusiastically pro-Kerry, but rather advocated voting for him merely to oust George W. Bush; at one point Chomsky referred to Kerry as "Bush-lite."



See a full bibliography on Chomsky's MIT homepage [56].

  • Chomsky, Noam, Morris Halle, and Fred Lukoff (1956). "On accent and juncture in English." In For Roman Jakobson. The Hague: Mouton
  • Chomsky (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton. Reprint. Berlin and New York (1985).
  • Chomsky (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
  • Chomsky (1965). Cartesian Linguistics. New York: Harper and Row. Reprint. Cartesian Linguistics. A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1986.
  • Chomsky, Noam, and Morris Halle (1968). The Sound Pattern of English. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Chomsky (1981). Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures. Holland: Foris Publications. Reprint. 7th Edition. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993.
  • Chomsky (1986). Barriers. Linguistic Inquiry Monograph Thirteen. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press.
  • Chomsky, Noam (1995). The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Political works

Some of the books are available for viewing online [57].

  • Chomsky (1969). American Power and the New Mandarins. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky (1970). At War with Asia. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky (1971). Problems of Knowledge and Freedom: The Russell Lectures. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky (1973). For Reasons of State. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky & Herman, Edward (1973). CENSORED FULL TEXT Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda. Andover, MA: Warner Modular. Module no. 57.
  • Chomsky (1974). Peace in the Middle East: Reflections on Justice and Nationhood. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky (1979). Language and Responsibility. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky & Herman, Edward (1979). Political Economy of Human Rights (two volumes). Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0896080900 and ISBN 0896081001
  • Otero, C.P. (Ed.) (1981, 2003). Radical Priorities. Montréal: Black Rose; Stirling, Scotland: AK Press.
  • Chomsky (1982). Towards a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Got There. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky (1983, 1999). The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0896086011
  • Chomsky (1985). Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace. Boston: South End Press.
  • Chomsky (1986). Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism and the Real World. New York: Claremont Research and Publications.
  • Chomsky (1987). On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures. Boston: South End Press.
  • Peck, James (Ed.) (1987). Chomsky Reader ISBN 0394751736
  • Chomsky (1988). The Culture of Terrorism. Boston: South End Press.
  • Chomsky & Herman, Edward (1988, 2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon.
  • Chomsky (1989). Necessary Illusions. Boston: South End Press.
  • Chomsky (1989). Language and Politics. Montréal: Black Rose.
  • Chomsky (1991). Terrorizing the Neighborhood: American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era. Stirling, Scotland: AK Press.
  • Chomsky (1992). Deterring Democracy. New York: Hill and Wang.
  • Chomsky (1992). Chronicles of Dissent. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
  • Chomsky (1992). What Uncle Sam Really Wants. Berkeley: Odonian Press.
  • Chomsky (1993). Year 501: The Conquest Continues. Boston: South End Press.
  • Chomsky (1993). Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture. Boston: South End Press.
  • Chomsky (1993). Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
  • Chomsky (1993). The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many. Berkeley: Odonian Press.
  • Chomsky (1994). Keeping the Rabble in Line. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
  • Chomsky (1994). World Orders Old and New. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Chomsky (1996). Class Warfare. Pluto Press.
  • Chomsky (1999). Profit Over People. Seven Stories Press.
  • Chomsky (2000). Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs. Cambridge: South End Press.
  • Chomsky (2001). 9-11. Seven Stories Press.
  • Mitchell, Peter & Schoeffel, John (Ed.) (2002). Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky.
  • Chomsky (2003). Hegemony or Survival. Metropolitan Books. (Part of the American Empire Project .)

About Chomsky

  • Rai, Milan (1995). Chomsky's Politics
  • Barsky, Robert (1997). Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, MIT Press
  • Horowitz, David, et al. (2004). The Anti-Chomsky Reader


See also

External links

Select speeches and interviews

Select articles

Articles about Chomsky

Criticism of Chomsky




Faurisson affair

Israel and Palestine



From the right

From Marxists

Conspiracy theories


Last updated: 08-01-2005 13:41:26
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