The well-known left-wing intellectual holds forth on global developments of the past five years, from Edward Snowden’s disclosures on government surveillance to Donald Trump’s efforts to “make America great again.”
At age 88, Chomsky (Emeritus, Linguistics and Philosophy/MIT; Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, 2017, etc.) retains his provocative edge in this latest collection of conversations with Boulder-based broadcaster Barsamian (Alternative Radio), who first interviewed the dissenter more than 30 years ago. While occasionally offering personal glimpses—as when recalling his days among émigrés in the secondhand bookshops of New York in the 1930s and ’40s—Chomsky homes in on the “questionable” assumptions of American society, which “ought to be challenged and interrogated.” There are seemingly countless examples: “criminalization of drugs has been a societal disaster”; “corporations are not benevolent institutions”; “politicians are tapping elements of irrationality that are almost beyond description.” In a dozen interviews, the perennial provocateur discusses state surveillance, the Islamic State group, income inequality, fearmongering, the Middle East, voting, and the importance of organizing to effect change. “If a technology is available,” he writes, “a system of power is going to make use of it.” No matter the topic, he consistently manages to view contemporary events in historical context. As in his many earlier books (Power Systems, 2013, etc.), Barsamian gives us “Chomsky lite,” a taste of the activist’s thinking that undoubtedly leads to deeper reading. The interviewer’s evident knowledge of Chomsky and the issues allows him to steer the conversations in intriguing ways. Amid rising threats to democracy, Chomsky points to his source of hope: “people who are dedicated, who are struggling, often against really tremendous odds—not like us—to create decent spaces for existence and a better world.”
Well-informed salvos to please or enrage, depending on one’s politics.