The dean of left-wing American public intellectuals surveys the current scene and despairs.
Ever wonder what it must be like to read a single edition of the New York Times the way Chomsky (Emeritus, Linguistics and Philosophy/MIT; What Kind of Creatures Are We?, 2015, etc.) reads it? Perhaps the most intriguing chapter here devotes itself to just this exercise, and it usefully reveals his cast of mind. For Chomsky, the Times is a kind of house organ, valuable for many things but more useful as a guide to the conventional wisdom of those who rule: the United States, the G-7, the global trade organizations and financial institutions they control, multinational conglomerates, retail and media empires. As he considers the news of the day and the responsibility of privileged intellectuals, Chomsky positions himself not with his peers in service to the state but rather with those committed to a higher set of values, “the causes of freedom, justice, mercy, and peace.” For decades, the author has written from this perspective—hardly a chapter passes without him citing a previous work of his own—and by now, both critics (infuriated) and admirers (charmed) are familiar with his analysis. Conversationally, with numerous historical references and his trademark mix of wit, sarcasm, invective, insight, and wrongheadedness, he identifies two principal threats, nuclear war and global warming, isolates for particular attention three geographic areas of widespread unrest and violence—Eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Islamic world—and drubs our rulers for dismissing public opinion, ignoring the powerless, and placing their own interests and security over the people’s welfare. No surprise that the Republican Party and a string of its presidents come in for a pounding, but Chomsky has almost as harsh things to say about presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama and their ministers, and liberal commentators like Paul Krugman.
Chomsky continues to hope that demands for “independence, self-respect, and personal dignity” may reappear “when awakened by circumstances and militant activism,” but he doesn’t appear to be holding his breath.