Criticism of Noam Chomsky

Criticism of Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author and lecturer. Chomsky is widely known for his critique of U.S. foreign policy, beginning with his critique of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Much of the criticism of Chomsky revolves around his political views and he describes himself as a libertarian socialist, a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism. His status as a key intellectual figure within the left wing of American politics has resulted in a great deal of criticism from all across the political spectrum and has led to a number of notable controversies.

Criticisms of linguistic writings

Linguist Larry Trask said in an interview with the Guardian [ [ A way with words | Science | The Guardian ] ] that although Chomsky's basic theory seems indisputable, i.e. the human faculty for language is the result of evolved and innate skills, he rejects the specific, controversial theories such as "Universal Grammar". "I deeply regret the fact that [UG] attracts so much attention outside linguistics, so much so that many non-linguists believe that Chomskyan theory simply is linguistics, that this is what linguistics has to offer, and that UG is now an established piece of truth, beyond criticism or discussion. The truth is entirely otherwise."

Criticism also comes from generative semanticists, such as Paul Postal and Robert D. Levine, who engaged in heated debates with Chomskyans spanning the 1960s and the 1970s, now colloquially referred to as the Linguistics Wars. Writing in "The Anti-Chomsky Reader", Postal and Levine argue that "Much of the lavish praise heaped on his work is, we believe, driven by uncritical acceptance (often by nonlinguists) of claims and promises made during the early years of his academic activity; the claims have by now largely proved wrong or without real content, and the promises have gone unfilled."Robert D. Levine and Paul M. Postal. A Corrupted Linguistics. Pages 203-32 In The Anti-Chomsky Reader (2004) Peter Collier and David Horowitz, editors. Encounter Books.] They also claim to "document four different instances of the several types of intellectual misconduct present in [Chomsky's] writing on linguistics; intentional deception; pretending for decades that a principle already shown to be false was still a valid linguistic universal; adopting other linguistics' research proposals without credit; and falsely denigrating other sciences to make his own work seem less inadequate." They write that Chomsky in his 1957 work "Syntactic Structures" "knowingly published a false assertion" regarding his passive transformation rule, despite himself giving counter-examples two years earlier. They claim that Chomsky continued to cite his "A-over-A principle" despite knowing that it had been falsified in 1967 by his student John R. Ross. They claim that Chomsky tends to adopt proposals that he had earlier rejected without attribution or credit, citing the Minimalist elimination of D-Structures in this connection. However, it is important to note that unlike physics, it is anything but straightforward to 'falsify' grammatical theories in linguistics.

Marvin Minsky, co-founder of the MIT AI Lab, has criticized Chomsky for his near-exclusive emphasis on syntax: 'Chomsky seems almost entirely concerned with the formal syntax of sentences, to the nearly total exclusion of how words are actually used to represent and communicate ideas from one person to another. He thus ignores any models indicating that syntax is only an accessory to language. For example, no one has any trouble in understanding the story implied by the three-word utterance "thief, careless, prison," although it uses no syntax at all.' [ [ The Third Culture - Chapter 9 ] ] . In an interview, he further explains: 'Prof Noam Chomsky is to be faulted why we don’t have good machine translation programs. He is so brilliant and his theory of generational grammar is so good, that for 40 years it has been used by everyone in the field, shifting the focus from semantics to syntax.' [ [ Marvin Minsky: Interview ] ]

Another criticism comes from computational linguist Karen Sparck Jones who asserts that Chomsky's specific grammatical theories (Transformational Grammar, Government-Binding, Principles and Parameters and Minimalism) are difficult, if not impossible to implement computationally, although ' [computational linguists] are all Chomskyans' in the very broad sense of working within a constituent structure formalism [ [ MIT Press Journals - Computational Linguistics - First Page ] ] .

Criticisms of political writings

President Truman

In a long letter to the December 1969 issue of Commentary, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. accused Chomsky of inventing quotations from a speech by President Harry S Truman:

In American Power and the New Mandarins Dr. Chomsky twice (pp. 268, 319) printed a series of what he represented as direct quotations from what he called this "famous and important" speech: "All freedom is dependent on freedom of enterprise.... The whole world should adopt the American system.... The American system can survive in America only if it becomes a world system." The purpose of these Truman "quotations" was to prove that the United States had long been "using its awesome resources of violence and devastation to impose its passionately held ideology and its approved form of social organization on large areas of the world" (p. 318). Of course President Truman never spoke the words thus attributed to him, and reviewers quickly caught Dr. Chomsky out in his scholarly fakery.
Schlesinger quoted Truman's actual words:
There is one thing that Americans value even more than peace. It is freedom. Freedom of worship - freedom of speech - freedom of enterprise. It must be true that the first two of these freedoms are related to the third. For, throughout history, freedom of worship and freedom of speech have been most frequently enjoyed in those societies that have accorded a considerable measure of freedom to individual enterprise. Freedom has flourished where power has been dispersed. It has languished where power has been too highly centralized. So our devotion to freedom of enterprise, in the United States, has deeper roots than a desire to protect the profits of ownership.
Schlesinger wrote of Chomsky: "He begins as a preacher to the world and ends as an intellectual crook."

In his reply to Schlesinger's criticism, published in the February 1970 issue of "Commentary", Chomsky admitted that some of the quotations he had attributed to Truman were in fact paraphrases of Truman's speech from secondary sources. He stated that this was an innocent mistake and promised to correct the quotations in future printings of his book. He argued that:

The remarks at issue are not theorems deduced from Truman's text; rather, they are efforts to formulate concisely the essence of his remarks. By any reasonable standards, their accuracy seems to me undeniable.
The exchange continued in the March, May and June 1970 issues of Commentary, with Schlesinger having the last word.

Interviewed in the book "Chronicles of Dissent", Chomsky commented:

In the first book that I wrote, American Power and the New Mandarins, in the first edition there’s a slight error, namely that I attributed a quote to Truman which was in fact a very close paraphrase, almost verbatim paraphrase of what he said in a secondary source. I got a note mixed up and instead of citing the secondary source I cited Truman. It was corrected within about two months, in the second printing. There isn’t a scholarly monograph that doesn’t have a similar error somewhere. There have been at least a dozen articles, if not more, using this to denounce me, to prove that you can’t believe anything that’s said by anybody on the left, etc. These are very desperate people. [cite news|title=Chronicles of Dissent |author=Noam Chomsky |date=1992 |publisher=Common Courage Press |pages=350-351]

Vietnam War

An example can be found in a 1970 exchange of letters, between Chomsky and Samuel P. Huntington, who accused Chomsky of misrepresenting his views on Vietnam, writing, "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." One accusation was that Chomsky, by selectively omitting material and putting together quotes out of context, created the impression that Huntington advocated demolishing the Vietnamese society, when in fact Huntington had stated that peace would require compromise and accommodation on both sides.cite journal
first =Noam
last =Chomsky
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year =1970
month =January 1
title =After Pinkville
journal =New York Review of Books
volume = 13
issue = 12
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first =Samuel P.
last =Huntington
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month =February 26
title =A Frustrating Task
journal =New York Review of Books
volume =14
issue = 4
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title =A Frustrating Task Noam Chomsky debates with Samuel Huntington
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Keith Windschuttle writes in the New Criterion that "Chomsky was well aware of the degree of violence that communist regimes had routinely directed at the people of their own countries. At the 1967 New York forum he acknowledged both 'the mass slaughter of landlords in China' and 'the slaughter of landlords in North Vietnam' that had taken place once the communists came to power. His main objective, however, was to provide a rationalization for this violence, especially that of the National Liberation Front then trying to take control of South Vietnam. Chomsky revealed he was no pacifist.

I don’t accept the view that we can just condemn the NLF terror, period, because it was so horrible. I think we really have to ask questions of comparative costs, ugly as that may sound. And if we are going to take a moral position on this—and I think we should—we have to ask both what the consequences were of using terror and not using terror. If it were true that the consequences of not using terror would be that the peasantry in Vietnam would continue to live in the state of the peasantry of the Philippines, then I think the use of terror would be justified."

Windschuttle writes that in 2001, the average GDP per head in the Philippines was $4000. At the same time, twenty-five years of revolution in Vietnam had produced a figure of only half as much, a mere $2100. [] However, Chomsky has reasoned that the massive destruction wrought by U.S. bombing seriously set back social and economic development in Vietnam for years: "The devastation that the United States left as its legacy has been quickly removed from consciousness here, and indeed, was little appreciated at the time... Much of the land is a moonscape, where people live on the edge of famine with rice rations lower than Bangladesh." [Noam Chomsky: "The United States and Indochina: Far from an Aberration," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars21.2-4 (1989): 83]

In Prospect Magazine, Oliver Kamm attacked Chomsky's political writings for, among other things, "judgements that have the veneer of scholarship and reason yet verge on the pathological." He wrote that in his analysis of the Vietnam War in "American Power and the New Mandarins", Chomsky "does liken America's conduct to that of Nazi Germany."Oliver Kamm: [ Against Chomsky] , Prospect Magazine, November 2005.] Chomsky responded to Kamm's accusations [Noam Chomsky: [ We are All Complicit] Prospect Magazine, January 2006] and Kamm replied in the letters page. [ [ Kamm replies to Chomsky] , Prospect Magazine, February 2006]


Chomsky has been criticized for opinions voiced in a number of articles and books in which he discusses the political situation in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 and the contemporary media response in the US during that period.

In 1977 Chomsky, with Edward S. Herman, published a review article, "Distortions at Fourth Hand." Examining reports of mass atrocities committed by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, they argued that there were "sharply conflicting assessments" of events in Cambodia and that the American media were selective in publishing the most anti-communist accounts. The media were creating "a seriously distorted version of the evidence available, emphasizing alleged Khmer Rouge atrocities and downplaying or ignoring the crucial U.S. role, direct and indirect, in the torment that Cambodia has suffered." Chomsky and Herman wrote:

Space limitations preclude a comprehensive review, but such journals as the "Far Eastern Economic Review", the London "Economist", the "Melbourne Journal of Politics", and others elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and who concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting from the American destruction and killing.
They also made this comment about Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge:
But if postwar Cambodia is more similar to France after liberation, where many thousands of people were massacred within a few months under far less rigorous conditions than those left by the American war, then perhaps a rather different judgement is in order. That the latter conclusion may be more nearly correct is suggested by the analyses mentioned earlier. [ [ Distortions at Fourth Hand, by Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman ] ]
This argument was expanded in the pair’s 1979 book "After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology".

Subsequently, Chomsky was accused of "minimising the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia".Geoffrey Sampson, "Biographical Companion to Modern Thought"] According to Fred Barnes, writing for the U.S. magazine The New Republic, he had observed Chomsky at a seminar and felt that he "seemed to believe that tales of holocaust in Cambodia were [...] propaganda." Barnes speculated whether Chomsky felt the notion of genocide in Cambodia was "part of an effort to rewrite the history of the Indochinese war in a way more favorable to the U.S."Christopher Hitchens, [ The Chorus and Cassandra] "Grand Street" Magazine, Autumn 1985] Commenting in defence of Chomsky on this incident, Christopher Hitchens noted that

since this meeting took place in the year after Chomsky and Herman had written their "Nation" article, and in the year when they were preparing "The Political Economy of Human Rights", we can probably trust the documented record at least as much as Mr. Barnes's recollection... It is interesting, and perhaps suggestive, that Barnes uses the terms "genocide," "holocaust," and "mass murder" as if they were interchangeable. His last two sentences demonstrate just the sort of cuteness for which his magazine is becoming famous.

In the New Criterion, Keith Windschuttle described Chomsky as the Pol Pot regime’s "most prestigious and most persistent Western apologist." Noting Chomsky's statement that "the United States and Israeli leadership should be brought to trial" for war crimes, Windschuttle wrote:

Yet Chomsky’s moral perspective is completely one-sided. No matter how great the crimes of the regimes he has favored, such as China, Vietnam, and Cambodia under the communists, Chomsky has never demanded their leaders be captured and tried for war crimes. Instead, he has defended these regimes for many years to the best of his ability through the use of evidence he must have realized was selective, deceptive, and in some cases invented. [ [ The hypocrisy of Noam Chomsky by Keith Windschuttle ] ]

East Timor

Chomsky was accused by Oliver Kamm in Prospect Magazine of misrepresenting former UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his book "A New Generation Draws the Line". "He manipulates a self-mocking reference in the memoirs of the then US ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, by running separate passages together as if they are sequential and attributing to Moynihan comments he did not make, to yield the conclusion that Moynihan took pride in Nazi-like policies." Chomsky has responded to Kamm's accusations [Noam Chomsky: [ We are All Complicit] Prospect Magazine, January 2006.] and Kamm has replied in the letters page. [ [ Kamm replies to Chomsky] , Prospect Magazine, February 2006.]


In his review of Chomsky's 1999 book "The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo", Adrian Hastings wrote:

What is most striking to a Balkanist about this book is what is left out. There is no discussion of the character, aims and methods of Milosevic, no attempt whatever to place the war in Kosovo in the context of a decade of wars - in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia - and very little attempt even to portray what had actually happened in Kosovo in the twenty years before 1999. If anyone suffers from the disease of seeing the world as so centred in Washington that nothing else really matters, that person is Chomsky. It is a little surprising to find that the names of Sarajevo, Vukovar and the like never appear. Where he does refer to previous events in ex-Yugoslavia he often gets them wrong, uncritically accepting Serbian propaganda or using any conceivable quote to hammer the West. []

Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory

In a January 16, 2002 interview with Suzy Hansen on the 1998 Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory strike, Chomsky stated, "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." Human Rights Watch replied that they had "conducted no research into civilian deaths as the result of U.S. bombing in Sudan and would not make such an assessment without a careful and thorough research mission on the ground." [] HRW had reported, in 1998, that the bombing had the unintended effect of stopping relief efforts aimed at supplying food to areas of Sudan gripped by famine caused by that country's ongoing civil war. Many relief agencies had been wholly or partially manned by Americans who subsequently evacuated the country out of fear of retaliation spurred by negative responses by the Sudanese government. A letter by Human Rights Watch to President William J. Clinton stated "many relief efforts have been postponed indefinitely, including a crucial one run by the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee where more than fifty southerners are dying daily". [ [ Letter to Clinton Urges Sudan Factory Inspection] Human Rights Watch, September 15, 1998] Chomsky's claim about the German Embassy in Sudan was also incorrect. The source in question was not the Embassy but the German Ambassador to Sudan, Werner Daum, who wrote a report in which he called "several tens of thousands of deaths" of Sudanese civilians caused by a medicine shortage a reasonable figure. On June 11, 2004 in an interview with David Barsamian, Chomsky stated that it was indeed the German Ambassador and not the Embassy who made these statements.cite news|title=Imperial Ambitions - Conversations With Noam Chomsky On The Post-9/11 World |author=Noam Chomsky & David Barsamian |date=2005 |publisher=Metropolitan Books |page=109]

Terrorism and violence by states

In "The End of Faith", atheist writer Sam Harris supports the American military definition of collateral damage and criticizes Chomsky for not taking it into account.

Nothing in Chomsky's account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child, because of the effect you hope to produce on its parents (we call this "terrorism"), and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer (we call this "collateral damage"). In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy. But the ethical status of the perpetrators, be they individuals or states, could not be more distinct... For [Chomsky] , intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all.

Chomsky has pointed to Nicaragua vs. United States and stated that the Court "condemned what they called the 'unlawful use of force,' which is another word for international terrorism by the United States." David Horowitz responds that "... unlawful use of force is not another word for terrorism" and that the International Court of Justice has no authority over sovereign states unless they themselves so agree, which the US did not since the "Soviet Bloc police states" were outside its jurisdiction but they still sent judges to the court. [David Horowitz. Chomsky and 9/11. Page 172-4 In The Anti-Chomsky Reader (2004) Peter Collier and David Horowitz, editors. Encounter Books.]

Another criticism regards Chomsky's claim that one of the causes of 9/11 was American opposition to democratic regimes which David Horowitz finds strange considering that Al-Qaeda supported the nondemocratic Taliban regime. [David Horowitz. Chomsky and 9/11. Page 179 In The Anti-Chomsky Reader (2004) Peter Collier and David Horowitz, editors. Encounter Books.]

"The Threat of a Good Example"

Chomsky has argued that an important explanation for US interventions in poor countries is fear that these nations may become good examples as alternatives to a claimed exploitative US hegemony. As examples of this threat of "contagious example" policy, Chomsky has used US opposition to popular movements in Chile, Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, and Nicaragua. [ (2006), pp. 110-121.] David Horowitz responds that there are many examples of socialist nations but none have been good examples. Instead all have failed economically and have been repressive politically. "Chomsky seems to have missed this most basic fact of twentieth-century history: socialism doesn't work, and to the extent it does work, its results are horrific." [David Horowitz. Chomsky and 9/11. Page 194 In The Anti-Chomsky Reader (2004) Peter Collier and David Horowitz, editors. Encounter Books.] Horowitz makes his case largely by comparing pairs of economies like North and South Korea, assuming the former to be a failed socialist economy and the latter a successful capitalistic one. [Horowitz, "Chomsky and 9/11".] Chomsky responds to such comparisons by pointing out that many of the supposedly "socialist" economies that have failed are in fact not genuinely socialist but totalitarian [pp. 145-146, Peter Mitchell & John Schoeffel (eds.) (2002), "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky".] and that many of the "capitalist" success stories - including the United States ["Free Market Fantasies: Capitalism in the Real World", Audio CD, 1999.] - are due to protectionism rather than genuine free market capitalism [p. 66, "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky".] Other supposed failures of socialist economies, such as Cuba, Chomsky has explained by pointing to the severe economic, political, and military sanctions imposed upon them by the US. [pp. 148-151, "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky".] Finally, Chomsky has shown that the fear of a "contagious example" has in fact been clearly expressed in internal US government documents. [ [ "The Pentagon Papers and U.S. Imperialism in South East Asia"] , "The Spokesman", Winter 1972/1973, retrieved 06-25-2008; see also pp. 66ff., N. Chomsky, "Turning the Tide", 2nd edition, South End Press 1987.]

Description of the motives of United States policy-makers

Some writers have criticized Chomsky's view of the motives of Western policy-makers.

In a 1969 exchange of letters, Stanley Hoffmann, a fellow opponent of the Vietnam War, criticized Chomsky "tendency to draw from an author's statements inferences that correspond neither to the author's intentions nor to the statements' meaning". Hoffmann states "Because I do not believe that our professed goals in Vietnam were obviously wicked, Professor Chomsky 'reads this as in essence an argument for the legitimacy of military intervention.' If he had not stopped his quotation of my analysis where he did, he would have had to show that my case against the war is exactly the opposite: 'worthy ends' divorced from local political realities lead to political and moral disaster" Further, "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."Stanley Hoffmann: [ THE ETHICS OF INTERVENTION] The New York Review of Books, Volume 12, Number 6, March 27. 1969] .

In 1989, historian Carolyn Eisenberg argued that Chomsky's critical picture of US Cold War policy and officials did not agree with the documentary evidence such as secret internal documents. Chomsky in a reply denied that he stated that officials were deliberately lying about the motivations behind American policy, such as that they were lying about the Soviet danger and that they in reality did not take it seriously. Instead, "in political as in personal life, it is very easy to come to believe what it is convenient and useful to believe."Noam Chomsky: [ Truth and Consequences: Historical Inquiry and the Nuclear Arms Race] Radical History Review, 44 (Spring 1989), pp. 138-144]

Criticism of views on Israel and Palestine

Chomsky's views on Israel, his criticism of its policies and his writings on the Middle East, have been frequently criticized.

Chomsky has responded to the charges of antisemitism made against him many times. In 2004, Chomsky responded thus "If you identify the country, the people, the culture with the rulers, accept the totalitarian doctrine, then yeah, it's anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli policy, and anti-American to criticize the American policy, and it was anti-Soviet when the dissidents criticized Russian policy. You have to accept deeply totalitarian assumptions not to laugh at this." [ [ On the State of the Nation, Iraq and the Election, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Amy Goodman ] ]

In a "Komal Newspaper" article on January 02, 2004, Chomsky explained why he was himself labeled a self-hating Jew.

The charges are interesting. Those who know the Bible know their origins. The charges trace back to King Ahab, who was the epitome of evil in the Bible. King Ahab condemned the Prophet Elijah as a hater of Israel. The flatterers at King Ahab's court agreed. Elijah was a "self-hating Jew," to borrow the terminology of the contemporary flatterers at the court, because he was criticizing the policies of the King and calling for justice and respect for human rights. Similar charges were familiar in the old Soviet Union: dissidents were condemned for hating Russia. And there are other examples in military dictatorships and totalitarian states. Such criticisms reflect deeply held totalitarian values.
For a dedicated totalitarian, ruling powers are to be identified with the people, the culture, and the society. Israel is King Ahab. Russia is the Kremlin. For totalitarians, criticism of state policy is criticism of the country and its people. For those who have any concern for democracy and freedom, such charges are merely farcical. []
Dershowitz and David Mamet have also claimed that Chomsky tolerates violence against Israelis. [Mamet, David (2006). [No title.] In "What Israel Means to Me" by Alan Dershowitz (ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons: 258-259.] Dershowitz claims in "The Case for Israel", that Chomsky has falsely referred to Palestinians as "indigeneous people" and Jews as "immigrants", held double standards on racism by his association with Robert Faurisson and simultaneous accusations of racism against defenders of Israel, and for giving Israel the whole blame over the 1948 refugee crisis. [Alan Dershowitz, "The Case for Israel", p.23, 198, 83-4 respectively]

Chomsky has also been criticized for his alleged support for militant organizations such as Hezbollah which use antisemitic rhetoric. "Philosophically, of course, anarcho-socialist Chomsky has almost nothing in common with Hezbollah, which seeks to establish an Iranian style theocracy dominated by coercive enforcement of sharia religious law," wrote Tzvi Fleischer in "The Australian" in 2006, "But as Chomsky ... [has] demonstrated many times ... anti-Americanism trumps everything else." [] .

Criticism of Chomsky's stance on proposed Israel-Palestinian conflict solutions

Although he regularly condemns the Israeli government's actions in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Chomsky has recently come under fire [ [ ZNet |Mideast | Apologetics for Injustice in Palestine? ] ] from some pro-Palestinian activists for his advocacy [ [ ZNet |Mideast | Justice for Palestine? ] ] of the Geneva Accord, which it is argued rules out a one-state solution for Israel-Palestine and negates the Palestinian right of return. Chomsky responds to this by arguing that the right of return, while inalienable, will never be realized, and stating that proposals without significant international backing—such as a one-state solution—are unrealistic (and therefore unethical) goalsFact|date=July 2007|date=July 2007:

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. [ [ ZNet |Mideast | Advocacy and Realism ] ]

Faurisson affair

In 1979, Robert Faurisson, a French literary critic and professor of literature, published two letters in "Le Monde" which included claims that the gas chambers used by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews did not exist. [ [ Robert Faurisson's Three Letters to Le Monde (1978–1979)] The outrage caused by Faurisson's writings resulted in his conviction for defamation and subjection to a fine and prison sentence. Serge Thion, a French libertarian socialist scholar and Holocaust denier, asked Chomsky to co-sign a petition, together with hundreds of other signatories, all of whom supported Faurisson's right of academic freedom. The Jewish French historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet considered this petition to be a legitimization of Faurisson's denial of the Holocaust, and a misrepresentation of Faurisson's credentials and intentions. Having signed the petition Chomsky wrote an essay entitled "Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression", which was heavily critical of the French intellectual response. [ Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression] In this essay Chomsky determined that Faurisson was "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort" but felt that this was irrelevant when defending absolute freedom of speech. Faurisson's editors subsequently used this essay as a preface to "Mémoire en défense", Faurisson's book intended to defend his controversial views.

Pierre Vidal-Naquet attacked Chomsky in his essay. [ On Faurisson and Chomsky] His criticism focused on the nature of the petition defending Faurisson, which Vidal-Naquet claimed was an attempt to legitimize Faurisson's Holocaust denial, and Chomsky's essay defending Faurisson's right to free speech, which prefaced "Mémoire en défense". Dismissing Chomsky's assertion that the essay was used as a preface without his knowledge or consent, he questioned Chomsky's right to comment on Faurisson's work when he openly claimed to know very little about it. He also argued that Chomsky could have signed other petitions that defended the right to free speech without presenting Faurisson as a legitimate historian. Vidal-Naquet's essay concluded:

The simple truth, Noam Chomsky, is that you were unable to abide by the ethical maxim you had imposed. You had the right to say: my worst enemy has the right to be free, on condition that he not ask for my death or that of my brothers. You did not have the right to say: my worst enemy is a comrade, or a 'relatively apolitical sort of liberal.' You did not have the right to take a falsifier of history and to recast him in the colors of truth.

Chomsky has argued that his statements were limited to a defense of the rights of free expression of someone he disagrees with, and that critics subsequently subjected this limited defense to various misleading interpretations. [Chomsky, Noam. [ His Right to Say It] , "The Nation", February 28, 1981]

Chomsky's other written 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 criticisms from Werner Cohn that he is "morally and intellectually blind" and potentially "sympathetic to holocaust denial". [ [ Partners in Hate: Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers] ] In his book "Partners in Hate: Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers", Cohn alleges that Chomsky co-wrote an article with Pierre Guillaume supporting Faurisson's stance and that he insisted on publishing the "Political Economy of Human Rights" with Vielle Taupe (Faurisson's publisher), rather than a commercial publisher, to show solidarity with Faurisson's cause. Chomsky disputed the details of Werner Cohn's allegations in "Outlook" and concluded that "Cohn is a pathological liar." [ open letter] Chomsky is Jewish.

Anarchist criticism of Chomsky's political views

Chomsky wrote a highly influential article on anarchism in the early 1970s and also wrote a book on the subject.Fact|date=May 2007 Yet both the individualist anarchist Fred Woodworth and the anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan have criticized Chomsky. Zerzan has occasionally characterized Chomsky as being too reformist and failing to articulate a fully anarchist (in Zerzan's case this specifically means anti-civilization) critique of society. He states that " [t] he real answer, painfully obvious, is that he is not an anarchist at all." According to his Zerzan, "When asked point-blank, 'Are governments inherently bad?' his reply (28 January 1988) is no. He is critical of government policies, not government itself, motivated by his 'duty as a citizen.'" [ [ Who is Chomsky-John Zerzan ] ]

However, when Evan Solomon asked Chomsky "What state does function according to what you call the minimal levels of honesty. Is there a state?" Chomsky answered:

None. States are power centers. The only thing that imposes constraints on them is either outside force or their own populations. That's exactly why the intellectuals who we're talking about are so adamant at preventing people in the United States and Britain from learning the most elementary facts about themselves. . . . At the end, I think states ought to dissolve because I think they're illegitimate structures, but that's a long time. []
Zerzan also states that Chomsky's "focus, almost exclusively, has been on U.S. foreign policy, a narrowness that would exert a conservative influence even for a radical thinker."

In the same interview with Evan Solomon, Chomsky explained his focus.

A hypocrite is a person who focuses on the other fellow's crimes and refuses to look at his own. That's the definition of hypocrite by George Bush's favorite philosopher. When I repeat that I'm not taking a radical position. I'm taking a position that is just elementary morality. . . . What honest people are saying seems to be incomprehensible: that we should keep to the elementary moral level of the gospels. We should pay attention to our own crimes and stop committing them. []
Also, Chomsky believes that US global hegemony is threatening human survival; hence, the need to draw attention to US policy. He points out that "the United States is still unique in military force. Nobody comes close; we are the military power." [] In his 2003 book "Hegemony or Survival", he argues that "The choice between hegemony and survival has rarely, if ever, been so starkly posed." [] Quoting historian Arthur Schlesinger, Chomsky cites examples like the Cuban Missile Crisis in 'October 1962 [when] the world was "one word away" from nuclear war.' In the same book, Chomsky continued.

Immediately after this startling discovery, the Bush administration blocked UN efforts to ban the militarization of space, a serious threat to survival. The administration also terminated international negotiations to prevent biological warfare and moved to ensure the inevitability of an attack on Iraq, despite popular opposition that was without historical precedent. []
Zerzan also claims that Chomsky is "completely ignoring key areas (such as nature and women, to mention only two)". [ [ Who is Chomsky] ] However, Chomsky has repeatedly mentioned these areas in interviews. Alongside preventing nuclear conflict, he said that protecting the environment is one of, "the most awesome problems of human history," [ [ Meaningful Democracy, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Bill Moyers] ] and he has said that of all recent movements, "the one that’s had the most profound influ­ence and impact is probably the feminist movement, and I think it’s very important." [ [ Language, Politics, and Composition, by Noam Chomsky] ]

Chomsky's "reluctant endorsement" ("The Guardian") for John Kerry as president in 2004 was controversial amongst some anarchists Fact|date=July 2007|date=July 2007 who tend to be critical of many political parties and electoral politics in general. Chomsky said "Kerry is sometimes described as 'Bush-lite', which is not inaccurate. But despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. In a system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes." [ [,13918,1174017,00.html Chomsky backs 'Bush-lite' Kerry | US elections 2004 | Guardian Unlimited ] ] However, he later responded to this, saying that personally he and his fellow anarchist colleague Howard Zinn would both vote for Ralph Nader. "Voting for Nader in a safe state is fine. That's what I'll do. I don't see how anyone could read what I wrote and think otherwise, just from the elementary logic of it. Voting for Nader in a safe state is not a vote for Bush. The point I made had to do with (effectively) voting for Bush." [ [ Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn Plan to Vote for Ralph Nader, by Greg Bates ] ]

Marxist criticism of Chomsky's political views

In his article "Capitalism's Long Hot Winter Has Begun", Socialist Worker's Party National Secretary Jack Barnes criticized Noam Chomsky:

"Today, the self-avowed anarchist, Noam Chomsky, does the same thing. It's why his radicalism is no threat to the powers that be. And why there is an anti-working-class toxin in his radical medicine, especially anti-working-class in the United States". [New International #12, p. 125]

Barnes said that Chomsky:

"Continues for quite some time writing about, complaining about, and pointing to shortcomings and moral evils of capitalism, its industry, and its agriculture--all the while building up the case that it was pointless for the working class to try to do anything about it--anything revolutionary, that is. Anything that can lead to a workers and farmers government, to the dictatorship of the proletariat". [New International #12 p.124-125]

Chomsky has said:

"Bakunin's warnings about the Red bureaucracy that would institute the worst of all despotic governments were long before Lenin, and were directed against the followers of Mr. Marx. There were, in fact, followers of many different kinds; Pannekoek, Luxembourg, Mattick and others are very far from Lenin, and their views often converge with elements of anarcho-syndicalism. Korsch and others wrote sympathetically of the anarchist revolution in Spain, in fact. There are continuities from Marx to Lenin, but there are also continuities to Marxists who were harshly critical of Lenin and Bolshevism. Teodor Shanin's work in the past years on Marx's later attitudes towards peasant revolution is also relevant here. I'm far from being a Marx scholar, and wouldn't venture any serious judgement on which of these continuities reflects the 'real Marx,' if there even can be an answer to that question."

Criticisms of Chomsky's propaganda model

See Propaganda model#Criticism.

Accusations of being a "Closet Capitalist"

Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institute, in an article called "Noam Chomsky, Closet Capitalist" states that Chomsky, who has criticized tax havens and concentration of wealth, has himself (with a net worth of $2,000,000) used a trust to avoid taxation. "Chomsky favors the estate tax and massive income redistribution—just not the redistribution of his income." Schweizer argues that Chomsky has criticized the concept of intellectual property, a position Schweizer maintains is hypocritical in light of the fact that much of Chomsky's own material is copyrighted and distributed for a fee. [ [ Noam Chomsky, Closet Capitalist] ]

Conspiracy theories

Chomsky has also been criticised by some for his apparent disbelief in 'conspiracy theories', notably those concerning the Kennedy assassination and the terrorist attacks of 9-11. [Parenti, Michael. [ "Dirty Truths"] City Lights Books, 1996.]

In his book, "History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy", E. Martin Schotz contends that Chomsky

played an important role in the orchestrated debate which has focused the significance of the murder of Kennedy around the issue of the escalation of U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam... [T] he function of this debate has been to divert public attention from Kennedy's important movement against the cold war, for peace, for rapprochement with the U.S.S.R., and toward normalization of relations with Cuba.Schotz, E. Martin. "History Will Not Absolve Us", Kurtz, Ulmer & DeLucia, 1996.]

Motive, argues Schotz, that drove Kennedy's killers:

Kennedy ran afoul of the CIA because he departed from the cold war script in his dealings with the U.S.S.R., and on the critical issue of peaceful coexistence with socialism... As steeped in this cold war tradition as President Kennedy was, he nevertheless was capable of moving beyond the confines of cold war thought... I reiterate, what did Kennedy in was his effort to depart from this insanity. And on this score, in deciding to handle the assassination as they did, the left/liberal establishment revealed that when push came to shove, when they had to make a choice, this left/liberal establishment was more addicted to the military and the CIA than to the Constitution.

Other criticisms

Chomsky is also criticized by several self styled anarcho-capitalists for his alleged statist tendencies and for his belief that government action can solve social problems by using laws and force. [ [ Daily Articles Archive - Mises Institute ] ] [ [ The Legitimacy of Violence as a Political Act?, Noam Chomsky debates with Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, "et al" ] ]

Chomsky has been criticized for working at the MIT which has had research financed by and for the military. Chomsky has responded with several arguments, "receiving financing from an institution only limits one's ability to speak out if that institution is totalitarian in nature", that "His intention was to inform the general population of what was going on so that individuals could make informed and unencumbered decisions about their actions", that "people have a responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of their actions, and therefore have the responsibility of thinking about the research they undertake and what it might lead to under existing conditions", and that "no institution should legislate what people are permitted to work on." [ [ Serendipity and Self-Justification] ]

Criticisms of evolutionary writings

American philosopher Daniel Dennett has criticized Chomsky's evolutionary writings regarding the human brain in his 1995 book "Darwin's Dangerous Idea". [Dennett, D. C. (1995), "Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life", Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-82471-X.] Dennett suggests Chomsky is appealing to "skyhooks" by doubting the brain can be fully understood scientifically as a product of evolution. Dennett criticizes many others along similar lines, including Jerry Fodor, John Searle and Stephen Jay Gould.

John Maynard Smith shared Dennett's views on this manner in a review, saying, "I [...] find Chomsky's views on evolution completely baffling. If the ability to learn a language is innate, it is genetically programmed, and must have evolved. But Chomsky refuses to think about how this might have happened." [ [ New York Review of Books: John Maynard Smith "Genes, Memes, & Minds," 1995] ]

Chomsky does however make it clear in a reply to John Maynard Smith that he does believe that the innate capacity for language can be explained by biology when he states that language "... can be studied in the manner of other biological systems." [ [ New York Review of Books: Noam Chomsky "Language and Evolution" 1995] ] And more recently, he co-authored a paper with Marc Hauser and W. Tecumseh Fitch in which the authors state, at the very beginning

We submit that a distinction should be made between the faculty of language in the broad sense (FLB) and in the narrow sense (FLN). FLB includes a sensory-motor system, a conceptual-intentional system, and the computational mechanisms for recursion, providing the capacity to generate an infinite range of expressions from a finite set of elements. We hypothesize that FLN only includes recursion and is the only uniquely human component of the faculty of language. We further argue that FLN may have evolved for reasons other than language, hence comparative studies might look for evidence of such computations outside of the domain of communication (for example, number, navigation, and social relations). [Marc D. Hauser, Noam Chomsky, and W. Tecumseh Fitch (2002). [ "The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?"] Science 298:1569-1579]

External links

* [ Chomsky answers questions] by The Independent readers that cover many of the common criticisms.
* [ The Chorus and Cassandra] Counter-criticism
* [ Recursion and Human Thought] by Daniel Everett, challenging the theory of universal grammar.
* [ Piraha Exceptionality: A Reassessment] by Andrew Ira Nevins, David Pesetsky, Cilene Rodriquez, three prominent linguists criticize the claims of Everett.


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