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Criticism of Noam Chomsky

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Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author and lecturer widely known for his critiques 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 his representations of others' work. 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 Chomsky as a linguist[edit]

Larry Trask[edit]

Journalist Andrew Brown, in a 2003 article for The Guardian[1] laments the focus on "Chomskyan" linguistics as opposed to other important and practically useful areas of linguistics, including the study of isolated, rare, and dead or dying languages. He gives the example of Larry Trask, who did important work in linguistic areas including the development of languages over time, the language used to discuss grammar, the famous linguistic isolate Basque, practical English usage suggestions, and fundamental undergraduate linguistics textbooks. While Brown describes Trask as highly annoyed at the attention that "the Chomskyans" have received, Brown does state that Trask does accept Chomsky's basic contention as indisputable: that the human faculty for language is the result of evolved and innate skills. "I believe that human children are destined to learn language in much the same way that baby birds are destined to sing." However, Brown also quotes Trask sounding somewhat slightly less committal to this idea: "I am sympathetic to the proposal that our brains contain areas which are dedicated to language – though I don't want to be dogmatic about this, since the evidence is not yet overwhelming." (See Broca's Area and Wernicke's area). Brown says that Trask disagrees with some specific and controversial theories of Chomsky, specifying universal grammar, the idea that the normal human brain encodes certain general rules which underlie all the languages, quoting Trask as saying that "counter-examples can be found to all the rules Chomskyans propose." Brown quotes Trask condemning the movement, in very strong terms, as unsubstantiated and useless : "I have no time for Chomskyan theorising and its associated dogmas of 'universal grammar'. This stuff is so much half-baked twaddle, more akin to a religious movement than to a scholarly enterprise. I am confident that our successors will look back on UG as a huge waste of time. I deeply regret the fact that this sludge 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."

Early generative semantic critiques[edit]

Criticism also comes from linguists of diverse theoretical persuasions, such as Paul Postal, a pioneer of generative semantics and, subsequently, Relational Grammar and Arc-Pair Grammar, who engaged in heated debates with "Chomskyans" spanning the 1960s and the 1970s, now colloquially referred to as the "Linguistics Wars", who worked originally in Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar and then Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar, 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."[2] 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 linguists' 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.[2] The nature of these challenges to Chomsky's intellectual integrity, it should be noted, is independent of the theoretical stances of the critics, which in the case of the Levine and Postal paper represent serious foundational disagreements between the co-authors; the position of the co-authors, rather, is that their claims can be straightforwardly checked, and validated, by consultation of the sources they cite — in particular, Chomsky's own words in different sources.

Emphasis on syntax, not semantics[edit]

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.'[3] 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.'[4]

Limited applicability of theories to computational linguists[edit]

Computational linguist Karen Sparck Jones complained that Chomsky's specific grammatical theories (Transformational Grammar, Government-Binding, Principles and Parameters and Minimalism) are difficult, if not impossible to implement computationally. Computational linguists who work with practical applications such as machine translation, information retrieval or question answering need grammar formalisms that respond to needs for both high efficiency (fast parsing), high coverage (large amount of structures of English, e.g., described) and detail (i.e. being specific enough to be implementable on a computer). Chomskyan-type grammars are often found lacking in these areas, so instead, they turn to formalisms such as Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar or Lexical Functional Grammar. On the other hand, Karen Sparck Jones did state that '[computational linguists] are all Chomskyans' in the very broad sense of working within a constituent structure formalism.[5]

Resistance to modern theories of language evolution[edit]

Steven Pinker criticizes Chomsky as being "militantly agnostic" about how language might have evolved, and says that Chomsky has become "increasingly hostile to the very idea that language evolved for communication".

Many people have argued that the evolution of the human language faculty cannot be explained by Darwinian natural selection. Chomsky and Gould have suggested that language may have evolved as the by-product of selection for other abilities or as a consequence of as-yet unknown laws of growth and form.... [W]e conclude that there is every reason to believe that a specialization for grammar evolved by a conventional neo-Darwinian process. [Pinker and Bloom 1990, p. 707]

Chomsky's alleged resistance to the idea of language being purely a product of natural selection is also criticized by Daniel Dennett: "The language organ, Chomsky thought, was not an adaptation, but ... a mystery, or a hopeful monster." Dennett continues that Chomsky must consider language to be a spandrel, such as proposed by Stephen Jay Gould: "who in return has avidly endorsed Chomsky's view that language didn't really evolve but just rather suddenly arrived, an inexplicable gift, at best a byproduct of the enlargement of the human brain." Dennett says that "these two authorities" (Chomsky and Gould) are "supporting each other over an abyss."[6] John Maynard Smith, while expressing his deep admiration for Chomsky, shared Dennett's views on this matter 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."[7] Chomsky has countered that he doesn't deny that language could have evolved by natural selection for communication, merely that he doesn't believe that this is at all self-evident, and he doesn't believe that there is any convincing evidence that this must be so. In his paper on this subject with biologists Marc Hauser and W. Tecumseh Fitch, Chomsky argued that other plausible scenarios (such as sexual selection) are equally capable of explaining the evolution of language, while hypothesizing that recursion is the only property of language unique to human beings:

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).[8]

This response has been challenged by Pinker and linguist Ray Jackendoff, who describe Chomsky's recursion-only hypothesis as "extremely unclear".[9]

We argue that their characterization of the narrow

language faculty is problematic for many reasons, including its dichotomization of cognitive capacities into those that are utterly unique and those that are identical to nonlinguistic or nonhuman capacities, omitting capacities that may have been substantially modified during human evolution. We also question their dichotomy of the current utility versus original function of a trait, which omits traits that are adaptations for current use, and their dichotomy of humans and animals, which conflates similarity due to common function and similarity due to inheritance from a recent common ancestor. We show that recursion, though absent from other animals' communications systems, is found in visual cognition, hence cannot be the sole evolutionary development that granted language to humans. Finally, we note that despite Fitch et al.'s denial, their view of language evolution is tied to Chomsky's conception of language itself, which identifies combinatorial productivity with a core of "narrow syntax." An alternative conception, in which combinatoriality is spread across words and

constructions, has both empirical advantages and greater evolutionary plausibility. [Pinker and Jackendoff, 2005]

Criticisms of Chomsky as a political theorist[edit]

President Truman quotations[edit]

In a letter from the December 1969 issue of Commentary, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. said Chomsky had misquoting in American Power and the New Mandarins excerpts a speech by President Harry S Truman. Chomsky agreed, and in future editions of the book he paraphrased Truman instead. Schlesinger first said:[10]

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).

Schlesinger said Truman's actual were:

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 said Chomsky had begun "as a preacher to the world and ends as an intellectual crook." In reply to Schlesinger in the February 1970 issue of Commentary, Chomsky said the quotation disputed were in fact paraphrases acquired from secondary sources. This was an innocent mistake, Chomsky said, and correction would be made the quotations in future printings of his book. Even so, in Commentary and elsewhere, Chomsky said the accuracy of the paraphrasing "undeniable", and the misquotation was a "slight error". "There isn't a scholarly monograph that doesn't have a similar error somewhere", Chomsky said. Moreover, Chomsky said, "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."[11]

Vietnam war opposition[edit]

In a 1970 exchange of letters, between Chomsky and Samuel P. Huntington, the latter said 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.[12][13]

Keith Windschuttle said 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. But, as I said before, I don't think it was the use of terror that led to the successes that were achieved."

Windschuttle said 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.[14] 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."[15] In Prospect, 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."[16] Chomsky responded to Kamm's accusations[17] and Kamm replied in the letters page.[18] In his 1987 memoir Out of Step, political philosopher Sidney Hook criticized Chomsky's stand at some length:

Although there was much to criticize in American domestic and foreign policy, what struck me was the one-sidedness, unfairness, and systematic use of the double standard in the attacks against the United States and South Vietnam. ... He called upon the United States "to denazify itself," but not North Vietnam or China. What practices in the United States, compared to the barbarous practices of Cuba or of China or of North Vietnam, warrant such a characterization? In those countries how long would one survive who whispered the kind of criticisms Chomsky was perfectly free to broadcast in the United States and be rewarded for it? [...] The United States was taxed with following a policy whose logic was "genocide" for helping South Vietnam deal with "a peasant-based insurrection led by Communists" while the genuinely genocidal practices of North Vietnam in liquidating whole categories of the population were not mentioned. On his visit to Hanoi, Chomsky publicly held North Vietnam up to the world as a model of social justice and freedom. Whenever Chomsky and those who repeated some of his absurd views were challenged, they often cited as their authority someone else who had uttered similar absurdities, as if this vindicated the point they were making. [...] The grim consequences of ... Hanoi's victory are now incontestable. The record of the last decade has brought a realization to some, who had been of the same view as Chomsky, of what they helped to bring into being in Vietnam. Protests have been organized against the continued existence of concentration and re-education camps, and the systematic barbarities practiced against dissenters. But Chomsky is still unrepentant. He has refused to join any protest, on the ground that it would serve the interests of the United States. In short, he has followed the double standard to the last, for he never hesitated to utter the most extravagent criticism of the United States on the ground that it would serve the interests of the Soviet Union.[19]

Chomsky defended himself in an interview with BBC HARDtalk presenter Stephen Sackur, answering:

"Do you know the context? Look at the context. The Chicago Museum of Science had an exhibit which was a diorama of a Vietnam village in which children could stand on the outside and shoot guns into the village. A group of mothers protested and the New York Times had an editorial: denouncing the mothers! They were taking away the fun from the kiddies who were having a great time shooting into a Vietnamese village. And commenting on that I said 'you have to ask whether what the United States needs is dissent or denazification. [...] Has the country changed? Enormously. It has changed through activism. [...] For each of us – this is an elementary moral principle – the most important thing for each of us is, the predicable consequences of our own actions. It's very easy to condemn the crimes of others. Stalinist hacks condemned the crimes of the West. I don't applaud them for that. I applaud the Soviet dissidents who condemned the crimes of the Soviet Union."[20]

Cambodian atrocities[edit]

In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Chomsky and Herman discuss the estimated death toll from the Cambodian Civil War, which they call 'phase one'; and the "murderous" Khmer Rouge (also referred to as "Democratic Kampuchea" or "DK"), whose rule they call 'phase two':

[Michael] Vickery's analysis is the most careful attempt to sort out the confused facts to date. He accepts as plausible a "war loss" of over 500,000 for the first phase, calculated from the CIA estimates but lower than their conclusions (see note 31), and about 750,000 "deaths in excess of normal and due to the special conditions of DK," with perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 executed and a total population decline for this period of about 400,000.[21]

Subsequently, Chomsky was accused of "minimising the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia".[22] 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."[23] 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.[23]

Chomsky has also responded to the criticism in articles, interviews and Radio programs, stating

I would ask the listener whether he harbours any guilt for having supported Hitler and the Holocaust and insisting the Jews be sent to extermination camps. It has the same answer. Since it never happened, I obviously can't have any guilt for it. He's just repeating propaganda he heard. If you ask him, you'll discover that he never read one word I wrote. Try it. What I wrote was, and I don't have any apologies for it because it was accurate, I took the position that Pol Pot was a brutal monster, from the beginning was carrying out hideous atrocities, but the West, for propaganda purposes, was creating and inventing immense fabrications for its own political goals and not out of interest for the people of Cambodia. And my colleague and I with whom I wrote all this stuff simply ran through the list of fanatic lies that were being told and we took the most credible sources, which happened to be US intelligence, who knew more than anyone else. And we said US intelligence is probably accurate. In retrospect, that turns out to be correct, US intelligence was probably accurate. I think we were the only ones who quoted it. The fabrications were fabrications and should be eliminated. In fact, we also discussed, and I noticed nobody ever talks about this, we discussed fabrications against the US. For example a standard claim in the major works was that the US bombings had killed 600,000 people in 1973. We looked at the data and decided it was probably 200,000. So we said let's tell the truth about it. It's a crime, but it's not like anything you said. It's interesting that nobody ever objects to that. When we criticize fabrications about US crimes, that's fine, when we criticize and in fact expose much worse fabrications about some official enemy, that's horrible, it becomes apologetics.[24]

Researcher Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia suggests that the death toll was between 2 and 2.5 million, with a "most likely" figure of 2.2 million. After 5 years of researching some 20,000 grave sites, he concludes that, "these mass graves contain the remains of 1,386,734 victims of execution."[25] David Hawk, director of the DCC, denounced Chomsky, claiming that his writings had "a chilling effect on the mobilization of opinion against the Cambodian genocide."[26] In 2010, The Phnomh Penh Post called on Chomsky to acknowledge his errors with regard to the Khmer Rouge.[27]

Ambassador Moynihan[edit]

Oliver Kamm in Prospect magazine said Chomsky had misrepresented 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."[16] Chomsky has responded to Kamm's accusations[28] and Kamm has replied in the letters page.[29]

Improper attribution of a quote[edit]

In a January 16, 2002 interview with Suzy Hansen on the 1998 Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory air 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 communications director Carroll Bogert 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." [1] 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 Bill 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".[30] Chomsky's claim about the German Embassy in Sudan was correct. The source in question was the German Ambassador to Sudan (rather than the "Embassy"), 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, as the embassy is a building and cannot speak, so what "the embassy said" means is "the ambassador said".[31]

Terrorism and state violence[edit]

In The End of Faith, 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.[32]

"Threat of a Good Example"[edit]

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.[33] 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."[34] 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.[35] Chomsky has responded to such comparisons by arguing that many of the "socialist" economies that have failed are in fact not genuinely socialist but totalitarian[36] and that many of the "capitalist" success stories – including the United States[37] – are due to protectionism rather than genuine free market capitalism.[38] 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.[39] Finally, Chomsky has argued that the fear of a "contagious example" has in fact been clearly expressed in internal US government documents.[40]

Description of the motives of US policy-makers deemed incorrect[edit]

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 what he saw as Chomsky's "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.".[41] 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."[42]

Criticism of views on Israel and Palestine and alleged antisemitism[edit]

Chomsky's views on Israel, his criticism of its policies and his writings on the Middle East, have been frequently criticized. Alan Dershowitz and David Mamet have claimed that Chomsky tolerates violence against Israelis.[43] Dershowitz claims in The Case for Israel, that Chomsky has falsely referred to Palestinians as "indigenous 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.[44] 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."[45]

Criticism of views on Lebanon[edit]

In a 2006 visit to Lebanon Chomsky said that he considered Hezbollah's position on retaining arms was reasonable under the circumstances. Ali Hussein of Ya Libnan criticized Chomsky, extensively quoting anonymous "political observers," claiming that most residents of Lebanon oppose an armed Hezbollah because it undermines Lebanon's sovereignty.[46]

Criticism of Chomsky's stance on proposed Israeli–Palestinian conflict conflict solutions[edit]

Although he regularly condemns the Israeli government's actions in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Chomsky was criticized from some pro-Palestinian activists for his advocacy 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) goals.[47]

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.

Support for the publication of Holocaust denial on freedom of speech grounds criticized[edit]

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.[48] 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.[49] In this essay, Chomsky said that as far as he could determine, Faurisson was "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort", but in any case, 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.[50] 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 said 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:

The petition implied nothing about quality of Faurisson's work, which was irrelevant to the issues raised. [...] I made it explicit that I would not discuss Faurisson's work, having only limited familiarity with it (and, frankly, little interest in it). Rather, I restricted myself to the civil-liberties issues and the implications of the fact that it was even necessary to recall Voltaire's famous words in a letter to M. le Riche: "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."[51]

According to Jean Birnbaum, the Faurisson affair greatly damaged Chomsky's reputation in France, where the translation of his political writings were delayed until the 2000s.[52][53][54]

Anarchist criticism of Chomsky's political views[edit]

Chomsky wrote a highly influential article on anarchism in the early 1970s and AK Press has produced a collection of his work on the subject. 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.'"[55] 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. [2]

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. [3]

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." [4] In his 2003 book Hegemony or Survival, he argues that "The choice between hegemony and survival has rarely, if ever, been so starkly posed." [5] 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. [6]

Zerzan also claims that Chomsky is "completely ignoring key areas (such as nature and women, to mention only two)".[55] 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,"[56] 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."[57] 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."[58] However, he later responded to this, saying that personally he would 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."[59]

Marxist criticism of Chomsky's political views[edit]

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".[60]

"[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".[61]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

Chomsky has been criticized for his apparent disbelief in elaborate conspiracy theories, notably those concerning the Kennedy assassination and the terrorist attacks of 9-11.[62] 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.[63]

A movement, 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.[63]

Journalist and writer Johann Hari believes that "some of the fiercest critics of conspiracy theories have been the very writers who are boldest and best at exposing real conspiracies – I.F. Stone, Noam Chomsky and George Monbiot, for example. They know that by swallowing any old anti-government nonsense, activists waste their energy – and fail to expose real crimes by governments."[64]

Accusations of hypocrisy concerning wealth[edit]

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." According to Schweizer, Chomsky has, through a stock fund, investments in "all sorts of businesses that Chomsky says he finds abhorrent: oil companies, military contractors, pharmaceuticals, you name it". Schweizer says 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.[65]


  1. Brown, Andrew (June 26, 2003). "A way with words". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 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.
  3. "The Third Culture - Chapter 9". Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  4. "Marvin Minsky: Interview". Revista 'Cérebro & Mente'. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  5. Jones, Karen Spärck (2007). "Computational Linguistics: What About the Linguistics?". Computational Linguistics. MIT Press - Journals. 33 (3): 437–441. doi:10.1162/coli.2007.33.3.437. ISSN 0891-2017.
  6. Dennett, D. C. (1995), Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-82471-X Search this book on ..
  7. John Maynard Smith "Genes, Memes, & Minds", New York Review of Books, 1995
  8. 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
  10. "Truman's Speech & Noam Chomsky". Commentary Magazine. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  11. Noam Chomsky (1992). "Chronicles of Dissent". Common Courage Press. pp. 350–351.
  12. Huntington, Samuel P. (1970). "A Frustrating Task". New York Review of Books. Vol. 14 no. 4.
  13. "A Frustrating Task Noam Chomsky debates with Samuel Huntington". Retrieved 2006-09-05.
  14. "Farewell to PR". The New Criterion. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  15. Noam Chomsky: "The United States and Indochina: Far from an Aberration," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars21.2-4 (1989): 83
  16. 16.0 16.1 Oliver Kamm: Against Chomsky, Prospect Magazine, November 2005.
  17. Noam Chomsky: We are All Complicit Prospect Magazine, January 2006
  18. Kamm replies to Chomsky, Prospect Magazine, February 2006
  19. Out of Step, 1985, pp592-594
  20. Interview with Noam Chomsky BBC HARDtalk., 3 November 2009.
  21. Chomsky and Herman, Manufacturing Consent, p. 263.
  22. Geoffrey Sampson, Biographical Companion to Modern Thought
  23. 23.0 23.1 Christopher Hitchens, The Chorus and Cassandra Grand Street Magazine, Autumn 1985
  24. Noam Chomsky interviewed by Andy Clark, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Andy Clark Radio Netherlands, December 18, 2005
  25. Etcheson, Craig, After the Killing Fields (Praeger, 2005), p119.
  26. Quoted in Collier, Peter and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, San Francisco: Encounter Books (2006).
  27. Ear, Sophal and Geoffrey Cain, "Chomsky Should Follow His Own Advice and Admit Errors," Phnomh Penh Post, 2010.
  28. Noam Chomsky: We are All Complicit Prospect Magazine, January 2006.
  29. Kamm replies to Chomsky, Prospect Magazine, February 2006.
  30. Letter to Clinton Urges Sudan Factory Inspection Human Rights Watch, September 15, 1998
  31. Noam Chomsky & David Barsamian (2005). "Imperial Ambitions - Conversations With Noam Chomsky On The Post-9/11 World". Metropolitan Books. p. 109.
  32. Sam Harris (17 September 2005). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton. pp. 146–. ISBN 978-0-393-06672-2. Search this book on
  33. Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006), pp. 110-121.
  34. David Horowitz, Page 194 In The Anti-Chomsky Reader (2004) Peter Collier and David Horowitz, editors. Encounter Books.
  35. Horowitz, "Chomsky and 9/11".
  36. pp. 145–146, Peter Mitchell & John Schoeffel (eds.) (2002), Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky.
  37. Free Market Fantasies: Capitalism in the Real World, Audio CD, 1999.
  38. p. 66, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky.
  39. pp. 148–151, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky.
  40. "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.
  41. Stanley Hoffmann: THE ETHICS OF INTERVENTION The New York Review of Books, Volume 12, Number 6, March 27. 1969
  42. Noam Chomsky: Truth and Consequences: Historical Inquiry and the Nuclear Arms Race Radical History Review, 44 (Spring 1989), pp. 138–144
  43. Mamet, David (2006). [No title.] In What Israel Means to Me by Alan Dershowitz (ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons: 258-259.
  44. Alan Dershowitz, "The Case for Israel", p.23, 198, 83-4 respectively
  45. On the State of the Nation, Iraq and the Election, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Amy Goodman
  46. "Chomsky hails Hezbollah on TV". WND. 2018-01-26. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  47. ZNet |Mideast | Noam Chomsky and ‘Left’ Apologetics for Injustice in Palestine
  48. Robert Faurisson's Three Letters to Le Monde (1978–1979)
  49. Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression
  50. On Faurisson and Chomsky
  51. Chomsky, Noam. "His Right to Say It". The Noam Chomsky Website. Retrieved 9 June 2010.
  52. Jean Birnbaum (3 June 2010). "Chomsky à Paris : chronique d'un malentendu". Le Monde des Livres. Retrieved 8 June 2010.
  53. Jean Birnbaum (3 June 2010). "Il ne cache pas son mépris pour les intellectuels parisiens". Le Monde des Livres. Retrieved 8 June 2010.
  54. Eric Aeschimann (31 May 2010). "Chomsky s'est exposé, il est donc une cible désignée". Liberátion. Retrieved 8 June 2010.
  55. 55.0 55.1 "Who is Chomsky--John Zerzan". Primitivism. 1988-01-28. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  56. Meaningful Democracy, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Bill Moyers
  57. Language, Politics, and Composition, by Noam Chomsky
  58. Tempest, Matthew (March 20, 2004). "Chomsky backs 'Bush-lite' Kerry". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  59. Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn Plan to Vote for Ralph Nader, by Greg Bates
  60. New International #12, p. 125
  61. New International #12 p.124-125
  62. Parenti, Michael. Dirty Truths City Lights Books, 1996.
  63. 63.0 63.1 Schotz, E. Martin. History Will Not Absolve Us, Kurtz, Ulmer & DeLucia, 1996.
  64. Hari, Johann. "Voodoo Histories, it all adds up to paranoia", The Independent. 1 May 2009.
  65. Noam Chomsky, Closet Capitalist

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