Chomsky's Challenge to American Power
A Guide for the Critical Reader
Publication Year: 2014
Chomsky is as controversial as he is influential. Admirers see him as a courageous teller of unpleasant truths about political power and those who wield it in the United States. Critics view him as a propagandist and ideologue who sees only black and white where there are multiple shades of gray. While Chomsky's fans tend to view him uncritically, his critics often don't take him seriously. Unlike any previous work, this book takes Chomsky seriously while treating him critically. The author gives Chomsky credit for valuable contributions to our understanding of the contemporary political world, but spares no criticism of the serious deficiencies he sees in Chomsky's political analyses.
Published by: Vanderbilt University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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Professor Noam Chomsky is a giant in the field of linguistics. This book is not about Chomsky the linguist. It is about Noam Chomsky the thinker-activist whose searing critiques of American foreign policy and politics have earned him a reputation as one of the world’s leading public intellectuals. I am interested in exploring and evaluating Chomsky’s writings on politics—“politics” understood...
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It started with the Vietnam War. Long before the fateful escalation of the war in the mid-1960s, Noam Chomsky had won recognition as a seminal figure in the field of linguistics, but was little known outside that field. He was certainly not known as a commentator on politics. That is not to say that Chomsky was apolitical. As a child growing up in the Great Depression in Philadelphia he had...
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A survey of 110 leading American intellectuals in the early 1970s ranked Noam Chomsky by far the most influential intellectual critic of America’s war in Vietnam. 1 Chomsky’s case against the war was essentially a moral indictment of US policy: it challenged the official justifications American leaders advanced for war and emphasized the devastating impact of US intervention on the people of Vietnam....
2. Cold War Empire
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Critics and supporters of America’s role in Indochina have widely agreed that the Vietnam War was not an aberration. The US commitment to war in Indochina was a natural and logical consequence—though perhaps not an inevitable one—of basic assumptions and strategies that had underpinned American foreign policy since at least the end of World War II. This is certainly Chomsky’s view, but ...
3. Domestic Power and Global Purpose
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Why did America build its Cold War empire? Statesmen, political scientists, and pundits often speak in terms of “national interests” that a nation’s leaders seek to defend as they chart their country’s course in international affairs. Chomsky, instead, firmly rejects the very idea that there can be “national interests” presumably shared by all of the people of a country. It is a “mystification,” he writes, to...
4. Ideology, Illusion, and the Media
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As Chomsky sees it, the need to “shape the prevailing ideology” is the natural consequence of the combination of elite dominance and procedural democracy that exists in the United States and most advanced countries.1 In the United States, according to Chomsky, “perhaps more than anywhere else in the world,...
5. America in the Post-Cold War World
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The Cold War came to an end around 1990: America’s Soviet adversary first freed its empire and then essentially dissolved itself. The threat of international Communism—the dominant theme of American foreign policy practically since the end of World War II—had collapsed. This transformation in the international political scene might presumably have spurred dramatic changes in US foreign...
Summary and Conclusions
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It should be clear by now that I believe Noam Chomsky has been right about a great many important issues during the course of his long career as a public intellectual. He was right to condemn America’s war in Vietnam not merely as a disastrous mistake but as a moral catastrophe: it was a war that inflicted massive violence on a noncombatant population the United States claimed to be...
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014