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Can Noam Chomsky be considered Anti-American?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2015 21 Pages

American Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition Anti-Americanism

3. Radicalization

4. Views
4.1. Views on Mass Media
4.2 Views on Vietnam
4.3 Views on Cuba

5. Analysis of Radical Statements
5.1. Radical Statements on Mass Media
5.2. Radical Statements on Foreign Politics

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Noam Chomsky is not only considered “the father of modern linguistics”1 and recipient of “world's top public intellectual"2 award in 2005, he is also a radical “political activist”3. His radical left-wing and partially anarchist’s views on current as well as past political/foreign affairs do not make him very popular in parts of American society. Even other American critics like Emmnuel Todd refer to him as anti-American. His views on Vietnam War, South American affairs and opinion of mass media have imparted him the title “Anti-American”4.

The central question this paper deals with is: Whether Noam Chomsky is anti-American or just a political activist attempting to make the American people become aware of unnecessary political actions their government takes?

To determine this central question, characteristics of the term “anti-Americanism” must firstly be defined. Secondly, the influences that lead to his radicalization will be discussed. Followed by a summary and comparison of his radical views on the basis of “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media”, “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” and “Fussed about Cuba”. Finally, the central question of whether Noam Chomsky can be referred to as anti-American will be concluded.

2. Definition Anti-Americanism

Before examining whether we can consider Noam Chomsky as anti-American, the essential questions of what is anti-Americanism and how to grasp this term need to be answered.

“Anti-Americanism has received little attention as a historical issue, several attempts have been made to specify its defining attributes in different historical and geographical contexts.”5

Peter Katzenberger and Robert Keohane (2007) define anti-Americanism as “a psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general.”6 They sub-classify the term “anti-Americanism” into different categories: “opinion”, “distrust” and “bias” whereas “opinion” to them is a form of verbal criticism of the country America itself.

“Ceaser (2003) suggests that “anti-Americanism rests on the singular idea that something associated with the US, something at the core of American life, is deeply wrong and threatening to the rest of the world.”7

To Hollander anti-Americanism may be defined as “an unfocused and largely irrational, often visceral aversion towards the United States, its government, domestic institutions, foreign policies, prevailing values, culture and people.”8 To him, an anti-American does not only criticize foreign policies or politicians, he has a general antipathy against each and every characteristic that defines the United States as a country, its culture and citizens. We can examine, that there is not one single correct definition to the term of anti-Americanism. The border of criticism and anti-Americanism seem to be blurred. Although it is hard to grasp the term anti-Americanism and its definition, this paper will consider Hollander’s definition of anti-Americanism as the closest to the actual meaning of the term.

When determining whether Noam Chomsky can be defined as anti-American, Hollander’s definition will be used to verify or deny the assertion of Chomsky being an anti-American.

3. Radicalization

Another important question which will need to be answered before having a closer look at Noam Chomsky’s radical views is: What was the source of his radical attitude? What could have been the reason for developing this radical political stance?

The following chapter will try to lighten up those questions by giving a brief insight into Chomsky’s course of life as well as his political influences.

Born in 1928, Chomsky felt the weight of the United States Great Depression. Already as a child, Noam Chomsky was heavily politically influenced by several of his family members. Many family members were anarchists. His mother for example, who had great influence on him was not only known for her “left-wing opinions”9, she had also been active in radical politics of the 1930s.

Family members were not the only influences that shaped his political and social views. As a child growing up and witnessing the discrimination during times of the Great Depression also formed him the political critic he is today. When asked about his early childhood memories, he says he saw a lot of injustice going on around him. As an example he recalls watching police officers beating up female strikers in front of a textile plant.

“Chomsky's political views have changed little since his childhood.”10 He himself describes his views as “fairly traditional anarchist ones, with origins in the Enlightenment and classical liberalism."11

His strong radical political beliefs are not only formed by the adults around him and injustice he witnessed himself as a child. Chomsky considers it in his responsibility as an intellectual to inform and make the American people aware of the political injustice taking place around them. After Dwight McDonald published an essay called “The Responsibility of the People” in which he states that it is in the responsibility of citizens to monitor their responding government, Chomsky grasped his thoughts and took them a step further: Noam Chomsky sees it in his responsibility as an intellectual to point out governmental acts of injustice to the masses. As “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression.”12 Chomsky’s thought behind this is that in order to form groups to speak up against injustices, intellectuals such as he must make the masses aware of their government’s mistakes. Chomsky claims that the intellectual elite who have ties to the White House spread lies about certain political actions on purpose to disguise the truth. These lies make it not only difficult for the masses to see the truth; they even make it difficult for the intellectuals. An example for this, Chomsky points out “when Arthur Schlesinger was asked by The New York Times in November, 1965, to explain the contradiction between his published account of the Bay of Pigs incident and the story he had given the press at the time of the attack, he simply remarked that he had lied;”13 Chomsky does not sympathize with intellectuals like Schlesinger. To him it is in the responsibility of every single intellectual to inform themselves via alternative media about the truth behind all governmental actions and to point out those lies to the masses, helping them becoming more aware of injustice political actions towards other, as well as their own people. When intellectuals point out the mistakes their government makes and get the masses to speak up against them, it makes it harder for people in political power to reach their goal, which is often violent actions through invasion of less developed countries. This is Chomsky’s goal: making it harder or even impossible for the elite in political power to take those unnecessary violent invasive steps towards other countries.

4. Views

After grasping the term “Anti-Americanism” and understanding the background of Noam Chomsky’s political radicalization, this chapter will illustrate his political views in regards to mass media, the war on Vietnam and Cuba. An overview of Chomsky’s political views will be given through summarizing the three sources “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media”, “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” and “Fussed about Cuba” in order to outline his accusations and condemnations.

4.1. Views on Mass Media

In 1988 Noam Chomsky and his co-writer Edward S. Herman published “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.” In this piece they claim that mass media in the United States “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion."14

Four years after their book was published, two Canadian film makers composed a documentary film about Chomsky’s views on media. “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media” expands on the ideas of Chomsky’s literary work.

This documentary provides further information about Chomsky’s thoughts on mass media. Therefore, it is a more suitable source of explanation in regards to his radical views on mass media in the United States.

In Manufacturing Consent, he asserts that mass media in the United States shaped and controlled the minds of the American people. In his opinion the media’s influence on society and existing power structures are a threat to individual thinking.

In his eyes, the American government is a system of propaganda with mass media being the most powerful tool to manipulate people’s opinion. The reason for describing the government as a system of propaganda is his accusation of the media having certain “filters”15: ownership by “the major agenda-setting media”16, advertising by “major corporations”17 and news shapers. All of these conjunctively underline the institutional memory and as a result, accentuate the interests of those in power. Chomsky claims that the contents of mainstream media are arranged to control “naïve”18 people’s minds and forcing critical voices to withhold their opinion. Thought Control is a fundamental point in his assertions. Concerning this topic he states the following:

1. “Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to a dictatorship.”19
2. People have “the need for creative work, or creative inquiry for…for free creation without the arbitrary limiting effects of coercive institutions.”20
3. Chomsky supports a political system in which the public runs it in a democratic way instead of being slaves to it.
4. The people have to perceive systems of authority and confront those that are not legitimate. Especially the system of private control over the media needs this kind of confrontation.
5. “The First Amendment, namely enabling the public to assert meaningful control over the political process. That kind of formulation expresses the understanding that democracy requires free access to information, and ideas, and opinion.”21
6. The majority of the population are relegated and controlled by what he calls Necessary Illusions.

Necessary Illusions need to be planted into the “naïve” population’s minds, so it would not develop an interest in any political process and start raising its voice. The society’s power elite own and control mass media, using it to impose those Necessary Illusions to keep people diverted from the political process. Should the privileged control and own media stations and do they inherit the right to plant, what Chomsky calls Necessary Illusions to influence average citizens?

Chomsky claims that the American people need to start developing non-manipulable and independent minds. He exclaims that action groups with common interests could be formed by people who critically observe the government’s political actions.

To him, two opposed developments in the future are imaginable: "Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity, sympathy and concern for others or alternatively there will be no destiny for anyone to control.”22

Chomsky admits that he does not have answers on how the political system should develop in the future, but it should move into a direction of libertarian-socialism; to a democracy in which the people would run economic institutions.

4.2 Views on Vietnam

The second source referred to in this paper, “The Legacy of Vietnam”, is an interview Paul Shannon held with Noam Chomsky on the War in Vietnam. The dialogue was published in the “Indochina Newsletter” by the end of 1982.

“Every book that comes out, every article that comes out, talks about how -- while it may have been a "mistake" or an "unwise effort" -- the United States claims that it “was defending South Vietnam from North Vietnamese aggression.”23 “And they portray those who opposed the war as apologists for North Vietnam. “24 The American government wanted to hide the fact that it did attack South Vietnam and their main goal actually was to fight against it. As the majority of the American people did not support a war against South Vietnam at the beginning of the 60’s, the government presented through the press a picture of a war between North and South Vietnam, so United States’ army had “to help” and support the South of Vietnam. The real goal of the U.S. was to keep South Vietnam away from becoming independent and “political settlement inside South Vietnam”25. The American elite “feared it would be conciliatory and that there would be successful social and economic development -- and that the whole region might work.”26 America would not allow Vietnam to become another Philippines: independent, self-determining. If South Vietnam became autonomous successfully, it could have been a “model to other movements and groups in neighboring countries”27 and America would have lost its influence on those countries and the whole Asian region. The irony is that America claimed to have helped South Vietnam becoming liberated from North Vietnam, when truly they just wanted it to stay dependent on the U.S.

The peace movement played an important role on mass media in the South Vietnam conflict: at the beginning of the 60’s the media supported the elite’s choice of going onto war with South Vietnam. But that slowly changed when the population started speaking up against this action during the discussion of the so called “Ted Offensive” in 1968 on whether the U.S. should “send a couple hundred thousand more troops”28, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were afraid that “they would not have enough troops for internal control of the domestic American population.”29 They feared radical as well as violent protests within the U.S. Chomsky claims that “the huge demonstrations of October and November of 1969 severely limited Nixon's ability to carry out some of the plans for escalating the war that he had. And any country has to have a passive population if it is going to carry out effectively an aggressive foreign policy.”30

Another important point Chomsky makes is: to prevent South Vietnam “from carrying out successful social and economic development”31, the United States refused to deliver any kind of aid and even tried to blockade other countries from doing so. As an example he mentions an incident “when the United States prevented the government of India from sending a hundred buffalo to Vietnam”32 by bombing the buffalo stock when it arrived in Vietnam. In the end, he asserts, that people should source alternative media outlets to inform themselves about which information mass media is hiding. Forming political movements that protest against unjustified governmental actions puts pressure on mass media to exploit the truth.

[...]


1 Demers, David. The Ivory Tower of Babel: Why the Social Sciences are Failing to Live Up to Their Promises.New York: Algora Publishing, 2011. P. 159

2 Tate, Rev. Dr. Karen, and Tate, Karen. Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World. New Alresford: John Hunt Publishing, 2014. Chapter 23

3 Grünzweig, Walter. The United States in Global Contexts: American Studies After 9/11 and Iraq. M: LIT Verlag Münster, 2004. P.28

4 Armus, Seth D.. French Anti-Americanism (1930-1948): Critical Moments in a Complex History. Massachusetts, Toronto : Lexington Books, 2007. P.160

5 Chiozza, Giacomo. Anti-Americanism and the American World Order: . London: JHU Press, 2010.p.34

6 Katzenstein, Peter J., and Keohane, Robert O.. Anti-Americanisms in World Politics: . New York: Cornell University Press, 2007.p.12

7 Higgott, Richard, and Malbasic, Ivona. The Political Consequences of Anti-Americanism: . New York: Routledge, 2008.p.130

8 Hollander, Paul. Anti-Americanism: critiques at home and abroad, 1965-1990. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. p.334-335

9 Bruccoli, Matthew J., Layman, Richard, and Hansom, Paul. Twentieth-century European Cultural Theorists: Second series. : Gale, 2004. P.53

10 Barsky, Robert F.. Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998. P.95

11 Chomsky, Noam, and Pateman, Barry. Chomsky on Anarchism: . Oakland / Edinburg / West Virginia: AK Press, 2005. P. 191

12 Chomsky, Noam. "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, 23 February 1967. Accessed on 05 December 2014.http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm.

13 Chomsky, Noam. "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, 23 February 1967. Accessed on 05 December 2014.http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm.

14 Herman, Edward S.; Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing Consent. New York: Pantheon Books. p. 306

15 Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD. 39:46

16 Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD.39:55

17 Manufacturing Consent:Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD. 00:42:36

18 Manufacturing Consent:Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD.02:21:28

19 Manufacturing Consent:Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD. 00:05:27

20 Manufacturing Consent:Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD. 00:13:08

21 Manufacturing Consent:Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD. 00:18:56

22 Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Dir. Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick. Perf. Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky. 1992. DVD.1:03:47

23 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

24 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

25 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

26 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

27 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

28 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

29 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

30 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

31 Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

32 [32] Chomsky, Noam. “The Legacy of the Vietnam War” Noam Chomsky Official Website. Roam Agency, October 1982. Accessed on 15 December 2014. http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/198210--.htm.

Details

Pages
21
Year
2015
ISBN (eBook)
9783656924845
ISBN (Book)
9783656924852
File size
535 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v294739
Institution / College
LMU Munich – American Literature
Grade
2,3
Tags
Noam Chomsky anti-americanism anti-american political activist american literature

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Title: Can Noam Chomsky be considered Anti-American?