Commentary on Noam Chomsky

Commentary on the political views of Noam Chomsky

What I have to say about the political views of Chomsky is not to challenge anything he says; it is to point out some of the things that he does not say or stress.

He writes from a moral point of view. Practically, this is the point of view of the United Nations, to which the United States government has subscribed. And the greatest immoral act for a country — from an international perspective — is to conduct acts of aggression.

Most of Noam Chomsky’s political writings are detailed accounts of the history of US government’s aggressions — overt and covert.

Chomsky looks for an explanation for this aggressive behavior on the part of the US government. His claim is that the government is in the hands of oligarchs, specifically corporations. And the business of the military-industrial (financial) complex is to make the world safe (soft) for American business.

Chomsky’s political activism started with his protests against the Vietnamese War. And since then, his criticism (condemnation) of US government acts and policies has become quite extensive.

The aim of global capitalism (spearheaded by US corporations) is to create all sorts of tensions and conflicts in the world. The last one with the Soviet Union was called the “Cold War.” Then there was a “War against Drugs”; now there is this “War Against Terrorism.” These give justifications for the US policing the world. Presently, the US has built up a global military presence through some 1000 military bases around the world.

This “War against terrorism” and the intransigent support of the Israeli government has created the Islamic blowback through wars and interventions in the Middle East.

The other support of global capitalism was the loosening of controls over financial markets. The result was the 2008 global depression, resulting in our current age of austerity.

Related to Chomsky’s critique of US policy, is his focus on why intellectuals and the mass media do not participate in this radical critique of the US government’s policies — foreign and domestic. And his explanation is that just like the US government, so the intellectuals and the media have been bought by global capitalism.

Sometimes Chomsky is criticized for not having an alternative to this state of affairs. Such criticism is completely wrong. Chomsky is a self-conscious anarchist, or, as he prefers to say, a libertarian socialist. And he even is more specific is calling himself a syndicalist. This means, first, from an economic point of view, he is against capitalism. He is for worker-controlled enterprises, somewhat is the style of an Israeli kibbutz. He keeps stressing that the early wage-workers saw themselves as wage-slaves.

He is fully conscious of the two great attempts at anarchist communities: the first, during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921) in Ukraine under the leadership of Nestor Makhno; the second, during the Spanish Civil War and Revolution (1936-1939). Both ultimately failed for lack of arms.

I agree with all of this.

What I find unsatisfactory is the things Chomsky does not say or stress.

First, Chomsky rightly criticizes the acts and policies of the US government, but he does not criticize the very nature and structure of the US government as did Lysander Spooner. It seems to me that he is content with the nature of a representative democracy, and perhaps would agree with John Stuart Mill’s recommendations for altering the electoral process. He does not seem to take into account Peter Kropotkin’s critique of parliamentary (representative) government as such. He is, of course aware, of council (soviet) style government (Anton Pannekoek), but does not push for it.

Even if such a proposal for council government (under the circumstances) is utopian, he could realistically, for example, give Switzerland as the better form of a representative democracy. The Swiss form of government is — like the US — a federal bicameral representative democracy.

Chomsky, like many others, justifiably criticizes Trump as a poor pick for a president, and, incidentally, he criticizes all US presidents, but does not propose a Swiss-style Federal Council. He does not criticize the office of a President. I find this odd. I find this odd because it is almost a priori certain that a President — or any single person of authority — can be bribed and threatened. As I see it, giving power to a single individual (in whatever capacity) is the source of corruption. There should be a name for this as a principle of politics:

If a person can be bought, he will be bought!

So, my recommendation is to make all decisional offices into councils. Switzerland does not have a President, a Prime Minister, or a Chancellor, but a Federal Council of seven, which collectively constitutes the
executive office. Chomsky should be recommending councils instead of Presidents, Governors, and Mayors.

Second, the grip of the Federal Constitution, as I see it, can be broken — not by amendments, but by secession of the States. I know that Chomsky is for self-determination of various groups: Palestinians, Kurds, the Basque, Catalonia, etc, But I don’t know if Chomsky is for the secession of  American states.

Third, Chomsky is totally alarmed by the ecological disaster we are heading towards. He is for curtailing carbon emissions. But the main reason for our ecological plight is the necessity of industry to satisfy the needs of an ever- growing population. This overpopulation is not only contributing to pollution, but it is also a factor in the migrations from a devastated Middle East and Africa which are overwhelming Europe.

Fourth, capitalism can exist only if — as was pointed out by Marx and Weber — there is a proletariat, i.e., people who do not have access to free subsistence land. In the United States there never existed a legal free access to land (except for the Homestead Act of 1862), but even if land is acquired, there are property taxes. Such agrarian policies force one to seek wages; hence, as Chomsky notes, create wage-slaves. Unfortunately, I don’t find in Chomsky recommendations for agrarian reform.

The most important sense of “bullshit”

I regard the use of the word “bullshit” as a ubiquitous term of rejection or condemnation.   And I regard the most important type of rejection, the rejection of the trivial and irrelevant — that which is not important or valuable.   I know that what is valuable or important is relative to what one is trying to achieve.  But to achieve anything, one has to be alive — and hopefully, healthy.  In other words, the necessary condition of doing anything is being alive.   So, even if you are willing to sacrifice your life for some cause such as the well being of your loved ones or your country, you must be alive.   So, as I see it, sustaining your life (for whatever cause), is most important, at least as a precondition for anything else.   And to talk of what is necessary for life is to talk about human needs (as contrasted with desires).

What everyone needs is air, water, food, shelter and anything which will maintain necessary body temperatures (e.g., clothes, fire, air conditioning).   We who live in cities, in houses, condominiums, or apartments know that necessities are bought with money, and so we invariably will think of the necessity of a job to get an income.  But is it true that a job is necessary?  And if you lose your job or can’t find one, you picture yourself in the plight of the homeless.  You imagine getting some kind of welfare, soup kitchen, begging, scrounging through garbage, and sleeping in some tunnel or make-shift shelter.

But for millennia,  people have lived off the land — either as hunter/gatherers or as farmers and herders.  And many still do.  So, the alternative to working for a wage is to live off the land.  And to do so one must have free access to land on which to hunt, fish, gather, farm or herd.  Does anyone have such free, legal access to land?

Thomas Skidmore, The Rights of Man to Property! Being a proposition to make it equal among the adults of the present generation: and to provide for its equal transmission to every individual of each succeeding generation, on arriving at the age of maturity, 1829.

Centralization of power is not beneficial to ordinary people; it is bullshit.



 

Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations, 1957, 1978.

Kohr proposed a breakdown of Europe into smaller chunks, and then federating them together; not unifying them through a central government.

A Europe of Little States:  This map shows approximately the genuine component parts of Europe, historically subdividing the great powers, products not of nature but of force. Being all equal in size they are ideally fit to form a successful federation. Thus Europe’s problem – as that of any federation – is one of division, not of union.

 

E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 1973.

Putting the reins of government into the hands of one person is bullshit.

 

It seems almost to be common-sense not to give political power to a single individual.  Such an individual is prone to look out for his own interest.  He can be bribed, and he can be threatened. Yet, almost the whole world keeps doing it.  And the hope is that the next person will be some kind of savior.  Never happens!  Combine this adulation of a leader with mass democracy, and you get a semi-literate Bush, then a suave snake oil salesman, Obama, and now a spoiled child, Trump.  And in Russia a rogue dictator, Putin.

What is needed is a new Constitution with the executive exercised by a collective body of at least two persons.  Below are links to Wikipedia describing such collegial executive bodies.  The best present example of such a collective executive is Switzerland.

Collective Heads of State

Liberal-Democrat vs Conservative-Republican?

Have you been bamboozled into using the categories of liberal/Democratic vs conservative/Republican? These are really two factions of the game of oligarchy! They prescribe the choice of alternatives. For example, they both support the institution of a President, and you can choose which oligarch to be President. I, on the other hand, support the Swiss 7-member Federal Council. And I can go on with other measures which would be a critique of the U.S. Constitution, which is the oligarch rule-book of the game they are forcing us to play.

When reading attempts to distinguish Democrats from Republicans, the rational conclusion is that they tend to blur. The current issues which “seem” to separate them are: abortion, gun control, and climate control. I call them distractions. Why? Well, for one, the possibility of getting a chunk of free subsistence land, is not deemed a discussable issue.

Think of our political situation in this way. We are all required to play a game — let’s say football.

In this game, we have all sorts of choices, e.g., whether to throw the ball or run with it. The Democrats are all for throwing the ball; the Republicans are for running with the ball. These options are distractions from the question whether we should even be playing football. After all, in football, there are injuries and fatalities. I would prefer to play ping-pong in which, to my knowledge, there are no fatalities.

The political game is constituted by the U.S. Constitution (the rule book). Let’s play a different game. The one we are playing has too many fatalities and injuries.

The same goes for Ukraine, Ukraine has a very bad Constitution which allows for all the corruption we are witnessing. What is the better game? Nestor Makhno tried to play it. It is called Anarchism, or federalism based on small-scale communities practicing direct democracy.