August 21, 2012
Michael J Totten interviews the author Benjamin Kerstein. He begins with the question, “What possessed you to spend three years writing about Noam Chomsky?”
To which Kerstein answers,
Chomsky is an absolutely shameless liar. A master of the argument in bad faith. He will say anything in order to get people to believe him. Even worse, he will say anything in order to shut people up who disagree with him. And I’m not necessarily talking about his public critics. If you’ve ever seen how he acts with ordinary students who question what he says, it’s quite horrifying. He simply abuses them in a manner I can only describe as sadistic. That is, he clearly enjoys doing it.
A little elaboration follows:
He is essentially the last totalitarian. Despite his claims otherwise, he’s more or less the last survivor of a group of intellectuals who thought systemic political violence and totalitarian control were essentially good things. He babbles about human rights all the time, but when you look at the regimes and groups he’s supported, it’s a very bloody list indeed.
[ cough ] Hizb’allah, Pol Pot. [ cough ]
He makes people stupid. In this sense, he’s more like a cult leader or a New Age guru than an intellectual… Since he portrays everyone who disagrees with him as evil, if you do agree with him you must be on the side of good and right… I think people come to Chomsky and essentially worship him for precisely that reason. He allows them to feel justified in their refusal to think… His tone is very intellectual, in that he speaks in a very quiet, measured style most of the time. But the content is clearly driven by what can only be called a species of hysteria… He seems to be at heart an extremely angry man, and I would guess that his anger is driven by something that is ultimately not political.
From then on in it gets rather critical.
See also this, by the late Christopher Hitchens. And of course this.
Update, via the comments:
As the left has all but monopolised the rhetoric of compassion and good intentions, self-flattery has become hard to avoid. Along with a certain amount of contrarian delusion. For some, being leftwing is the very definition of being a good person; no other measure is required. Those who disagree with Bidisha, for instance, “have no politics.” Because “being political,” i.e., being virtuous, enlightened and heroic, means agreeing with Bidisha. It’s a proprietary thing. And so we find the morally delinquent Eric Hobsbawm - who even now thrills to the thought of communism while carefully skipping over its monstrous practical details - telling us, “It’s better to have young men and women feel that they’re on the left.” Or fellow academic Terry Eagleton, a man who equates suicide bombing with “avant-garde theatre,” and who insists that “being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all.” Obviously, this kind of thinking offers both camouflage and license for some unpleasant and controlling urges. You can rationalise covetousness, continually interfere, occupy and harass, be proud in your petty resentments, or just nag while feeling righteous. And that kind of license will tend to attract a certain kind of person.
And so too we find Noam Chomsky, a class warrior who disdains the false consciousness of his inferiors, i.e., those who disagree - a manoeuvre that requires no proof and, more importantly, flatters himself. Few can match Chomsky’s skill in self-contradiction, a consequence of opposing just about everything the US has ever done. A lesser man might burst into tears at the awful comedy of it all. We’re supposed to believe his views are somehow marginalised and suppressed, yet Chomsky has sold millions of books, is one of the richest and most famous public intellectuals, and is fawned over by generations of credulous students and celebrities. He claims to despise moral double standards, yet his own life is a perfect example of one. He claims to be “anti-authoritarian,” yet he denounces free markets and private ownership, whose every benefit he enjoys - one has to plan that “post-capitalist society” in comfort, after all - and he thinks “a just society” would enforce something close to poverty. For our own good. For Chomsky, like so many others, being radical and virtuous means being statist and leftwing, and thus driven implicitly by an urge to coerce.
Chomsky claims to defend free speech yet he excuses totalitarians. For him, Republicans subscribe to “proto-fascism,” while he – the guy who rhetorically fellates actual dictators – is speaking truth to power. In 1981, Chomsky insisted that outright denial of the Holocaust has “no anti-Semitic connotations.” In 2010, he told al-Alam TV that the US is “more fundamentalist than the Taliban.” He claimed that “East Europe under Russian rule,” from which so many tried to flee, “was practically a paradise.” He’s described himself as an anarchist, a libertarian socialist, an anarcho-syndicalist… whatever suits him at the moment. He endorses state control and the most suffocating socialism then claims he’s against that too. Though none of this has dented Chomsky’s status as the left’s academic superstar, or stopped the New Statesman from rating him as one of the ten great “heroes of our time.” So maybe not quite the last totalitarian.