A Sympathetic View Of Noam Chomsky?

by eclipsechaser (Daniel Lynch)

My limited and over-simplified take on Noam Chomsky is that he offered a profound theory of language: we are not merely a blank slate upon which language is programmed, rather there is a universal grammar or structure common to us all. This greatly deepens and attaches linguistics to philosophical (Enlightenment, Kantian?) and mathematical traditions, and as he has said, perhaps makes linguistics akin to cognitive psychology.

He is a deep thinker and has been supportive of scientific endeavor and has even defended it from postmodern critique. It’s quite possible to see Chomsky in a humanistic and classically liberal vein of thought, perhaps helpfully illuminated in my post about the differences between right and left (Thomas Carlyle and J.S. Mill, choleric conservative and rational liberal).

Yet Chomsky’s criticism of American foreign policy, capitalism, and essentially all forms of power without legitimacy (for which he has a concept of burden of proof) is suspect.

Here’s Wikipedia’s again:

Critical of the American capitalist system and big business, he describes himself as a libertarian socialist who sympathizes with anarcho-syndicalism and is critical of Leninist branches of socialism. He also believes that libertarian socialist values exemplify the rational and morally consistent extension of original unreconstructed classical liberal and radical humanist ideas to an industrial context. Specifically he believes that society should be highly organized and based on democratic control of communities and work places. He believes that the radical humanist ideas of his two major influences, Bertrand Russell and John Dewey, were “rooted in the Enlightenment and classical liberalism, and retain their revolutionary character.”

His moral thinking is deep, but there are obvious dangers in trying to graft such deep ideas onto politics…

If he is classically liberal (and I’m not sure he is), do you think he’s doing classical liberalism any good?

See Also: Wikipedia’s Page, Chomsky’s Home PageChomsky interview here on his theory.

Addition: How his depth as a thinker (moral, linguistic and philosophical) grants legitimacy to his political views is unclear to me.   His political position is one of radical liberalism in my mind, a failed ideology not mainstream classical liberalism.  Martha Nussbaum draws the distinction here:

Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal