Noam at 90
to supplement his academic pursuits with political activism.
Chomsky's aim has been not just to interpret the world but to change it.
Some 30 years earlier, at a rally in London relating to the Spanish civil war, the American actor and singer Paul Robeson had announced: "The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative." Chomsky felt the same way about intellectuals. Coincidentally, his interest in world affairs was first reflected in a school essay he wrote at the age of 10 or so, lamenting the fall of Barcelona and the triumph of Francoist fascism.
A communist uncle was instrumental in stimulating teenage Noam's fascination with politics, but even as a young man he leaned more towards anarcho-syndicalism or libertarian socialism. In the 1950s, he even toyed with the idea of settling down in an Israeli kibbutz, a way of life that seemed closest to anarchist ideals, but he and his wife, Carol, decided against it after a month-long experimental sojourn. If Chomsky's active participation in the movement against the US invasion of Vietnam threatened his career and liberty, his critique of Israel after the 1967 war stirred even greater ire.
It would be fair to say that in recent decades Chomsky's political texts have overshadowed his continued engagement with linguistics, philosophy of the mind, etc. This is hardly surprising, given his trenchant critique of US foreign policy, invariably laden with facts and heavily referenced, rapidly found a global audience.
It was the focus on the Middle East and Latin America that particularly attracted my attention two or three decades ago, because it was rare to encounter such clarity in explaining exactly why large segments of the population in these parts of the world were hostile to the actions and aims of Washington and its allies. But Chomsky's horizons are unlimited and his wealth of knowledge is formidable - which came in particularly handy in analysing the aftermath of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A long-standing criticism of Chomsky has been that by focusing so sharply on US excesses and outrages, he blurs the domestic and international crimes committed by various other governments. It's not hard to see how such an impression might arise, but it's important to remember that his intent is to highlight what often gets ignored or obscured by the corporate-controlled mainstream media. (The book Manufacturing Consent, cowritten with Edward S. Herman, remains an essential primer for anyone interested in the subject.)
Chomsky's aim all along has been not just to interpret the world but to change it, and he logically sees the