You are here:   Reputations >  Overrated > Noam Chomsky
 
Noam Chomsky
January 2009

Noam Chomsky, the linguist and social critic, turned 80 in December. Few who read him are indifferent to his message. A biographer, Robert Barsky, even declares: "Chomsky is one of this [past] century's most important figures, and has been described as one who will be for future generations what Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Mozart or Picasso have been for ours."

Leave aside the hyperbole and consider the improbability of its recipient. Chomsky has been the most influential figure in theoretical linguistics since the 1960s. His idea that human languages are the realisation of an innate language faculty is part of our intellectual culture. But this is a specialised discipline, in which Chomsky's ideas are far from universally held. Scholars once close to him, such as the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, have diverged from important elements of his ideas.

Chomsky's popularity derives primarily from his political output: a stream of books, essays and interviews condemning America's role in the international order and its supposed marginalising of dissent at home. Chomsky sees the US as "a leading terrorist state", insisting he derives this from consistent application of a universal standard.

This is the background to two persistent myths about Chomsky. The first is that his political views are distinct from, and even aberrant compared with, his seminal work in linguistics. An example of this position is Richard Posner, who in his book Public Intellectuals notes that Chomsky's political writing "has taken a great deal of time away from his immensely distinguished academic career, and yet has received little public attention, much of it derisory".

The second is that, while Chomsky's political vision may be flawed in its absolutism, it nonetheless possesses an appealing moral consistency. In the New York Times, Obama adviser Samantha Power urged: "It is essential to demand, as Chomsky does, that a country with the might of the United States stop being so selective in applying its principles."

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 
Mong H Tan, PhD
April 12th, 2010
6:04 PM
Personal political views aside, scientifically I found Chomsky's theoretical linguistics since the 1950s to be in league with the folly of neo-Darwinism of the 20th century -- in which Pinker also being identified -- as in one review that I recently presented here: "Let's begin the Dialogue and Reconciliation of Science and Religion Now! -- RE: Darwin Year in review: The folly of neo-Darwinism & Dawkinsism (or Darwinism as atheism fallacy) -- May the real McCoys (both the scientific and critical thinkings in biology) prevail in the 21st century and beyond!?" (PhysForumEU; February 1). Best wishes, Mong 4/12/10usct1:12p; practical science-philosophy critic; author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), Gods, Genes, Conscience (iUniverse; 2006) and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now (blogging avidly since 2006).

Lawrence
November 13th, 2009
8:11 AM
Chomsky cultists (and it is a cult) will just repeat incoherent nonsense and irrelevant praise-singing to their master no matter what, along with ad hominem shoot the messenger abuse at the likes of Kamm who expose Chomsky for who he truly is. Note how the Chomskybots totally ignore the disgraceful facts re the Faurisson affair like it never was and just blabber on about how Chomsky is just the greatest, like Muhammed Ali. Osama bin Laden has also recommended reading Chomsky, neo-Nazis express admiration for him too. That's fine company the Chomskybots keep.

Wm. Hazlitt
November 9th, 2009
2:11 PM
I cannot believe that Mr. Kamm believes this tawdry little piece a serious critical review of Chomsky's work. If he cannot manage a serious critique, would silence not be more likely to maintain the illusion of respectability?

Andre
September 17th, 2009
10:09 PM
orwellwasright you take the prize for the most pompous writing here. Your tirade against Kamm seems to indicate that you just look at anyone who you label as neocon as inexplicably and inherantly evil, rather than deserving of any logical analysis. PS Read The Lion and the Unicorn by Orwell. By golly, I've never known such a mendacious writer, why he even went to Spain to fight, he was such a militant. Oh wait, you wouldn't agree with that. Maybe cos some ideas are worth fighting for.

orwellwasright
February 12th, 2009
11:02 AM
Dr J - what an infantile, ridiculous comment. Like Wayne and his banal "dittoheads" remark. As for Kamm, a more mendacious writer is hard to find - a cheerleader for militarism and illegal wars; a deceitful warmonger for nothing is too vile to justify. An immoral, obsequious tool of those in power if ever there was one.

Wayne Whig
January 21st, 2009
3:01 PM
*Wayne, it has exactly nothing to do with screaming in defense of Chomsky. He doesn't need much defense* Yes, he does need a defence - luckily he has a whole collection of dittoheads (like you) to do it. And `screaming' is the correct designation of what you and the other dittoheads engage in. And, to your question, `which of his books have you read?' Well, that's very complicated, since Chomsky doesn't actually write any books. His `books' consist of interviews, short essays, excerpts from speeches, etc. The actual monographs he he publishes under his name are invariably co-written with another author - whom I assume is the actual author.

kardinal birkutzki
January 21st, 2009
12:01 PM
It seems wherever I look there you are..talking about Chomsky. Talk about a fixation! I keep telling you: leave it alone - it will drive you to insanity!

Dr J
January 13th, 2009
11:01 PM
I'm sorry, I have read Chomsky's articles: he hates the US and Israel; that's bloody obvious to a brain damaged flatworm. As to his linguistic research, my discipline is different; I have nothing to say. I think we need to separate a man's scholarly work and his political beliefs here. Wagner was also a brilliant genius who hated Jews just as much as Chomsky does. (Yes, Jews can hate themselves.)

kb
January 8th, 2009
2:01 AM
Uhhh...Wayne, it has exactly nothing to do with screaming in defense of Chomsky. He doesn't need much defense. And he's MUCH more than able to defend himself. The comments which you mistakenly perceive as defending him(screaming) are more often than not statements about those "critical words" being flat out false. Has nothing to do with intelligent criticism. Kamm is one of the best cases in point. Takes all of about 10 seconds for anyone versed in Chomsky at all to see through his facade. Can give you hundreds of examples if you wish.(That he believes Chomsky is "anti-American" should make ANYONE who has read, and understood a single book of Chomsky's pause for a moment and wonder if Kamm has read one book, or if he understand the English language. I mean, as there's not a single "anti-American" sentence in any of Chomsky's books. Oh, and I HAVE read them all)Has to do with someone either lying outright, as in the case with Kamm, Horowitz, etc...or not knowing what they're talking about regarding the subject. Kamm's knowledge of Chomsky's work or positions is what about 95% of most anti-Chomskyites is. Nil or very little. Doesn't do much good to try and offer responses to folks who consciously decide to maintain their ignorance on the subject of Chomsky's positions. So, I'll ask you what I ask his detractors. Which of his books have you read?

Wayne Whig
January 5th, 2009
8:01 PM
it's all entirely predictable - someone says any critical word at all about St. Noam, and the chomsky ditto-heads come screaming... It would be nice if they, on occasion, had anything to say in response except, `na-na-na-na-na...'

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.