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Interviews, Debates and Talks

with  Noam Chomsky

A selection of Chomsky's posts
from the ChomskyChat Forum


This is a long file and it will take some time to load to your browser... Earliest posts are first, most recent follow sequentially.


On pedagogy, etc.

Dear Damon Seils,

Good questions, and like most good questions, there are no good answers. At least, that I know.

Whether I've in fact "managed to encourage truly creative productivity and learning" is not for me to say. I hope so, but others have to judge that. Actually, in graduate programs in a place like MIT, it isn't really hard. In fact, it's normal. Particularly in the sciences, higher education is quite participatory and non-authoritarian. I've also taught children, years ago. There it takes more imagination and effort. I'm sure it can be done. My own childhood educational experience was an example.

I know Freire's work a little, but not really well. From what I know of it, I would share your judgment, but I honestly can't say.

On reading, I'm not the person to ask. I haven't followed these issues closely enough for quite a few years. On these matters, and on free schools as well, I'd suggest that you contact my friend Alan Graubard, a very smart guy, who has been working in these areas for many years, and really knows a lot. The most reliable source I know for information. Will ask someone in my office to send you a recent address (don't have it at hand right at the moment).

Noam Chomsky


On Government, etc.

Reply from NC, to Shahram Mostarshed, on the need for a government to "protect us from the wealthy" and to set the rules for speech and other rights.

One can't prove that some system of authority and domination is unnecessary, whether it's slavery, patriarchy, feudalism, or whatever. But the burden of proof is on those who claim it is necessary. The questions you raise are quite sound and reasonable. They can be answered, I think, only by experiment, but the initial assumption (null hypothesis, if one wants to sound technical) is that the enforcer isn't needed. Like you, I'm "more interested in the application of anarcho-socialist principles, rather than its ideals," or at least as much interested. But no one knows enough about human affairs to predict in advance with much confidence; so it seems to me, others disagree.

On protecting us from the wealthy, one would hope that in a decent society the issue wouldn't arise, because relative equality would be attained (a classic notion, from Aristotle through classical liberalism; part of the "capitalist revolution" was to reject it).

No immediate plans to come to the Bay Area, but it's on the list. Hope it works out before too long.



On NATO expansion

On NATO expansion, I think your suggestions are basically on target.

First, it's worth remembering what NATO was about. As one good diplomatic historian puts it, the U.S. promoted the NATO alliance "to corral its allies and to head off neutralism, as well as to deter the Russians" (Frank Costigliola, in Thomas Paterson, ed., "Kennedy's Quest for Victory"). It's generally recognized that the goal of NATO was to keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the US in, to quote one standard formula. Another way of looking at it, still more realistic I think, is that NATO was part of an array of devices to reconstruct Europe in a particular way, restoring the traditional order (including Nazi and fascist collaborators and in fact leading figures) and dispersing the anti-fascist resistance, which had a rather different conception of what the war was about. European elites were happy to see Western Europe incorporated within a US-run system, to overcome the threat of their domestic enemies, primarily the popular-based anti-fascist forces.

Turning to NATO expansion, I think we see similar considerations at work. There are also narrower goals, some of which set Europe and the US in conflict. NATO expansion is going to mean huge sales of arms to the countries joining the system. It's an absolute bonanza for arms manufacturers. The US military industry conglomerates are in ecstasy about the prospects, and are trying hard to lock the East European countries into the US weapons system, with the assistance of Pentagon grants, gifts, and numerous other devices. Note that this is not just armaments: rather, electronics, communications equipment, etc., in fact a good part of modern technology. It's expected to cost huge amounts of money, to be forked up by the US taxpayer, primarily, under the guise of "NATO expansion" (defense, democracy, security, etc.). It's a tremendous gift to high tech industry, and they know it. The Europeans are playing the same game, but the US is likely to win it, for obvious reasons.

Another important goal is to displace the hated UN, which the US has despised for almost 40 years, ever since it fell out of control with decolonization. The US has undermined the UN (and other international institutions) for reasons explained quite publicly but silenced by media/scholarship for the most part: they are disobedient. NATO is very much under Washington's thumb (and as noted, the powerful and privileged in Europe have their own interests in that). If NATO can take over "security" and "peacekeeping" from the UN, pretty subservient but still with some independent voices, that would be a great step forward towards developing a New World Order in which the threat of democracy and independence is minimized.

On the particular choices, recall that Slovenia is within the German orbit and Romania the French orbit. The US insisted that their entry be delayed, I presume for these reasons. They'll be admitted, when US domination is secure. To be sure, plans can go awry. World rule is no simple matter. There are conflicting powers, and things can go wrong. But my guess is that that's what is going on. Maybe we'll know in 40 years or so, when (if) documents are released.

On Blair and the French socialists, the basic difference from the point of view of CNN (etc.), I would guess, is that Blair is pretty much a Clinton clone and it's assumed that 18 years of Thatcher-Major have undermined forces in England that might raise any serious opposition to corporate tyranny, while in France, though the Socialist leadership is basically no different, the society is. There's a reason why France ranked highest in the world (along with Canada) in the recently-published UN quality of life studies. France is still backwards in subjugating everything to business rule, and the Socialists will have to reflect their constituency to some extent -- and hence are "untrustworthy." Hope you don't mind if I quote myself, from a recent article on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UD), to illustrate the point: ---

"Contempt for the socioeconomic provisions of the UD is so deeply engrained that no departure from objectivity is sensed when a front-page story lauds Britain's incoming Labor government for shifting the tax burden from "large businesses" to working people and the "middle class," steps that "set Britain further apart from countries like Germany and France that are still struggling with pugnacious unions, restrictive investment climates, and expensive welfare benefits." Industrial "countries" never "struggle with" huge profits, starving children, or rapid increase in CEO pay (under Thatcher, double that of second-place U.S.); a reasonable stand, under the "general tacit agreement" that the "country" equals "large businesses," along with doctrinal conventions about the health of the economy -- the latter a technical concept, only weakly correlated with the health of the population (economic, social, or even medical).NOTE:Youssef Ibrahim, NYT, July 3, 1997

Hence the reports on CNN, I would guess.

Noam Chomsky


On Koppel, Internet.

Not having heard the program, I'm reluctant to comment. About caution with unknown sources, I agree with what you quote Koppel as saying -- though not quite for his reasons. Whatever the source, one would want to verify the information. Knowing the source often helps. E.g., if the source is Nightline and Koppel, there is a record that helps us determine how the facts are being interpreted, filtered, shaped, etc., and why. Not knowing the source one is deprived of that record.

I don't know whether "hypocritical" is quite the right word for the establishment media. Doubtless they consider themselves perfectly honest and free of pressure, and for the most part that is true. It takes a little more integrity and insight to recognize that one is allowed freedom to say what one wants after having proven to the satisfaction of those who hold the reins that what you say won't escape the narrow bounds they set. There is also, of course, outright dishonesty and lying, sometimes extreme. But I don't think that's the norm. It's more on the order of a comment of Orwell's about thought control in free societies: with a good education, people just learn that there are certain things "it wouldn't do to say" -- or to think, for that matter. Once those values are internalized, control is unnecessary, and "hypocrisy" may not be the most accurate term. Much worse than that.

Noam Chomsky


About postmodernism, etc.

Dear Bill,

Don't know if we met at MIT. I live a pretty crazy life, and sometimes can barely remember whether I've met my children recently. Hope you'll find a way out of the present bad situation.

On postmodernism, I don't know anything about the Web, and don't know what you saw of mine on postmodernism, so a little hard to comment. But just keeping to what you wrote, I suspect we may be talking about different things.

Running through your message, point by point.

On theory, I don't object to the fact that postmodernism has no theories (i.e., nothing that could sustain a non-trivial argument). No one else does either, when we turn to human affairs or the kinds of things they are discussing. What I object to is that they proudly claim otherwise. Their productions are put forth as "grand theory," too deep for ordinary mortals to understand -- at least for me: I don't understand it, and am skeptical about whether there is any "theory" to understand. That's a great technique for enhancing one's own privilege while marginalizing the slobs. Does it serve any other function? If so, what? Am I missing some of the great achievements? If so, what?

On the proof of Fermat's theorem, I have no independent judgment. Hence the word "apparently," which you picked up on quite accurately. I think we agree.

On Evelyn Fox Keller, I also find her work very interesting, but don't see any connection to post-modernism (at least, in what both of us find interesting about it).

As for it's being "a truism of our society that we're robots programmed by our DNA, which then interacts with the environment in such a complicated way that prediction tends to be impossible," and the failure of molecular biologists to prove this, I don't quite know what you mean. That what we do is the result of some complex interaction between our genetic endowment (which may not all be specified in DNA) and the course of experience -- that does seem to be close to truism. What else could play a role? God? That what we do is completely unpredictable is also true. There's been no progress since the Greeks on this, perhaps for quite fundamental reasons (I've written about this elsewhere, and won't repeat). But I don't see what this has to do with molecular biologists, still less with postmodernism.

Every biologist and other scientist I know of agrees with you that "it's a still a complete mystery how an organism grows out a zygote." For a recent example, take Hazen's article on unsolved problems of science in the current issue of "Technology Review." I think you are pushing an open door on this one, and it has nothing to do with postmodernism.

You write that "it's good that biologists have actually rejected the "master molecule" talk you still read about in glowing articles in Scientific American about the latest gene which controls trait X, but where the cybernetic craziness the biologists have gone into might be worse -- they've developed an obfuscatory language which allows them to think in same robotic metaphors."

I don't recognize this from what I read in biology. There is a lot of fascinating work on "master" regulatory genes that seem to appear throughout organic forms, determining the development of body forms, eyes, etc., everywhere. If that's what you are referring to, it seems to be very enlightening and important. If something else, can't comment. But either way, I don't see the connection to postmodernism.

Ruth Hubbard's work is also interesting. But I don't see the connection to postmodernism, or to serious biological science. On everything being a machine, surely no scientist should have believed this since Newton refuted the "mechanical philosophy" -- that is, the belief that the inorganic world is a machine -- outraging the scientific establishment (Huygens, Leibniz, Bernoulli, etc.) and himself as well, since he regarded this conclusion as absurd, and sought (vainly) to refute it for the rest of his life, as did Euler, D'Alembert, and other major figures of the 18th century -- and beyond; these efforts underlie the various ether theories. But by this century, Newton's demonstration that NOTHING is a machine has been almost universally accepted among scientists. So again, I don't see what the issue is. Or any connection to postmodernism (which, I admit, I don't understand).

On Descartes's "ghost in the machine," that notion made sense in the time of Descartes, and was indeed straight, normal science. But the concept collapsed when Newton exorcised the machine (leaving the ghost intact). There's been a lot of confusion about this since, and maybe postmodernism contributes more confusion (not understanding it, I can't say). But the basic facts seem to me clear enough. I'm unaware of any contribution to these matters by "ecofeminists," but that could well be my ignorance, or inability to understand postmodernist literature.

Like Keller, I think quite highly of Stuart Kauffman's work, which is about as remote from postmodernism as I can imagine. I don't agree that it is trivial. And I don't read him as claiming that the problem of life is now solved. Rather, that by looking at (quite nontrivial) properties of complex systems, we might be able to get a handle on these mysteries. Sounds reasonable to me.

I quite agree with you about the serious problems of "ecocrisis." They are not, however, the result of "technology," but of the institutional structures in which technology is used. A hammer can be used to smash someone's skull in, or to build a house. The hammer doesn't care. Technology is typically neutral; social institutions are not. To the (very limited) extent that I understand what is written about these matters in the literature you are referring to, it seems to attribute to technology what should be attributed to institutions of power and privilege, and thus serves to protect these institutions, by shifting attention away from them. I've often suspected that this service to power and privilege may help account for the warm reception given to these doctrines in the ideological institutions (universities, etc.).

On my comments about how the left intellectuals who used to try to bring understanding of science and mathematics to the general public are now working hard to ensure that these marvellous achievements are reserved for the rich and powerful, you write: "I'd be happy to teach Mathematics to millions myself, I think my subject is overly obfuscatory in an effort to insulate itself from the scrutiny of ordinary people. But I really think what you were complaining about on this topic has to do with a loss of faith in Science, for instance by leftists. I think Science has a lot of problems, rooted in the 1000 year Catholic domination of Europe."

For what it's worth, here's my reaction.

I think it's great that you, and others, should teach mathematics to millions, and I think this can be done in a way that is not "overly obfuscatory" -- say, the way Vicky Weisskopf presents advanced physics, readily accessible to high school students. But I'm not "complaining" about anything, surely not what you say. Rather I'm deploring the fact that while people who considered themselves left intellectuals 60 years ago were devoting themselves to the needs and interests of the great mass of the population (for example, by introducing them to modern science and mathematics), many of those who call themselves "left intellectuals" today prefer to feather their own nests while telling the general public that they should not pay attention to what human intelligence and creativity has achieved, but should leave all of this to the powerful and privileged and join the postmodernists in what (to me, at least) is incomprehensible jargon. All of this is a marvellous gift to power, and much to be deplored, in my opinion.

I could well be wrong. I'm quite open-minded about this. I'll be convinced as soon as someone explains to me some of the new insights that have been achieved. So far, what I read in these domains seems to me either near truism, long accepted, or absurd, incomprehensible, or "obfuscatory" (to borrow your term). Good for careers, and a real service to power. But I don't see any other function.

On the problems of science, as actually practised, doubtless there are many, but I don't see that we gain any understanding of these matters from these sources. Rather, just mountains of confusion and misunderstanding. Not that everything is wrong. What little I understand is often true: e.g., the anti-foundationalism, not only true, but truism, and for hundreds of years. That seems to me the problem: either truism, or unintelligible. To be fair, I'm exaggerating. When one peels away the polysyllablic rhetoric, there are often some good ideas, which could be stated quite simply, I think. If so, why not? Nerits thought, it seems to me.



On the WBAI interview with the author of book on AIDS and Ebola.

Don't know the book, or the author, and didn't hear the interview, so can't really comment. But what you report leads me to suggest skepticism.

Henry Kissinger is not my favorite person in the world, but I'm sure he is not on record with any statement remotely like the one attributed to him. I suspect there may be some (misquoted) reference to some pretty appalling statements by World Bank economist Lawrence Summers, but not these.

On the "claim that the government and the military may have created the AIDS virus to accidentally-on-purpose genocidally exterminate sub-Saharan Africans," that's outlandish, in my opinion. There is neither the will, nor the interest, nor the capacity to do anything remotely of the sort. Apart from everything else, the government (and the military, which is a branch that doesn't act independently, any more than the CIA does, with the rarest of exceptions) wants subsaharan resources to be available for exploitation, and that requires people. Even if there were the remotest possibility (there isn't) of such plans, there would be no way to fine-tune them to leave just the right people in place.

Again, can't comment on the book, author, or interview, but what you report about them suggests to me that caution is necessary, to put it rather mildly.



On a letter of Gambone's in DB called "On Noam Chomsky's Denial of Anarchism"

I should say that the title alone is enough to make me want to stay out of the discussion. It's an odd feature of the anarchist tradition over the years that it seems to have often bred highly authoritarian personality types, who legislate what the Doctrine IS, and with various degrees of fury (often great) denounce those who depart from what they have declared to be the True Principles. Odd form of anarchism. Anyway, I'll put that aside, and also ignore the quoted parts of Gambone's letter that are just tirades.

On JW's comments. I don't agree that a linguist is in any better position to interpret propaganda than anyone else. The professional discipline has a lot of achievements to its credit, but it doesn't help with this. Whatever I do personally in interpreting propaganda is independent of any professional qualifications I may have -- and, in fact, is pretty simple-minded; there are no complicated theories about these matters, though I realize there are those who hold otherwise.

JW asked (reasonably) for my defense of my reference to corporations as "totalitarian" -- actually, not quite: a representative quote appears below. The description is not mine, actually, but borrowed from standard scholarship -- classics of scholarship, in my opinion. I've written about the matter here and there. Instead of answering, perhaps I can just lift something, from a talk to a conference of anarchists (many of whom Gambone would also drive angrily from the fold, no doubt) in Australia, reprinted as chap. 4 of "Powers and Prospects," South End. I'll delete footnotes, and will skip as indicated:

As state capitalism developed into the modern era, economic, political and ideological systems have increasingly been taken over by vast institutions of private tyranny that are about as close to the totalitarian ideal as any that humans have so far constructed. "Within the corporation," political economist Robert Brady wrote half a century ago, "all policies emanate from the control above. In the union of this power to determine policy with the execution thereof, all authority necessarily proceeds from the top to the bottom and all responsibility from the bottom to the top. This is, of course, the inverse of `democratic' control; it follows the structural conditions of dictatorial power." "What in political circles would be called legislative, executive, and judicial powers" is gathered in "controlling hands" which, "so far as policy formulation and execution are concerned, are found at the peak of the pyramid and are manipulated without significant check from its base." As private power "grows and expands," it is transformed "into a community force ever more politically potent and politically conscious," ever more dedicated to a "propaganda program" that "becomes a matter of converting the the point of view of the control pyramid."....

The "banking institutions and moneyed incorporations" of which Thomas Jefferson warned in his later years -- predicting that if not curbed, they would become a form of absolutism that would destroy the promise of the democratic revolution -- have since more than fulfilled his most dire expectations. They have become largely unaccountable and increasingly immune from popular interference and public inspection while gaining great and expanding control over the global order. Those inside their hierarchical command structure take orders from above and send orders down below. Those outside may try to rent themselves to the system of power, but have little other relation to it (except by purchasing what it offers, if they can). The world is more complex than any simple description, but Brady's is pretty close, even more so today than when he wrote....

We tend to think of the resulting structures of power as immutable, virtually a part of nature. They are anything but that. These forms of private tyranny only reached something like their current form, with the rights of immortal persons, early in this century. The grants of rights and the legal theory that lay behind them are rooted in much the same intellectual soil as nourished the other two major forms of 20th century totalitarianism, fascism and Bolshevism. There is no reason to consider this tendency in human affairs to be more permanent than its ignoble brethren.

Conventional practice is to restrict such terms as "totalitarian" and "dictatorship" to political power. Brady is unusual in not keeping to this convention, a natural one, which helps to remove centers of decision-making from the public eye. The effort to do so is expected in any society based on illegitimate authority -- any actual society, that is. That is why, for example, accounts in terms of personal characteristics and failings, vague and unspecific cultural practices, and the like, are much preferred to the study of the structure and function of powerful institutions.

References include Brady, "Business as a System of Power" (Columbia, 1943); Morton Horwitz, "The Transformation of American Law," vol. II (Oxford, 1992).

How close is this to the totalitarian ideal? How close is ANYTHING to the totalitarian ideal? Presumably the USSR comes about as close as anything in the political world. But among serious scholars, even the most passionately anti-Soviet recognize that it didn't approach the ideal too closely. Thus in the current issue of "Diplomatic History," Odd Arne Westad, as anti-Soviet as they come, cites new material from declassified Russian archives that "says quite a lot about how far from the totalitarian model Soviet government really was," explaining why, including the fact that "strong constituencies always had some autonomy within their own fields." He didn't go on to cast lightning bolts at those who call the USSR "totalitarian," as standard scholarship and commentary (properly) do, for reasons that should be clear enough.

Gambone: "Leftism, a statist ideology, and anarchism are incompatible and he [the errant Chomsky] has never seemed to realize this."

He's right. I have never realized it, and still don't. When Gambone explains by what authority he dictates what "leftism" is, I'll be willing to consider this further crime, perhaps atone for it in the manner he orders.

Back to JW. On what anarchism, "really is," it's the wrong question, in my opinion. The term has meant different things to different people, and I'm not aware that anyone owns it (though, as illustrated, there are those who claim otherwise). Many tendencies within anarchism share the belief that one should seek out forms of authority and domination, challenge them to demonstrate their legitimacy, and if they cannot, work with others to undermine them. Others who call themselves "anarchists" support the "collectivist legal entities" (as Horwitz calls them) that were given extraordinary rights about a century ago by the judicial system, outraging conservatives -- the corporations that are as close to the totalitarian ideal as humans have so far contrived, in my opinion.

As to how governance should proceed, that is a legitimate area of discussion. My own preference would be to address it in a different context, not one set by the preachings of some self-designated Master Anarchist.

The rest of JW's comments suit me personally pretty well, but again, I'd suggest discussing the topics in a different context.

End of reply


On Separating Wealth and Power

Query was: "What are your views on a constitutional amendment to seperate Wealth & Power? Would it satisfy anarcho-socialist priciples?"

That's a tough one to answer. On far-reaching anarcho-socialist principles, there wouldn't be a state with a constitution to amend. Understanding those principles as adapted to real world choices in the short term, the question is still hard for me to answer. Since neither wealth nor power should exist on those principles, what would it mean to separate them? If the meaning is that wealth should be barred from exercising political power, I quite agree, even on much more general principles. But I don't think that can be done by constitutional amendment (in fact, if the support for such an amendment could be achieved, the problem would have been solved in other ways). There isn't any "technical fix" to the fact that wealth basically owns the government and runs elections. I think it makes good sense to support various reforms of the kind that are floating around, and others, but without illusions: there will always be a way for the rich and powerful to evade them. The reforms are a form of consciousness-raising, in my opinion, always a good thing, but only if accompanied by honesty.


On Lefever in WSJ.

Yes, I read the column, and I know who Lefever is. He's an unusually vulgar gangster, the kind who might have been published by Pravda in its worst days, though possibly they might not have stooped quite that low. He has a long record of supporting any atrocity, any barbarism, no matter how outrageous, as long as it is carried out by the state he serves with abject slavishness -- which is, no doubt, why he is the head of something called a Center for ethical whatever. Bad joke, not worth attending to. Only an editorial board as infantile as that of the WSJ would publish him without wincing.

I wouldn't take this too seriously, frankly. The WSJ is a very useful newspaper. Its reporting is often extremely good: informative and professional, in part because their readers are people who have to have a tolerably realistic understanding of the world, since they make decisions that matter to the people who matter; in part because its readers can be trusted, by and large, being "within the tribe." The two opinion pages are a different matter. They are a kind of comic strip, which Orwell or Jonathan Swift would have found embarrassing. They're kind of fun to read, but hardly worth clipping. Too ridiculous.



On Tikkun, Lerner, West

I don't like to make general criticisms about people and journals without providing specific evidence, so don't feel I can respond to your query. I just can't do the research now.

On a "demilitarized Palestinian state," discussion of the matter is just an evasion. The "peace process" designed by Washington and Israeli Labor Party "doves" was designed to construct a situation that made South African Bantustans look pretty good. The issue before us is to reverse these racist policies, not to prate vacuously about the form a Palestinian state might take in some other universe. On security threats to Israel, they doubtless are real, and doubtless are to a large (I think, overwhelming) extent a result of deliberate Israeli choices, to prefer security threats to a peace that would mean recognition of Palestinian rights. I think the evidence for this is overwhelming, including explicit acknowledgement by high official sources within Israel. Have reviewed the matter in print, and won't repeat.

Noam Chomsky


On Anthony Lewis, Pol Pot, etc.

You're right that Lewis "blandly repeated the propaganda line," knowing full well that he is lying through his teeth. My initial reaction was to disregard it. At the suggestion of Ed Herman and others, I wrote a short letter, which the Times received on June 26, and of today (July 1) had not published. We'll see. I think I've probably posted the letter in response to earlier inquiries, so won't do so now.

Within the general spectrum of permitted opinion, Lewis is one of the best. He did, after all, come out against the Vietnam war in late 1969, about a year and a half after the US business community ordered LBJ to call it off, describing the war as having begun with "blundering efforts to do good" that turned into a "disaster," too costly to us. Most Stalinist commissars didn't go that far, in comparable situations, though some did. He's at the outer limits of tolerable dissent, and sometimes takes positions that are a bit beyond the (rather narrow) limits that are tolerated.

On Brzezinski, yes, he was certainly influential in the Carter Administration support for Pol Pot from early 1978, part of the "tilt towards China." I'm away at the moment, and can't check references, but I'm sure you'll find this in Michael Vickery's important book "Cambodia" (South End, 1983) and Ben Kiernan's papers and book.

You're quite right that the worst atrocities were in 1978, at the time of US support for Pol Pot (the famous piles of skulls, etc.). That's now undisputed among serious analysts. Presumably US support is the reason why the CIA, in its demographic study of Cambodia in the 70's, denied totally the atrocities of 1978, and claimed that the early atrocities (which it estimated at 50,000-100,000 killed, a ludicrous underestimate) had ended by 1977, and that few peasants really suffered. Published in 1980, and regarded as definitive by top US government specialists (including the leading State Department "Cambodia watcher," later US Ambassador to Phnom Penh), the CIA study was completely suppressed, because the conclusions were plainly intolerable to the doctrinal system. I have a brief comment about it in "Towards a New Cold War." Vickery, one of the very few serious Cambodia scholars, reviewed it in detail in the "Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars" and his book, and (if I recall) gives this explanation for the CIA's curious behavior, which is not alone. In late '79, when the facts were in, the leading US government scholar, Douglas Pike, also produced quite positive comments about the Pol Pot regime. For Lewis and the like, such apologetics are not useful, so they are suppressed. His comments are quoted in various places, including (if I recall) Ed Herman's and my review of all of this in "Manufacturing Consent."



On "muckracker" on Sproule

On "muckraker," yes, the term is intended to be demeaning -- to distinguish real thinkers/scholars from irresponsible types who we serious folk can ignore. It's a standard put-down, a common device of self-protection in the ideological disciplines. The usual device is gross misrepresentation and fabrication (not at all uncommon) or more usually, just silence.

On Michael Sproule's book, don't know it, I'm afraid. Will be interested in your reactions, and in hearing what Sproule has to say about Carey. It's hard to imagine that he never heard of Carely, at least if he has opened the books he dismisses as "muckraking" (both Ed Herman and I, jointly have separately, have referred to and cited his work a lot for years, and our book "Manufacturing Consent" is dedicated to him). Hence only two possibilities: (1) Sproule is condemning work he has never looked at; (2) he knows about Carey's essays but chose the silent treatment. Of course, he might not have known the published collection when he wrote his book. Depends on dates.

Noam Chomsky


On MidEast matter…

I agree with you that the discussion of the PA's death penalty for land sales is "superficial," aside from any judgment about the PA decision. Whether the PA gave the land away to Israel at Oslo or not depends on how one interprets UN 242 (the Oslo framework). The PA pretends that UN 242 means what it means to the whole world (and to the US, pre-1971): full Israeli withdrawal, with at most minor and MUTUAL modifications. But in international affairs, the meaning of words isn't determined by dictionaries or the historical/documentary record. Rather, by the decisions of the powerful, and since 1971, the US (alone in the world, apart from Israel) has interpreted the withdrawal provision to mean "partial withdrawal," as the US and Israel decide. I've written about this in Z, and in books, and won't elaborate; but I think the matter is pretty clear.

Of course, as you say, none of this can enter public discourse, no matter how well-established.

On JNF land, you can find details in my book "Towards a New Cold War," and in even fuller detail, in Walter Lehn with Uri Davis, "The Jewish National Fund." There's useful background in Ian Lustick, "Arabs in the Jewish State." The basic story is that the JNF owns 14% of the land, and 78% is "state land" (figures are estimates; details are not released). All of this land is under the control of the JNF, by various complex administrative arrangements, designed carefully to disguise from the US taxpayer (who fund most of this, directly or indirectly (through tax-free gifts)), that 92% of the land of Israel proper (not the occupied territories) is administered by an organization which, under its contract with the State of Israel, is restricted to actions that are of benefit to people of "Jewish race, religion, or origin." One can understand the reason for the deception and the lies.

Within that 92%, it's pretty clear that virtually all usage is restricted to Jews, though there may be occasional short-term leases to non-Jews (technically, non-Jews are not even permitted to work on this land as laborers, and there are reported cases of Israeli farms and collectives being fined and otherwise disciplined for hiring Arabs as wage laborers, though the authorities often look the other way, because super-cheap labor without rights is often needed). It's hard to prove this definitively, because contracts are virtually a state secret. They don't want this information to reach the public. But it's pretty clear that this is how things work.

On Benvenisti, he's basically correct, in my opinion, but I would suggest skepticism about the conclusion that the Americans "are really shooting themselves in the foot with contradictory statements and unreliable reports." That assumes that they don't know what they are doing. Why assume this? Thus, unless they are complete imbeciles, they know as well as the US press does that the current Israeli construction in East Jerusalem (Israel's "Har Homa"), attributed to the "bad guy" Netanyahu, was actually announced by the government of the great Prince of Peace Shimon Peres in Feb. 1996, to be initiated exactly a year later, in exactly the form that Netanyahu did it at the time announced. The US and the press much prefer the Labor style of hypocrisy to the Likud "in your face" method, more or less a class matter. But one can hardly imagine that they don't know the facts (they appear, if you are interested, in my "World Orders, Old and New," paperback edition, 1997, with sources cited).

On the Dayan transcripts, they confirm what had been known for a long time from much more reliable sources: the memoirs of the UN commanders. I've written about it long ago, using those sources, as have others, but such material has not been allowed to pass through doctrinal filters. When it comes from Dayan, a local hero, it becomes "news," though the press (and scholarship) have yet to admit a lot of other things he said; e.g., his advice in the early '70s to treat the Arabs of the territories "like dogs," so they will flee (recall that among Labor leaders, he was the most sympathetic to the Arab population). There's nothing in the Dayan material (which I've read in the original Hebrew version) that is not well-known from other (more reliable) sources, and in print in English too.

On Eban, he's a complete and surely conscious fraud. No moderately serious historian pays any attention to him. There's a very neat dissection of his disgraceful performance on '67 in Norman Finkelstein's excellent book "Image and Reality in the Israel-Palestine Conflict."

"Why are these obvious conclusions not drawn? What about the complicitous media that has neglected to inquire about the suffering of the Lebanese, or those Syrian villagers ejected from the Golan Heights -- as well as Israelis -- as a consequence of Israel's land grab? Or their complicity in adopting the fraudulent claims as exemplified by Abba Eban's framing?"

So what else is new?

On an update of "Fateful Triangle," it's been suggested several times, but I doubt that I'll do it. There are regular updates in print: in "Pirates and Emperors," "Necessary Illusions," "Deterring Democracy" (particularly the expanded paperback), "World Orders, Old and New" (again, particularly the expanded paperback, running through mid-1996), "Powers and Prospects," and lots of articles, many in Z. The factual material (let alone the discussion and analysis), mostly from Israeli or archival sources, cannot enter the public record, even the critical/dissident (left) spectrum, any more than FT or earlier things like it did. I'm not convinced, frankly, that there would be much point in doing a systematic update. But I'm glad to hear that you personally found FT valuable. That's encouraging, to tell the truth.

End of reply


On Palestine.

On a "democratic secular state," it's a little misleading, I think, to say that Arafat has given up on it. There's debate about the matter, but my reading of the PLO record is that he never advocated it, and probably didn't understand what the terms meant. My reasons for believing this were spelled out in an exchange in "Socialist Revolution" (now "Socialist Review") about 20 years ago, the basic parts reprinted in "Towards a New Cold War" (mostly in a long footnote).

What the long-term goal should be is for the people involved to decide. As for people here, I think our main goal should be to try to construct a popular force that will reverse the policies of the US government for many years, leading the rejectionist camp, in virtual international isolation. The "peace process" is the outcome of the success of that policy, a remarkable testimonial to the rule of force in international affairs. I don't think we should tolerate that, and I think people in the US would not tolerate it if they had any sense of what has been going on. I've explained elsewhere at considerable length, including articles in Z and books, and won't repeat.

The US population, typically by about 2-1, has supported Palestinian national rights. That's pretty remarkable, given the fact that people had to come to that conclusion pretty much on their own, and without any way of knowing the crucial facts (except by the kind of research effort that few individuals can undertake, or access to the kind of information that reaches only a margin). I think that suggests that there is a strong potential base for a solidarity movement that could make a considerable difference, rather as in the case of Apartheid. There are many reasons why this hasn't happened. In response to your question, my feeling is that efforts should be focused on making it happen. Not impossible, though by no means easy.

On aid to Israel, technically it is illegal, as Human Rights Watch has repeatedly pointed out, because of provisions in US law barring aid to countries that systematically carry out torture. Technicalities apart, it is outrageous that such a huge component of US foreign aid (which is the most miserly of any developed country) should go to a rich country. I don't doubt that most people would strongly oppose this, and probably already do, judging by the few polls. But more important than the specific issue of aid is the general thrust of policy, which should be radically reversed, I think, for pretty much the reasons you indicate.


On "Living Marxism" and Bosnia.

Yes, I know the journal, and have subscribed to it for some years. Cited it too. One really notable achievement of theirs was during the Gulf war, when they were the only journal in the world, to my knowledge, to have taken the trouble to investigate the declassified British archives on Iraq/Kuwait, which turn out to be extremely revealing. It's most intriguing that even scholarship, let alone journalism, refuses flatly to concede that they exist, though the first thing any sane person would have turned to in 1990 is the US/UK records on the Iraqi coup of 1958, the first break in the Anglo-American condominium over oil. In the US, the only person (to my knowledge) to have looked at the records is Irene Gendzier. I used this material, both UK and US, at the time, in articles in Z, later in "Deterring Democracy," citing LM and Gendzier too. To the best of my knowledge, it remains "off limits" in the substantial literature on this topic, notably "respectable scholarship," which gives it a very wide berth. For that alone they deserve considerable respect.

I've followed this case too, and am one of the signers of a petition, published in England I think, protesting against the attempt to silence them by a big TV conglomerate that sued them for libel for publishing what they did. As to the facts of the matter, I haven't checked, and have no opinion. They are, of course, irrelevant to the power play to silence LM. British libel laws are an outrageous scandal, and provide the rich and powerful with very effective means to silence those they don't like.

I think I probably have correspondence and maybe information from the photographer too. Could check, if you are interested. I think his name was Deichmann. Something like that.

Noam Chomsky


On "US policies of protectionism - i.e., free market rhetoric coupled with economic warfare..."

You're quite right that this double-edged market theory is pervasive, including the UK. In fact, Britain invented the practice in the 18th century, destroying India (then the manufacturing and commercial center of the world) by imposing an extreme version of what is now called "neoliberalism," while resorting to massive protection and state intervention and violence to protect its own dominant economic interests (and harming not only the colonies but also the British people thereby, Adam Smith alleged). Since then, it has been near universal. The countries that "developed" are Europe and those who escaped its domination and the enforced "liberalism" that went along with it (US, Japan and its colonies). And so matters continue today.

On the EU and the US, it's been a complex matter since the late '40s. On the one hand, the US has pressed for economic union, in part on the assumption that US investors would do much better in a common market that isn't broken up into national units. On the other hand, there has been concern among US planners, particularly in more recent years, that a major economic rival might be arising. So policies have been complex. There are other issues. Countries are not entities: dominant European elites have different interests and goals than their own populations, and these cross national boundaries.

There is very little conflict between the US and EU over GATT. Overwhelmingly, leadership elements in both want to extend the mixture of liberalism and protectionism written into the Uruguay Round agreements, though they all recognize that corporate power relies heavily on the home country for markets, socialization of cost and risk, often direct bailout, etc. There are, furthermore, growing strategic alliances among corporations across the "triad" (US, Europe, Japan). Within Europe, as in the US, the "free market" is preached to the poor. Under Thatcher, for example, the ratio of state expenditures to GNP didn't change (the most recent figures are literally identical to 1979, to the last 1/4%). Rather, the nanny state spread its wings differently over various sectors of the population. Same here.

On visits to the UK, I get there now and then, usually about once a year. A lot of invitations hanging, but nothing definitely in the near future.



Re JFK assassination, Parenti.

I haven't read the Parenti transcript you mention or what he has published on the same topic (I understand that there are articles, also a book, if I recall). You asked me to comment on his statement that (1) neither Cockburn nor I "knows a damn thing about the assassination" and that (2) we "are looking at the issue from a left wing perspective..."

I can't answer for Cockburn, but for me, statement (1) is close to true and statement (2) is gibberish, neither true nor false.

On (1), it's true that I know very little about the assassination. The only thing I've written about it is that the claim that it was a high-level conspiracy with policy significance is implausible to a quite extraordinary degree. History isn't physics, and even in physics nothing is really "proven," but the evidence against this claim is overwhelming, from every testable point of view, remarkably so for a historical event. Given that conclusion, which I think is very well founded (that I have written about, a lot), I have no further interest in the assassination, and while I've read a few of the books, out of curiosity, I haven't given the matter any attention and have no opinion about how or why JFK was killed.

People shouldn't be killed, whether they are presidents or kids in the urban slums. I know of no reason to suppose that one should have more interest in the JFK assassination than lots of killings not far from the White House.

Given the plain facts about (1), I think it is clear why (2) is gibberish. Parenti or anyone else who reads what I have written can readily determine, if rational, that (2) is gibberish, because of the plain facts about (1). That's simple logic. One cannot adopt a left-wing perspective (or any other perspective) on an issue that one has no interest in and nothing to say about.

On the single matter just mentioned, there is no "left-wing" or "right-wing" perspective. The evidence is so overwhelming that questions of interpretation hardly arise. If someone can show that they do, I'll gladly look. But what I have looked at on this question (for example, various elaborate theories about JFK's alleged intentions on Vietnam, or policy changes resulting from his death, or similar things about Cuba, the Cold War, etc.) simply does not begin to withstand rational inquiry. That's true even of work by personal friends who are serious scholars on other issues, but who become so irrational on this issue that they cannot even read the words that are before their eyes, sometimes in the most remarkable ways.

As for whether "power elites perceived JFK to be a threat to the status quo," the statement is close to meaningless. If someone can produce some coherent version of the statement, and then some evidence for that version, I'll be glad to look at it.

I don't know Parenti's work well, but most of what I've read is quite good and useful, except on this topic. That's not unique to him. The JFK assassination has engendered a kind of cult-like reaction, and ordinarily rational people act in what seem to me very strange ways.

Noam Chomsky


On Pol Pot, etc.

Am still away, and can't check sources, but if Vickery doesn't discuss US policy towards the KR in his book, I'm pretty sure he does in articles from the early '80s. In particular, early on he pointed out that the US "tilt towards China" under Carter coincided with the "soft line" towards Pol Pot, and he relates this, if I recall, to the whitewash of KR atrocities in 1978 in the CIA demographic study. When I get home, can check, if you are interested.

Kiernan is the director of the Yale Cambodia Genocide project.

The conclusions of the CIA study were "intolerable to the doctrinal system" because it was a whitewash of the Khmer Rouge, claiming that there were killings at the beginning but not too many (they give a low estimate and claim they were mostly military personnel and the like), that peasants didn't suffer all that much, and that by 1978 (when the US was tilting toward China and Pol Pot), things were looking better. The CIA study attributes the mass of the killings to the Vietnamese, after their invasion. That plainly won't fit the picture of the KR as comparable to Hitler and Stalin, a conception desperately needed by the Western intellectual community to provide retrospective justification for the US war, for which the atrocities were used, massively. Similarly, the extraordinary apologetics for Pol Pot by people like Douglas Pike (the leading US government scholar on Indochina, and now the head of the Indochina research center at Berkeley) are completely suppressed, as are the reports from the "Far Eastern Economic Review" (among them, their conclusion in Jan. 1980, which they later attributed to the CIA, that the population had actually RISEN by about a million under Pol Pot), and the reports by their highly respected correspondent Nayan Chanda that high US officials predicted in 1975 that a million would die in Cambodia from the after effects of the US bombing. Material of this sort is simply unacceptable, along with much else. One should underestimate the extraordinary doctrinal significance of the KR atrocities for the commissar culture.

On events of the 1980s and since, and the issues you raise, I'd suggest that you consult publications by Michael Vickery, Ben Kiernan, Steve Heder, and others, who differ quite radically, and draw your own conclusions. It's pretty murky, in my opinion.

Noam Chomsky



It's true, as you say, that the material they present is not documented. But that's the nature of the format. It's basically a journal, and journals aren't documented. You're also right in looking at the material with a skeptical eye -- that, or anything else. My own feeling is that they material they produce ranks rather high by reasonable standards (surely by the usual ones), and includes a lot that one can't easily find elsewhere. But that you have to think it through for yourself. I can't make a general comment. Materials vary.


On "making sense of the world"

No easy task. Hard enough to make sense of one's life, and there at least we have direct information -- sometimes.

On Clinton's proposals, you'll note that they have one feature that is quite familiar: they happen (by sheerest accident) to be beneficial to US investors, if even meaningful.

1. Lower tariffs, US imports from Africa are overwhelmingly raw materials. When Kenya recently tried to follow the usual path to industrialization, beginning with textiles (like Britain, us, in fact most everyone), Clinton slammed a high tariff in 1994 and the Kenyan textile industry collapsed. Suppose Africa were to interfere with, say, the US semiconductor industry. They'd be treated the way Japan was by the Reaganites, the most protectionist regime in postwar US history. You could well turn out to be right about exports from US-owned firms in Africa, if they ever reach sufficient scale.

2. Aid. This is real cynicism. US foreign aid is the most miserly in the industrial world, by a large margin -- and in fact well below what people suggest as the right level, in polls. This suggestion is a sick joke. And as you say, aid (such as it is) is mostly export-promotion (not only ours).

3. To translate into English: this means US taxpayer grants to US investors and corporations.

4. The debt proposals so far have been imprecise, but seem to involve debt to the International Financial Institutions (IFIs, World Bank and IMF), which took over much of the debt of commercial banks. This is a kind of "socialism for the rich." If anyone believed in capitalism, then banks are responsible for the bad loans they make. But since no one does (to be precise, the Japanese did play by the rules, alone I think), the debt was "socialized," handed over to taxpayers, who fund the IFIs. For them, it is something of an embarrassment to have to report that the poorest countries in the world are funding the IFIs, when debt service exceeds loans, as it often does. What I've read also talks about reduction, not elimination. I'd suggest looking at the small print.

The great news for Africa is the old news about "economic liberalism," these days dressed up as the "Washington consensus." It means market discipline for the poor, while the rich shelter under the wings of the nanny state, if need be. Like here. Children are sternly lectured about the evils of the cycle of dependency -- by folks like Newt Gingrich, who holds records in bringing Federal subsidies to his rich constituents. And so on, for centuries. Note that the "liberal reforms" do benefit elite elements in the Third World. Go to the poorest country you like, and there is a sector of superrich. They find all of this quite fine.

If you are interested in how things actually work in Africa, there is good material, though you may have to work a bit to find it. Susan George has a series of very good books on debt and related matters, which have material on Africa. One rather useful recent book specifically about Africa is John Mihevc, "The Market Tells them So" (Zed 1995). Another good general book about these things is Michael Chossudovsky, "Globalisation of Poverty" (Third World Network (Malaysia 1996, but obtainable here with some effort -- he's a Canadian economist, in Ottawa). You really have to look closely, case by case. Also, one can't ask whether something is "good for Africa" (or for the US, etc.). Proposals are good for some, bad for others. Ideological fanatics use terms like "national interest," but one shouldn't be deluded.

I wish I had simple proposals to make. Not surprisingly, the folks who have the power and privilege don't go out of their way to make things easy for people who are trying to make sense of the world. Why should they?


Re interview in June Z

On the two questions you raised:

1. It isn't surprising that Inquiry was willing -- to my knowledge, pleased -- to publish articles of mine, among them, East Timor (also on Kissinger and, if I recall other things too -- I kept writing for them until they went out of business). We share a lot of ground: opposition to state terror and atrocities, distaste for the reigning intellectual culture and its subservience to power, etc. We also differ on a lot of things, quite fundamentally, but the editors (including personal friends) were civilized human beings, not doctrinal fanatics, and understand, as we all should, that people who disagree do not have to kill one another -- in fact, can remain open-minded about the areas of disagreement, quite often. On East Timor, I presume they thought it was as much of a horror as I did. Why not? It was.

As for the Wall St. Journal and Cockburn, I suspect that's a rather different story. But you might want to ask him what he thinks.

My younger brother? He was probably about 3 at the time. I suspect he had no intention other than to see what would happen if the button turned. No point asking him in this case. I'm pretty sure he doesn't remember.

Enjoyed your personal stories. The Little League one took guts, for a kid, given the enormous pressures for conformity on such (idiotic) things.

Noam Chomsky


On war crimes commissions, Ramsey Clark, etc.

1) There is no general information about how commissions of the inquiry of the kind you refer to are formed. We could decide to form one right now. They are formed when people form them. Some have had a continuing existence over a long period, but that's because the people more or less stayed together, or there was a constant funding source, or something like that.

2) "More specifically, what does it really mean that Bush & Co. were found guilty of nineteen violations of international law?"

3) It means that the group of people who got together decided this, nothing more, nothing less. Whether the decision was accurate or not you have to judge for yourself.

4) Clark's background. Better not to ask. Until the Tet offensive, for example, he was responsible for organizing the trials of antiwar protesters. But that's long past. I know of no evidence that he had any role in decision-making about Vietnam.


On critics, anarchism, etc.

Sorry, I seem to have missed that one.

Glad you didn't mention the name of the government professor at UT. The quotations you give indicate that his response to your query consists of two assertions: (1) "I don't read his stuff"; (2) it's all nonsense, except by random accident, because "he does not proceed from received findings in my discipline."

The quotes are interesting. As an experiment, you might try asking someone in a field that values ordinary intellectual integrity (say, some scientist) for reactions to work by someone outside the professional discipline. The chances of receiving answers (1) and (2) are rather slim, for two reasons. First, few people are so unfamiliar with minimal rational standards that they will state that I don't read X and know that X is nonsense; usually there is at least an attempt to avoid instant self-refutation. Second, in disciplines that have some commitment to intellectual integrity, no one would offer the reason (2). Rather, one expects most of the best work -- say, the next paper I get from a grad student in my department -- not (repeat, NOT) -- to "proceed from received findings in my discipline." If it does, it's probably boring.

(2) is the statement of a religious fanatic, not a person with any familiarity with the fundamental assumptions of scholarship or science. I don't mean to suggest that the response you received is out of the ordinary. But that may tell us something, something so obvious that I won't spell it out.

I should say that this is all very familiar to me, for curious personal reasons. Fact is that I have no professional credentials in any field; that's why I'm at MIT, a science-based university that didn't care back in the '50s, when the work I was doing was unrecognizable to the professional disciplines, and unpublishable; can add details if you like. I still don't have authentic professional credentials. E.g., I couldn't possibly get through my own department, as everyone in the field (including students here) knows very well. My own work has ranged quite widely, from mathematics to political "science" (have you ever noticed which fields call themselves "science"?; there are departments of "political science," "social science," etc., but not "chemical science," etc.). Over the years, I've been invited to talk about (very amateur) work I've done in graduate seminars in math in major universities around the world (Harvard, Tokyo, Paris, etc.). Everyone attending knew I had no background in math (in fact, I never took an undergraduate course, and very few graduate courses). It would never have occurred to anyone to bring up my "credentials." Rather, they were interested in knowing whether it was true and interesting, and whether it could be improved with more sophisticated approaches (as it could, not surprisingly). If anyone had made statements of the kind you quote, they would have been laughed out of the room.

Same in my own field -- meaning, the one where I'm listed, since some kind of formal structure is needed for bureaucratic reasons, though no one pays much attention to it in areas that are at all serious. Some of the most respected contributors to contemporary linguistics don't even have a degree in the subject, and have never taken a course, except what they may have audited. On the other hand, when I am on a panel with a political "scientist" or other social "scientist," their contribution invariably begins with silly little jokes, of about 8th-grade level, about lack of credentials.

In general, my (fairly wide) experience is that the more intellectual content a field has, the less people care about credentials -- and no one outside of established religions (and their academic/intellectual counterparts) would ever be foolish enough to demand conformity to "received opinions." The reason for the correlation is obvious enough. If you are a physicist or mathematician, or even a linguist or psychologist, you don't have to appeal to "credentials" to protect yourself. The intellectual content that has been achieved over many years suffices.

You asked for suggestions about a response. I'd suggest none. What the person you quoted needs is not criticism, or material to read, but some sympathetic advice to begin all over, maybe in elementary school, to try to come to perceive the difference between obedience to religious doctrine and a minimal conception of integrity. Such problems were serious in the 17th century, and in some domains, evidently, still are.

It's not very hard to see why, but it always makes sense to come to terms with the facts about the world.



On Anthony Lewis.

In this case, it's willful deceit. My initial intention was to ignore it. Even if they would publish a letter, it would at best have no effect; the beauty of this kind of slander is that for people who haven't the time or interest to check the evidence -- and who does? -- it ends up being "one guy's word against another's," and "where there is smoke there must be fire," so the slanderer automatically wins, especially when there is a strong predisposition to believe it, whatever the facts, and of course there is. The Pol Pot atrocities were a very badly needed gift for the commissar class here, who needed a retrospective justification for their support for the wars in Indochina (including the Lewis-style support, meaning little twitters of protest when the cost to us got too great in these "blundering efforts to do good," as he describe the origins of the war about a year and a half after the US business community ordered it called off, and criticism became legitimate. That's at best. More likely it would simply be the occasion for some new flood of lies, with the same consequences as above, only more so. The outcome of the game is predetermined within a well-run doctrinal system, whatever the facts.

However, at the urging of several people, I did write the Times a letter, below.

Yes, I've had occasional contacts with Lewis. He's not a bad person, but is trying desperately to keep respectable, and the result is a regular series of awful things. I've quoted them now and then, as he no doubt knows -- that's the reason why he stoops to this sort of thing, as revenge, knowing quite well that he can get away with anything he says of this sort, and will win points from the Cambridge liberal intellectuals whose cocktail parties he attends.

How can one widen debate? Not in the Times, I expect. I've already received quite a few copies of letters from people who are (properly) outraged at the selectivity of their concern for the "universality of the yearning for human rights," and ask the obvious questions: great, bring Pol Pot to trial, but what about Kissinger, Suharto, and a long list of others who quickly come to mind. I'd be surprised if any of these are printed. Widening debate can only be done in other arenas, as always.

Noam Chomsky


On Kennedy, Missile Crisis, etc.

>>JFK is admired because he was willing to risk nuclear war rather than let Khruschev save face (by agreeing to withdraw the missiles from Turkey) I heard recently that some new information has become declassified on this, but I don't recall where I heard it. It basically said that through intelligence the administration knew Khruschev was planning to back down if it came to a nuclear confrontation. So it really took no guts to do make the threats that he did, though it had the whole world on the edge of its seat. If it's true it was an incredible PR coup. Can anybody substantiate this?

Can't be, to my understanding. All the internal docs showed that various factions placed the likelihood of war at between a third, to mostly a half, to some thinking it was virtually inevitable and let's just hit em now.

I don't think courage would be the proper word for JFK's choice. Rather, it seems to have been one of those instances where the "logic" and hubris of imperial power led to an inane choice. It would seem to arguably be the single most morally grotesque decision a human "leader" has ever come to -- having, in his own mind, risked the future of humanity (an exaggeration of the effects of a war then, probably, but not by too much) for the principle that the US can do whatever it damn well pleases and that other countries can also do whatever the US damn well pleases -- or, better, whatever damn well pleases the US.


More on Kennedy

Sorry to be abrupt, but I have a huge mass of e-mail to deal with in the next few hours. In order.

1. "Great Man view of history & Kennedy Mystique." A. "Kennedy prevented nuclear war in the Cuban missile crisis by standing up to Curtis LeMay and the military." Have a look at the Excomm records, published in "International Security" a few years ago. LBJ didn't play much of a role, but he was to the dovish side of JFK. I haven't had a chance to read the new more extensive version that has just appeared, but soon will, and won't be surprised to discover that the same is true.

My own view is that JFK's behavior was close to lunacy, for reasons I've written about, and that withstand all new data that have yet appeared, to my knowledge. B. "Kennedy would have suspended the Vietnam debacle by standing up to the right wing pressures that Johnson couldn't handle." In this case, the documentation is overwhelming, well beyond what is usually available for a historical event, and it demonstrates precisely the opposite. JFK was one of the hawks of his administration. LBJ followed his more dovish policies after the assassination, and was highly praised for that by the most extreme doves in the Kennedy camp (Ball, Mansfield, etc.). For extensive documentation, using all records available (of which there is a huge amount), see my book "Remaking Camelot" (South End, 1993).

What has appeared since, including the McNamara affair, simply confirms the picture more fully; I've written about it in Z, if you are interested. The desire to believe the opposite of what the facts overwhelmingly reveal reflects a strange kind of "great man" worship that infects the left as well, maybe particularly the left. Important phenomenon to investigate, but there isn't much doubt about the facts, which are about as clear as a subject like history allows.

2. "What stumped everyone was why the U.S. is so supportive of Israel and its policies when this serves to make the Islamic oil producing states hostile to the U.S. On the surface, this appears to run counter to our imperial interests. A concise answer to this would be most welcome." I think the answer to this question is fairly clear, from the extensive documentary record. I've repeatedly reviewed it in print, and I think it gives sharp answers. For a recent survey, see chap. 3 of my "World Orders old and New" (1994), and for an update through 1996, the "epilogue" to the paperback edition. I can't repeat in a letter the mass of material I've reviewed in print on this matter, but again, it seems to me to give quite clear and plausible answers.

3. "How does he do that, what is his method, what set of principles guide him, and where is his vantage point from which he sees the world so clearly?" I have no method, and no vantage point, other than one that is available to everyone. Seek the truth. In some domains -- say, the sciences, it can be difficult. In the domain of human affairs, just about anything that is understood at all is pretty much on the surface. Naturally, one has to have some guidelines, but they are pretty simple too. Thus, one has to ask always -- I mean, ALWAYS, specifically, in reading what I write -- what is the perspective and standpoint from which the person or institution is presenting his/her/its view of the world. And a sensible person will try to correct for that. Further truisms of the same sort, but they are all just common sense. There's nothing to strain the capacities of an intelligent teenager, who is willing to do the work -- and it can be a lot of work -- though naturally (again) intellectuals have a vested interest in claiming the contrary.

Noam Chomsky


On corporations, structuralism, theory, etc.

General comment. I'd suggest that if you want to continue this discussion, we do so privately. It's hard for me to imagine that the directions it is taking would be of interest to the forum. I'd prefer to drop it publicly with this response.

Your first point is that by citing the standard observation that the grant of extraordinary rights to corporations -- rights of immortal persons of unimaginable power -- I am "tar[ring] organic entities across the board." That's simply false. I'm "tarring" nothing; rather, simply describing the facts. Your further comments on this matter don't pertain to what I wrote, but to what some one might derive from "a superficial Chomsky type 3 scan of your post [by] associative means." I can't comment on that.

On the similarities of corporations to fascist-bolshevik structures, I'd suggest that you might want to go beyond the "personal experience" to which you say you limit yourself, and look at some of the literature, for example, what I mentioned (Brady, etc.). Incidentally, there is no doubt that when my brother-in-law incorporates himself that's a bit different from GM. On the Sherman Antitrust Act, there is also excellent literature, including what I cited (Sklar), which reveals that the story is quite different from what casual inspection suggests.

On Hegel being "a man of his time," that's not quite true. By the standards of his time he was an egregious racist and a person of quite appalling ignorance; see the references I cited. Your statement that "he was a boring teacher, like Theodore Kaczynski at Berkeley," hardly does justice to the reality. But there's a lot more to Hegel than the shocking and horrifying remarks I quoted from his most mature and respected work, and for the reasons I mentioned, I don't feel that this is the place to go into a discussion of Hegel (even if I were competent to do so, which I am not -- or much interested in becoming so, to tell the truth).You say you "object to the inaccuracy of using him as a code word for all that is retrograde." I would object too, if anyone had done that. But I'm not aware that anyone has. On the contrary, Hegel is greatly respected, across the spectrum. My citation of standard works on neo-Hegelian (NB: NEO-) ideas, for which Hegel has no responsibility, that enter into the doctrines that underlie Bolshevism-Fascism-corporations does not imply, even vaguely hint at, the idea that Hegel is "a code word for all that is retrograde."

On working people fighting against wage slavery, see, e.g., Michael Sandel's recent book _Democracy's discontents_. Recall that the critique of wage slavery as not very different from slavery was quite standard, ranging from the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, and the New York Times, to the independent working class press (on that, see the classic work of Norman Ware, which I've cited frequently). Your belief that northern workers wanted "wage slavery" extended to the South is incorrect, as I think you'll find if you look into the matter.

The standard 19th century term "wage slavery" is accurate. It is quite true that you can choose to starve any time you like, but that does not have any bearing on the issues discussed in a range of opinion as broad as what I have just mentioned.

Modern slavery was not by any means the result of "peculiar biological conditions of the South and Caribbean." Rather, of peculiar social/historical/economic circumstances, which are of great interest. There's an enormous literature on this topic. You object to my "straightforward (to [your] mind overly so) substitution of phrases" -- that is, my substitution in your original charge of the phrase you offered as your correction. I plead guilty. I cannot read your mind, but only what you write. You say that I "substitute `an ongoing discussion' for `theory'," thus misrepresenting what you say. But it was you, not I, who said that by charging me with "deliberate lack of respect for theory" you meant to charge me with "deliberate lack of respect for an ongoing discussion"; as you put it, by "theory" you meant "an ongoing discussion." Again, I can only read what you write, not what you may have in mind.

I'm afraid I couldn't make head or tail of the comments that follow.

In response to my suggestion that you might perhaps provide "some argument to support your claim that `theory is important because it allows you to deconstruct the message'," you say that "skepticism and nihilism now even effect kids," "the rest is silence" be filled by the discourse of corporations," and we should read "theoretic" film criticism to "move the discussion forward." You offer one example: "you ever notice how Speed Racer has to be in control of the situation, just like Tom Hanks, whereas the `sidekick' in both has more freedom?"

Could well be my inadequacy again, but I'm afraid all that -- I've cited everything -- leaves me as uninformed as before. You speak of Derrida's "genius" in avoiding texts that can be checked and referring to Austin's "Saturday morning lectures," of which there is no record and of which he seems to know nothing. I happened to know Austin rather well, and attended his Saturday morning lectures. I don't see any resemblance to Derrida's constructions.

On "the American Searle," I also know him quite well. We've had many sharp disagreements -- in print, so perhaps irrelevant to the kind of critical discussion you have in mind. But in his interchange with Derrida, I thought he was entirely correct, and I must say that I found Derrida's response pretty unimpressive, to put it politely. If you want accuracy, I thought it was disgraceful. On De Saussure's notes, I suggest you look at the scholarly literature (particularly, Godel's edition), rather than keeping to speculation. On the rest, to be frank, I cannot fathom what you are saying, and therefore cannot comment.

Noam Chomsky


On poverty statistics.

I can't comment on the International Herald Tribune article you mention, except to say that the figures you report are way out of line with what has appeared in other sources, including UN Development Report, UNICEF, and others. The most careful analysis I know on these matters, and the one I usually cite, is the biennial study "State of Working America," published by ME Sharpe, edited by Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, sometimes one or two others. The most recent edition is for 1996-97. Putting details aside, the basic story is that prior to transfers (social policy, etc.), the US record is rougly similar to Europe, but after transfers, it is vastly worse. The international studies basically agree, but don't go into the details to the same extent. As for the discrepancy between overall poverty and child poverty, it's not hard to explain (though I'm not sure about the child poverty figures you cite). Follows from the fact that richer families tend to have fewer children (that's why one is now finding even negative population growth in the richer countries). It's probably not a function of wealth, but of opportunities for women. Third world cases (like Kerala in India) tend to support that conclusion.

There's good work on the topic by economist Amartya Sen (Harvard) and others. I'd be very suspicious of the IHT article, if I were you, without more details. There are, incidentally, some more objective and culture-independent standards than "poverty" and "unemployment" (pretty ambiguous notions, allowing a lot of manipulation). For example, mortality for children. Check the latest UNICEF study (1997). US ranks well below other industrial countries, right alongside of Cuba. On US fundamentalism, yes, I've written about it a number of times, sometimes citing standard academic sources (e.g., cross-cultural studies by political scientist Walter Dean Burnham, in particular), sometimes polling results. You'll find material and sources about this in my book "Turning the Tide" (chap. 5), elsewhere repeatedly.

There's little doubt that the US is off the scale of industrial societies, and though statistics get weak when we leave the richer societies, the US seems to rank with devastated peasant societies and the like. Furthermore, this goes way back in history, and not entirely by accident either. E.P. Thompson writes about the English case in his classic "Making of the English working class," and other historians have too, some of whom I've cited in discussing the topic.

Noam Chomsky


On "punishment and anarchy."

One anarchist who has written on the matter is Paul Goodman, who makes the (seems to me) sensible comment that, look, we should just admit that there are some people we are afraid of, and we can't think of anything more decent to do than to protect ourselves from them but keeping them away from us, under the most humane conditions we can construct, meanwhile trying to educate them -- and ourselves, a fact that should not be overlooked -- so that we can all live together. Can't recall a source off hand, but shouldn't be hard to find.

As for the "socially deviant" and "sociopathic," most of them have so much power (John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, CEOs, their academic/media flatterers, etc.) that the question of "what to do with them" does not arise. The only way is to try to organize popular forces to control them and restrict them somehow. But I suspect you are speaking of more marginal cases, and for those, I know nothing better than Paul G's observations.

Noam Chomsky


On "Role of Government"

You raise the question how to "implement the strategy" of "supporting and strengthening the role of government in the face of attempts to place all power in the hands of 'private tyrannies'," when "the government itself is aggressively going about the business of selling of its services and its assets (or, more correctly, our services and our assets) to private corporations," as -- dramatically -- in Australia, the example you give. First we have to be clear about the facts. In the OECD countries, the state has been growing relative to GDP in recent years, while in the "developing countries" (many "developing downwards"), it has been declining, thanks in large measure to the "neoliberal policies" imposed by the International Financial Institutions and their directors (largely in Washington). But the functions of the increasingly powerful state are shifting, even more towards service to privilege in power. Take Newt Gingrich, the leader of "conservatism" ("neoliberalism") in the US. He has led the crusade to cut still further the meager benefits for the poor and defenseless, but is still holding the championship in bring federal subsidies to the (very wealthy) district he represents.

The great "budget cutter" has just succeeded in sneaking an extra $1/2 billion into the military budget for his favorite local charity, Lockeed-Martin, to sustain the cycle of dependency for his rich constituents. That's pretty much a symbol of what is happening worldwide. But I don't think this gives rise to the paradox you suggest. Rather, it simply means that we should work to (a) use the institutional means available -- and they are there -- to reverse this course, and (b) dismantle the institutional framework that drives it.

No paradox, just the usual problem -- and the usual solutions, which often work, to a greater or lesser extent. Over the years, there has been (often agonizingly slow) progress, by and large, with cyclical reversals. Every reason to try to do better, but there are no magic keys that anyone has discovered.

Noam Chomsky


On "Schlesinger on `Castro's troublemaking in the hemisphere'"

Schlesinger's remarks are quoted in my article in Z, May, from recently declassified documents. They come from a report of JFK's secret Latin America Mission, as he entered office in 1961. There's (as usual) a footnoted version of the article available on request. The specific reference in this case is to _Foreign Relations of the United States_ (the official annual multivolume State Department Record of declassified documents, usually published with a 30+ year delay). This one is _FRUS_, 1961-63, vol. XII, American Republics, pp. 13f., 33, 9. Released early this year, maybe late last year.

Noam Chomsky


On Simes and other ideologues.

Question was: "Have you been able to change the mind of this kind of person and if so, did you present the evidence in a way tailored to counter the hardened Conquestor?" Answer to the first question is No. Furthermore, the occasion rarely arises. Sometimes it does -- could give you some examples -- and it sometimes turns out our pictures of the world are pretty similar, but the conclusions are opposite. Honest people with their eyes open can see that the world is basically ruled by force, and that pretenses to the contrary are the province of intellectuals. They can then decide that that's just neat, because we have the force, or that it's not right, and should be changed.

Noam Chomsky


On "Talking with Khalidi"

Obviously, I can't comment on what Rashid Khalidi said, not having heard it. So I'll keep to your remarks. 1. "Clinton has no Middle East Policy and shows no statesmanship whatsoever -- his only concern is domestic politics." I don't agree at all. I think he has a very clear and definite Middle East policy, pretty much the traditional US policy, though somewhat more extreme in support of Israeli expansionism (not unrealistically, in the light of current circumstances). But basically within the normal spectrum of supporting Labor Party versions of imposing a Bantustan-style settlement. One may disagree with the policy, but it is hard to see why it is not "statesmanship." I suspect that domestic politics is about as much a factor as usual: a swing factor, but not decisive. I've written about all of this extensively, citing what evidence exists (to my knowledge), and can't try to repeat in a letter. (I'll call this statement , since I'll repeat it below).

I can't comment on Khalidi's dismissal of the conclusions of Shlomo Gazit and other analysts, not having heard his reasons. But I think they are right in concluding Israel's role remains about as before. The belief that it is "outmoded" after the Cold War is based on illusions about the Cold War -- conventional illusions, but illusions none the less. I agree with the conclusions in the declassified record and the public record since the end of the Cold War that US problems in the region "could not be laid at the Kremlin's door." The problems remain what they always were -- basically, independent nationalism, as elsewhere -- but of course with quite significant tactical changes, and new pretexts.

Again. To speak of "a revival of the notion of a multi-ethnic secular democratic state" as "impractical" is more than misleading, since no such notion had been proposed in the past. The PLO did make various pretenses in this regard, but they were pretenses. For some documentation, see my "Towards a New Cold War," in long footnotes, responding to claims on the left about this. I incidentally agree that the notion of a "secular democratic state" (proposed by essentially no one, past or present) is unrealistic at present, though the long-standing proposals about binationalist settlements seem to me not at all unrealistic. These are very different matters.

Again. On the Americans being "manipulated," that's about as likely as their being "manipulated" by Ireland, though of course leaders like to adopt that pose, for obvious reasons. Do you really believe that Baker-Bush would let Yitzhak Shamir determine their policies about controlling what US leaders have always regarded as ""a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history," "probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment," the most "strategically important area in the world"? It would take some powerful evidence to support that conclusion. There is not a particle of evidence in the literature to support that conclusion, to my knowledge, even to hint at it, including what you cite, though again, it is greatly to the interest of US leaders to pretend to Palestinians that they are just dupes, following the clever Israelis; we can add various traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes to make the picture more convincing, to those who prefer a fantasy world, which is what this is, in my opinion.

Noam Chomsky


On "Democratic Republic of Congo"

The questions you raise are very good ones, and require serious answers, based on the kind of inquiry you are undertaking. I haven't done it, and wouldn't presume to answer, though I'll be interested in finding out what you learn. I could suggest people you might contact, for example, George Wright, a historian of Africa at Chico State U. in California, who has done fine work on these topics (and has written in Z about them too).

Noam Chomsky


On "The state of activism."

Appreciate the kind remarks, but I can't comment on the film; haven't seen it, and don't intend to, for a variety of reasons. I couldn't agree more with your assessment of the state of activism: "there are scores of groups out there, many with the same or related interests and goals, but that these groups are splintered, scattered, and seemingly just not as generally effective as they could be if some sort of solidarity between them could occur." That's true. I see it all over the place, travelling and speaking (usually at the invitation of some array of such groups). The genius of US democracy has been to isolate and atomize people, turn them into individual atoms of consumption, prevent them from acting together. It's by design. Labor laws, for example, are designed to prevent solidarity among workers, and the huge PR industry devotes massive efforts to these ends. It's no big surprise. What else would one expect, on the most elementary assumptions? It often works, and one main task of serious activists is to overcome it -- as has often been done, often quite dramatically. "Are there organizations "out there" that focus solely on promoting dialog between activist groups?" I don't know of any that focus "solely" on that, but in just about every place I know, there are sort of "umbrella organizations" that try to overcome the divisiveness and atomization, with greater or lesser success. "How does mass organization, mass awakening happen?" Only one answer to that question is known, after thousands of years of historical evidence, and it's a good one: it happens when people like you make it happen. Not easy, not impossible; frustrating and gratifying. It's a choice. We make our own.

Noam Chomsky


On "anarcho-theology."

That "religion is inherently irrational" is surely true. Why one set of beliefs that are offered without argument or evidence rather than another? On the claim that "religion will die out in the next few hundred years unless it incorporates science for its explanation for cosmological events of the universe," possibly that is correct, if you mean organized religion (the Church in Rome, for example), but then they've moved in that direction long ago. As for religion being "a part of every observable society," if what is meant is that every society we know has sought to find some explanation for matters of deep human concern that we do not begin to understand (death, the origins of the universe, etc.), that's doubtless true. If one wants to call the constructs developed "religion," OK. I don't see what that implies, apart from the fact -- I presume it is a fact -- that people seek answers to hard questions, and where understanding reaches limits (very quickly, in most areas), they speculate, construct myths, etc. To draw conclusions about "human nature" from historical constructs of dominant societies in the past few thousand years seems to me quite a stretch. On "submission to an authoritarian God," that's part of some belief systems, not others. As for monotheism, I think a strong case can be made that that's not to be found in the Old Testament, pre-Babylonian exile, and may well have its roots in non-Semitic cultures, as often argued. On the divinity "allowing suffering to exist," there's a vast literature. As for "our model of god," we can "revamp" it if we have one. Not having one, I can't revamp it, or suggest how others should. On religion in an anarchistic society, I would agree with the classic anarchist slogan "Ni Dieu, ni Maitre" (No god, no master). I don't see the justification for either, but individuals make their own choices, just as I make mine.

Noam Chomsky


On "Analysis of British policies," foreign and domestic.

One of the best books I know on post-WWII British foreign policy is Mark Curtis, "Ambiguities of Power" (Zed, 1955). It involves careful archival research, comes up with material of a kind that won't surprise anyone who has looked at authentic US sources, and has either been ignored or denounced in British reviews (at least, the few I've seen). On domestic policies, Will Hutton's "The State We are In" is a pretty good review, in my opinion, from what we'd call here a "left-liberal" perspective (more or less like, say, "American Prospect"). On both topics, there's quite a lot. You can get leads from the British review journals, or a good research library, if you have access to one. Probably on the web too, but I don't know anything about that. I probably have a mailing address for Mark Curtis if you would like to contact him. He's excellent. Another person who has done really excellent work on British foreign/domestic policy is Milan Rai. Could also put you in touch with him, if you like. But if you want personal information, I'd prefer to write to you directly.

Noam Chomsky


On China, human rights, etc.

There are plenty of very good Sinologists: Richard Smith (very good article in "New Left Review," #222), Mark Selden, Maurice Meisner, Jim Peck, others too numerous to mention. Bulletin of Concerned Asia Scholars is a good source. They'd all have important things to say about US-China relations -- different things.

You asked: "Why doesn't China, in your opinion, work harder to get the word out about US human rights violations."

First, they do occasionally. Sometimes it even gets a notice in the press. I've written about it occasionally. I'll add below a few paragraphs from a recent article of mine on human rights, which I think is on the internet somewhere. So why don't they do it more? Several reasons. One is that in our deeply submissive intellectual culture the words cannot even be heard, let alone comprehended; so why bother? The second is that US (the West generally is little different) domination of the global information systems is so extraordinary that that means that no one else can hear the same is true elsewhere; so why bother? The third is that the "Chinese" you are referring to are the leadership elements in China, whose highest goal is to join the sectors of Western privilege. So why should they expose the crimes that they admire, and hope to be able to participate in (as if they don't have enough of their own)?

That's a central part of imperial/colonial/neocolonial relations for hundreds of years.

Washington's rejection of the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights guaranteed by the UD does receive occasional mention,NOTE{During the Vienna conference, see Alan Riding, "Human Rights: the West Gets Some Tough Questions," Review of the Week, _NYT_, June 20, 1993, and particularly Beth Stephens of the Center for Constitutional Rights, "Hypocrisy on Rights," _NYT_, Op-ed, June 24, 1993.} but the issue is generally ignored in the torrent of self-praise, and if raised, elicits mostly incomprehension.

To take some typical examples, _Times_ correspondent Barbara Crossette reports that "The world held a human rights conference in Vienna in 1993 and dared to enshrine universal concepts," but progress was blocked by "panicked nations of the third world." American diplomats are "frustrated at the unwillingness of many countries to take tough public stands on human rights," even though "Diplomats say it is now easier to deal objectively with human rights abusers, case by case," now that the Cold War is over and "developing nations, with support from the Soviet bloc," no longer "routinely pass resolutions condemning the United States, the West in general or targets like Israel and apartheid South Africa." Nonetheless, progress is difficult, "with a lot of people paying lip service to the whole concept of human rights in the Charter, in the Universal Declaration and all that," but no more, U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright (now Secretary of State) observed. On Human Rights day, _Times_ editors condemned the Asian countries that reject the UD and call instead for "addressing the more basic needs for people for food and shelter, medical care and schooling" -- in accord with the UD.

The reasoning is straightforward. The U.S. rejects these principles of the UD, so they are inoperative. By calling for such rights the Asian countries are therefore rejecting the UD. Puzzling over the contention that "`human rights' extend to food and shelter," Seth Faison reviews a "perennial sticking point in United States-China diplomacy, highlighting the contrast between the American emphasis on individual freedom and the Chinese insistence that the common good transcends personal rights."

China calls for a right to "food, clothing, shelter, education, the right to work, rest, and reasonable payment," and criticizes the U.S. for not upholding these rights -- which are affirmed in the UD, and are not a matter of "the common good" but are "personal rights" that the U.S. rejects.

Again, the reasoning is straightforward enough, once the guiding ideas are internalized.NOTE{Crossette, "Snubbing Human Rights," _NYT_, April 28, 1996; "For the U.S., Mixed Success in U.N. Human Rights Votes," _NYT_, Dec. 18, 1995. Editorial, "The New Attack on Human Rights," _NYT_, Dec. 10, 1995. Faison, "China Turns The Tables, Faulting U.S. on Rights," _NYT_, March 5, 1997.} -----------


On corporations as "collectivist legal entities" and the Neo-Hegelian roots of Bolvshevism, fascism, and US-style corporatism.

To repeat, it's not MY reference to the corporation as a collective," but the reference in the major source on legal history that I quoted to corporations as "collectivist legal entities" -- which I think is accurate. There's a footnoted version of the article you read, if you are interested. On what one might "ask of a Hegelian collective," it's an interesting question, but not one related to the article (actually talk) of mine about which you raised your original questions. That did not discuss "Hegelian collectives," or look into what Hegel might have had in mind. Rather, the phrase reads as follows: The intellectual backgrounds for granting such extraordinary rights to "collectivist legal entities" lie in neo-Hegelian doctrines that also underlie Bolshevism and fascism: the idea that organic entities have rights over and above those of persons. Conservative legal scholars bitterly opposed these innovations, recognizing that they undermine the traditional idea that rights inhere in individuals, and undermine market principles as well. (Footnote follows with references)

There is nothing here about "Hegelian collectives" as Hegel might have envisioned them; rather, about neo-Hegelian (NB: NEO-) ideas that underlie the various forms of modern totalitarianism, of which corporations are one, in a good sense, which I and plenty of others have discussed -- e.g., the very important Veblenite political economist Robert Brady, whom I've quoted now and them -- have discussed. As for what Hegel was "responsible for," that issue does not arise when we consider the influence of Neo-Hegelian ideas. Hegel was responsible for what he wrote, not what others made of it. As for what he wrote, he would have plenty to answer for; for example, the outlandish and astonishingly ignorant racist ravings in his most mature work, shocking even by the (not particularly lovely) standards of the day: I've quoted some, in my book "Year 501."

That's not all of Hegel, of course, and I don't think this is the place to enter into discussion of Hegel's thought (even if I felt competent to do so, which I don't). Referring to my observation that "in the 19th century, wage labor was considered hardly different from slavery by such folks as Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party, and the New York Times -- not to speak of working people," you say: "This puzzles me. Why were working people, notably the Irish of New York City, unwilling then to make common cause with freedmen and slaves? Why did other working people fight on the Union side if not to get rid of the economic challenge to wage labor presented by slavery?" I'm puzzled too. I don't see the relation between your response/query and my observation. The latter was true, to my knowledge, and says nothing about the relation (which was complex) of working people to freedmen or slaves, or about the reasons (also complex) why working people fought under the Union banner against both chattel slavery and wage slavery (which they, like the New York Times, didn't consider all that different). I'm also puzzled by your revision of your charge about my "deliberate lack of respect for theory." You say that what you meant by theory is "an ongoing discussion." With that revision, you are now saying that I have "deliberate lack of respect for ongoing discussion." If that's true, it would be a very serious flaw and I should be called to account for it. But is it true? Maybe. As I said, I'm open-minded and would be happy to listen to your reasons for believing that. But I don't, frankly, see them in your messages.

You refer to my request for some argument to support your claim that "theory is important because it allows you to deconstruct the message." But recall that by "theory" I meant theory, not "ongoing discussion." That ongoing discussion is important I have no doubt, whether the example you gave illustrates the importance of it or not. You speak of the danger of being "innocent of structuralism...the notion in anthropology that structural relations rather than surface appearance are what carry the "real" message." With all due humility, I don't think I'm "innocent of structuralism." I was immersed in the (authentic) structuralist tradition since college days, have written a lot about the topic (including the unpublished notes of Saussure's lectures, Jakobson, etc.), and have also written critical discussion of (authentic) structuralism.

Sorry to keep adding the word "authentic," but I think we should distinguish the original from the version that has filtered down to what calls itself "theory," which seems to be quite different, to the extent that I have investigated it (which I stress is not very far). You refer also to "the notion in anthropology that structural relations rather than surface appearance are what carry the `real' message," I'd suggest revision here too. What you describe is not really a "notion in anthropology"; rather, a virtual truism. I doubt that you will find many now, or in the past, who would deny that surface appearance is commonly misleading, and that one wants to find out what lies behind it (perhaps some extreme phenomenologists might be read that way, though probably inaccurately). In some domains, one can go quite far in finding out what lies behind surface appearances. In areas that have to do with human life and problems, as far as I'm aware, what is understood can be said pretty simply, though I'm open-minded, and willing to be convinced that the convoluted and intricate discourse that calls itself "theory" has something to say that goes beyond these confines. But I don't learn much about what I'm missing with lectures about how I "ignore the ambivalence and the multiple feelings about personal liberatory struggles (like Ariel's in the Little Mermaid) that end in new subordination, and find instead a surface and fundamentalist critique, such as the Baptist boycott." Maybe my inadequacy. Again, I'm open-minded, but to progress further I would have to be offered some evidence and argument. I don't see it here -- or anywhere else either -- though I've often come across the criticism you bring up, across the spectrum.

Noam Chomsky


On corporations as "collectivist legal entities."

The term is not mine. It is taken from a standard work on legal history: Morton Horwitz, "Transformation of American Law" (2 volumes). Horwitz is a Harvard law professor, a (if not the) leading legal historian on these matters. He explains the reasons for the term, and also gives a detailed and interesting history of the relevant corporate law. That the intellectual backgrounds are neo-Hegelian (rather like those that underlie fascism and Bolshevism) is in my opinion quite true, one of the reasons why "progressives" tended to support the extraordinary legal decisions early in this century to grant corporations the rights of "immortal persons," and one of the reasons why genuine conservatives (classical liberals) -- a breed that has almost vanished -- were strongly opposed to this attack on natural rights principles and on markets (corporations are also a radical attack on markets). This is not a legacy of "individualism": it's a sharp attack against individualism, in particular, against the natural rights doctrine that rights inhere in persons -- by which classical liberals meant PERSONS, not collectivist legal entities.

The neo-Hegelian doctrines (organic entities with rights beyond those of individuals, etc.) and their place in the intellectual history of fascism-bolshevism-corporations has not been studied in any depth, to my knowledge. There are intimations here and there (e.g., in Horwitz), but it's not a popular topic, anywhere on the political spectrum. It's an extremely interesting one, however, which should be illuminating as well. The question of what business men in the 19th century may have had in mind is worth investigating, but not the issue here. The issue is what courts and lawyers decided, supported by an elite intellectual community, as they introduced the vast changes into the legal system that granted "collectivist legal entities" (as they are properly called, I believe) the rights they now enjoy -- mostly early in this century, though there were some tentative steps earlier. In fact, the 19th century was an entirely different moral climate. Note, e.g., that wage labor was considered hardly different from slavery by such folks as Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party, and the New York Times -- not to speak of working people.

It's a long story. I've spoken and written a bit about it here and there, and intend to do more. There's a good scholarly literature: Horwitz, Charles Sellers, Martin Sklar, many others. It's quite different from familiar doctrine; no novelty here. On my "deliberate lack of respect for theory," if that's true, I'd definitely want to overcome that failure. But to be convinced of the accuracy of that (common) charge, I'll have to be taught what the "theory" is that I lack respect for. That is, I'll have to be presented with the system of principles from which non-trivial conclusions are derived, with the evidence supporting the conclusions, and with the argument that the exercise is providing us with some insight that goes beyond what is pretty clear on the surface: for example, some argument to show that "theory is important because it allows you to deconstruct the message." These are matters for inquiry and argument, not pronouncements. I'm open-minded about it. Just unconvinced by what I've read, in these domains.

Noam Chomsky


On suppression of EZLN

When the Zapatistas appeared, I took it for granted that the Mexican army, with US support, would move in to destroy them and slaughter their civilian supporters, as soon as the opportunity arose. They were forced to hold off because of the very strong support for the EZLN in Mexico, and internationally, and therefore moved to the natural backup position: meaningless negotiations that they have no intent to honor, gradual tightening of the noose, and then move in and do the job when attention has declined. It's our responsibility to make sure that that doesn't happen, and that what they initiated can not only survive but flourish. There's no sense in making predictions: it depends on how well that task is performed.

Noam Chomsky


On "The `deconstructionist' domain"

I did have a several hour discussion with Foucault over Dutch TV about 25 years ago. It's in print, if you are interested, and discussed some in the postmodern literature (by Chris Norris, among others). We also spent a pleasant day together, walking in the Dutch countryside. On your question, my own background in linguistics, philosophy, or any other relevant subject puts me in no position, I'm afraid, to comment on the question you raised. What you describe as "deconstructionist theory" (I'm sure accurately -- though I admit I have to wince when I hear the good term "theory" misused in this way) is sheer nonsense if taken literally, so I suppose it must have some other interpretation. What that might be, I have no idea. Afraid I can't shed any light on the matter.

Noam Chomsky


On Jordan-Hamas-Palestinians, etc.

I don't think that Jordan had anything to gain by negotiating the deal that (as you say) strengthened Hamas. I just don't think they had any choice. It's an unimaginable breach of diplomatic norms to send a gang of state terrorists to murder someone in a foreign capital. Look at how the US reacted when the Pinochet dictatorship (which they loved) murdered a leftist opponent (whom they despised) in the streets of Washington. The act also showed the utter contempt for Jordan -- and Arabs in general -- that is deeply engrained in Israeli culture, and which Hussein, not surprisingly, resents. Just as Canada had no choice but to suspend diplomatic relations, Jordan had no choices either. In fact, they reacted quite mildly. You're right: they are all terrified of Hamas. And rightly. Like many other fundamentalist groups (including those in what may be the most religious fundamentalist society in the world, where we are writing), Hamas does not cheat and rob, and performs services for the poor. That makes them almost unique, and wins them support. They are also quite mad. Islamic fundamentalism (like other variants) is an extremely dangerous force. I suppose they will increase in strength, as it becomes more and more obvious that the Palestinian Authority (Arafat and his clique of gangsters and thugs) is intent on playing the role of the Black leadership in the South African homelands, the model that the Clinton Administration (even more than its predecessors) and the Labor doves in Israel (and Netanyahu, not all that different, apart from style) have been closely following. But will it be beneficial to the Palestinians? If Hamas really grows, it will probably call forth a reaction of extreme violence on the part of far more powerful forces (Israel/US), with plenty of popular support here, as things now stand. The effect on the Palestinians is likely to be devastating. If Hamas gains some power (which I doubt), it will be as beneficial to the Palestinians as the Taliban and the Algerian fundamentalists are right now. So it looks to me.

Noam Chomsky


On "libertarian socialism and restrictions."

Libertarian socialism is nothing like a well-defined doctrinal system: it has no general answers to the questions you raise, which are serious ones. Individuals have to work things out as best they can. You report the view that "if in a collective that it is democratically decided that a person's expressions would be considered harmful, racist, sexist, etc. by vote, then they should no longer be allowed that freedom." That raises all sorts of questions. For example, how does the collective proceed to prevent that freedom? If what is meant that a journal published by the collective should be able to make choices about what appears there, then I doubt that anyone would disagree. But the person would then be free to speak and write what he/she thinks in other ways. Of course, that can be coercive too, maybe illegitimately so, if the mechanisms of expression themselves are narrowly controlled. A decent community, in my view, would try to ensure that that is not the case. As we proceed, more and more questions arise. We can try to articulate and clarify the ideals we would like to achieve, but they are not an axiom system, and in real human life, conflicts will surely arise, and have to be dealt with as they do, in terms of shared ideals which themselves can become clarified and modified as we learn more about human affairs, individual and collective. Life isn't simple, and general formulas are easier to pronounce then to apply. The general presumption ought to be, I think, that protection of meaningful freedom of expression is a very highly-valued ideal, just short of freedom of thought -- and by "meaningful," I mean to stress what is mentioned above: means must be available. But it's hard to imagine that we can come up with substantive principles that are truly absolute and exceptionless under all imaginable circumstances.

Noam Chomsky


On NATO expansion

re Slovakia If the choice for Slovakia were, as you suggest, between US domination or Soviet domination, then I think a good case could be made for US domination, for pretty much the same reasons that a choice for Soviet domination might well be preferable over US domination for El Salvador. The gangster who is closest is typically more dangerous. The fact that US capitalism is less malign at home than Russian capitalism is not really relevant: what is relevant is what their behavior is like in their dependencies. Thus we might compare the number of slaughters, tortures, etc., for which they are responsible in Eastern Europe and Central America, respectively, and there are many other such comparisons. But they are also academic, in my opinion, because I don't think the choices are as you describe them. Another choice is for Europe to go more or less its own way, which is no less realistic in the short term; Russia is not going to invade Slovakia, or to dominate it economically. Yet another is for the system of state-capital power to be eroded and overcome, a longer-term perspective, which will be impeded, I think, by expansion of US dominance in the region (as it would be, were this imaginable, by Russian dominance).

Noam Chomsky


On whether "the u.s. government should increase its security assistance to southeast asian nations."

As the question is put, I wouldn't want to answer, because the (standard) formulation begs too many questions. In any near-literal meaning of the terms the US provides no "security assistance" to any nations. If what is meant is the question whether the US (Britain, France, China, Iran, Libya, etc.,) should provide military assistance to the rulers of southeast Asia nations, I think a sensible stance is to assume that they should not, unless a strong reason is given to the contrary, given the uses to which such assistance is likely to be put.

Noam Chomsky


On Slovakia, NATO expansion, Russian influence, etc.

Unless I'm missing something, I think we are in basic agreement abou the facts. The chances of Russia invading Slovakia are slight enough so that we can disregard them. Slovakia remains integrated to a large extent within the former Soviet empire. It would make sense to (in your words) "look for a rational way of countering" that dependence and encourage Slovak independence, though the present ruling groups are "not too keen on doing this." I think we're in general agreement about how to proceed sensibly with these matters. But the question you raised was about NATO expansion, and I don't see how NATO expansion, which I think is designed primarily (as NATO also was) to enhance the domination of the US and US-oriented domestic power systems in Europe (now, to the East as far as possible), would contribute to these ends. Rather, it will probably impede the goals we share, just as incorporation of Slovakia within a new Warsaw pact would (were this imaginable).

Noam Chomsky


On the Economist and big government.

Take the first quote from the Economist: "The evidence to date is that democracy indeed incompatible with freedom, at least in a form that the classical liberals have recognised" First point is that the term "classical liberals" is some kind of weird fabrication that has nothing to do with classical liberals. But let's put that aside. Putting that aside, it's true, indeed trivially obvious without evidence, that democracy constrains the freedom to make choices and decisions. For example, if there is a democratic decision to punish murderers or to restrict gifts of lethal drugs to 3 year olds (or to advertise poisons for children), then the freedom to carry out these acts is limited. QED.

Second quote: "Democracy constrains the power of the state-not as effectively as one might wish..." To make sense of the Economist's assertion, we have to assume that the state exists as some kind of entity -- NECESSARILY, not just as a fact -- independently of democratic control and participation. I won't try to unravel what intriguing doctrines might underlie that. Third quote: ""In many developing reforms have indeed rolled back the state..." True, thanks to the orders of the IMF and World Bank, of which of course the editors of the Economist approve (as long as they are applied to others, not to the wealthy and powerful). Is this beneficial to "freedom"? Yes, to the freedom of those who want to murder, advertise lethal drugs for children, and carry out a host of other activities that might be blocked by a democratic state. As for the freedom of people to live decent lives under their own control, the story is different.

But the editors of the Economist naturally prefer to deprive people of such freedom -- they despise freedom as much as they do democracy -- and to hand decision-making over to unaccountable private tyrannies of the kind they so passionately admire. That has nothing to do with classical liberalism, or freedom, or democracy, but a lot to do with service to power and privilege. Incidentally, you might be interested in looking at the latest World Bank Development Report (1997) -- their "flagship publication."

For years, the WB has been sending contradictory messages: "minimize the state" but increase spending for health and education and to ensure relative equality, etc., because those are the factors that enter into economic growth. This time around they go further, calling for strengthening of a strong and efficient state, as a prerequisite for economic growth. Their analysis is still full of holes, and remarkably ignorant of history (even recent history), but it's a step away from the "religion that markets know best," as their chief economist put the matter. They also provide some interesting data. In the rich countries (OECD), state expenditures relative to GDP have been growing, and are now about twice the level of poor countries, where they continue to decline (as the Economist demands). It doesn't take a genius to draw some conclusions.

End of reply


On vegetarianism.

On the specific question you raise -- "given your views on cognitive psychology and your view on humans, do you feel the principles of morality should be extended to animals?," I don't think the question is properly put. Independently of my views on cognitive psychology and humans, the principles of morality should be extended to animals. The question is how. Here many complex issues arise. I don't have any well-thought out ideas on the topic that are worth repeating.

Noam Chomsky


On Indian Massacre

Estimates of pre-Columbian indigenous population vary a lot, but 20 million is well below standard contemporary estimates, which are more in the 50-100 million range, maybe 10 million or so north of the Rio Grande. There's a lot of literature on this, necessarily speculative. On current numbers, I'm not sure. My recollection is that at the turn of the century, north of the Rio Grande there were about 1/4 million, by census count. It's surely increased since, though there are a lot of hazy issues about just whom to count.

That the European invasion caused the greatest demographic disaster in human history is not seriously in doubt, to my knowledge. Stannard's "American Holocaust" is one of a considerable number of very informative works. "Where is the American Indian holocaust museum?" Good question. Where is the museum of slavery? (Answer, there finally is one, in Detroit!). Or where is the Vietnam War Memorial -- that is, the memorial to the 5 million+ people who are estimated now to have been killed as a result of the US invasion. And a few others. It's much more comforting to commemorate crimes that can be attributed to someone else's account. Just have a look, for example, at the current self-praise about war crimes tribunals and Clinton's appointment of a special Ambassador to deal with war crimes -- more precisely, a selected category of crimes that can be blamed on others.

That's a moral principle that would have been quite acceptable to Stalin, Hitler, Attila the Hun,... -- but try to convince well-educated people about that. On your project, I don't honestly feel qualified to comment, and have too little knowledge to say anything sensible about individuals.

Noam Chomsky


On "Chomsky help needed!"

The inquiry expresses interest "about what I believe is an alternative" to the current social order, and "in hearing Chomsky's describe a social order that he would approve of"; and ask if anyone knows of references to a discussion of any discussion of mine about how "the radical democratic ideals of the Enlightenment, for example, [can be translated] into a form in which they would apply to a modern industrial society." One is the collection "For Reasons of State" (1973), which includes several essays on the topic; specifically, "Notes on Anarchism," introduction to Daniel Guerin's "Anarchism," where there are a number of references to works that go as far as I would personally be willing to go in answering these questions: Pannekoek, Rocker, de Santillan, and a few others. There are no references at all (in this connection) to the "classics": Marx, Luxemburg, Bakunin, etc., because they didn't discuss the topic, for reasons that I think have no slight merit. Notice that for essentially the same reasons (discussed there), I don't try to carry the description of a future society beyond the sources cited (which sometimes go too far in detail, in my opinion; de Santillan, for example). There's more of a similar sort in various other places, including several collections of interviews (Carlos Otero, ed., "Radical Priorities," "Language and Politics," Black Rose).

Noam Chomsky


On Soundbite politics

The query was "how, in today's soundbite society, can we ever hope to penetrate this unconsciousness to a level and degree needed for action." First, I don't think that today's "soundbite society" is much different from earlier phases of human existence. The greatest barrier to education (including self-education), organization, initiative, action has always been -- and remains -- the costs it entails. Not simple, for people living on a day-to-day survival strategy. Naturally, the institutions in which power and privilege are concentrated will seek to make the problem more difficult, by lots of devices. "Soundbites" are one. Certain forms of religious fanaticism are another. Also jingoist hysteria, inspiring fear and hatred of other suffering people, etc. The list is long, the devices easily come to mind, and I know of few innovations. "What hope is there to penetrate the mass consciousness?" History shows (A) that there is limitless hope, and (B) that achievement reflects effort -- which means also willingness to accept failure, because there are objective reasons for expecting plenty of failures. You ask about my thoughts on the matter. I'm afraid I have none, beyond the obvious. And furthermore, have never seen any. There's no way to avoid hard, dedicated, honest work, and no magic keys as to how to solve hard problems. You also asked: "Does this mean that you believe in the value of nationalism? What are your thoughts regarding a world government? Should this not be the eventual aim of mankind considering the potentials for destruction of this planet?" I'm not sure I understood the context you mentioned. On nationalism, depends what it means. If it means an interesting in working together for decent goals with people who share some form of culture, background, aspirations, etc., OK. If if means dedication to some super-individual organism to which exotic attributes are attributed, not OK. There are a lot of interpretations. Depends which ones you have in mind. World government? Personally, I'd prefer to work towards no government, apart from self-government (by voluntary association, which could reach global scale). As for intermediate stages, it all depends on specific circumstances. I don't think there is anything general that can be said.

Noam Chomsky


On "The left is weak here..."

You write: "I never really believed how highly indoctrinated the left wing is, until election to youth rep. I would like to know what you attribute this to, and if you can suggest any possible ways to help the people I know find roles as active and dissenting members of society. I have had trouble getting my 'radical' and 'crazy' ideas heard..." I suspect you are mostly dealing with people who've had what's called "a good education." These are the people Orwell wrote about in his preface to "Animal Farm" -- which was not published: it was about thought control in free societies. He concluded that the effects were not unlike those of the totalitarian society he was satirizing, but the mechanisms were different. One is a good education, which instills in its victims the understanding that there are some things it just "wouldn't do to say" -- or think, we may add. The left is not immune to the effects of a good education, though for the left, what it wouldn't do to say, or think, sometimes is different. I don't want to romanticize. For people who lack the benefits of a "good education," there are many other barriers to understanding: the need to put food on the table so one's kids don't starve, for example. How does one deal with all such matters? If there's a magic key, it's been kept secret for thousands of years. The only way that is known is dedicated work, not to "teach the ignorant masses," but to join with people to try to learn about what the world is like, and then to act on (largely shared) moral instincts to do something about it. Sounds trite? It should: it is. But it's also about as much as can be said, I think. And what's more, it often works. That's why the world continually gets to be a better place (believe it or not). One particular tactic is to work within existing formally democratic institutions, as you suggest. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it's a very good idea. But there's nothing general or abstract to say about it. The choices are up to you, depending on your evaluation of complex situations, and of yourself. We each have our capacities and limitations. A sensible person tries to understand these, and work within them. Not very helpful? Afraid that's correct. Is there anything more to say? Not at a general level, as far as I know.

Noam Chomsky


On BBC report

On the BBC report you mention, sounds interesting, but I don't personally know anything about it, though can suggest people who might. One is Biorn Maybury-Lewis, whose done fine work on these topics, and is now in Cambridge. Accessible by e-mail. If you want address, communicate with me privately. On "examining the machinations of trans/multinational companies (ie.reading lists, websites etc.) in their attempts to control and manipulate what you call the `great beast'," first, credit where credit is due. The term "great beast" is Alexander Hamilton's, not mine, and he was the one who reiterated the standard view that it has to be caged. On the rest, I can't really respond honestly. There's a huge literature. Depend on what particularly you are interested in. I've listed a lot of things in footnotes. Many others have too. Just too vaste and unspecific a query, at least for me.

Noam Chomsky


East Timor On the Brink (09/99) ] Frontline Interview on Iraq (01/99) ] Attack on Iraq (12/98) ] Comments on Iraq (12/98) ] Why the US Attacked Iraq (12/98) ] Morality and Human Nature (11/98) ] Senat Virtuel et Tyrannies Privees (11/98) ] Chomsky on Microsoft (5/98) ] [ ChomskyChat Archive (12/97) ] Q and A on Anarchism (12/96) ] The Big Idea (2/96) ] Noam on AOL (10/95) ] Notes on Anarchism ] Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future (5/95) ] Manufacturing Dissent (01/95) ] Noam on the Net (1995) ] PeaceWORKS Interview (5/94) ] WRCT Interview (3/94) ] Counterpoint Interview (10/93) ] Jerry Brown Interviews Chomsky (8/93) ] Conversations with Michael Albert (1/93) ] Naomi Chase interviews Chomsky (1992) ] An Unjust War (3/91) ] Chomsky on Capitalism (1991) ] The Radical Vocation (2/90) ] Interview with David Barsamian (12/89) ] Q&A from the Massey Lectures (12/88) ] Sovereignty and World Order (9/99) ] Whose World Order (9/98) ] Ending 20 Years of Occupation (12/95) ] End the Atrocity in East Timor (3/95) ] 21st Century: Democracy or Absolutism (10/94) ] Democracy and Education (10/94) ] Old Wine, New Bottles (10/93) ] Media Control (3/91) ] The New World Order (3/91) ] Power Politics? (3/98) ] Chomsky debates John Silber (1986) ]

 ] Deterring Democracy ] Necessary Illusions ] The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many ] Keeping the Rabble in Line ] Rethinking Camelot ] Powers and Prospects ] Year 501 ] Secrets, Lies and Democracy ] What Uncle Sam Really Wants ] Interviews, Debates and Talks ] About Noam Chomsky ]


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