Whenever I read a professional Chomsky-basher…

Whenever I read the work of a professional Chomsky-basher*—you know, the person whose passport to mainstream respectability is stamped with a Chomsky-is-the-most-dastardly-person-on-the-face-of-the-earth visa—or someone who attacks anarchists or leftists in order to maintain his or her liberal street cred, I’m reminded of this passage from Hannah Arendt:

In the following chapter, Karl Marx will be criticized. This is unfortunate at a time when so many writers who once made their living by explicit or tacit borrowing from the great wealth of Marxian ideas and insights have decided to become professional anti-Marxists, in the process of which one of them even discovered that Karl Marx himself was unable to make a living, forgetting for the moment the generations of authors whom he has ‘supported.’ In this difficulty, I may recall a statement Benjamin Constant made when he felt compelled to attack Rousseau:…”Certainly, I shall avoid the company of detractors of a great man. If I happen to agree with them on a single point I grow suspicious of myself; and in order to console myself for having seemed to be of their opinion…I feel I must disavow and keep these false friends away from me as much as I can.”

* This is by no means the most egregious case of what I’m talking about, but in March 2005, The American Prospect ran a cover with the title “Between Chomsky and Cheney.” As if the man who brought us the Iraq War and the man who opposed it were equivalent evils.


  1. Darryl Cox November 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm | #

    I first read the passage you quoted from Dr. Arendt’s book “The Human Condition” nearly forty years ago. Her insights and thinking still have an effect on my own thinking today. I’m glad to discover there are still people for whom her take on various developments and political phenomena continues to carry meaning and resonance even today.

    • thenewobjective April 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm | #

      Arendt’s work is by no means forgotten. Take it from this 20-something who recently completed an MA thesis on her work.

  2. Stephen Zielinski November 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm | #

    Between Chomsky and Cheney lies space of a vast and indefinite magnitude.

  3. hexag1 November 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm | #

    What is your opinion of professor Chomsky? Do you agree with his general assessment of the role of the united states in the world?

    One thing that bothers.me about Chomsky is that he’s one of those – like Scott Atran – who thinks that religious belief is without content. I saw him on cspan once. When asked about Christianity, he said that Jesus was ‘ America’s favorite philosopher’. How many ways is this wrong?
    Who are your favorite philosophers, grandma? Um lets see here Jesus, Hegel…

    • Pavel July 18, 2019 at 7:40 pm | #

      Chomsky is pretty down to earth about the whole topic. He was being ironic. He knows what he’s talking about, Chomsky’s thought is a radical critique of power, and here he refers to the real experience of poor communities, who understand their historical experience and contextualized as part of an ongoing story of Faith and Liberation.

  4. hexag1 November 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm | #

    You say “This is by no means the most egregious case of what I’m talking about” can you mention some others?

  5. Deb November 10, 2011 at 7:15 pm | #

    Norman Finkelstein described the process of Chomsky bashing in an essay on a Trotskyite turned Neocon polemicist (a fairly well-worn path incidentally):

    A rite of passage for apostates peculiar to U.S. political culture is bashing Noam Chomsky. It’s the political equivalent of a bar mitzvah, a ritual signaling that one has “grown up”—i.e., grown out of one’s “childish” past. It’s hard to pick up an article or book by ex-radicals—Gitlin’s Letters to a Young Activist, Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism…—that doesn’t include a hysterical attack on him. Behind this venom there’s also a transparent psychological factor at play. Chomsky mirrors their idealistic past as well as sordid present, an obstinate reminder that they once had principles but no longer do, that they sold out but he didn’t. Hating to be reminded, they keep trying to shatter the glass. He’s the demon from the past that, after recantation, no amount of incantation can exorcise.

    • cc November 12, 2011 at 6:24 am | #

      “…Trotskyite turned Neocon polemicist (a fairly well-worn path incidentally)”

      not really true


      • Deb November 12, 2011 at 6:47 pm | #

        Hehe, “Lenin” whose article you linked to is a slippery operator. I don’t want to waste time refuting his party line (or proffer sordid details of his usual selective and parochial sourcing, not to mention tendency toward artful rearrangement of quotes that are then passed off without attribution) but would suggest a review and a skit instead to get an idea of the type of la-la land true believers like him are stuck in. Hitchens was a proud member of the IS, as detailed in 2nd link above, whose members’ greatest “theoretical” achievement is to parse the writings of Trotsky and Lenin and come up with ever-novel Talmudic style interpretations of the master thinker’s thoughts.

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