Monday, May 21, 2007

Noam Chomsky: Prophet

Noam Chomsky

One of the most important public intellectuals of the last generation has been Prof. Noam Chomsky of MIT.

The fact he gets so many out there, their blood boiling is proof that what he says hits home.

Basically Noam Chomsky is a Old Testament Prophet castigating the wickedness of his society. What makes him worth reading is his disconcerting ability to resurrect, find, the "forgotten" fact.

Like a Old Testament Prophet Chomsky is not interested in whether or not others are worst but in the wickedness of his own society which he castigates for its sins.

What is interesting is the truly hysterical responses he gets from so many.

The society that Chomsky condemns is the United States of America, ignoring patriotic shibboleths he castigates and condemns .

If much of what Chomsky says can be castigated as unfair: a prophet is not in the business of being "fair".

But then given Chomsky's precept that you try to change things that you can change not go on endlessly about the atrocities of "official enemies" that you can do very little about while doing nothing about atrocities you can do something about. "Unfairness" is built into how Chomsky looks at the world.

The classic example for Chomsky is Cambodia and East Timor. In the case of Cambodia their was much hand wringing and detailed accounts in the media about the (truly spectacular) atrocities. Of course virtually nothing could have been done at the time too stop the atrocities by the west. But then that was not the purpose of the massive hand wringing. The purpose was to score points in the battle against the enemy.

Regarding East Timor, not only could action by the west have done something to stop the atrocities, but western action allowed the invasion to happen. (Indonesia invaded in 1975) And then relative silence descended over the truly vast atrocities that happenned at least in much of the West.

Chomsky is far from perfect and definitely not the last word but he has a truly different perspective and definitely not "politically correct". Thoughtful, less than hysterical "PC" critiques of Chomsky are virtually non-existent.

Some of Chomsky's Books.

Deterring Democracy, 1992
The Chomsky Reader, 1987
Year 501: The Conquest Continues, 1993
At War With Asia, 1970
Necessary Illusions,
Manufacturing Consent, (With Edward S. Herman), 1988
Towards a New cold War, 1982

Pierre Cloutier

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Sunshine for Napoleon"

One of the most annoying phenomena in scholarship is the worship of certain historical figures to such an extent that it amounts to idolatry.

Such figures are worshiped to such an extent that they become omnipotent figures who can do no wrong and if they fail its always someone else's fault.

A particularly striking example of this idol worship is the slavish Stalinist suck up involved in Napoleon worship.

Portrait of Napoleon by David

Now Napoleon was indeed a very great man just has many others have been great. What is perplexing is the refusal to recognize the hubristic, brutal features of his life and reign. It is all too easy to find suck ups concerning as for example collected in Geyl's Napoleon For and Against. Which stands has a monument against Hero worshiping "scholarship". Stalin was subjected to a truly repellent amount of sycophantic "journalism". Everything he did was subject to praise. His considerable atrocities, denied, excused dressed up has "right". And like Napoleon he was characterized has surrounded by evil enemies who betray the infallible "leader". Of course these "traitors" are responsible for any mistakes made by the great Leader.

Another aspect is that such sycophancy is the identification of the Leader with the nation and any attack or disagreement, in fact anything less than full, unhesitating support of the infallible leader is "treason". It never seems to occur to such people that opposition to the leader is in fact in the interest of the nation and that the leader may be sacrificing the nation to his selfish ambitions.

A related aspect is the notion that the interest of other peoples don't matter and can be dismissed as unimportant. Thus we learn that Alexander I, growing opposition to the Continental System, which was royally screwing up the Russian economy and Government revenues, is characterized has a "betrayal". The idea that Alexander I or in fact any leader or state in Europe was in any sense duty bound to sacrifice all his interests and the interests of his people to the "infallible", Napoleon and any hesitation in not obeying Napoleon in everything was "betrayal" is a very interesting vision of leaders responsibilities to their various peoples.

And it goes hand in hand with hypersensitive reactions to any criticism of the great man for whom the only "fair" criticism is sycophantic hero worship and suck up.

I was recently reminded of this when I reading a edition of Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon. In which someone had written comments practically all of them of the suck up variety. There was for example a few complaints about the authors occasional negative comments about Napoleon. (The comments which concerned Napoleon's ambition, ruthlessness, cruelty etc., are in my opinion entirely fair.) There were also occasional comments about "English Gold" by our writer in the margins. This indicates that the author has read the common literature concerning Napoleon that alleges that opposition to Napoleon in Europe was the result of the English government bribing other governments. That these other governments might have legitimate grievances / interests against France and or Napoleon is of course unthinkable. And the various English government's have by definition no legitimate interests against France / Napoleon and are a force for evil; thwarting the good, virtuous Napoleon in a contest between the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. Thus any opposition to Napoleon is the result of wicked base motives, and not from either "Good" principles and / or reason that can be deemed "legitimate".

It is my opinion that the Hero worship of Napoleon was and is one of the firm foundations for the support and adulation of Dictators, Dictatorial regimes and the crimes committed in their names.

Pierre Cloutier