Swans Commentary » swans.com October 9, 2006  



Noam Chomsky's Failed States


by Charles Marowitz


Book Review



Chomsky, Noam: Failed States, Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co., New York, ISBN 0-8050-7912-8


(Swans - October 9, 2006)   Noam Chomsky began his career as a semanticist; that is, a person who diligently searches out language in order to better reveal its meaning. It is a short distance from there to becoming a political pundit, as anyone who obfuscates or demeans language is immediately fair game to the serious linguist. Today, when language is constantly being used to conceal meaning and mangle truth, the semanticist is in the front rank of society's defenders. In Chomsky's latest book Failed States, the writer demonstrates how language itself has been taken prisoner.

The picture Chomsky paints of this "failed state" is of a nation dominated by grasping and malevolent "private interests," ruled by corporate powers that work hand in hand with government to enlarge their own profits and suppress the needs and desires of a majority of the American people who are methodically duped by glittering generalities about "democracy" and "freedom" while being economically down-trodden and politically neutered. If only one quarter of the offences contained in Noam Chomsky's book are true, the outlook for American democracy is more than bleak; it is utterly hopeless.

The linguistic-philosopher is blunt about Israel's transgressions in the Holy Land and the cynical union between the U.S. and its marauding client state. He demonstrates that America's call for democracy in Europe and the Middle East is nakedly predicated on self-interest. He impugns the corporization of the universities where unbridled freedom of expression has given way to censorship disguised as "speech codes"; dissent is interpreted as treason; and departments, allegedly devoted to research and development, are in cahoots with private companies embroiled in commerce and industry. Chomsky believes the rot has got in everywhere and one would be inclined to view him as a dotty alarmist if his evidence wasn't so convincing and his facts so incontrovertible.

The book is fastidiously documented and studded with dozens of citations bearing out the author's various contentions; if anything, more than are required to prove their validity. It would have strengthened the work's polemic if Chomsky's voice was not constantly diverted with corroborations but relied more on the cumulative force of his own argument.

Failed States is a disturbingly persuasive indictment of shortcomings that have corroded the fabric of American society to the point where it is threadbare. It tears off the masks of malevolent politicians and scheming corporate pirates whose primary motivation is only greater profitability. It also tends to confirm the suspicions that have been percolating in people's minds as the country has lurched from one scandal to another. Chomsky contends that the trappings of democracy -- free elections, freedom of the press, equal justice, equality of opportunity -- are shibboleths that have been tossed like a deflated football from one administration to the other (both Republican and Democratic) and that manipulative rhetoric has usurped the popular will and hoodwinked the masses. Chomsky's charges are the fodder out of which revolutionary upheaval could grow if the country were not permanently incapable of developing an insurrectionary temperament.

The deeply-embedded corruptions which nullify the nation's politics, warp its religious beliefs, motivate its commercial enterprises, and dehumanize the day-to-day traffic between individuals who look no further than the preservation of their own comfort and well being have de-democratized a nation presumably rooted in democracy. The fact that we condone what the U.S. has become under the present leadership suggests that we are more than a "failed state," we are a damaged human species. That is why we cannot field upright candidates or engage in debates on moral issues without resorting to rancor and bitterness. That is why we draw ourselves into cozy enclaves, insulating our lives from the horrors of the outside world. If the reverence with which we honor our fallen dead in Iraq could be converted into protest against those political evils which persuadeus to sacrifice the lives of our sons, daughters, and husbands, there might be a way to clamber out of the quagmire. Refusing to do so makes us complicit in the crimes being carried out in our name, although without our consent.

I am merely reverberating here the indictments contained in Chomsky's work and doing so because a perfunctory survey of the issues raised there would demean the conventional parameters of book reviewing. It is mildly insulting merely to evaluate the literary aspects of a polemical tract which concerns itself with life-and-death issues that throttle our daily lives forcing us to collude in acts of terror grown in our own native soil. One reads Failed States as one would a Doomsday Book. The difference is it stimulates the will to survive rather than despair.

It is mordantly ironic that Chomsky's earlier book Hegemony of Survival: America's Quest For Global Dominance, which Hugo Chávez brandished before the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2006, suddenly became a best seller. It would appear that nothing intrudes into reality if it doesn't first detour onto that freeway which wends its way through the media. I doubt that Chávez is a particular hero of Chomsky's but they are umbilically connected in their contempt for the spread of veiled imperialism. If Chávez's testimonial increases Chomsky's readership, it is a boost every liberal American should applaud. And if it leads them on to Failed States, even better.


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Published October 9, 2006