Book of da Week: On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky

On Anarchism - Noam Chomsky
Anarchy etc.

Considered as the father of contemporary linguistics, Noam Chomsky is very much a living legend at 88. During our linguistic studies at university back in 2003, he featured heavily throughout, but the American is much more than this, being a clever clogs fully capable in the fields of cognitive science, philosophy, political activism, and social criticism.

On Anarchism is polemical in its structure. Now, many folks have connotations of anarchism as stuff exploding and mayhem in the streets. It’s a tad more constructive than that, as displayed clearly in this essay. First published in 2005, it takes up the anarchist mantra of asking those in power to prove their worthy of authority: “if their systems can’t be justified then they ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.” Chomsky goes on to cover the true meaning of anarchism in a forthright and challenging piece of writing. Are you looking for anarchy? Then read on, sir or madam!

On Anarchism

Yes, so as already mentioned when one brings up the concept of anarchy, one tends to think of cars turned upside down, cities on fire, the Sex Pistols, or when you offer an English person a cup of tea but the English person responds with “No thanks”. Stop the press! It’s Anarchy in the UK. Anyway, anarchism is a bit more complicated than that, as the essay explains:

"Anarchism is a radical skepticism about structures of domination, authority, and hierarchy throughout human life, from the patriarchal family to imperialism.

Neato! As you can see, there’s a touch more to it than smashing stuff with hammers. This essay is as much about Chomsky’s thought as it is the principles of anarchism, but the central theme is the importance of challenging and questioning those in power. The result makes for a short, but deeply insightful, look at how total anarchy isn’t a fixed idea, plus disputing the perceived issues with anarchy and socialism, this tome is a thought provoking account.

Its accessibility is one of its key strengths. Chomsky doesn’t rely on sweeping pretension to make his point (i.e. ridiculously over the top language to try and sound smart) – from chapter 2, Understanding Power, onward he’s erudite and interesting, stating his argument clearly and with passion.

There is an argument anarchism is more needed than ever. In the UK, where post-recession austerity measures have left millions living off food banks, and a Tory government blunders from one embarrassment to the next, Chomsky uses his intellectual wiles to provide a touchstone for political activists the world over. Have a read, get educated, and learn some new stuff, you crazy anarchists, you!

Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?

In 2013, to capture the thoughts of one of the world’s greatest minds, Michel Gondry put together the partly animated film Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? – Chomsky is 88 now and we have plenty of his writing and notes on linguistics to turn to but, for posterity, it’s also useful to have a film dedicated to the man. Innit.

4 comments

  1. Um… wasn’t anarchy of the Chomsky variety the theme of a Sex Pistols album? I am not sure how hyperbolic I should call that (I once attended a lecture by Malcolm McLaren who explained it …) That aside, it’s always intrigued me how Noam Chomsky turns up across so many fields! When I was doing an undergrad degree in anthropology, way back when (cough cough…) he was relentlessly invoked as a kind of demigod. I imagined he was duly ancient even then…

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    • I was really into the Sex Pistols when I was a teenager as the whole anarchy thing (a fundamental, if not loose, understanding of it anyway) appeals at that age. But, yeah, the band’s take on it was pretty much just destruction (developed due to the horrible state the country was in at the time) rather than Chomsky’s rather nuanced consideration of it all. He certainly crops up everywhere, I’ve always studied Literature, Linguistics, Media Studies, Cultural Studies etc. and read through a number of his essays. Always very intriguing, although I believe he and Christopher Hitchens were regularly at loggerheads (but that was the latter’s style anyway).

      Liked by 1 person

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