Ho-hum: Can anyone be surprised anymore by what Mr. Chomsky thinks and says? Not really. In one of those little ironies of leftist politics, the author of "Manufacturing Consent" has become a victim of what my former colleague Tom Frank likes to call "the commodification of dissent," in which even the most radical ideas come stamped with their own ISBN number. In the West at least, the marketplace of ideas is also the great equalizer of ideas, blunting edges that might once have had the power to wound and kill.More at the link.
So it is that Mr. Chomsky can be the recipient of over 20 honorary degrees, including from Harvard, Cambridge and the University of Chicago. None of these degrees, as far as I know, was conferred for Mr. Chomsky's political musings, but neither did those musings provoke any apparent misgivings about the fitness of granting the award. So Mr. Chomsky is the purveyor of some controversial ideas about this or that aspect of American power. So what?
Here's what: Dulled (and dull) as Mr. Chomsky's ideas might be in the West, they remain razors outside of it. "Among the most capable of those from your side who speak on this topic [the war in Iraq] and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war," said bin Laden in 2007. He was singing the professor's praises again last year, saying "Noam Chomsky was correct when he compared the U.S. policies to those of the mafia."
These words seem to have been deeply felt. Every wannabe philosopher—and bin Laden was certainly that—seeks the imprimatur of someone he supposes to be a real philosopher. Mr. Chomsky could not furnish bin Laden with a theology, but he did provide an intellectual architecture for his hatred of the United States. That Mr. Chomsky speaks from the highest tower of American academe, that he is so widely feted as the great mind of his generation, that his every utterance finds a publisher and an audience, could only have sustained bin Laden in the conceit that his thinking was on a high plane. Maybe it would have been different if Mr. Chomsky had been dismissed decades ago for what he is: a two-nickel crank.
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