After 9/11 the left disinterred Chomsky and put him back on a pedestal. The New York Times, for example, ran a ridiculously fawning profile of him. He was being mainstreamed again and I felt strongly that someone had to say something.
There are a couple of main points that should be made. First, Chomsky is an absolutely shameless liar. A master of the argument in bad faith. He will say anything in order to get people to believe him. Even worse, he will say anything in order to shut people up who disagree with him. And I’m not necessarily talking about his public critics.
If you’ve ever seen how he acts with ordinary students who question what he says, it’s quite horrifying. He simply abuses them in a manner I can only describe as sadistic. That is, he clearly enjoys doing it. I don’t think anyone ought to be allowed to get away with that kind of behavior.
Second, Chomsky is immensely important to the radical left. When it comes to American foreign policy he isn’t just influential, he’s basically all they have. Almost any argument made about foreign affairs by the radical left can be traced back to him. That wasn’t the case when he started out back in the late ’60s, but it is now.
Third, he is essentially the last totalitarian. Despite his claims otherwise, he’s more or less the last survivor of a group of intellectuals who thought systemic political violence and totalitarian control were essentially good things. He babbles about human rights all the time, but when you look at the regimes and groups he’s supported, it’s a very bloody list indeed.
Communism and fascism are obviously dead as the proverbial doornail, but I doubt the totalitarian temptation will ever go away. The desire for unity and a kind of beautiful tyranny seems to spring from somewhere deep in the human psyche.
Fourth—and this may be most important—he makes people stupid. In this sense, he’s more like a cult leader or a New Age guru than an intellectual.
He allows people to be comfortable with their prejudices and their hatreds, and he undercuts their ability to think in a critical manner. To an extent, this has to do with his use of emotional and moral blackmail.
Since he portrays everyone who disagrees with him as evil, if you do agree with him you must be on the side of good and right. This is essentially a kind of secular puritanism, and it’s very appealing to many people, for obvious reasons, I think. We all want to think well of ourselves, whether we deserve it or not.
There is an intellectual side to this, as well. You see it clearly in his famous debate with Michel Foucault. Chomsky says at one point that there is a moral and ethical order that is hardwired into human beings. And Foucault basically asks him, why? How do you know this hardwired morality exists? And even if it exists, how can we know that it is, in fact, moral in the first place? We may feel it to be moral, but that doesn’t make it true.