It’s important to point out that most of what Chomsky says is driven by emotion rather than intellect. His tone is very intellectual, in that he speaks in a very quiet, measured style most of the time. But the content is clearly driven by what can only be called a species of hysteria. I obviously don’t know him personally, but he seems to be at heart an extremely angry man, and I would guess that his anger is driven by something that is ultimately not political.

I will say, though, that one thing you realize very quickly when you deal with Chomsky at length is that he is very conscious of his audience. He often says one thing to a “red meat” type of crowd and something quite different—sometimes the opposite—to a potentially less sympathetic audience. Sometimes you even find both within the same speech or article.

A classic example is his comments on 9/11. First he condemns the attack, and then he spends several pages justifying it. Another is his claims about American democracy. In some of his earlier books, he quite obviously thinks that America is a kind of quasi-dictatorship or oligarchic tyranny in which democracy and freedom are a sham. Then after 9/11 his audience balloons in size, and suddenly he’s talking about how free American society is. A reader can essentially pick one or the other, depending on his inclinations…

Now there are many, many cases over the last century of intellectuals lending their minds or simply their names to dubious causes, and over time we’ve developed a certain sense of what the responsibility of the intellectual ought to be. It obviously isn’t an easy question. Was Jean Paul Sartre a monster, for example, because he was a Stalinist for a time? I would say no, though he did have an awful lot to answer for.