Chomsky is one of the latest on the Left to fall under David Horowitz's
guns. Horowitz's "The Sick Mind of Noam Chomsky" appeared last
fall, in two parts, in FrontPage Magazine. In a lot of
ways, Chomsky deserves it. He has plenty of weaknesses and failings
that Horowitz could have exploited mercilessly, had he so wished.
one thing, he has a tendency to play fast and loose with his sources.
He often seems to be making it as hard as possible to look up
his source for some assertion. In the past, I have read a paragraph
Democracy or the like, containing several statements about,
say, U.S. ties to death squads in Central America. But instead
of providing a separate citation for each item of fact, he footnotes
the entire paragraph once, and then lists a dozen sources (or
two) in the note. So unless the titles themselves provide sufficient
contextual clues, it's necessary to look up all of them (several
hours' work at the library) just to find out which source refers
to which assertion. On top of that, many of his references are
not to the primary source, but to some other work by Chomsky in
which he cites the primary source. Worse yet, he sometimes cites
his work like this: "See chapters three, five, and seven, in..."
And if that were not bad enough, in some cases (albeit far from
a majority), the original source doesn't explicitly say what Chomsky
extracted as its import. It turns out that the statement footnoted
in Chomsky's writing is not an actual fact from the original source,
but Chomsky's characterization of the meaning of the original
fact (which he doesn't actually quote). I think this last failing,
in all fairness, reflects not so much intellectual dishonesty
as sloppiness in distinguishing the bare facts from his reading
of their significance; but it surely makes it a chore to check
is often referred to as a "prolific writer" it's almost a Homeric
epithet. Unfortunately, his prolific writing is in part due to
his tendency to recycle the same stock paragraphs in every new
piece he writes (I'm afraid to say too much on this count, since
I have the same failing). Chomsky has repeatedly referred to Bakunin's
fears that Marx's state socialism would degenerate into a "Red
Bureaucracy." The only source Chomsky ever cites is a letter from
Bakunin to Ogareff and Herzen, quoted in a work in French by Daniel
Guerin not exactly accessible to the average reader who wants
to find out more (see above paragraph). So I did a word search
of "Bakunin" and "red bureaucracy." Guess what? 104 references,
about two-thirds of them from Chomsky. And in each of them, he
referred to the stock Bakunin quote in almost exactly the same
words, and gave the same inaccessible reference (if he gave a
source at all). Another reason for Chomsky's literary fecundity
is the number of collected interviews from Z Magazine, or by his
Boswell, David Barsamian.
from the least of his shortcomings is intellectual inconsistency.
He regularly receives criticism from anarchists and others on
the libertarian left for his claims to be an anarchist, and the
peculiarly statist nature of his "anarchism." In the past, he
has referred to the difference between his "goals" and "visions."
His long-term vision is to abolish the state and devolve power
to a federation of direct democracies. But since our society is
dominated by concentrations of private power, it is necessary
first of all to strengthen the power of the state to dismantle
corporate power. Therefore, his immediate goal is to vastly increase
federal power, under the control of "progressive" forces, to break
the power of corporate tyrannies before the state can be allowed
to wither away. I'm pretty sure another "anarchist" named Lenin
had the same "vision" and "goals." Engels pretty aptly summed
up the difference between anarchists and state socialists over
a century ago: "They say abolish the state and capital will go
to the devil. We propose the reverse." By this standard, Chomsky
sounds a lot closer to Engels than
Horowitz didn't attack any of these things. He preferred to attack
a straw man. Although he made repeated reference to Chomsky's
statements about the role of ruling class interests in U.S. policy,
Horowitz didn't answer them. He simply characterized them. His
method was to quote them outside of any context, in a "can you
believe he actually said this?" tone, and then to denounce them
as "unAmerican." The heretical statements, judged a priori to be outrageous,
need not be refuted just denounced. In Part Two of "Sick
Mind," he responded to reader complaints that he hadn't actually
answered Chomsky's arguments by dissecting a carefully selected
handful of assertions. But almost every reference was to a Chomsky
pronouncement in one of the Barsamian collections,
What Uncle Sam Really Wants. The Barsamian interview are not where
you'd go if you wanted to see Chomsky's arguments fully developed,
with documentation provided.
comes across, to me anyway, as at least as disingenuous as Chomsky.
I suspect the reason he failed to answer Chomsky on grounds of
fact was that he knew he couldn't. For all the cloud of obfuscation
that surrounds Chomsky's use of sources, a great deal of what
he says about U.S. policy in the Third World its support of death
squads and right-wing dictators, and the role of corporate interests
in formulating such policies is heavily documented and hard to
refute. It's one thing to answer a general pronouncement about
the iniquity of U.S. power with an equally general counter-assertion
about the virtue and altruism of U.S. policy. It's another to
answer documentation on ties between the Atlacatl Battalion and
the School of the Americas,
or on United Fruit Company activities in 1954. To argue the facts
with Chomsky might well undermine his simplistic Snidely Whiplash
picture of U.S. motivation; but it would also risk, to a much
greater extent, exposing as hogwash a centerpiece of neoconservative
ideology the benevolence of American empire.
is an inelegant segue to my next point. Horowitz's faults are,
more generally, the faults of the neoconservative movement as
central defining characteristic is its repugnance to the genuine American conservative
tradition. The views of Horowitz would not only be unrecognizable
as conservatism to anyone born before 1914, but (with the possible
exception of authoritarian centralists like Hamilton) would have
been repudiated with disgust by the leading figures in the first
two generations of American history. The American tradition from
the revolutionary period to the present has been fixated on the
dangers of power, and on the tendency of power to
corrupt. And it has been quite explicit on the kind of corruption
it feared. Either the state apparatus would become an aristocracy
in its own right, from the love of power and privilege, or it
would function in the interests of an aristocracy of corporations
and moneyed interests. Empire, to the revolutionary generation
and the American mainstream up until 1941, was inconsistent with
the survival of American constitutional traditions. Its concomitants,
a large permanent military establishment and a powerful executive,
were themselves great threats to liberty.
and the neocons, in contrast, positively worship power. Their
literature is full of nostalgia over past total wars, and the
spirit of wartime sacrifice on behalf of the State. Their heroes
are wartime dictators like Lincoln, Wilson and FDR. They insist
on referring to the Cold War as WWIII, and the "war on terrorism"
as WWIV. They are the most strident advocates of turning the latter
into a total war against the whole Islamic world. And nearly every
day we see the necons, in the journals of opinion, defending the
abrogation of still more of the Fourth Amendment by the USA Patriot Act, the
suspension of habeas corpus for Jose Padilla,
etc., as necessary sacrifices "for the duration" which could
be decades. They are enthusiastic on the potentials for global
welfare of "benevolent empire," and they support presidential
"national security" prerogatives reminiscent of a Stuart monarch.
they make much of the social pathologies resulting from the Great
Society, they are generally fairly accomodating to the New Deal
form of state capitalism. The reason, perhaps, is that many neocons
are former Cold War liberals who didn't move left with McGovern.
Despite the neoconservatives' professed horror at the "statism"
and "authoritarianism" of the left, their only real problem with
big government is apparently that it isn't being used to beat
the right values into people.
all the Neocons' manglings of "American" values, the worst example
is their close association with the Straussians.
Straussians have a very odd interpretation, to say the least,
of the U. S. Constitution. The nature of Straussian constitutionalism
was made pretty clear in debates between the Straussian Harry
Jaffa and the traditionalist M. E. Bradford. The proper way to
interpret legal and historical documents (at least outside the
Straussian priesthood) is in the context of the time they were
written, according to the understanding of their contemporaries;
in the case of the Constitution, this means according to the understanding
of the ratifiers. The method of the Straussians, however, is to
take a handful of documents the Declaration of Independence,
the Preamble, the Gettysburg Address as Sacred Texts. One interprets
them by looking up "Common Defence and General Welfare" in Mortimer
Adler's Syntopicon to see what Aristotle and Aquinas had to say
on the subject, and then importing these ideas into the text of
the Constitution itself.
commonly assert that the values of the Declaration were somehow
mystically incorporated in the Constitution, and are legally enforceable
as such even when no warrant can be found on the face of the Constitution.
This Straussian methodology resurrects many of the idiosyncrasies
of the "antislavery Constitutionalism" of the pre-Civil War period or
what I like to call "Shiite Constitutionalism." The idea of substantive
due process comes from that cultural milieu. So does the Howard
Phillips (U.S. Taxpayers' Party) dogma that the Fifth Amendment
is not just a prohibition against the federal government, but
actually empowers the President to enforce the rights of citizens
against the states. And so does the idea that "Common Defense
and General Welfare" in Article I Section 8, far from being a
qualification of the fiscal power, is a general grant of power
that renders the subsequent delegation of powers moot.
the Straussian ideology, Liberty and Equality (always capitalized)
are central values; but somehow the plain old right just to be
left alone, or to control the things that affect your life, isn't.
And these grand abstractions of Straussian/ Neoconservative "Liberty"
and "Equality" somehow always seem to require a massive imperial
commitment, with associated national security state, for their
survival. The old fashioned kind of (small l) liberty was obtained
by old-fashioned, hell-raising American anti-authoritarianism the
kind that actually distrusted the benevolence of American power.
In their willingness to augment the Leviathan state, and sacrifice
real liberty on the altar of grand abstractions like "Liberty"
and "Equality," the neoconservatives sound a lot like the left-wing
statists Horowitz holds in such contempt.
his ignorance of the genuine American conservative tradition,
Horowitz is amazingly fuzzy in his conception of "the Left." First,
he ignores the fact that conservatives and libertarians are historically
on 'the Left' in the sense that they would have sat with the
Third Estate in the Estates-General or the Whigs in Parliament.
Even the founding father of traditionalist conservatism, Edmund
Burke, was a Whig who supported the Glorious Revolution and
denounced the corruption (and decided non-benevolence) of British
empire. If Mr. Horowitz had been alive then, he would probably
have defended Warren Hastings against Burke's "unBritishism."
second, he ignores the existence of a genuine anti-statist left.
The Left has just as many nuances, complexities and subcurrents
as the Right; but Horowitz's motivation is less a desire to understand
things on their own terms, than to grab "whatever comes to hand
in a fight." Horowitz delights in using the terms progressive,
socialist and communist interchangeably. In quoting Chomsky's
doubts on the genuine left-wing credentials of Lenin, Horowitz
crows, "You have to pinch yourself when reading sentences like
that." Now I would suspect that Horowitz, as a former member of
the Left himself, knows quite well that there are more varieties
of anti-Leninist Marxism than there are of Leninism. A whole current
of libertarian-communist and council communist types from Luxembourg
and Liebknecht to Pannekoek and Mattick denounced the Soviet regime
as a new form of bureaucratic class society.
Horowitz considers their pretensions of hating Leninist/Stalinist
authoritarianism to be false, he can examine Lenin's strident
denunciation of left-wing communism as an "infantile disorder."
When Lenin sent the Workers' Opposition and the Kronstadt mutineers
to the gulag, or broke the power of the workers' committees in
the factories (calling for Taylorist state managers in their place),
he seemed to take their opposition pretty seriously. I cannot
imagine an editor of Ramparts not being aware of these currents.
He may genuinely believe that "libertarian communism" eventually
leads down the same totalitarian road as Leninsim. But that is
an assertion to be argued, not a question to be begged. In fact,
he doesn't even acknowledge that the question exists. Another
reason I suspect Horowitz of disingenuous demagogy, pretending
to know less than he really does.
his wilfull disregard of subtle distinctions on the Left in regard
to other people, Horowitz becomes an expert on all the shades
of difference when his own leftist past is questioned. In response
to Chomsky's dismissal, "I didn't used to read him when he was
a Stalinist, and I don't read him now," Horowitz responded:
a college freshman in 1956, I declared my own political identity
as an anti-Stalinist "new leftist." I strenuously opposed the
Soviet invasion of Hungary, at great filial cost within the household.
Ever since that time that is for my entire writing career in the
left until my last piece was submitted to The Nation twenty years
later in 1979, I was a vocal anti-Stalinist.
is admirably charitable toward himself, considering one of his
favorite epithets in characterizing any leftist movement on campus
good many anarchists and others on the libertarian left repudiate
Chomsky's statism. And there is a lot more mutual tolerance between
the libertarian left and right than I suspect Horowitz cares for.
There are people on the Left like Alexander Cockburn, Sam Smith,
and Frank Morales who have strong sympathies for the libertarian-constitutionalist
right (to the extent that they are denounced as militia dupes
by Chip Berlet and his ilk). And there are many on the right who,
far from denouncing straw men on the "leftover Left," make common
cause with parts of the left. Old Rightists like Joseph Stromberg,
besides preserving the memory of Taft, Buffet, and Garett, also
make favorable reference to the writings of revisionist historians
like Gabriel Kolko, W. A. Williams and James Weinstein in their
analysis of "Corporate Liberalism" and the "Open Door Empire."
And right-libertarian free marketers like Murray Rothbard
and Karl Hess sought an alliance between the Old Right and the
New Left against the New Right assault on traditional conservatism.
Hess, I believe, for a time even endorsed syndicalist seizure
of industries whose profits depended primarily on state capitalist
intervention. There is a broad ideological overlap where Karl
Hess meets Alexander Cockburn, where there is little room for
the shibboleths of left and right; its motto could be taken from
Hess: "We should encourage the flower of liberty whether its petals
be red white and blue, or red and black."
I suspect Horowitz disapproves of "libertarian" anything, left
or right. I find it interesting to compare my attitudes toward
my own ideological evolution over the years, to those of Horowitz.
Ten years ago I was a traditionalist conservative, strongly influenced
by the antifederalists and commonwealthmen, distributists, and
agrarians what Clyde Wilson called the "Jeffersonian conservative
tradition." In the intervening time, I gradually migrated leftward,
so that I am now a mutualist, heavily influenced by Proudhon and
Tucker. But my only objection to my old conservative mentors,
to the extent that I have any objections, is that they either
missed part of the picture or they didn't fully realize the implications
of their own premises. My "petty bourgeois" values of decentralism
and localism, community, are still pretty much the same. I still
dislike New Class elitists and parasites who feed off of others'
labor. I still dislike PC social engineers who presume to reeducate
the rest of us. Although I am in the IWW, I still read Hilaire
Belloc and M.E. Bradford with affection but didn't Belloc
have ties to the Guild Socialists? And for that matter, the Nashville
Agrarians weren't too keen on corporate capitalism, either. The
continued existence of paleoconservatism is an embarassment to
the Neocons, in much the same way Rutherford, Aronson and Jones
were to Ingsoc.
have a lot of respect for people like Christopher Lasch, who defy
easy categorization according to Left-Right stereotypes, and are
willing to integrate ideas from diverse sources into a new framework.
But Horowitz seems to be temperamentally incapable, in the realm
of ideas, of "taking what he can use and leaving the rest." He
has the air of the deprogrammed Moonie who immediately constructs
a new fanatical cult in opposition to Moonie-ism. He seems to
be obsessed with proving wrong everything he believed thirty years
ago, at any cost even at the cost of intellectual honesty. Truth
itself is suspect, if it also happens to be something believed
by THOSE PEOPLE. In his authoritarianism, he is driven, in Orwell's
words, by "a furious desire to track down, denounce, and vaporize"
anyone who agrees with ANYTHING he believed thirty years ago.
of the more ludicrous aspects of neoconservatism is its use of
the New Class as a whipping boy for example, Ann Coulter's defense
of people in the "red states" against America-hating elitists.
But neocons are not exactly situated to pose as champions of middle
America against the elites. They are predominantly former Trotskyites
and other leftist intellectuals, journalists, Straussian academicians,
and former New Deal Democratic politicians pretty much the entire
spectrum of "rootless cosmopolitanism," from A to B. Neoconservative
social and political views, in many ways, are the outgrowth of
corporate liberalism the chief New Class ideological construct
in mid-twentieth century America. If you take a look at the big
intellectual stars in the contemporary neocon stable, like Huntington
and Fukuyama, they are throwbacks to corporate liberalism. Their
work is quite in the tradition of Schlesinger's "vital center,"
Bell's "end of ideology," and the "interest group pluralism" of
Adolph Berle. The neocons, for all their pretensions of solidarity
with the heartland, have shown a visceral hostility to the genuine
American populist tradition. As Paul
Gottfried argued, they are very much the spokesmen of managerial
tyranny. Finally, in their hawkishness and jingoism on foreign
policy (e.g. the chicken-hawk William Kristol's urge to vicariously
"crush Serb skulls"), today's neoconservatives are virtual mirror
images of the "Progressives" at The New Republic who whored themselves
out to Wilson's war propaganda apparatus.
2002; revised July 2002.
Carson lives in NW Arkansas and is affiliated with the Voluntary
Cooperation Movement (a mutualist affinity group) and the I.W.W.