Chomsky Is Wrong

Noam Chomsky puts the candidates on display in a political peep show.

By Daniel Riccuito

Presidential elections are, for the most part, psychic events. Chimeras. Deceptions. Or, as Noam Chomsky calls them, “personalized quadrennial extravaganzas.” But Chomskyites are often puzzled to hear their anarchist role model, one election cycle after another, touting the mainstream Democrat.

So why does Chomsky, with a saddened, syllable-dragging and demoralized voice, encourage voters to participate in their own exclusion – i.e., the electoral process? His under-read Goals and Visions holds some answers. The essay, dating back to Dr. Chomsky’s heyday, makes a beautiful (and deeply counter-intuitive) case for anarchists supporting strong centralized government in the near term.

Voting is a provisional bulwark against absolute corporate tyranny, which must, so the argument goes, be defeated, first – I’m not persuaded that Chomsky’s theory illuminates his latest White House hopeful, Bernie Sanders. If, as Chomsky argues, our American Democracy is some terrifying variety show, beamed into politically atomized brains, then he’s certainly able to see the emperor has no clothes here. That is, Bernie (pardon the image): a butt naked cipher.

Isn’t Senator Sanders identical, for all intents and purposes, to Donald Trump?

In another context, one might take these “candidates” – the Socialist versus the Fascist – more seriously, but neither man is running for office. Each appearing instead as the other’s shadow, a bargain-basement parlor trick and an extremely effective one in such polarized times as these. Bernie has become the ersatz electoral option for disaffected Democrats, who fantasize aloud about police, all of a sudden, valuing black lives. Trump, meanwhile, stokes the GOP headscape, where Mexicans can clean American toilets from behind a wall.

Donald is Bernie’s political reflection. And vice versa. They amount to a sad amalgam of doomed dreams: Donnie Trumpers. When he crashes and burns every supporter will be neutralized, zapped, like a cartoon donkey labeled: “Sucker.”

So: is our avuncular Dr. and by any standard precious Uncle Noam... Wrong?

That depends on whether we mean “wrong” in some deep ethical or purely strategic way; and we’d first have to elicit the concrete role of the public intellectual (if such a definition be possible). Aren’t all plans tentative, touch-and-go nowadays? Chomsky lives in the anti-capitalist fringe, where mental real estate comes fraught with impossible “visions.“ Yes, I mean the Chomskyan future as a long-range and, ultimately, theoretical quantity.

The pursuit of which can mean struggle minus hope.  

Struggle reducing “praxis” to fancy and all but senseless nomenclature, another shibboleth on the Left. My take on Chomsky is that any interest he's evinced toward the American electoral process is feigned, and, frankly, he doesn’t hide it with much verve – every participle wears a gloomy sweater-vest. What's he going to do, tell the idealists out there he thinks hope is a fool’s paradise?

His presentational style is already dour enough.

Published January 28th, 2016

Daniel Riccuito is an artist who runs The Chiseler, an online publication dedicated to obscurity—forgotten authors, lost languages, and neglected stars. Riccuito has written a book on Great Depression slang, The Depression Alphabet Primer, and contributed to Cineaste. He lives in New York City.