Chomsky, (Avram) Noam 1928-

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CHOMSKY, (Avram) Noam 1928-


Born December 7, 1928, in Philadelphia, PA; son of William (a Hebrew scholar) and Elsie (Simonofsky) Chomsky; married Carol Schatz (a linguist and specialist on educational technology), December 24, 1949; children: Aviva, Diane, Harry Alan. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., 1949, M.A., 1951, Ph.D., 1955. Politics: Libertarian socialist.


Home—15 Suzanne Rd., Lexington, MA 02173. Office—Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Room E39-219, Cambridge, MA 02139. E-mail—[email protected].


Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, assistant professor, 1955-58, associate professor, 1958-62, professor, 1962-65, Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics, 1966-76, Institute Professor, 1976—. Visiting professor of linguistics, Columbia University, 1957-58, University of California, Los Angeles, 1966, University of California, Berkeley, 1966-67, and Syracuse University, 1982. Member, Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton University, 1958-59; Harvard Cognitive Studies Center research fellow, 1964-67. John Locke lecturer, Oxford University, 1969; Bertrand Russell Memorial Lecturer, Cambridge University, 1971; Nehru Memorial Lecturer, University of New Delhi, 1972; Huizinga Lecturer, University of Leiden, 1977; Woodbridge Lecturer, Columbia University, 1978; Kant Lecturer, Stanford University, 1979.


National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Linguistic Society of America, American Philosophical Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), British Academy (corresponding fellow), British Psychological Society (honorary member), Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft (honorary member), Linguistic Society of America, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, Royal Anthropological Institute of Ireland, Utrecht Society of Arts and Sciences (honorary member).


Junior fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows, 1951-55; named among "makers of the twentieth century" by London Times, 1970; Guggenheim fellowship, 1971-72; award for distinguished scientific contribution from American Psychological Association, 1984; Gustavus Myers Center Award, 1986 and 1988; George Orwell Award, National Council of Teachers of English, 1987, 1989; Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, 1988; Professional Excellence Award, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1991; James Killian Faculty Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1992; Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction, 1992; Joel Seldin Peace Award, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, 1993; Homer Smith Award, New York University School of Medicine, 1994; Loyola Mellon Humanities Award, Loyola University, 1994; Helmholtz Medal, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie Wissenschaften, 1996; United Nation Society of Writers and Artists award, 2004. Honorary degrees include D.H.L., University of Chicago, 1967, Loyola University of Chicago, and Swarthmore College, 1970, Bard College, 1971, University of Massachusetts, 1973, University of Pennsylvania, 1984, Gettysburg College and University of Maine, 1992, and Amherst College, 1995; D.Litt., University of London, 1967, Delhi University, 1972, Visva-Bharati University (West Bengal), 1980, and Cambridge University, 1995.


Syntactic Structures, Mouton (Hague, Netherlands), 1957, reprinted, 1978.

Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, Mouton (Hague, Netherlands), 1964.

Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1965, reprinted, 1986.

Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.

Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar, Mouton (Hague, Netherlands), 1966.

(With Morris Halle) Sound Patterns of English, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.

American Power and the New Mandarins, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1969.

At War with Asia, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1970.

Problems of Knowledge and Freedom: The Russell Lectures, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1971.

(With George A. Miller) Analyse formelle des langues naturelles, Mouton (Hague, Netherlands), 1971.

Language and Mind, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1968, enlarged edition, 1972.

Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar, Mouton (Hague, Netherlands), 1972.

(Editor, with Howard Zinn) The Pentagon Papers, Volume 5: Critical Essays, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1972.

For Reasons of State, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1973, reprinted, New Press (New York, NY), 2003.

(With Edward Herman) Counterrevolutionary Violence, Warner Modular, 1974.

Peace in the Middle East?: Reflections on Justice and Nationhood, Vintage (New York, NY), 1974, expanded edition publsihed as Middle East Illusions: Including Peace in the Middle East?: Reflections on Justice and Nationhood, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2003.

The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory, Plenum (New York, NY), 1975.

Reflections on Language, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1975.

Essays on Form and Interpretation, North-Holland (New York, NY), 1977.

Dialogues avec Mitsou Ronat, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1977, translation published as Human Rights and American Foreign Policy, Spokesman, 1978.

Language and Responsibility, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Edward Herman) The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume I: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Volume II: After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Construction of Imperial Ideology, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1979.

Rules and Representations, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, 1981.

Radical Priorities, Black Rose Books (New York, NY), 1982, 3rd edition, edited by C. P. Otero, AK Press (Oakland, CA), 2003.

Toward a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Got There, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1982.

Noam Chomsky on the Generative Enterprise: A Discussion with Riny Huybregts and Henk van Riemsdijk, Foris, 1982.

(With Jonathan Steele and John Gittings) Superpowers in Collision: The Cold War Now, Penguin (New York, NY), 1982.

Some Concepts and Consequences of the Theory of Government and Binding, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1982.

The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1983, updated edition, 1999.

Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1985.

Barriers, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1986.

Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origins, and Use, Praeger (New York, NY), 1986.

Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World, Claremont, 1986.

On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1987.

James Peck, editor, The Chomsky Reader, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.

Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1987.

Language in a Psychological Setting, Sophia University (Tokyo, Japan), 1987.

Generative Grammar: Its Basis, Development, and Prospects, Kyoto University of Foreign Studies (Kyoto, Japan), 1988.

The Culture of Terrorism, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1988.

(With Edward S. Herman) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1988.

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in a Democratic Society, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1989.

Deterring Democracy, Verso (New York, NY), 1991.

Terrorizing the Neighborhood: American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era, Pressure Drop Press (San Francisco, CA), 1991.

Chronicles of Dissent: Interviews with David Barsamian, Common Courage Press (Monroe, ME), 1992.

What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Odonian Press (Berkeley, CA), 1992.

Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda, Common Courage Press, (Monroe, ME), 1993, updated edition, Paradigm (Boulder, CO), 2004.

(With David Barsamian) The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many, Odonian Press (Berkeley, CA), 1993.

Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1993.

Year 501: The Conquest Continues, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1993.

World Orders, Old and New, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1994, revised and expanded edition, 1996.

Language and Thought, Moyer Bell (Wakefield, RI), 1994.

Keeping the Rabble in Line: Interviews with David Barsamian, Common Courage Press (Monroe, ME), 1994.

Secrets, Lies, and Democracy: Interviews with David Barsamian, Odonian Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.

The Minimalist Program, MIT Press (Boston, MA), 1995.

Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian, Common Courage Pres (Monroe, ME), 1996.

Power and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1996.

Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Umbrella of U.S. Power: The Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Contradictions of U.S. Power, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1998.

On Neoliberalism, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1998.

The Common Good, interviews by David Barsamian, Odonian Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Our Knowledge of the Human Language: Current Perspectives, Casa Editora (Havana, Cuba), 1998.

Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1999.

The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, Common Courage Press (Monroe, ME), 1999.

The Architecture of Language, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2000.

Chomsky on Miseducation, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2000.

A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor, and the Standards of the West, Verso (New York, NY), 2000.

New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2000.

Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs, South End Press (Boston, MA), 2000.

(With David Barsamian) Propaganda and the Public Mind, South End Press (Boston, MA), 2001.

9-11, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(With Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel) Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, New Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Radical Priorities, AK Press (Oakland, CA), 2003.

Power and Terror: Post-9-11 Talks and Interviews, edited by John Junkerman and Takei Masakazu, Jacana (Johannesburg, South Africa), 2003.

Chomsky on Democracy and Education, edited by C. P. Otero, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.

Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 2003.

At War with Asia: Essays on Indochina, AK Press (Oakland, CA), 2004.

Language and Politics, AK Press (Oakland, CA), 2004.

Contributor to books, including The Cold War and the University: Toward an Intellectual History of the Postwar Years, New Press (New York, NY), 1997; and You Are Being Lied To: The Disinformation Guide to Media Distortion, Historical Whitewashes, and Cultural Myths, Razorfish Studios (New York, NY), 2001; contributor of articles to scholarly and general periodicals.


"Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today," wrote Paul Robinson in the New York Times Book Review. Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, attracted worldwide attention with his groundbreaking research into the nature of human language and communication. As the founder of the "Chomskyan Revolution," the scholar became the center of a debate that transcended formal linguistics to embrace psychology, philosophy, and even genetics. New York Times Magazine contributor Daniel Yergin maintained that Chomsky's "formulation of 'transformational grammar' has been acclaimed as one of the major achievements of the [twentieth] century. Where others heard only the Babel of fragments, he found a linguistic order. His work has been compared to the unraveling of the genetic code of the DNA molecule." Yergin further contended that Chomsky's discoveries have had an impact "on everything from the way children are taught foreign languages to what it means when we say that we are human." Chomsky is also an impassioned critic of American foreign policy, especially as it affects ordinary citizens of third-world nations. Many of his books since 1969 concern themselves with "the perfidy of American influence overseas," to quote Atlantic essayist James Fallows. In America Kenneth J. Gavin found a unifying strain in all of Chomsky's various writings. The author's goal, said Gavin, is "to highlight principles of human knowledge and indicate the priority of these principles in the reconstruction of a society. His efforts leave us with more than enough to think about."

Chomsky was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1928. His father was a Hebrew scholar of considerable repute, so even as a youngster Chomsky "picked up a body of informal knowledge about the structure and history of the Semitic languages," according to David Cohen in Psychologists on Psychology. While still in high school Chomsky proofread the manuscript of his father's edition of a medieval Hebrew grammar. Yergin noted: "This backdoor introduction to 'historical linguistics' had considerable impact in the future; it helped fuel his later conviction that the explanation of how language worked, rather than categories and description, was the business of linguistic study." The young Chomsky was more interested in politics than grammar, however. He was especially passionate about the rebirth of a Jewish culture and society in what later became the state of Israel, and for a time he entertained the idea of moving there. In 1945 he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, where he came under the influence of Zellig Harris, a noted professor of linguistics. John Lyons observed in Noam Chomsky that it was Chomsky's "sympathies with Harris's political views that led him to work as an undergraduate in linguistics. There is a sense, therefore, in which politics brought him into linguistics."

The school of linguistics in which Chomsky took his collegiate training held as its goal the formal and autonomous description of languages without wide reference to the meaning—or semantics—of utterances. Lyons elaborated: "Semantic considerations were strictly subordinated to the task of identifying the units of phonology and syntax and were not involved at all in the specification of the rules or principles governing their permissible combinations. This part of the grammar was to be a purely formal study, independent of semantics." Chomsky questioned this approach in his early work in generative grammar as a student at the University of Pennsylvania and broke with it more radically while in the Harvard Society of Fellows from 1951. There he was immersed in new developments in mathematical logic, the abstract theory of thinking machines, and the latest psychological and philosophical debates. These ideas led him to develop further his earlier work on generative grammar and to ask "precise and formal questions about linguistics and language," to quote Justin Leiber in his work Noam Chomsky: A Philosophical Overview. Leiber added: "His results led him to criticize and discard the prevailing views in linguistics."

What Chomsky began to develop in the 1950s was a mathematically precise description of some of human language's most striking features. Yergin contended that the scholar was "particularly fascinated by 'generative systems'—the procedures by which a mathematician, starting with postulates and utilizing principles and inferences, can generate an infinite number of proofs. He thought that perhaps language was 'generated' from a few principles as well." Yergin claimed that this line of reasoning led Chomsky to another salient question: "How is it possible that, if language is only a learned habit, one can be continually creative and innovative in its use?" This question—and its explication—would provide a novel and compelling critique of two established fields, traditional structural linguistics and behavioral psychology. Leiber concluded that Chomsky's new theory "explained many features of language that were beyond structuralist linguistics and placed the specific data, and many lower-level generalizations, of the structuralists within a richer theory."

Many of Chomsky's new ideas were published in his first book, Syntactic Structures, in 1957. Yergin called the work "the pale blue book … which heralded the Chomskyan Revolution." He adds that the volume "demonstrated that important facts about language could not be explained by either structural linguistics or by computer theory, which was then becoming fashionable in the field. In Syntactic Structures Chomsky departed from his mentors in stressing the importance of explaining creativity in language and introduced his own transformational grammar as a more 'powerful' explanation of how we make sentences." Webster Schott offered a similar assessment in the Washington Post Book World. In Syntactic Structures, wrote Schott, "Chomsky [presents] and [seems] to demonstrate the proposition that every human being has an innate ability to acquire language, and this ability to learn language is called into use when one hears, at the right age, language for the first time. He also [offers] a concept—it came to be known as 'generative' or 'transformational-generative' grammar—which [has] made it possible to predict ('generate') the sentence combinations in a language and to describe their structure." Lyons stated that the short and relatively nontechnical Syntactic Structures "revolutionized the scientific study of language."

The proofs Chomsky uses for his theories are complex, but his conclusions are readily accessible. Robinson observed that, put as simply as possible, Chomsky's view holds that "the ability to speak and understand a language cannot be explained in purely empirical terms—that is, purely by induction. When we 'learn' a language, he says, we are able to formulate and understand all sorts of sentences that we've never heard before. What we 'know,' therefore, must be something deeper—a grammar—that makes an infinite variety of sentences possible. Chomsky believes that the capacity to master grammatical structures is innate: It is genetically determined, a product of the evolutionary process, just as the organic structures of our bodies are." A strict "stimulus-response" mechanism cannot adequately account for the way young children master language during the first four years of life; the child, to quote Cohen, "learns … to extract the more complex rules of grammar needed for speech." Leiber explained that for Chomsky, then, the primary interest of the linguist should be with specifying the "device of some sort" that generates an infinite variety of grammatically correct sentences. "This device will specify what is somehow 'internalized' in the competent speaker-hearer of the language," Leiber wrote. "Though the most usual label for Chomsky's general sort of linguistics is 'transformational-generative linguistics,' the most crucial word is 'generative'—as opposed to 'taxonomical'—since the primary concern is with the 'principles and processes by which sentences are constructed in particular languages,' not with the identification and classification of items found in the surface end product of these principles and processes."

One of the mechanisms Chomsky proposes for sentence generation is the "deep structure-surface structure" scenario. According to Yergin, the surface structure "'faces out' on the world and, by certain phonological rules, is converted into the sounds we hear; it corresponds to the parsing of sentences which we all learned from our indefatigable junior high English teachers. The deep structure 'faces inward' toward the hazy region of conceptualization, is more abstract and related to meaning. It expresses the basic logical relations between nouns and verbs." Transformational grammar therefore "consists of a limited series of rules, expressed in mathematical notation, which transform deep structures into well-formed surface structures. The transformational grammar thus relates meaning and sound." Cohen discussed the applications of this concept. "Chomsky has analysed the necessary constituents of the deep structure and the transformations through which this deep structure is turned into the surface structure we recognize and use as sentences. He has, of course, extended his theory from this point into the implications for our knowledge of man that comes from the fact that our knowledge of language is based upon this deep structure, a structure that we cannot guess or divine just from speaking, and upon the necessary transformations."

Chomsky has argued that all natural human languages possess deep and surface structures and cycles of transformations between them. In the Nation, Gilbert Harman wrote: "These built-in aspects of grammar will be parts of the grammar of every language. They are, in other words, aspects of 'universal grammar.' We must therefore suppose that people have a specific faculty of language, a kind of 'mental organ' which develops in the appropriate way, given appropriate experience, yielding a knowledge of whatever language is spoken in their community." John Sturrock elaborated in the New York Times Book Review: "Chomskyism starts with grammar and finishes in genetics. Drill deep enough into the structure of our sentences, he maintains, and you will come to those ultimate abstractions with which we were born, the grammar of any given language being originally determined by the fairly restricted grammatical possibilities programmed in the brain.…DNA sets up to master a syntax, the accident of birth determines which one." Needless to say, not everyone agrees with Chomsky's view. Psychology Today contributor Howard Gardner called the human being in Chomsky's formulation "a totally preprogrammed computer, one that needs merely to be plugged into the appropriate outlet." Lyons, conversely, stated that Chomsky "was surely right to challenge 'the belief that the mind must be simpler in its structure than any known physical organ and that the most primitive of assumptions must be adequate to explain whatever phenomena can be observed.'"

Obviously, Chomsky's theory has as much to do with psychology and philosophy as it does with linguistics. For instance, the very premises of the scholar's work have made him one of the most trenchant critics of behaviorism, the view that suggests all human responses are learned through conditioning. Sturrock noted: "Chomsky's case is that … that fanatical core known as behaviorism, has a theory of learning, all rote and Pavlovian reinforcement, which is deficient and, in the end, degrading.… [Behaviorists], given their sinister theory of learning, must be proponents of the view that human nature is not nature at all, but a social product conditioned from outside. Chomsky finds hope and a decisive guarantee of intellectual freedom in the cognitive structures which sit incorruptibly in the fastness of our brains." Chomsky's work reinforces the philosophical tradition of "rationalism," the contention that the mind, or "reason," contributes to human knowledge beyond what is gained by experience. He is opposed by the "empiricists," who claim that all knowledge derives from external stimuli, including language. In the Nation, Edward Marcotte declared: "What started as purely linguistic research … has led, through involvement in political causes and an identification with an older philosophic tradition, to no less than an attempt to formulate an overall theory of man. The roots of this are manifest in the linguistic theory.…The discovery of cognitive structures common to the human race but only to humans (species specific), leads quite easily to thinking of unalienable human attributes." Leiber concluded: "Mind is the software of human psychology, and thought is individuated as instances of the mind's operations. The behaviorist is seen to be insisting … on a very minimal sort of software; the rationalist is out to show that much more powerful and abstract, perhaps in good measure innate, software has to be involved. One can feel unhappy with Chomsky's particular way of putting, or productively narrowing, the issue, but it is not an unreasonable viewpoint. Chomsky has an interesting and important sense of know at hand. He is looking at men in a way that has an established and well-defined sense when applied to thinking devices."

While establishing his academic reputation, Chomsky continued to be concerned about the direction of American politics and ideology. His moral indignation was excited in the 1960s, and he became "one of the most articulate spokesmen of the resistance against the Vietnam war," to quote Jan G. Deutsche in the New York Times Book Review. Chomsky attacked the war in articles, in books, and from the podium; in the process he became better known for his political views than for his linguistic scholarship. In a New York Times piece written during that era, Thomas Lask observed: "Unlike many others, even those who oppose the war, Noam Chomsky can't stand it and his hatred of what we are doing there and his shame, as well as his loathing for the men who defend and give it countenance, are tangible enough to touch." Nation essayist Brian Morton found "nothing exotic about his critique of the U.S. role in Vietnam: He attempted no analysis of arcane economic or political structures. All he did was evaluate our government's actions by the same standards that we apply when we evaluate the actions of other governments."

Chomsky's first book-length work on Vietnam, American Power and the New Mandarins, offers "a searing criticism of the system of values and decision-making that drove the United States to the jungles of Southeast Asia," according to Michael R. Beschloss in the Washington Post Book World. The book's strongest vitriol is directed toward those so-called "New Mandarins"—the technocrats, bureaucrats, and university-trained scholars who defend America's right to dominate the globe. Deutsch stated that Chomsky's concern "is not simply that social scientists have participated widely in designing and executing war-related projects. What he finds disturbing are the consequences of access to power by intellectuals; the difficulties involved in retaining a critical stance toward a society that makes the reward of power available as well as the need to be 'constructive,' the recognition as problems of only those difficulties that are soluble by the means at hand." Inevitably, Chomsky's volume has drawn scathing criticism from those who oppose his views and high praise from those who agree with him. In the Nation, Robert Sklar contended: "The importance of American Power and the New Mandarins lies in its power to free our minds from old perspectives, to stimulate new efforts at historical, political and social thought."

Subsequent Chomsky books on American foreign policy have explored other political hotbeds around the world, drawing the conclusion that U.S. interests in human rights, justice, and morality are inevitably subordinated to the needs of big business. Critics point out that a good introduction to Chomsky's views and main themes is provided by Chronicles of Dissent: Interviews with David Barsamian, which collects interviews conducted in a variety of settings from 1984 through 1991. As a Publishers Weekly reviewer summarized them, the interviews "range all over world history," but focus on standard Chomsky themes, such as American imperialism and the corruption of the media and academic elite. Several of the conversations also touch on autobiographical topics, with Chomsky discussing his childhood and the development of his thought. As Beschloss noted, Chomsky's "is a portrait of corporate executives manipulating foreign policy for profit motives, of Third World peoples devastated for drifting away from the American 'grand area' of influence; of hand-maiden journalists, politicians, and intellectuals shrouding the darker realities of American statecraft under platitudes about idealism and goodwill with an eye toward their flow of rewards from the Establishment." These, in fact, are the very subjects of Chomsky's and Edward S. Herman's book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, in which they examine the various ways news organizations ultimately serve the ideological aims of the government. Chomsky and Herman propose a "propaganda model" of the mass media in the United States; countering the commonly held belief that the mass media tend to respond to rather than create public opinion, the two authors argue that the major American news organizations actively misinform the public about the activities of the United States government. As Philip Green of the Nation put it, Chomsky and Herman seek to discover how it is "that the major American mass media manage so often to produce accounts of the world that are largely indistinguishable from what a commissar [of information and cultural affairs] would have commanded." The bulk of the book tests the "propaganda model" against events in recent North and South American history, including the reporting of elections in El Salvador and the coverage given to the murders of Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Times Literary Supplement correspondent Charles Townshend observed that Chomsky "sees a 'totalitarian mentality' arising out of the mainstream American belief in the fundamental righteousness and benevolence of the United States, the sanctity and nobility of its aims. The publicly tolerated 'spectrum of discussion' of these aims is narrow." The increasing narrowness of public discussion is the subject of Deterring Democracy, a book in which Chomsky examines how, regardless of the facts, the American mass media and the United States government conspire to limit the range of opinions that can be widely expressed. Chomsky discusses, for example, the fact that mainstream public opinion embraced only specific kinds of debates regarding the Sandanista government and the Contras in Nicaragua; he shows that the vast majority of lawmakers and reporters disagreed only as to which methods should be employed to rid that country of its communist leaders—no serious attention was given to the debate about whether the Sandanistas or the U.S.-backed Contras would best serve the people of Nicaragua. Also, regarding the "war on drugs," Chomsky examines the government's propaganda campaign supporting its various "successes" and described the positive news coverage these victories receive; the facts that 1) drug use was declining in the United States before President George Bush announced the start of the "war"; and that 2) the fact that drug use has increased in the meantime receives very little attention. He concludes that no substantial discussion arose about the effects of this war on the countries involved, and he bitterly denounces the ironic policy of the United States government of threatening trade sanctions against those East Asian countries that block the importing of U.S. tobacco, a product that is proven to be deadly. Chomsky himself transcends that narrow spectrum of debate, however, adducing "example after example to illuminate how American policies have led knowingly to large scale human suffering," to quote Beschloss. In the New York Times Book Review, Sheldon S. Wolin suggested that the author "is relentless in tracking down official lies and exposing hypocrisy and moral indifference in the high places.… Yet the passion of Chomsky's indictment is always controlled, and while he is harsh toward his opponents, he is never unfair or arrogant."

Other critics have been less sanguine about the quality and influence of Chomsky's political views; in fact, some have labeled him a pariah and attempted to discredit him on a number of grounds. "It has been Chomsky's singular fate to have been banished to the margins of political debate," wrote Steve Wasserman in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "His opinions have been deemed so kooky—and his personality so cranky—that his writings no longer appear in the forums … in which he was once so welcome." Wolin offered one dissenting view: "Chomsky's political writings are curiously untheoretical, which is surprising in a writer renowned for his contributions to linguistic theory. His apparent assumption is that politics is not a theoretical subject.…One gets the impression from reading Chomsky that if it were not urgently necessary to expose lies, immorality and the abuse of power, politics would have no serious claim upon the theoretical mind." New York Times Book Review contributor Paul Robinson noted that in Chomsky's case, "the popular or accessible [political] works often seem to belie the intellectual powers unambiguously established in the professional works.… Indeed, one might argue that the discrepancy is more extreme in his work than in that of any other important intellectual." Morton felt that the attacks on Chomsky's historical/political scholarship—and more recently the tendency to ignore his work—have affected his level of stridency. "His later tone is that of a man who doesn't expect anything to change," Morton observed. "Chomsky is savagely indignant because the values he cherishes are being strangled. But increasingly, the reasons for his indignation—the values he cherishes—are hard to see in his work. Only the indignation is clear." This is a major characteristic of Year 501: The Conquest Continues, in which Chomsky examines what he sees as the U.S. government's shabby behavior toward its neighbors in the hemisphere. His strident denunciations of U.S. imperialism are often conveyed through striking comparisons.

Leiber found an overriding commitment to freedom in Chomsky's work—"the freedom of the individual to produce and create as he will without the goad of external force, economic competition for survival, or legal and economic restraint on social, intellectual, or artistic experiment; and the freedom of ethnic and national groups to work out their own destinies without the intervention of one or another Big Brother." "From his earliest writings to his latest, Chomsky has looked with astonishment at what the powerful do to the powerless," Morton declared. "He has never let his sense of outrage become dulled. If his voice has grown hoarse over twenty years, who can blame him? And who can feel superior? No one has given himself more deeply to the struggle against the horrors of our time. His hoarseness is a better thing than our suavity." Deutsch wrote: "The most convincing indication of the extent to which Chomsky's wide ranging indictment of United States society and policy must be taken seriously is that a man possessed of these sensibilities should have felt compelled to undertake it." Morton offered a compelling conclusion. "Americans are no longer convinced that our government has the right to destroy any country it wants to," the essayist stated. "And to the extent that this is true, Chomsky, along with others like him, deserves much of the credit. He did his job well."

In 1970 the London Times named Chomsky one of the thousand "makers of the twentieth century." According to Yergin, his theory "remains the foundation of linguistics today," and "his vision of a complex universe within the mind, governed by myriad rules and prohibitions and yet infinite in its creative potential, opens up vistas possibly as important as Einstein's theories." Yergin added: "The impact of Chomsky's work may not be felt for years.…Yet this beginning has revolutionized the study of language and has redirected and redefined the broad inquiry into intelligence and how it works." Robinson called the scholar's work "a prolonged celebration of the enormous gulf that separates man from the rest of nature. He seems overwhelmed by the intellectual powers that man contains within himself. Certainly nobody ever stated the case for those powers more emphatically, nor exemplified them more impressively in his own work. Reading Chomsky on linguistics, one repeatedly has the impression of attending to one of the more powerful thinkers who ever lived."

Appreciation has likewise attended Chomsky's political writings. According to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, Chomsky "continues to challenge our assumptions long after other critics have gone to bed. He has become the foremost gadfly of our national conscience." Philip Green in the Nation wrote that "not to have read his essays … is to court genuine ignorance." New Statesman correspondent Francis Hope praised Chomsky for "a proud defensive independence, a good plain writer's hatred of expert mystification, a doctrine of resistance which runs against the melioristic and participatory current of most contemporary intellectual life." Hope concluded: "Such men are dangerous; the lack of them is disastrous."

In the new millennium, Chomsky continued to be a leading political voice. His book Chomsky on Miseducation does not deal with U.S. schools but rather with the overall miseducation of U.S. citizens in regards to democracy and U.S. foreign policy, which Chomsky continues to assert is tied to the interest of U.S. corporations. In this work, Chomsky focuses mainly on U.S. relations in Central America, claiming, as Terry Christner wrote in Library Journal, "that we have condemned the actions of certain factions while condoning similar actions of other factions and have hidden many such things from the American public." Other topics in this book include discussions of the media in terms of news coverage being controlled by a few large corporate companies, which, as Colman McCarthy stated in the Washington Post, "have the power not only to slant the news but also to choose what it is." In terms of other types of information, Chomsky also criticizes military officials who control what the public hears about U.S. military involvement in other countries; and he is very much concerned, McCarthy surmised, about "boardroom executives who bankroll the two main political parties so that corporate security equals national security."

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Chomsky sat down and wrote the book 9-11, which was published in 2001 and contains his thoughts on the causes behind the attacks. He puts part of the blame on capitalist globalization; another part on U.S. foreign policy, especially during the Reagan administration in terms of U.S. involvement in Nicaragua. The overall thesis of his discussions in this book has carried over into several other books, among them Middle East Illusions, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, and Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. Understanding Power is a collection of Chomsky's talks about politics past, present, and future in which he discusses Vietnam, the decline of federally sponsored social programs, and U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Although critical of U.S. government policy and the influence of corporate America in U.S. politics, Chomsky also praises U.S. citizens for their political activism and their skepticism of the information that the media feed them.

"There is a certain exhilaration in reading Chomsky, however depressing his conclusions, because of the vigor of his reasoning, the diversity of his sources and the Voltaire-like energy of his sarcasm," noted Book reviewer Penelope Mesic in a review of Middle East Illustions. Also written in opposition to U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, Hegemony or Survival tracks what Chomsky discerns as a generations-long trend toward U.S. unilateral international shows of force, and, according to Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush, "offers a cautionary look" at the "growing threats to world peace and personal freedom" resulting from this trend in U.S. foreign policy. Praising the book as "highly readable and heavily footnoted," as well as "cogent and provocative," a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that in bolstering his argument that the United States is a "rogue nation" in the international realm, Chomsky draws on his past works in making Hegemony or Survival "an important addition to an ongoing public discussion about U.S. policy."



Achbar, Mark, and the Institute of Policy Alternatives, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media: The Companion Book to the Award-winning Film by Peter Wintonick and Mark Achbar, Black Rose Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Barsky, Robert F., Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.

Botha, Rudolf P., Challenging Chomsky: The Generative Garden Game, B. Blackwell (New York, NY), 1989.

Calvin, William, Lingua ex machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

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Cook, V. J., and Mark Newson, Chomsky's Universal Grammar, Basil Blackwell (New York, NY), 1996.

Greene, Judith, Psycholinguistics: Chomsky and Psychology, Penguin (New York, NY), 1972.

Haley, Michael C., and Ronald F. Lunsford, Noam Chomsky, Twayne (New York, NY), 1994.

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Harris, Randy Allen, The Linguistics Wars, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

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Mehta, Ved, John Is Easy to Please, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1971.

Newmeyer, Frederick J., Generative Linguistics, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

Osiatynski, Wiktor, Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1984.

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Rai, Milan, Chomsky's Politics, Verso (New York, NY), 1995.

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Sampson, Geoffrey, Liberty and Language, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1979.

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Smith, N. V., Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Smith, N. V., and Deirdre Wilson, Modern Linguistics: The Results of Chomsky's Revolution, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1990.

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Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 1969; May 14, 1970.

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Library Journal, September 1, 1999, Michael Rogers, review of Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, p. 238; October 15, 2000, Terry Christner, review of Chomsky on Miseducation, p. 83.

London Review of Books, August 20, 1992.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 27, 1981; June 8, 1986; August 30, 1987.

Maclean's, August 18, 1980; March 22, 1993.

Nation, September 9, 1968; March 24, 1969; May 17, 1971; May 8, 1976; March 31, 1979; February 16, 1980; December 22, 1984; December 26, 1987-January 2, 1988; May 7, 1988; May 15, 1989, p. 670.

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New Statesman, November 28, 1969; August 17, 1979; April 25, 1980; July 17, 1981; August 14, 1981; September 11, 1981; January 21, 1983; March 12, 1993, p. 14; April 16, 1993, p. 38; June 3, 1994, p. 22.

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New York Times Book Review, March 16, 1969; January 17, 1971; January 9, 1972; September 30, 1973; October 6, 1974; February 15, 1976; February 25, 1979; October 19, 1980; March 21, 1982; April 13, 1986.

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Noam Chomsky Archive, (November 27, 2001).*