Chomsky, Noam 1928–

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Chomsky, Noam 1928–

(Avram Noam Chomsky)


Born December 7, 1928, in Philadelphia, PA; son of William (a Hebrew scholar) and Elsie 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—Lexington, MA. Office—Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 32D 808, 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 Nations Society of Writers and Artists award, 2004; voted world's top public intellectual, Prospect/Foreign Policy Internet poll, 2005. 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, Mouton de Gruyter (New York, NY), 2002.

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.

Language and Mind, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1968, enlarged edition, 1972, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

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

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.

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 published 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 Books (Nottingham, England), 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 (Connaminson, NJ), 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 (Cinnaminson, NJ), 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, revised edition published as Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

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, with a new introduction by the authors, 2002.

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.

Prospects for Democracy, AK Distribution Retail Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1995.

Perspectives on Power: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order, Black Rose Books (New York, NY), 1996.

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

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

The Cold War & the University: Toward an Intellectual History of the Postwar Years, New Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship, Black & Red (Detroit, MI), 1997.

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, 1999.

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.

On Language: Chomsky's Classic Works Language and Responsibility and Reflections on Language in One Volume, New Press (New York, NY), 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.

(With Edward Said and Ramsey Clark) Acts of Aggression: Policing Rogue States, Seven Stories (New York, NY), 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.

On Nature and Language, edited by Adriana Belletti and Luigi Rizzi, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Peering into the Abyss of the Future, Institute of Social Sciences (New Delhi, India), 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).

Towards a New Cold War: U.S. Foreign Policy from Vietnam to Reagan, New Press (New York, NY), 2003.

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

The Generative Enterprise Revisited: Discussions with Riny Huybregts, Henk Van Riemsdijk, Naoki Fukui, and Mihoko Zushi, with a New Foreword by Noam Chomsky, Mouton de Gruyter (New York, NY), 2004.

(With Paul Farmer and Amy Goodman) Getting Haiti Right This Time: The U.S. and the Coup, Common Courage Press (Monroe, ME), 2004.

Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda, foreword by Edward Herman, Paradigm Publishers (Boulder, CO), 2004.

Chomsky on Anarchism, AK Press (Oakland, CA), 2005.

Government in the Future, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2005.

A Hated Political Enemy: Allen Bell Interviews Noam Chomsky, Flask (Victoria, BC, Canada), 2005.

Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Rules and Representations, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

(With Michel Foucault) The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature, New Press: distributed by W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2006.

(With Gilbert Achcar) Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, Paradigm (Boulder, CO), 2006.

(With Jean Bricmont and Julie Franck) Chomsky, Herne (Paris, France), 2007.

Inside Lebanon: Journey to a Shattered Land with Noam and Carol Chomsky, edited by Assaf Kfoury, Monthly Review Press (New York, NY), 2007.

(With David Barsamian, Ervand Abrahamian, and Nahid Mozaffari) Targeting Iran, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 2007.

Interventions, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 2007.

(With Gilbert Achcar) Perilous Power: The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice, edited by Stephen R. Shalom, Paradigm Publishers (Boulder, CO), 2007.

What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World; Interviews with David Barsamian, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 2007.

The Essential Chomsky, edited by Anthony Arnove, New Press (New York, NY), 2008.

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, including a series of brief essays to the New York Times syndicate, 2002—.


Noam 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 known for his outspoken political writings, in which he presents a leftist critique of American foreign policy, especially as it affects ordinary citizens of third-world nations.

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 added 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. 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. 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 vocal in his support of resistance against the Vietnam war. 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. 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. 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 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. 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) 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.

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. 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. However, 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."

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."

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 in 2001, Chomsky 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. Pulled together swiftly in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the book combines a number of interviews with Chomsky and pieces written primarily in the month or so following the event. Chris Clarke, reviewing for Earth Island Journal, complained that the editors assumed too little knowledge on the part of readers, noting that in the case of segments "taken from overseas interviews, references to events in those countries are followed by bracketed reminders that the interview took place in that country." Overall, however, he opined that the book "shows Chomsky at his best." Martin Coghlan, in a review for Journal of Contemporary Asia, called the book "concise and lucid." He went on to add: "It is easy to read and popular in style. It also enables any beginner to comprehend in clear outline the main thrust of international relations in the post-Berlin Wall era." Theoria contributor Derek Hook commented of Chomsky's book: "As debatable as certain of his assertions may seem, they stand as useful correctives to more self-promoting representations of recent American political history."

The overall thesis of his discussions in this book has carried over into several other books, among them Middle East Illusions: Including "Peace in the Middle East?" Reflections on Justice and Nationhood, 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. governmental 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. However, Scott H. Silverman, reviewing the book for Library Journal, remarked that "the current Chomsky contributes nothing to the legacy he established decades ago" and considered it "not half as useful as Chomsky's earlier, authentic innovations in political literature."

Published in 2006, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy illustrates just how closely knit semantics and politics can be, particularly in modern-day government where the use of various types of media and rhetoric have been combined in order to throw a veil over the true actions of the nation's leaders and policymakers. Speeches are filled with double-talk and backtracking in an effort to conceal the truth from the public in such a way that only the most expert linguist—in this case, Chomsky himself—is able to unravel the meaning behind the verbal acrobatics. In Failed States, Chomsky addresses the ways in which special-interest groups and powerful corporations have succeeded in uniting with government leaders to create a system that allows them greater profits and fewer tax consequences at the expense of the public, which is forced to carry the economic burden of the nation. In turn, the nation's leaders disguise their duplicity with references to freedom and democracy. Charles Marowitz found Chomsky's work depressing and a poor reflection on the nation's leadership, calling it "a disturbingly persuasive indictment of shortcomings that have corroded the fabric of American society to the point where it is threadbare." He also noted that Chomsky appears to have gone overboard in his need to document his claims. Marowitz remarked: "It would have strengthened the work's polemic if Chomsky's voice was not constantly diverted with corroborations but relied more on the cumulative force of his own argument." However, Tom Gallagher, in a review for the National Catholic Reporter, declared that Chomsky's take on the U.S. attitude toward global policy "differs so dramatically from the official version that some may find it disorientating … because of his deployment of a stunning array of sources in a relentless accounting of the hypocrisy with which Washington so often confronts the world." A reviewer for Internet Bookwatch dubbed Chomsky's work "a stinging criticism of American arrogance and its failures to live up to the spirit of democracy." The book pays particular attention to the circumstances surrounding the war in Iraq following the events of September 11, 2001, and the concern regarding the nuclear power program in Iran.

Interventions, published by City Lights Books in 2007, collects a series of short essays and opinion pieces that Chomsky wrote starting in 2002 and were distributed by the New York Times syndicate. Forty-four of the essays appear in Interventions, covering the span between September 2002 and March 2007. While many address the war in Iraq, others examine monumental events in the world, including the devastation of New Orleans and other areas affected by Hurricane Katrina—including the handling of the situation and its aftermath by local government officials, law enforcement, and national organizations such as FEMA—the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the changes to the political landscape in Latin America. In a review for Internet Bookwatch, one contributor, in reaction to Chomsky's writings on the war with Iraq, found his take to be "a biting and insightful account, strictly to the point and passionately argued."

With What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World; Interviews with David Barsamian, Chomsky continues his series of conversations with Barsamian, covering the period after 2005, when they published their previous set of talks, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World, and addressing various political situations, such as the growing rift between the United States and Iran, and the situation in Lebanon. Chomsky proceeds from the standpoint that certain questions need to be asked regarding U.S. foreign policy, despite the unwillingness of government leaders and journalists to ask them. Included in this particular set of conversations is whether a U.S. win in Iraq would benefit that nation or the world at large, or whether it is simply a means of promoting the best interests of the United States. Brendan Driscoll, in a review for Booklist, found this volume of Chomsky/Barsamian discussions to be "compelling as ever and sure to be in demand by Chomsky's many devoted readers."

"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 Illusions. 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. According to Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush, it "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."



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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.

Cohen, David, Psychologists on Psychology, Taplinger (New York, NY), 1977.

Cohn, Werner, Partners in Hate: Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers, Avukah Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.

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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.

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Arena, April, 2001, Ted Wheelwright, review of Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order, p. 44.

Book, May-June, 2003, Penelope Mesic, review of Middle East Illusions: Including "Peace in the Middle East?" Reflections on Justice and Nationhood, p. 72.

Booklist, May 1, 2003, John Green, review of Middle East Illusions, p. 1567; November 15, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, p. 551; October 1, 2007, Brendan Driscoll, review of What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World: Interviews with David Barsamian, p. 10.

Choice, April, 2000, S.G. Mestrovic, review of The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, p. 1529; February, 2001, R.M. Stewart, review of New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind, p. 1094; July-August, 2001, F. Cordasco, review of Chomsky on Miseducation, p. 2008.

Earth Island Journal, winter, 2002, Chris Clarke, review of 9-11, p. 45.

Guardian, January 20, 2001, Maya Jaggi, "Noam Chomsky," p. 6.

International Affairs, May, 2003, Bill Hayton, review of Power and Terror: Post-9-11 Talks and Interviews, pp. 659-660.

Internet Bookwatch, August, 2006, review of Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy; September, 2007, review of Interventions.

Journal of Contemporary Asia, August, 2001, Frederic F. Clairmont, review of Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs, p. 421; May, 2003, Martin Coghlan, review of 9-11, p. 286.

Journal of Linguistics, March, 1998, Jan-Wouter Zwart, review of The Minimalist Program, pp. 213-226.

Library Journal, September 1, 1999, Michael Rogers, review of The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, p. 238; October 15, 2000, Terry Christner, review of Chomsky on Mis-education, p. 83; March 1, 2002, Scott H. Silverman, review of Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, p. 121.

Nation, March 24, 1969, Robert Sklar, review of American Power and the New Mandarins; March 31, 1979, Gilbert Harman, review of Syntactic Structures.

National Catholic Reporter, October 6, 2006, Tom Gallagher, "The Seamy Side of U.S. Foreign Policy," p. 12A.

National Post, January 6, 2001, Christopher Hitchens, "The Importance of Speaking Truth to Noam Chomsky," p. B9.

New York Times Book Review, February 25, 1979, John Sturrock, review of Syntactic Structures.

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Psychology Today, July, 1979, Howard Gardner, review of Syntactic Structures.

Publishers Weekly, July 24, 2000, review of Rogue States, p. 76; May 5, 2003, Christopher Dreher, "The Accidental Bestseller," p. 19; October 13, 2003, review of Hegemony or Survival, p. 65.

Theoria, June, 2002, Derek Hook, review of 9-11, p. 128.

Times Higher Education Supplement, April 7, 2000, Jacques B.M. Guy, review of New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind, p. 23.

Times Literary Supplement, July 15-21, 1988, Charles Townshend, review of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

Washington Post, March 4, 2001, Colman McCarthy, review of Chomsky on Miseducation, p. T10.

Washington Post Book World, March 23, 1969, Michael R. Beschloss, review of American Power and the New Mandarins; March 11, 1979, Webster Schott, review of Syntactic Structures.

Whole Earth, summer, 1999, review of Profit over People, p. 24.


Noam Chomsky Archive, (November 27, 2001).

Swans Web site, (October 9, 2006), Charles Marowitz, review of Failed States.