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Home_____The Method of Political Intolerance: Roger Scruton's Hatchet Job on Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky (born 1928) is a linguist who gave to the world the theory of generative grammar, the most significant 20th Century contribution to theoretical linguistics. He sparked the revolution against B.F. Skinner’s behavioral psychology, dominant until Chomsky’s critique, wherein he challenged the study of mind and language as merely observable behavior rather than something inherent within mind. Chomsky is widely known for his analysis of how media works, for his political activism, and for his criticism of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments.

British philosopher Roger Vernon Scruton (born 1944) is broadcaster, journalist, and composer. He seeks to popularize philosophical thought and to defend the institutions of Western culture. Politically, he is a conservative, and not always a thinking one, as his article on Chomsky reveals. He has a deep interest in aesthetics, particularly music.

A 26 September 2006 Wall Street Journal article by Scruton, begins thus: "Noam Chomsky's popularity owes little or nothing to the eminent place that he occupies in the world of ideas. That place was won many years ago in the science of linguistics, and no expert in the subject would, I think, dispute Prof. Chomsky's title to it."

After a few back-handed opening compliments Scruton then buries his axe deep in Chomsky's skull. Most notable in his piece is that Scruton does not understand Chomsky, has not read Chomsky, or simply chooses to lie.

In many ways I don't agree with Chomsky, in particular his political philosophy, but I always find his intellect powerful. Anyone who listens with an open mind and without preconceptions must allow Chomsky as an extremely important speaker on American foreign policy. He will cause you to think, whether you agree with him or not. You cannot merely dismiss him as a ranter, as Scruton does.

I wrote a comment to the Journal article, which the WSJ did not print. They allowed a few mindless comments from the cheer leaders and one from a thoughtful writer who also saw through Scruton, and then they stopped posting responses. I suspect they did so because the response from both left and right was overwhelmingly critical of Scruton's shallow and mindless piece.

Here is my comment not published in the WSJ. It is addressed to Scruton's claim that Chomsky alleges a high-level conspiracy in America:
  • "If Scruton read Chomsky carefully he would find that the professor repeatedly insists that no US government or media conspiracy is involved. Instead, Chomsky says that like-minded people honestly (at least to themselves) serve like-minded interests. As for any rage, listen to Chomsky. Watch him. There is nothing but sober intellect. He is low key, self-effacing and has a marvelous ability to cite facts. Scruton apparently does not know his man.

    Mr. Scruton has his own agenda, which is obvious to anybody familiar with him. If he wants to serve that agenda, he should do his homework before simplistically rendering such a complicated man."

    Here, is somebody who read the WSJ piece and has a similar problem with Scruton's anger against Chomsky.
  • "In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal Roger Scruton—Philosopher and hired hand of the tobacco industry launched a feeble attack on Noam Chomsky. Entitled 'Who Is Noam Chomsky' the piece runs through the usual litany of lies and half truths with even less skill than is usual in this type of ad hominem assault. . . ." Doherty indicates that Scruton is a paid hit man, certainly for big tobacco. His final comment says this: "In an email leaked in 2002 Scruton asked his paymasters at Japan Tobacco if they could raise his payments from £4,500 monthly to £5,500. Presumably they are getting rather better value for money than the Wall Street Journal if this pitiful attempt at character assassination is anything to go by." By Alex Doherty

    I am especially sympathetic to Chomsky’s insightful analysis of main stream media. Among other works, he is known for his book with Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of The Mass Media. Here is an excerpt: Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
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