I don’t want to interrupt Tyler and Whig’s flamewar in my comment thread, so I’ll respond to Emma’s questions about Chomsky here. I criticized Chomsky’s totalization of class a few months ago, in response to which Emma fielded a few questions worth answering.
1. “Radical anti-Americans like Chomsky have no trouble rationalizing violence whenever it’s committed by groups that aren’t allied with the United States.”
Can you back this up with anything? Also, how do you justify the use of “anti-American”?
2.) You mentioned Brad Delong’s criticism of Chomsky. Have you read Edward Herman’s response to Brad Delong? Any thoughts?
First, the second question: people who think the US does more harm than good are in fact anti-American. That doesn’t justify the bad rap anti-Americanism is getting – pro-Americans have their Ann Coulters just like anti-Americans have their Bin Ladens – but it’s descriptively accurate. People who consistently attack French culture, vilify French history, and support anti-French forces are radically anti-French. People who act the same toward the US are anti-American. Further, Chomsky is a radical anti-American, since he tends to defend people solely on account of their opposition to the US or Israel, even when they deserve defense less than flu viruses.
Second, the first question (plus the third). In the perennial debate over Chomsky’s pro-Khmer Rouge comments dating back to 1979, the traditional pro-Chomsky argument is that he was concerned over anti-communist propaganda, or over pro-American atrocities, or over inconclusive evidence. That may be so, but it’s legitimate to ask how come the same person who’s always been the first to point out American atrocities was the last to acknowledge atrocities committed by an anti-American regime.
It’s entirely possible for a consistent skeptic to have doubted that the Khmer Rouge had killed millions and even said it “elicited a positive response,” or to have assumed that just because someone is a Holocaust denier doesn’t make him anti-Semitic.
However, Chomsky is not such a consistent skeptic. Whenever the US or an ally of its is the culprit, Chomsky is at the forefront of the criticism. He blamed Israel for actively perpetrating the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which it didn’t. His writings about Vietnam posit dark motives instead of normal mission creep. Similarly, Edward Herman’s article invents pernicious US interests in the Balkans going far beyond standard realist politics. Worse, Herman claims that data from the Khmer Rouge government itself was credible at the time, a courtesy neither he nor Chomsky has ever extended the US.
3. You say: “Chomsky’s argument is typical for a class warrior. Class warriors, such as Chomsky and Howard Zinn, portray The People as essentially good creatures, corrupted and made fatalistic by predatory capitalism. In their conception, sexism is a historical accident that only a few misguided whiners rail specifically against, and racism is either that or a deliberate ploy by the rich to divide the underclass against itself.”
Can you back this up with more specific quotes?
In Understanding Power, Chomsky says without evidence Americans are obsessed with sports because of an elite conspiracy to a) distract them from politics and b) make them more chauvinistic. I don’t have the exact quote, but I know occasional commenter Bushbaptist does. Zinn isn’t so conspiratorial, but does say 99% of Americans have the exact same interests but are being duped by the top 1%.
In the interview I linked to on UTI, Chomsky explicitly says class is all that matters.
You say that class transcends race, essentially.
It certainly does. For example, the United States could become a color-free society. It’s possible. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it’s perfectly possible that it would happen, and it would hardly change the political economy at all. Just as women could pass through the “glass ceiling” and that wouldn’t change the political economy at all.
That’s one of the reasons why you commonly find the business sector reasonably willing to support efforts to overcome racism and sexism. It doesn’t matter that much for them. You lose a little white-male privilege in the executive suite, but that’s not all that important as long as the basic institutions of power and domination survive intact.
And you can pay the women less.
Or you can pay them the same amount. Take England. They just went through ten pleasant years with the Iron Lady running things. Even worse than Reaganism.
The part Emma quotes is a sincere observation about the difference between radicals who totalize class, like Chomsky and Zinn, and radicals who totalize race or gender. People who write radical books about the Native American experience don’t say white Americans are good people who are duped by the establishment; they say whites are genocidal colonialists. Black and Hispanic nationalists don’t even extend white Anglos the courtesy Zinn extends to the upper middle class – they often say all whites are categorically racist.
The US could become color-blind without changing anything else. The Gini index would remain .47, and the intergenerational income regression coefficient would remain .47 as well or drop to the intra-white level that I think is about .4. Welfare would remain humiliating and poverty-entrenching.
Or it could become class-blind without changing anything else. The Democratic Party tried to do just that between Reconstruction and the New Deal – support more income equality and redistribution of wealth without doing anything about racial equality. The Dixiecrats would have been perfectly happy with universal white-only health care in the 1930s.
Obviously, racial tensions have been an obstacle to economic reforms. Roosevelt’s universal health care scheme failed precisely because it was color-blind. But that goes both ways: affirmative action schemes encounter opposition from business, and many black Americans are kept in poverty because of popular opposition to welfare. It’s possible to construe both kinds of problems in a way that puts class above race, but that’s just playing with the facts to fit the theory.
Since Marx, radicals pretending to be serious sociologists have tried constructing simple, monolithic theories of oppression, which almost invariably totalize the form they’re most familiar with and ignore the others. Exposing their intellectual bankruptcy is one of the goals I’m aiming for in my radical pathologies series.
I don’t think Chomsky is personally invested in downplaying gender and race. The next radical pathology I’m going to write about is extremism, which shows how on the contrary, radicals seek to be as extreme as they can. But to accept that the combination of class and imperialism isn’t everything would require people like Chomsky to complicate their worldviews too much, which might necessitate rethinking their radical anti-Americanism.