Noam chomsky :Prerogatives of Power

As the year 2013 drew to an end, the BBC reported on the results of the WIN/Gallup International poll on the question: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”

The United States was the champion by a substantial margin, winning three times the votes of second-place Pakistan.

By contrast, the debate in American scholarly and media circles is about whether Iran can be contained, and whether the huge NSA surveillance system is needed to protect U.S. security.

In view of the poll, it would seem that there are more pertinent questions: Can the United States be contained and other nations secured in the face of the U.S. threat?

In some parts of the world the United States ranks even higher as a perceived menace to world peace, notably in the Middle East, where overwhelming majorities regard the U.S. and its close ally Israel as the major threats they face, not the U.S.-Israeli favorite: Iran.

Few Latin Americans are likely to question the judgment of Cuban nationalist hero José Martí, who wrote in 1894 that “The further they draw away from the United States, the freer and more prosperous the [Latin] American people will be.”

Martí’s judgment has been confirmed in recent years, once again by an analysis of poverty by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, released last month.

The U.N. report shows that far-reaching reforms have sharply reduced poverty in Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and some other countries where U.S. influence is slight, but that it remains abysmal in others – namely, those that have long been under U.S. domination, like Guatemala and Honduras. Even in relatively wealthy Mexico, under the umbrella of the North American Free Trade Agreement, poverty is severe, with 1 million added to the numbers of the poor in 2013.

Sometimes the reasons for the world’s concerns are obliquely recognized in the United States, as when former CIA director Michael Hayden, discussing Obama’s drone murder campaign, conceded that “Right now, there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel.”

A normal country would be concerned by how it is viewed in the world. Certainly that would be true of a country committed to “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” to quote the Founding Fathers. But the United States is far from a normal country. It has had the most powerful economy in the world for a century, and has had no real challenge to its global hegemony since World War II, despite some decline, partly self-administered.

The U.S., conscious of “soft power,” undertakes major campaigns of “public diplomacy” (aka propaganda) to create a favorable image, sometimes accompanied by worthwhile policies that are welcomed. But when the world persists in believing that the United States is by far the greatest threat to peace, the American press scarcely reports the fact.

The ability to ignore unwanted facts is one of the prerogatives of unchallenged power. Closely related is the right to radically revise history.

A current example can be seen in the laments about the escalating Sunni-Shiite conflict that is tearing apart the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria. The prevailing theme of U.S. commentary is that this strife is a terrible consequence of the withdrawal of American force from the region – a lesson in the dangers of “isolationism.”

The opposite is more nearly correct. The roots of the conflict within Islam are many and varied, but it cannot be seriously denied that the split was significantly exacerbated by the American- and British-led invasion of Iraq. And it cannot be too often repeated that aggression was defined at the Nuremberg Trials as “the supreme international crime,” differing from others in that it encompasses all the evil that follows, including the current catastrophe.

A remarkable illustration of this rapid inversion of history is the American reaction to the current atrocities in Fallujah. The dominant theme is the pain about the sacrifices, in vain, of the American soldiers who fought and died to liberate Fallujah. A look at the news reports of the U.S. assaults on Fallujah in 2004 quickly reveals that these were among the most vicious and disgraceful war crimes of the aggression.

The death of Nelson Mandela provides another occasion for reflection on the remarkable impact of what has been called “historical engineering”: reshaping the facts of history to serve the needs of power.

When Mandela at last obtained his freedom, he declared that “During all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength. . [Cuban victories] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa . a turning point for the liberation of our continent – and of my people – from the scourge of apartheid. . What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?”

Today the names of Cubans who died defending Angola from U.S.-backed South African aggression, defying American demands that they leave the country, are inscribed on the “Wall of Names” in Pretoria’s Freedom Park. And the thousands of Cuban aid workers who sustained Angola, largely at Cuban expense, are also not forgotten.

The U.S.-approved version is quite different. From the first days after South Africa agreed to withdraw from illegally occupied Namibia in 1988, paving the way for the end of apartheid, the outcome was hailed by The Wall Street Journal as a “splendid achievement” of American diplomacy, “one of the most significant foreign policy achievements of the Reagan administration.”

The reasons why Mandela and South Africans perceive a radically different picture are spelled out in Piero Gleijeses’ masterful scholarly inquiry “Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991.”

As Gleijeses convincingly demonstrates, South Africa’s aggression and terrorism in Angola and its occupation of Namibia were ended by “Cuban military might” accompanied by “fierce black resistance” within South Africa and the courage of Namibian guerrillas. The Namibian liberation forces easily won fair elections as soon as these were possible. Similarly, in elections in Angola, the Cuban-backed government prevailed – while the United States continued to support vicious opposition terrorists there even after South Africa was compelled to back away.

To the end, the Reaganites remained virtually alone in their strong support for the apartheid regime and its murderous depredations in neighboring countries. Though these shameful episodes may be wiped out of internal U.S. history, others are likely to understand Mandela’s words.

In these and all too many other cases, supreme power does provide protection against reality – to a point.

  • By Noam Chomsky
  • Truthout, February 5, 2014
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Security and State Power / The Prospects for Survival

A leading principle of international relations theory is that the state’s highest priority is to ensure security. As Cold War strategist George F. Kennan formulated the standard view, government is created “to assure order and justice internally and to provide for the common defense.”

The proposition seems plausible, almost self-evident, until we look more closely and ask: Security for whom? For the general population? For state power itself? For dominant domestic constituencies?

Depending on what we mean, the credibility of the proposition ranges from negligible to very high.

Security for state power is at the high extreme, as illustrated by the efforts that states exert to protect themselves from the scrutiny of their own populations.

In an interview on German TV, Edward J. Snowden said that his “breaking point” was “seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress” by denying the existence of a domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency.

Snowden elaborated that “The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public.”

The same could be justly said by Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and other courageous figures who acted on the same democratic principle.

The government stance is quite different: The public doesn’t have the right to know because security thus is undermined — severely so, as officials assert.

There are several good reasons to be skeptical about such a response. The first is that it’s almost completely predictable: When a government’s act is exposed, the government reflexively pleads security. The predictable response therefore carries little information.

A second reason for skepticism is the nature of the evidence presented. International relations scholar John Mearsheimer writes that “The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA’s spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason.

“This was a lie, however. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia.”

A similar conclusion was reached by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, established by the government to investigate the NSA programs and therefore granted extensive access to classified materials and to security officials.

There is, of course, a sense in which security is threatened by public awareness — namely, security of state power from exposure.

The basic insight was expressed well by the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington: “The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

In the United States as elsewhere, the architects of power understand that very well. Those who have worked through the huge mass of declassified documents in, for example, the official State Department history “Foreign Relations of the United States,” can hardly fail to notice how frequently it is security of state power from the domestic public that is a prime concern, not national security in any meaningful sense.

Often the attempt to maintain secrecy is motivated by the need to guarantee the security of powerful domestic sectors. One persistent example is the mislabeled “free trade agreements” — mislabeled because they radically violate free trade principles and are substantially not about trade at all, but rather about investor rights.

These instruments are regularly negotiated in secret, like the current Trans-Pacific Partnership — not entirely in secret, of course. They aren’t secret from the hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers who are writing the detailed provisions, with an impact revealed by the few parts that have reached the public through WikiLeaks.

As the economist Joseph E. Stiglitz reasonably concludes, with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office “representing corporate interests,” not those of the public, “The likelihood that what emerges from the coming talks will serve ordinary Americans’ interests is low; the outlook for ordinary citizens in other countries is even bleaker.”

Corporate-sector security is a regular concern of government policies — which is hardly surprising, given their role in formulating the policies in the first place.

In contrast, there is substantial evidence that the security of the domestic population — “national security” as the term is supposed to be understood — is not a high priority for state policy.

For example, President Obama’s drone-driven global assassination program, by far the world’s greatest terrorist campaign, is also a terror-generating campaign. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan until he was relieved of duty, spoke of “insurgent math”: For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.

This concept of “innocent person” tells us how far we’ve progressed in the last 800 years, since the Magna Carta, which established the principle of presumption of innocence that was once thought to be the foundation of Anglo-American law.

Today, the word “guilty” means “targeted for assassination by Obama,” and “innocent” means “not yet accorded that status.”

The Brookings Institution just published “The Thistle and the Drone,” a highly praised anthropological study of tribal societies by Akbar Ahmed, subtitled “How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam.”

This global war pressures repressive central governments to undertake assaults against Washington’s tribal enemies. The war, Ahmed warns, may drive some tribes “to extinction” — with severe costs to the societies themselves, as seen now in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. And ultimately to Americans.

Tribal cultures, Ahmed points out, are based on honor and revenge: “Every act of violence in these tribal societies provokes a counterattack: the harder the attacks on the tribesmen, the more vicious and bloody the counterattacks.”

The terror targeting may hit home. In the British journal International Affairs, David Hastings Dunn outlines how increasingly sophisticated drones are a perfect weapon for terrorist groups. Drones are cheap, easily acquired and “possess many qualities which, when combined, make them potentially the ideal means for terrorist attack in the 21st century,” Dunn explains.

Sen. Adlai Stevenson III, referring to his many years of service on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, writes that “Cyber surveillance and meta data collection are part of the continuing reaction to 9/11, with few if any terrorists to show for it and near universal condemnation. The U.S. is widely perceived as waging war against Islam, against Shiites as well as Sunnis, on the ground, with drones, and by proxy in Palestine, from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia. Germany and Brazil resent our intrusions, and what have they wrought?”

The answer is that they have wrought a growing terror threat as well as international isolation.

The drone assassination campaigns are one device by which state policy knowingly endangers security. The same is true of murderous special-forces operations. And of the invasion of Iraq, which sharply increased terror in the West, confirming the predictions of British and American intelligence.

These acts of aggression were, again, a matter of little concern to planners, who are guided by altogether different concepts of security. Even instant destruction by nuclear weapons has never ranked high for state authorities — a topic for discussion in the next column.

*

The previous article explored how security is a high priority for government planners: security, that is, for state power and its primary constituency, concentrated private power — all of which entails that official policy must be protected from public scrutiny.

In these terms, government actions fall in place as quite rational, including the rationality of collective suicide. Even instant destruction by nuclear weapons has never ranked high among the concerns of state authorities.

To cite an example from the late Cold War: In November 1983 the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization launched a military exercise designed to probe Russian air defenses, simulating air and naval attacks and even a nuclear alert.

These actions were undertaken at a very tense moment. Pershing II strategic missiles were being deployed in Europe. President Reagan, fresh from the “Evil Empire” speech, had announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed “Star Wars,” which the Russians understood to be effectively a first-strike weapon — a standard interpretation of missile defense on all sides.

Naturally these actions caused great alarm in Russia, which, unlike the U.S., was quite vulnerable and had repeatedly been invaded.

Newly released archives reveal that the danger was even more severe than historians had previously assumed. The NATO exercise “almost became a prelude to a preventative (Russian) nuclear strike,” according to an account last year by Dmitry Adamsky in the Journal of Strategic Studies .

Nor was this the only close call. In September 1983, Russia’s early-warning systems registered an incoming missile strike from the United States and sent the highest-level alert. The Soviet military protocol was to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.

The Soviet officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, intuiting a false alarm, decided not to report the warnings to his superiors. Thanks to his dereliction of duty, we’re alive to talk about the incident.

Security of the population was no more a high priority for Reagan planners than for their predecessors. Such heedlessness continues to the present, even putting aside the numerous near-catastrophic accidents, reviewed in a chilling new book, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” by Eric Schlosser.

It’s hard to contest the conclusion of the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, Gen . Lee Butler, that humanity has so far survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

The government’s regular, easy acceptance of threats to survival is almost too extraordinary to capture in words.

In 1995, well after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the U.S. Strategic Command, or Stratcom, which is in charge of nuclear weapons, published a study, “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.”

A central conclusion is that the U.S. must maintain the right of a nuclear first strike, even against non-nuclear states. Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be available, because they “cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.”

Thus nuclear weapons are always used, just as you use a gun if you aim it but don’t fire when robbing a store — a point that Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, has repeatedly stressed.

Stratcom goes on to advise that “planners should not be too rational about determining … what an adversary values,” all of which must be targeted. “[I]t hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed. . That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries.”

It is “beneficial [for …our strategic posture] that some elements may appear to be potentially ‘out of control’” — and thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack.

Not much in this document pertains to the obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to make “good faith” efforts to eliminate the nuclear-weapon scourge from the earth. What resounds, rather, is an adaptation of Hilaire Belloc’s famous 1898 couplet about the Maxim gun:

Whatever happens we have got,
The Atom Bomb and they have not.

Plans for the future are hardly promising. In December the Congressional Budget Office reported that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost $355 billion over the next decade. In January the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimated that the U.S. would spend $1 trillion on the nuclear arsenal in the next 30 years.

And of course the United States is not alone in the arms race. As Butler observed, it is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far. The longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

In the case of nuclear weapons, at least we know in principle how to overcome the threat of apocalypse: Eliminate them.

But another dire peril casts its shadow over any contemplation of the future — environmental disaster. It’s not clear that there even is an escape, though the longer we delay, the more severe the threat becomes — and not in the distant future. The commitment of governments to the security of their populations is therefore clearly exhibited by how they address this issue.

Today the United States is crowing about “100 years of energy independence” as the country becomes “the Saudi Arabia of the next century” — very likely the final century of human civilization if current policies persist.

One might even take a speech of President Obama’s two years ago in the oil town of Cushing, Okla., to be an eloquent death-knell for the species.

He proclaimed with pride, to ample applause, that “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

The applause also reveals something about government commitment to security. Industry profits are sure to be secured as “producing more oil and gas here at home” will continue to be “a critical part” of energy strategy, as the president promised.

The corporate sector is carrying out major propaganda campaigns to convince the public that climate change, if happening at all, does not result from human activity. These efforts are aimed at overcoming the excessive rationality of the public, which continues to be concerned about the threats that scientists overwhelmingly regard as near-certain and ominous.

To put it bluntly, in the moral calculus of today’s capitalism, a bigger bonus tomorrow outweighs the fate of one’s grandchildren.

What are the prospects for survival then? They are not bright. But the achievements of those who have struggled for centuries for greater freedom and justice leave a legacy that can be taken up and carried forward — and must be, and soon, if hopes for decent survival are to be sustained. And nothing can tell us more eloquently what kind of creatures we are.

Noam Chomsky

Truthout, Part IPart II, March 3, 2014
(adapted from a lecture by Noam Chomsky on February 28, 2014
in Santa Barbara, CA, sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation)

How Chomsky influenced the General Election

Avram Noam Chomsky: American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist.

The internet has allowed radical voices, like that of Noam Chomsky, to be heard by millions. This is having a real impact on our politics.

On election night, Andrew Marr stated that the main driving force behind the Labour surge was the use of social media in spreading Labour’s message across the country. I would go a step further and say it’s not just social media, but the internet in general.

Ten years ago, the internet was still in its infancy. Now it seems to be maturing and we are starting to see some positive effects on society. One crucial thing that the internet has provided us with is a greater diversity of opinions, which allows for more radical views, previously sidelined by the mainstream media, to be heard by millions of people across the country.

Perhaps the most influential of all those radical voices is that of Noam Chomsky. Fifteen years ago, I had never heard of Noam Chomsky and I doubt that any of my friends at university had either. However, that is certainly not the case with the students of 2017. The majority of them will have, at some point, seen a meme or a video featuring his views.

Chomsky’s views on war and Western foreign policy have proven particularly popular in the face of the usual aggressive views of politicians and journalists who push for military action (usually from the American government, with British support) whenever a situation gets heated.

Many people feel uncomfortable with such a stance during such times. So, when they are exposed to a more thoughtful critique of foreign policy, it often comes as a great relief and they enthusiastically click the ‘share’ button on Facebook or ‘retweet’ it on Twitter.

Many Chomsky quotes have gone viral and his interviews have had hundreds of millions of views on YouTube alone.

The Chomsky effect.The Chomsky effect.

Chomsky & The Labour Surge
People who are politically active often cite Chomsky as an inspiration. I believe that Labour’s 10% surge at the General Election, in which the party gained three million more votes, is in part due to the likes of Chomsky.

Labour had far more activists during the general election campaign than in previous elections, with most of them out on the streets or on social media promoting the Labour message.

Many of these activists will have had much of their political education online, watching YouTube videos from figures like Noam Chomsky, Slovoj Zizek, Howard Zinn and others. This has equipped them with a more critical view of both the media and of capitalism, influencing their decision to join Labour and fight for a socialist agenda.

Meanwhile, the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun ran with heavy smear campaigns targeting Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. Their favoured strategy was to play the IRA card. While I don’t doubt that this had a considerable effect, it seems to have been largely confined to the older generation.

I believe the young have become a lot less trusting of the mainstream media. Their critical view of the media is in thanks to the influence of the likes of Noam Chomsky. Seeing his quotes and watching his videos, young people have been able to see the smear tactics for what they really are.

Tony Benn on the cover of Dartford Living, September 2009.Tony Benn on the cover of Dartford Living,September 2009.

Tony Benn is another radical voice that the internet has helped to amplify. With the mass sharing on Facebook of his brilliant speeches in Parliament, he has become something of a cultural icon in recent years. His speech against the bombing of Iraq had over 20 million views during the #DontBombSyria campaign in 2015 and many of his other speeches can be found with hundreds of thousands of views.

So, whilst Benn was never Prime Minister, or even leader of the Labour Party, young people are now more familiar with his ideas than those of many previous Prime ministers, such as James Callaghan and John Major.

To conclude, the internet has led to radical ideas gaining more traction in wider society, particularly among the young, and this has lead to Labour experiencing a dramatic surge in the general election last week.

As Chomsky himself has written, the media are very not much interested in educating people as to how the system works. Hence, it is the internet that continues to break down the monopoly of propaganda that our mainstream media have enjoyed for so long, allowing more ideas and more knowledge to enter into peoples’ minds.

 

source:   thepileus

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Noam Chomsky: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy

For 50 years, Noam Chomsky, has been America’s Socrates, our public pest with questions that sting. He speaks not to the city square of Athens but to a vast global village in pain and now, it seems, in danger.

The world in trouble today still beats a path to Noam Chomsky’s door, if only because he’s been forthright for so long about a whirlwind coming. Not that the world quite knows what do with Noam Chomsky’s warnings of disaster in the making. Remember the famous faltering of the patrician TV host William F. Buckley Jr., meeting Chomsky’s icy anger about the war in Vietnam, in 1969.

It’s a strange thing about Noam Chomsky: The New York Times calls him “arguably” the most important public thinker alive, though the paper seldom quotes him, or argues with him, and giant pop-media stars on network television almost never do. And yet the man is universally famous and revered in his 89th year: He’s the scientist who taught us to think of human language as something embedded in our biology, not a social acquisition; he’s the humanist who railed against the Vietnam War and other projections of American power, on moral grounds first, ahead of practical considerations. He remains a rock star on college campuses, here and abroad, and he’s become a sort of North Star for the post-Occupy generation that today refuses to feel the Bern-out.

He remains, unfortunately, a figure alien in the places where policy gets made. But on his home ground at MIT, he is a notably accessible old professor who answers his e-mail and receives visitors like us with a twinkle.

Last week, we visited Chomsky with an open-ended mission in mind: We were looking for a nonstandard account of our recent history from a man known for telling the truth. We’d written him that we wanted to hear not what he thinks but how. He’d written back that hard work and an open mind have a lot to do with it, also, in his words, a “Socratic-style willingness to ask whether conventional doctrines are justified.”

Christopher Lydon: All we want you to do is to explain where in the world we are at a time—

Noam Chomsky: That’s easy.

CL: [Laughs]—When so many people were on the edge of something, something historic. Is there a Chomsky summary?

NC: Brief summary?

CL: Yeah.

NC: Well, a brief summary I think is if you take a look at recent history since the Second World War, something really remarkable has happened. First, human intelligence created two huge sledgehammers capable of terminating our existence—or at least organized existence—both from the Second World War. One of them is familiar. In fact, both are by now familiar. The Second World War ended with the use of nuclear weapons. It was immediately obvious on August 6, 1945, a day that I remember very well. It was obvious that soon technology would develop to the point where it would lead to terminal disaster. Scientists certainly understood this.

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In 1947 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists inaugurated its famous Doomsday Clock. You know, how close the minute hand was to midnight? And it started seven minutes to midnight. By 1953 it had moved to two minutes to midnight. That was the year when the United States and Soviet Union exploded hydrogen bombs. But it turns out we now understand that at the end of the Second World War the world also entered into a new geological epoch. It’s called the Anthropocene, the epoch in which humans have a severe, in fact maybe disastrous impact on the environment. It moved again in 2015, again in 2016. Immediately after the Trump election late January this year, the clock was moved again to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been since ’53.

So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some.

A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on—

CL: Social democracy…

NC: Social democracy, yeah. That’s sometimes called “the golden age of modern capitalism.” That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.

It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.”

 

 

 

She was actually, unconsciously no doubt, paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said, “The repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass can’t act together.” That was a condemnation. For Thatcher, it’s an ideal—and that’s neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.

Well, what does that do? The one barrier to the threat of destruction is an engaged public, an informed, engaged public acting together to develop means to confront the threat and respond to it. That’s been systematically weakened, consciously. I mean, back to the 1970s we’ve probably talked about this. There was a lot of elite discussion across the spectrum about the danger of too much democracy and the need to have what was called more “moderation” in democracy, for people to become more passive and apathetic and not to disturb things too much, and that’s what the neoliberal programs do. So put it all together and what do you have? A perfect storm.

CL: What everybody notices is all the headline things, including Brexit and Donald Trump and Hindu nationalism and nationalism everywhere and Le Pen all kicking in more or less together and suggesting some real world phenomenon.

NC: it’s very clear, and it was predictable. You didn’t know exactly when, but when you impose socioeconomic policies that lead to stagnation or decline for the majority of the population, undermine democracy, remove decision-making out of popular hands, you’re going to get anger, discontent, fear take all kinds of forms. And that’s the phenomenon that’s misleadingly called “populism.”

CL: I don’t know what you think of Pankaj Mishra, but I enjoy his book Age of Anger, and he begins with an anonymous letter to a newspaper from somebody who says, “We should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled. Nothing since the triumph of Vandals in Rome and North Africa has seemed so suddenly incomprehensible and difficult to reverse.”

NC: Well, that’s the fault of the information system, because it’s very comprehensible and very obvious and very simple. Take, say the United States, which actually suffered less from these policies than many other countries. Take the year 2007, a crucial year right before the crash.

 

What was the wondrous economy that was then being praised? It was one in which the wages, the real wages of American workers, were actually lower than they were in 1979 when the neoliberal period began. That’s historically unprecedented except for trauma or war or something like that. Here is a long period in which real wages had literally declined, while there was some wealth created but in very few pockets. It was also a period in which new institutions developed, financial institutions. You go back to the ’50s and ’60s, a so-called Golden Age, banks were connected to the real economy. That was their function. There were also no crashes because there were New Deal regulations.

Starting in the early ’70s there was a sharp change. First of all, financial institutions exploded in scale. By 2007 they actually had 40 percent of corporate profits. Furthermore, they weren’t connected to the real economy anymore.

In Europe the way democracy is undermined is very direct. Decisions are placed in the hands of an unelected troika: the European Commission, which is unelected; the IMF, of course unelected; and the European Central Bank. They make the decisions. So people are very angry, they’re losing control of their lives. The economic policies are mostly harming them, and the result is anger, disillusion, and so on.

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We just saw it two weeks ago in the last French election. The two candidates were both outside the establishment. Centrist political parties have collapsed. We saw it in the American election last November. There were two candidates who mobilized the base: one of them a billionaire hated by the establishment, the Republican candidate who won the nomination—but notice that once he’s in power it’s the old establishment that’s running things. You can rail against Goldman Sachs on the campaign trail, but you make sure that they run the economy once you’re in.

CL: So, the question is, at a moment when people are almost ready… when they’re ready to act and almost ready to recognize that this game is not working, this social system, do we have the endowment as a species to act on it, to move into that zone of puzzlement and then action?

NC: I think the fate of the species depends on it because, remember, it’s not just inequality, stagnation. It’s terminal disaster. We have constructed a perfect storm. That should be the screaming headlines every day. Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them. That’s our pincers. That’s what we face, and if that problem isn’t solved, we’re done with.

CL: I want to go back Pankaj Mishra and the Age of Anger for a moment—

NC: It’s not the Age of Anger. It’s the Age of Resentment against socioeconomic policies which have harmed the majority of the population for a generation and have consciously and in principle undermined democratic participation. Why shouldn’t there be anger?

CL: Pankaj Mishra calls it—it’s a Nietzschean word—“ressentiment,” meaning this kind of explosive rage. But he says, “It’s the defining feature of a world where the modern promise of equality collides with massive disparities of power, education, status and—

NC: Which was designed that way, which was designed that way. Go back to the 1970s. Across the spectrum, elite spectrum, there was deep concern about the activism of the ’60s. It’s called the “time of troubles.” It civilized the country, which is dangerous. What happened is that large parts of the population—which had been passive, apathetic, obedient—tried to enter the political arena in one or another way to press their interests and concerns. They’re called “special interests.” That means minorities, young people, old people, farmers, workers, women. In other words, the population. The population are special interests, and their task is to just watch quietly. And that was explicit.

Two documents came out right in the mid-’70s, which are quite important. They came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both influential, and both reached the same conclusions. One of them, at the left end, was by the Trilateral Commission—liberal internationalists, three major industrial countries, basically the Carter administration, that’s where they come from. That is the more interesting one [The Crisis of Democracy, a Trilateral Commission report]. The American rapporteur Samuel Huntington of Harvard, he looked back with nostalgia to the days when, as he put it, Truman was able to run the country with the cooperation of a few Wall Street lawyers and executives. Then everything was fine. Democracy was perfect.

But in the ’60s they all agreed it became problematic because the special interests started trying to get into the act, and that causes too much pressure and the state can’t handle that.

CL: I remember that book well.

NC: We have to have more moderation in democracy.

CL: Not only that, he turned Al Smith’s line around. Al Smith said, “The cure for democracy is more democracy.” He said, “No, the cure for this democracy is less democracy.”

NC: It wasn’t him. It was the liberal establishment. He was speaking for them. This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.

Now what do you have at the right end? A very influential document, the Powell Memorandum, came out at the same time. Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer, later Supreme Court justice, he produced a confidential memorandum for the US Chamber of Commerce, which has been extremely influential. It more or less set off the modern so-called “conservative movement.” The rhetoric is kind of crazy. We don’t go through it, but the basic picture is that this rampaging left has taken over everything. We have to use the resources that we have to beat back this rampaging New Left which is undermining freedom and democracy.

Connected with this was something else. As a result of the activism of the ’60s and the militancy of labor, there was a falling rate of profit. That’s not acceptable. So we have to reverse the falling rate of profit, we have to undermine democratic participation, what comes? Neoliberalism, which has exactly those effects.

Listen to the full conversation with Noam Chomsky on Radio Open Source.

source : thenation