11 October, 2008

DER SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH NOAM CHOMSKY

DER SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH NOAM CHOMSKY

'The United States Has Essentially a One-Party System'

The linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky has long been a critic of American consumerism and imperialism. SPIEGEL spoke to him about the current crisis of capitalism, Barack Obama's rhetoric and the compliance of the intellectual class.

SPIEGEL: Professor Chomsky, cathedrals of capitalism have collapsed, the conservative government is spending its final weeks in office with nationalization plans. How does that make you feel?

INTERVIEW WITH NOAM CHOMSKY
'The United States Has Essentially a One-Party System'

The linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky has long been a critic of American consumerism and imperialism. SPIEGEL spoke to him about the current crisis of capitalism, Barack Obama's rhetoric and the compliance of the intellectual class.

SPIEGEL: Professor Chomsky, cathedrals of capitalism have collapsed, the conservative government is spending its final weeks in office with nationalization plans. How does that make you feel?

SPIEGEL: Do you prefer the team on the other side: the 72 year old Vietnam veteran McCain and Sarah Palin, former Alaskan beauty queen?

Chomsky: This Sarah Palin phenomenon is very curious. I think somebody watching us from Mars, they would think the country has gone insane.

SPIEGEL: Arch conservatives and religious voters seem to be thrilled.

Chomsky: One must not forget that this country was founded by religious fanatics. Since Jimmy Carter, religious fundamentalists play a major role in elections. He was the first president who made a point of exhibiting himself as a born again Christian. That sparked a little light in the minds of political campaign managers: Pretend to be a religious fanatic and you can pick up a third of the vote right away. Nobody asked whether Lyndon Johnson went to church every day. Bill Clinton is probably about as religious as I am, meaning zero, but his managers made a point of making sure that every Sunday morning he was in the Baptist church singing hymns.

SPIEGEL: Is there nothing about McCain that appeals to you?

Chomsky: In one aspect he is more honest than his opponent. He explicitly states that this election is not about issues but about personalities. The Democrats are not quite as honest even though they see it the same way.

SPIEGEL: So for you, Republicans and Democrats represent just slight variations of the same political platform?

Chomsky: Of course there are differences, but they are not fundamental. Nobody should have any illusions. The United States has essentially a one-party system and the ruling party is the business party.

SPIEGEL: You exaggerate. In almost all vital questions -- from the taxation of the rich to nuclear energy -- there are different positions. At least on the issues of war and peace, the parties differ considerably. The Republicans want to fight in Iraq until victory, even if that takes a 100 years, according to McCain. The Democrats demand a withdrawal plan.

Chomsky: Let us look at the .differences. more closely, and we recognize how limited and cynical they are. The hawks say, if we continue we can win. The doves say, it is costing us too much. But try to find an American politician who says frankly that this aggression is a crime: the issue is not whether we win or not, whether it is expensive or not. Remember the Russian invasion of Afghanistan? Did we have a debate whether the Russians can win the war or whether it is too expensive? This may have been the debate at the Kremlin, or in Pravda. But this is the kind of debate you would expect in a totalitarian society. If General Petraeus could achieve in Iraq what Putin achieved in Chechnya, he would be crowned king. The key question here is whether we apply the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others.

SPIEGEL: Who prevents intellectuals from asking and critically answering these questions? You praised the freedom of speech in the United States.

Chomsky: The intellectual world is deeply conformist. Hans Morgenthau, who was a founder of realist international relations theory, once condemned what he called .the conformist subservience to power. on the part of the intellectuals. George Orwell wrote that nationalists, who are practically the whole intellectual class of a country, not only do not disapprove of the crimes of their own state, but have the remarkable capacity not even to see them. That is correct. We talk a lot about the crimes of others. When it comes to our own crimes, we are nationalists in the Orwellian sense.

SPIEGEL: Was there not, and is there not -- in the United States and worldwide -- loud protest against the Iraq war?

Chomsky: The protest against the war in Iraq is far higher than against the war in Vietnam. When there were 4,000 American deaths in Vietnam and 150,000 troops deployed, nobody cared. When Kennedy invaded Vietnam in 1962, there was just a yawn.

SPIEGEL: To conclude, perhaps you can offer a conciliatory word about the state of the nation?

Chomsky: The American society has become more civilized, largely as a result of the activism of the 1960s. Our society, and also Europe's, became freer, more open, more democratic, and for many quite scary. This generation was condemned for that. But it had an effect.

SPIEGEL: Professor Chomsky, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Gabor Steingart

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posted by u2r2h at Saturday, October 11, 2008

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