- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004


Edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz

Encounter Books, $17.95, 260 pages

Rational souls may wonder why they should bother to read a book devoted to the conspiratorial writings of Noam Chomsky. To enter his world, after all, is to be cast into a Manichean nightmare in which the world is pillaged and despoiled by the military-industrial complex, in which all left-wing dissent is ruthlessly neutered by the American media, and in which the poor have their faces ground into the mud every hour of the day.

In short, Mr. Chomsky is what Michael Moore would be if he ever acquired an MIT-sized vocabulary.

Just as there is no point whatever in trying to discuss “Fahrenheit 9/11” with one of Mr. Moore’s true believers, so it is absolutely futile to engage in a conversation with Mr. Chomsky’s acolytes. Life is too short. But it would be a mistake to dismiss him as merely the leader of a fringe cult.

Yes, his political theories are painfully simplistic. Yes, he has a habit of making ludicrous predictions (as in his post-September 11 observation that the American government was intent on inflicting a “silent genocide” on the people of Afghanistan.) Yes, his prose is turgid to the point of self-parody.

For all that, Mr. Chomsky exerts extraordinary influence over the left. Many a rock thrown during an anti-G8 riot, many an article published in academia takes its ultimate inspiration from him.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was tempting to think that his ideas could never again be taken seriously in grown-up circles. George W. Bush’s presidency and the war on terror have given his career a new lease of life, although it is worth noting that even his longtime sympathizer, Christopher Hitchens, finally broke with him over the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The essays assembled by Peter Collier and David Horowitz — two of America’s most renowned ex-leftists — give Mr. Chomsky’s reputation a ruthless and long-overdue debunking.

This collection makes essential reading, not just because it demolishes the great man’s conspiracy theories, but because it demonstrates his chronic inability to honor the truth. As Mr. Horowitz and Ronald Radosh observe in their analysis of his reflections on September 11, his work relies on “slippery allusions, inverted logic, rambling eviscerations of facts from their context and malicious distortions of the historical record.”

Whether discussing Vietnam, the Soviet Union, Israel or Osama bin Laden, the approach seldom varies. His Olympian judgments are delivered in a tone of such relentlessly sober reasonableness, amidst such an imposing flurry of footnotes, that even a hardened skeptic must sometimes wonder if he has a point after all.

Alan Dershowitz — not usually thought of as a rabid right-winger — has praised this book as a “smoking gun.” True believers will no doubt dismiss it all as an imperialistic plot. They may even be able to build a reasonable reponse to the charge — levelled here by sociologist Werner Cohn — that Mr. Chomsky has lent his considerable moral weight to the Holocaust-denial movement.

Students of linguistics will have to make up their own minds about Robert Levine and Paul Postal’s assertion that even Mr. Chomsky’s much-feted insights into the development of language may not be as substantial as we had been led to believe. There is room for argument here.

Not so in most of the essays, particularly John Williamson’s devastating account of Mr. Chomsky’s refusal to accept responsibility for one of his wilder pronouncements — in this case about America and Britain’s supposed role in delaying the liberation of the Nazi death camps in Poland. (Comparing America with Nazi Germany is second nature to him.)

A devotee of linguistics, Mr. Williamson had been corresponding with Mr. Chomsky on arcane questions of language structure before he came across the World War II allegation in a New Yorker profile. When Mr. Williamson contacted Mr. Chomsky with a request for clarification, the latter cited an obscure source and, what is more, accused the profile writer of spreading malicious gossip.

Intrigued,Mr. Williamson dug further. The supposed historical reference turned out to be threadbare. And the New Yorker writer herself not only defended the quotation, but referred Mr. Williamson to the videotape of the MIT lecture in which the original comments were made.

Mr. Chomsky, it seems clear, had been caught in the act. But why expect his followers to believe any of this? Inconvenient facts, to them, are just another manifestation of the great capitalist conspiracy.

Clive Davis writes for the Times of London.

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