Sunday, July 03, 2005

Torquemada Weeps

Just when I think I need no more reminders of why I left Boston forever; I am presented with this majestically overwrought article by Chomsky in Boston Review; an innocuous title for a remarkably less than innocuous publication; check out their mission statement for another good reason to leave Boston forever. Its been awhile since I've seen a more carefully parsed and transparently self-congratulatory piece of wingnuttery. Before I commence my critique, I would note that Chomsky's article states that it "was adapted from a talk sponsored by MIT's Program on Human Rights and Justice", meaning that it is most likely, as I have come to believe almost all of Chomsky's political writing is, largely ghostwritten. Nonetheless, the good professor's name is affixed, so we will have to direct whatever conclusions as to its implications towards him; and try not to contemplate the Orwellian nightmare that MIT's Program on Human Rights and Justice must constitute.

Half the piece is taken up with a lengthy dissertation on linguistics, with which I will not grapple; since I know nothing about linguistics and have less interest in the subject; and what Chomsky has to say about linguistics is, as far as I can see, totally irrelevent to the political points he makes in the second half of the article; and appears to be present solely for the purpose of attempting to lend an air of detachment and intellectual gravitas to what is, essentially, little more than a fairly standard (and fairly dull) piece of anti-American propaganda.

The polemic contained in the second half of the piece rests on Chomsky's fundamentalist interpretation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights and his assertion of its universal, and apparently absolute, applicability to all and sundry. I think it is relevant to note before proceeding that such sanctimonies are issuing from a man who remains one of the foremost apologists for mass murder and political oppression (when committed by the correct regimes, of course) of the second half of the twentieth century. A point well worth remembering; since the foundation of Chomsky's assault on the US rests entirely on the notion of universal applicability and its attendant hypocrises; a foundation slightly undermined, to use an understatement, when the one who invokes it is himself one of the world's foremost intellectual relativists on the subject of human rights. In fact, Chomsky's entire procession of bloviations on this issue could be read simply as comical hyprocrisy; but I do not consider it to be comical in the least; but rather something fairly monstrous, for reasons which I will return to.

Chomsky begins his polemic with a salvo against the hypocrisy of "Western culture" in regards to human rights. I have already mentioned the fact that Chomsky himself is one of the foremost (if not the foremost, at least in terms of quantity and influence) Western apologists for human rights violations of all kinds; so I will leave that aside for the moment, and deal instead with the nature and content of the indictment itself.
As is well known, Western culture condemns some nations as “relativists,” who interpret the UD selectively, rejecting components they do not like. There has been great indignation about “Asian relativists,” or the unspeakable communists, who descend to this degraded practice. Less noticed is that one of the leaders of the relativist camp is also the leader of the self-designated “enlightened states,” the world’s most powerful state. We see examples almost daily, though “see” is perhaps the wrong word, since we see them without noticing them.
This is, of course, a monumental generalization; but nonetheless an informative one, since it is much in keeping with Chomsky's style of argument; which is to say, he makes no argument at all. He sets up a straw man of the largest size possible and then proceeds to beat it to death. It is an elementary form of sophistry and not difficult to recognize, though highly appealing to those determined to practice a private form of Stalinist-style historical airbrushing.
I should stress that it is the U.S. government that rejects these provisions of the UD. The population strongly disagrees. One current illustration is the federal budget that was recently announced, along with a study of public reactions to it carried out by the world’s most prestigious institution for study of public opinion. The public calls for sharp cuts in military spending along with sharply increased social spending: education, medical research, job training, conservation and renewable energy, as well as increased spending for the UN and economic and humanitarian aid, and the reversal of President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. Government policy is dramatically the opposite in every respect.
Chomsky gives us absolutely no clue as to what "the world's most prestigious institution for study of public opinion" might consist of. Perhaps Chomsky had a chat with the members of MIT's Program for Human Rights and Justice and extrapolated forthwith. Perhaps Chomsky considers himself the world's most prestigious institution for study of public opinion. We'll apparently never know, since Chomsky rather inartfully refuses to tell us; perhaps hoping we will see but not notice. I have written on this phenomenon already; the myth of the "silent Leftist majority" which Chomsky and others spend an inordinate about of time trying to convince us is genuine; but which nonetheless never actually manages to manifest itself come election time. So many, apparently, see but do not notice.

Jeane Kirkpatrick; one of the left's favored targets, since she was once sympathetic to their cause but later refused to maintain the required silence regarding the atrocities and oppressions committed by authoritarian socialism throughout the 20th century; also comes in for some approbation, amongst others; and the scorn accorded them is important, since it is based in their heresy, a heresy which lies at the center of Chomsky's Torquemada-style assault on anyone and everyone who dares to disagree with him.
UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick described the socioeconomic provisions of the UD as “a letter to Santa Claus . . . Neither nature, experience, nor probability informs these lists of `entitlements,’ which are subject to no constraints except those of the mind and appetite of their authors...”

[John] Bolton has been clear and forthright in expressing his attitude toward the United Nations: “There is no United Nations,” he said. “When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interests to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests, we will not.” That position is at the extreme of a rather narrow elite consensus, which is opposed by the overwhelming majority of the public. Public support for the UN is so strong that a majority even thinks that the United States should give up the Security Council veto and accept majority decisions. But again, the democratic deficit prevails...

John Negroponte was recently appointed as the first director of intelligence. Like Bolton, he has credentials for the position. In the 1980s, during the first reign of the current incumbents in Washington or their mentors, he was ambassador to Honduras, where he presided over the world’s largest CIA station, not because Honduras is so important on the world stage, but because he was supervising the camps in which the American-run terror army was trained and armed for the war against Nicaragua—which was no small matter. If Nicaragua had adopted our norms, it would have responded by terror attacks within the United States, in self-defense; in this case, authentic self-defense...
What follows is a lengthy apologia for leftist tyranny in Latin America, and a relentless assault on the US decision to oppose it; phrased, of course, as if no struggle between left and right existed in Latin America and all the trouble was the fault of the "terror army" run by the United States; a reprehensible distortion of history which I have already dealt with at length and will not enter into here. What is most fascinating, however, is the extent to which Chomsky's defense of the UN and international law completely contradicts his own professed ideology of anarcho-democracy. He is seemingly incapable of acknowledging the obvious fact that the United Nations is itself an elite (and by any reasonable standard, a remarkably corrupt and undemocratic one) with its own political interests and ambitions; namely, the expansion of its own power. Nor does the idea that the democratic nation-state, whatever its flaws, may yet remain more responsive to and representative of its citizens than an appointed international body answerable to no authority whatsoever, appear to penetrate the schema of absolutist internationalism Chomsky has built around himself. This rather obvious contradiction is immensely informative; because it cuts to the heart of a hypocrisy which is not Chomsky's in a personal sense, but the burden of all who subscribe to the tenants of the fundamentalist universalism which Chomsky seeks to claim as both sword and shield against the aforementioned heretics.
The example also reveals again the self-exemption of the elite intellectual culture from responsibility for our crimes, a conclusion reinforced by the reaction to the fact that Washington has just appointed to the post of the world’s leading anti-terrorism czar a person who qualifies rather well as a condemned international terrorist for his critical role in major atrocities. Orwell would not have known whether to laugh or weep.

I mention these few examples so that we remember that we are not merely engaged in seminars on abstract principles, or discussing remote cultures that we do not comprehend. We are speaking of ourselves and the moral and intellectual values of the communities in which we live. And if we do not like what we see when we look into the mirror, we have ample opportunity to do something about it.
Thus we complete the inquisitor's indictment; and it is an indictment to which we must respond, because all inquisitors are threats to our freedom and their indictments assaults on our autonomy as human beings. It is interesting and informative that Chomsky mentions Orwell; because it is clear from his article that he has either not read Orwell, did not understand him, or is simply invoking his name to score intellectual points; if only because of the simple fact that Orwell utterly rejected the thesis Chomsky is putting forward in this piece; namely, that Olympian universalism is possible in the face of political evil. Orwell was no fool and was not naive; he knew that his country and its allies were often guilty of violating their principles; but he believed that it was necessary to choose sides when faced with elementary forms of tyranny; whether in the form of Stalin or the likes of MIT's Program on Human Rights and Justice. He despised those who drew a moral equivalence, just has Chomsky has, between freedom and its enemies in the name of universal principles. What was truly immoral, he felt, and truly indefensible, was to refuse to choose, to assume an absolute detachment in the name of such concepts as "peace" or "justice". To do so, he felt, was to make oneself not an objective defender of morality but an objective collaborator with evil.

But this is a discussion of concepts,"a seminar on abstract principles"; and when it comes to the practicalities of Chomsky, we have something far more monstrous; because Chomsky has, in fact, long since made his choice; and his pretensions of objective and absolute fealty to international law or basic morality are merely the abject cowardice of the collaborator who refuses to acknowledge the bloody cost accrued by his collaboration. The truth is that Chomsky, though he denies it in a shriek even as he acknowledges it in a whisper, has long since declared that the likes of the Khmer Rouge or Castro or the Sandanistas may slaughter, oppress, imprison, and destroy in the name of a better world; but the US may not make war in the name of opposing them. It is that simple; and in this is an acknowledgement not only of Chomsky's own guilt but his own hypocrisy. For even as Chomsky's words profess objectivity the objective facts of his legacy profess the opposite; they profess, in fact, that everyone is a relativist, because you cannot live in the world of reality (as opposed the world of academic sureities) without being so. The terrible truth that Chomsky accepts but will not acknowledge is that what matters is not one's fealty to abstract and amorphous principles; but the choice you make, the side you choose, when it comes time to defend them; and now, as then, Chomsky proves himself quite resolutely and with no regrets, on the side of the murderers.

What we are dealing with here is the conflict between a considered particularism and an absolutist universalism; and Chomsky embodies the essence of the latter in his indictment of us even as he absolves himself; a practice eminently common to many intellectuals of Chomsky's ilk. Albert Camus named them judge-penitents, because they indict themselves only to condemn others; and he hated them as much for their moral cowardice as for their hypocrisy; because they declared themselves in fellowship with the guilty yet presumed to retain the rights of judgment and condemnation. Their's was an arrogance of existential proportions. But Chomsky is no mere judge penitent; he is the Grand Inquisitor as judge penitent; a Torquemada of self-indictment. He weeps tears of sanctimony even as he sends men to the rack and to the gallows. It is so with every man who believes he has apprehended a universal absolute; be it the inevitable triumph of the working class or the inevitable ascension to power of the master race, or the eventual universal Utopia of peace and justice; a Utopia that will never come, though many may die at the hands which seek to hurry its coming. In this edifying credo I cannot seek comfort; because I believe that it is moral to make war in the name of freedom, and I believe it is also moral to make war in the name of one's particular interests, should they be sufficiently threatened. But I do not believe it is moral to slaughter people in the name of a tyrannical collectivist ideology, nor in the name of a secular messianism dedicated to the betterment of man, however fine its "universal principles" may appear, nor even in the name of universal justice and peace. On that, Chomsky and I differ. So be it. I have no desire to be a maven of genocide; Chomsky is welcome to the role. He is welcome to his imperial universalism, which can end only in nihilism and murder; he is welcome to his primitive Rousseauvianism, his worship of the noble savage of his own mind, which is merely another expression of the inhuman soul of universalism when it goes mad and must embrace a hypocrisy as absolute as its ambitions. Chomsky and his acolytes speak to us the simple truth that the denial of the particular is the denial of humanity; because it refuses to apprehend humanity, preferring instead to project upon it its own image, the object of its own murderous idolatry; and in this it is the most vile form of metaphysical tyranny. It is murder before the fact; slaughter in the name of compassion; because it can know no compassion except condemnation and, ultimately, destruction. Every true tyrant has held to universal principles, whether his name be Hitler or Castro; and the fundamentalist universalism to which Chomsky here claims himself heir, even as he embodies the murderous hypocrisy in its heart, can be nothing but a philosophy of tyranny, and the final annihilation of human freedom in the name of humanity itself. This, at least, is what I see, and what I notice.