25 Nov 1992
Transcribed by Rae West
Note: I’ve tried to describe the visual setting, without being over-elaborate; and, not feeling empowered to remove them, I’ve retained all the ers and ums, perhaps with misplaced zeal – do Chomskyan ums have a greater significance than those of ordinary mortals? Well, perhaps. Anyway, here’s my transcription – RW
– BBC2 broadcast ‘in association with Central Independent Television’ of an externally-made programme; details, e.g. even the names of participants, not given in the ‘Radio Times’.
Interview of Chomsky by John Pilger, left of camera, in white outfit, who pronounces ‘Noam’ rather like ‘Norm’; Chomsky, over to the right, in specs, and orangish corduroy jacket and tieless shirt.
Over Pilger’s voicever we see titles: ‘On Power and Ideology’, ‘Language & Responsibility’, ‘Rules & Representation’. And pages of two articles, one on Indo-China, the other a reference to articles by Dwight MacDonald in ‘Politics’, which Chomsky had read as a student, and, rereading after twenty years, appeared to him to have lost none of their power: to what extent were individual Germans and Japanese guilty or innocent? Other titles were: ‘Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ by Edward S Herman & Noam Chomsky; ‘Necessary Illusions – Thought Control in Democratic Societies’ [published 1989]; ‘Chronicles of Dissent. Interviews with David Barsamian.’
PILGER’S VOICEOVER: It was Chomsky’s attack on America’s liberal establishment that drew the most fire. He accused both his fellow academics, and journalists, of being ‘ideological managers’ of a system that caused death and destruction around the world in the name of democracy. He argued that the media covered this up, that its message was Orwellian, giving people the illusion of unfettered information, when so often what was reported was the opposite of the truth. He described this in one of his most famous works as ‘Manufacturing Consent’. His more recent books, such as ‘Necessary Illusions’ and ‘Chronicles of Dissent’, were published by small minority presses on either side of the Atlantic, and yet they were read all over the world. His latest book, ‘Deterring Democracy’, is the first to be published by a mainstream publisher in this country for nearly twenty years. Noam Chomsky has been almost impossible to pigeon-hole. He was against the manipulations of both sides in the Cold War, believing that the superpowers were actually united in suppressing the aspirations and freedom of small nations. He embraces no ideology, and supports no revolution. His critics charge he is wedded to a simplistic view of the world, based on imaginary conspiracies, and yet, as the essayist Brian Morton wrote recently, ‘many Americans are no longer convinced that our Government has the right to destroy any country it wants to, and Chomsky deserves much of the credit.’ [NB: Unclear whether the last bit is included in the quote.] The late Francis Hope said of him, ‘Such men are dangerous; the lack of them, disastrous.’ Noam Chomsky, there seems to be two of you. The scientist and rationalist on the one hand, and the prophet on the other, a man of great passion and anger. What above all has fuelled this?
CHOMSKY: Well, I think the passion and anger, which is certainly real, is fuelled simply by looking at the world. Ah my earliest childhood memories from the 1930s include er people coming to the door trying to sell rags to try to survive, scenes of police breaking up, violently breaking up, textile strikes in the city where I live, and on right up to the present, I mean the last years have been years of Pol Pot style massacres orchestrated by the United States in central America and Guatemala to a war against the church and other people trying to organise poor people. There’s nowhere you can look and er if if unless your eyes are blinded and not be aroused to er er passion and anger
PILGER: Is that why you said that er ‘I always feel on the side of the loser’?
CHOMSKY: Er well, it turns out that the people at the wrong end of the guns are usually the losers. And they’re the people who if we’re even minimally serious we ought to be trying to help er and at least I try, with whatever success, to be on the side of the people who are likely to be the potential losers. Now of course they don’t lose everything, there are little gains here and there, and over the years over the centuries, many of these gains have amounted to quite a bit. But er the brutality and the violence and the suffering are enormous. And will remain so as long as disparities of power remain.
PILGER: How much of this has come from your childhood? Because although you had a Jewish upbringing, you grew up in Philadelphia before the second world war, in a predominantly Irish and German neighbourhood, didn’t you.
CHOMSKY: We happened to be the only Jewish family in an Irish and German Catholic neighbourhood, which were quite pro-Nazi. In fact as late as the fall of Paris I remember celebrations, and my brother and I knew we had to take certain paths to the bus to survive, and that sort of thing
PILGER: It was a pro-Nazi celebration in the neighbourhood?
CHOMSKY: Oh yes. It was an area of German-American Bund. [See definition in Websters] But that’s not so unusual, incidentally. In fact, the State Department, as late as 1937, in internal communications which have since been released, the State Department was describing Fascism as ‘a natural response, an understandable response, of the better classes in Germany to the severe threat posed by the working classes and Bolsheviks’ and so on. In fact Hitler was described as a moderate. The US was openly pro-Mussolini; Mussolini was ‘that admirable Italian gentleman’ as Franklin Roosevelt called him, and that went on right into the late 30s. So the fact that there were popular support for the Nazis was not anything terribly surprising
PILGER: But your own er circle was both intensely Jewish and intensely political. Could you give me an..
CHOMSKY: Well, my immediate background was more or less an immigrant ghetto, a Jewish ghetto transplanted from Eastern Europe – Hebrew School, Hebrew teaching, Hebrew culture and so on, er again, not unusual. And er the slightly broader family background did include something which was of enormous importance for me; it was in New York, not very far away, working-class most of those days, mostly unemployed, very vibrant working class culture which existed at the time. Many of the people had little or no formal education, but they were very cultivated and educated, including high culture, or involved in political movements, typically of the left, many of them had already passed through the standard Leninist-Marxist movements and were on the left of that, and it was just an exciting, lively, intellectual culture that I was drawn to very young, as soon as you know I was waking up more or less and er it had a tremendous impact
PILGER: Of course, many of them though, went on to renounce their their socialism, their Marxism, even their Stalinism
CHOMSKY: Stalinism went fast. I mean I was always anti-Stalinist; that happened very early, I’d say by the time I was ten years old, partly because of an interest in the Spanish Civil War in the late 30s. It was quite clear, even not knowing much, that something was wrong with the standard picture, er and I did, by the time I was twelve or thirteen I was haunting anarchist bookstores in New York and so on, picking up pamphlets, and talking to people who were happy to talk to some young feller who walked around, and could see that the Spanish Civil war was – in fact, it was like, as I have later learned, all civil wars are, it was tripartite. There are two parts that are fighting, and they enter history; they’re fighting to see who picks up the share of power; then there’s the general population, who they both wanna destroy. In the Spanish Civil War, there was a popular revolution, and the Stalin-backed Republic, and the Fascists, first combined, along with the Western democracies, to destroy the popular revolution, and after that was done, they fought to pick up the spoils. Which is not an unusual pattern. And, I though I can’t claim to have understood it, I couldn’t already see the picture, by the time the Stalin-Hitler pact came along, and the information about the purges, it was impossible to take any of this seriously. I was also anti-Leninist, because it struck me at the time that however horrifying the Stalinist crimes were, they clearly had their origins in Leninist authoritarianism er and I was also quite sceptical about Marxism, not so much the particular ideas, as the concept of any movement that is named after a person already arouses scepticism; it suggests at once that it’s a form of organised religion or something like that. So for example, in physics, there’s nothing like Einsteinism, and in any serious domain, you don’t personalise collections of beliefs and that immediately set me off to later learn more about it
PILGER: This almost sounds like wisdom in hindsight.
CHOMSKY: It is
PILGER: It’s quite extraordinary at that period, in the 1940s, when you consider the circle that you were living in and moving in, for you perhaps not to have what was known as the Russian phase, I mean you didn’t have
PILGER: Your revolution was Spain
CHOMSKY: And, I should, I don’t wanna exaggerate, I was about ten years old at the time. The first article I wrote, first political article, in the school newspaper, and it was on the fall of Barcelona. And um I don’t wanna pretend I knew what was going on, but I had some sense of it, and as I say, shortly after I had the luck, I think in retrospect, to er have become close to anarchist circles, which were quite lively at the time, and it was a very lively, vibrant, exciting period of er political culture and working-class culture.
PILGER: You still describe yourself as an anarchist, and as a libertarian socialist. To many people these days, these are rather arcane expressions, almost from another age. What do they mean to you?
CHOMSKY: What they mean is the search for – actually, it’s an outgrowth of classical liberalism. It’s classical liberalism adapted to the modern period. Er it’s anarchism is not a fixed set of ideas; it’s a tendency in human thought that is trying to identify kinds of authority and domination and to, if they can’t justify themselves which they rarely can, to work to overcome them. Er that means overcoming state authority. It also means overcoming the autocracy of er capitalist enterprise, which is simply another form of er hierarchy and domination. It means overcoming sexist repression. Whatever you find. Sometimes authority can be justified. So, for example, you stop a three-year old kid from running across the street into traffic. That’s authority, but I think you can give a justification for it. However, the burden of proof is always on those with the authority. They have to demonstrate that their authority and control is legitimate and that justification can very rarely be given
PILGER: So what you’re saying that any structure, any institution, no matter what, should be challenged?
CHOMSKY: Any institution of authority and domination. Institutions of co-operation, voluntary association federation and so on, they don’t have that burden of proof. And in fact I wouldn’t want – I believe that if you read the classical liberal texts, 18th century, seriously, and apply them to the current age, this is what you discover. Adam Smith. Pick up and read the first paragraph which talks about how wonderful the division of labour is. But very few people get to maybe page 500 or wherever it is, when he says the end result of division of labour is gonna be to turn human beings into something as stupid and ignorant as any person can be, and therefore, in any civil society, the government or someone will have to intervene to prevent the horrendous effects of the invisible hand.
PILGER: As a as a libertarian socialist, though, what do you make of the received wisdom | today, that socialism is dead? It’s had it?
CHOMSKY: Well, Let’s take the various parts of the world. What was called ‘socialism’ in eastern Europe was killed by late 1917 or early 1918. Every socialist tendency that had developed in the pre-Bolshevik period was immediately extirpated, including Soviets, workers factory councils, any popular organization was wiped out. So since then there hasn’t been a trace of socialism in Eastern Europe, in the Soviet system. In the west there have been, you know there’s kind of a slow, there’s a move towards a kind of a social democratic, state capitalism of some kind or other, in various places. The basic ideas of socialism are in the future. Socialism is based, traditional socialism is simply based on, the application of enlightenment ideals to an industrial society, and it means that er workers will control production, communities will control communities, and so on, that’s socialism, if it means anything.
PILGER: OK. So your brand of libertarian socialism. Has that existed anywhere?
CHOMSKY: Well, you know, it’s a bit like asking if democracy has existed anywhere. Bits and pieces of it, yes. I mean, if you look around the world, there are bits and pieces of democracy. In the United States there are elements of democracy – very limited elements – but real ones, so it’s an improvement over the 17th century, let’s say. The the American Revolution was equally flawed in many ways. In fact, if a third world country today were to promulgate the US Constitution, we would regard it as a reversion to Nazism. That constitution identifies a group of people as three-fifths human, for example. But nevertheless, in the context of the time, it was a tremendous advance. Er and the struggle for freedom is unending. Er You cross one bridge, you find other barriers. So there are bits and pieces of democracy, there are bits and pieces of popular control, there are new forms of authority and domination that we didn’t notice before.
PILGER: Could we move on to what, it seems, had the greatest impact on your life, and that was the Vietnam War, or as you’ve described it, the American War Against Asia. Can you give me something of the impact that that had on your life?
CHOMSKY: Actually, it had virtually no impact in my thinking. But it did have an impact on my actions. There just came a point where it seemed impossible to look in the mirror and continue with a very pleasant life that I was leading! I mean I had a fine professional life, I love my work, career, family, and there were plenty of things to protest about, I had individually discussed and protested, but the Vietnam War by the early 1960s was becoming a real monstrosity
PILGER: You made a conscious decision then?
CHOMSKY: Very conscious and difficult decision. Because I knew I was giving up a lot. You can’t put your foot in without starting to swim. You begin and it’s obvious that it’s gonna go on, and there’ll be more demands and so on. I should say that at the time that I got started I thought it was totally hopeless. The early talks that I was giving in places, in say 1964, were to audiences of four people in some church where one was the organiser, and one was the local minister, and er one was a drunk who wandered off the streets, and the fourth was somebody who wanned to kill you. And in fact as late as er 1966 in Boston, which is a liberal city, we could not have public meetings against the war without them being physically attacked. Er er the first major public talk I gave, on the Boston Common, which is you know the standard place for giving ?out ?[indecipherable] talks, this was late 1965, the three or four of us who were speaking had to be protected by hundreds of police.
PILGER: And yet you later wrote that you had ‘quite a profound distaste for activism.’ So you were a reluctant activist
CHOMSKY: I hate there’s nothing I hate more than giving general public talks. I mean
PILGER: It was during this time, the Vietnam War, that you developed, what you’re most acclaimed for, and probably what you’re most attacked for, and that is your skill at debunking the language of the state, the Newspeak of the state, the lies of the state. What was, can you give me some idea of what the subtlety was of the propaganda then, because we..
CHOMSKY: First of all, I don’t think the propaganda was subtle. I think it was extremely crude, and transparently false. Er but very effective. Take the general framework. Er it’s just thirty years ago to 1962. John Kennedy sent the American airforce to bomb South Vietnam. Now it was not a secret. So in October 1962 the New York Times had a front page story in which they said thirty percent of the missions against South Vietnam have American pilots flying them. Well, you know, there was no pretence at that time that we were attacked, that anyone was involved except us and the South Vietnamese, and we were attacking the South Vietnamese. Thirty years have gone by it has never been described in the mainstream as an attack against South Vietnam. It has always been defence of South Vietnam. And then people debate whether the defence of South Vietnam was wise or unwise for us. But you know the very phrase ‘attack against south Vietnam’ is inexpressible. I mean it’s as if the Russian tyranny hadn’t fallen apart, the Brezhnev system had been maintained, and imagine that thirty years after the invasion of Afghanistan no-one had ever referred to an attack against Afghanistan, everyone had referred to it as a defence of Afghanistan against terrorists supported from the outside. Well that’s what we’re living in. We wouldn’t call that subtle propaganda, if we saw it in Russia. We would regard it as purest totalitarianism, but that’s what we’re living in
PILGER: How powerful are these terms of the state? I mean, we’ve used these terms, here and in the United States, ‘extremist’ and ‘moderate’.
PILGER: They crop up on the news regularly. And in the same way that people can be tagged, so nations can be tagged, so movements can be tagged.
CHOMSKY: Sure. Well, here we have to be a little more differentiated. I mean in educated circles what if we were honest we’d call the Commissar class they’re taken very seriously. So for example take the Vietnam case. No-one in the Commissar Class, no journalist, no intellectual, no writer, can simply express the truth that the United States attacked South Vietnam. That’s inexpressible. In fact I’ve been looking at the American press and scholarly literature carefully for thirty years now to see if anybody can say it. If you say it, they don’t understand what you’re talking about. Take say ‘moderate’. That has a very definite meaning
CHOMSKY: Yeh. So for example, in the mid-1930s, Hitler was a ‘moderate’. He was described as a ‘moderate’.
PILGER: Who described him as that?
CHOMSKY: The American government! Er he was both in the internal government documents, even publicly. He was described as a moderate standing between the extremists of the right and left, and therefore we had to support him. Mussolini was a moderate. Saddam Hussein was a moderate! In the mid-19 to late-1980s in the news you know he was described as a moderate contributing stability. General Suharto of Indonesia is described in the press regularly – in 1965, when he came into power, slaughtering maybe 700,000 people, the New York Times, and other journals, described him as ‘the leader of the Indonesian moderates’. Today, the London ‘Economist’ describes him as at heart benign. This is a mass murderer, on the style of Saddam Hussein
PILGER: And yet you’re often described as an extremist
CHOMSKY: Sure. I am an extremist. Because a ‘moderate’ is anyone who supports western power, and an extremist is anyone who objects to them
PILGER: Now you’ve had some quite spectacular rows | Arthur Schlesinger accused you of betraying the intellectual tradition | Er
CHOMSKY: I agree with him
PILGER: You agree with him?
CHOMSKY: The intellectual tradition is one of servility to power and if I didn’t betray it I’d be ashamed of myself
PILGER: Of course around this time you’d accused Schlesinger and others of being what you called ‘a secular priesthood’
CHOMSKY: Well, let’s take Schlesinger. This was.. sorry..
PILGER: I was going to say a ‘secular priesthood’ because you were identifying a whole class. You were saying the liberal intelligentsia of America are in bed with the US government in some of its more vicious policies around, as they applied around the world. Quite an accusation
CHOMSKY: I should say.. Well, yeh. I tried to document it. In fact I’ve written thousands of pages of documentation when I think they show the point. Actually, the term ‘secular priesthood’ I borrowed er from Isaiah Berlin, who applied it to the Russian Commissar class. And I think it’s correct, they’re a secular priesthood, and we have one too, namely the educated sector, typically
PILGER: Can I just interrupt there a second. Do you use the term ‘Commissar’, ‘Secular priesthood borrowed from the Russian experience’, and ‘Stalinist’ when you describe the Western system
PILGER: Do you do that to infuriate them?
CHOMSKY: No, I do it to be accurate. Er I think that the term Commissar is a useful one. There is the dominance in virtually any country you look at, the respected and respectable intellectuals are those who serve external power. We may honour the Soviet dissidents, but internally they were not honoured, they were reviled. Er the people who were honoured were the Commissars. And this appears all the way back in history. Let’s take the Bible. The people who were honoured in the Bible were the false prophets. It was the ones we call the prophets who were jailed and driven into the desert and so on. Er that’s typical and entirely understandable. We should have the honesty to look at ourselves by the standards we quite easily apply to others. So if say a British intellectual writes apologetics, vulgar apologetics, for US government atrocities, that’s no different than if an American intellectual were involved in apologetics for Stalin. And it happens all the time.
PILGER: Your books are almost never reviewed in the US mainstream press, and they almost never ask for you to write for them. Do you think that in establishment circles they’ve now succeeded in making you a kind of non-person?
CHOMSKY: Well, take say the city where I live, Boston, which is as I say a very liberal city. Er the main newspaper in Boston is the Boston Globe, which is probably the most liberal newspaper in the United States, it caters to the Cambridge intellectuals, that sort of thing. I have many friends at the Globe, up to the editorial level, close personal friends. They not only can’t review my books, they can’t list them in a listing of books by local authors.
PILGER: Have you ever protested this?
CHOMSKY: No. I think it’s quite amusing. In fact the er book review editor of the Boston Globe was interviewed once by Publisher’s Weekly about this and er she said that not only would none of my books ever be reviewed, but she said no book by Southend Press, the local collective
CHOMSKY: No book of theirs would ever be reviewed as long as they were publishing anything of mine
PILGER: She obviously takes er takes personally being called a Commissar!
CHOMSKY: Well, I think it’s an amusing example of the fear of the er er doctrinal managers that there might be even the slightest departure from orthodoxy. There’s a real totalitarian mentality. Even a slight departure from orthodoxy is extremely threatening.
PILGER: What does it mean to you to be called a dissident in the United States? ’cause we talk when we think of dissidents, we think of the Soviet dissidents
CHOMSKY: Well, you know, I mean it’s not a, it’s not mechanical, but it’s a safe guess that anyone who’s called a dissident in their own society is probably an honest person. There are things an honest person ought to be objecting to. Most people won’t do it. They support them, or they join in carrying them out. There’ll always be a scattering of people who try to point them out, and tell others, help other people object to them, and naturally they’re going to be reviled, what else.
PILGER: So the American establishment is your principal target. You often refer to the ‘dark side of America’. But at the same time, you acknowledge that America is probably the freest society in history. Isn’t there a fundamental contradiction there?
CHOMSKY: No. No. I mean life is a complicated thing. United States is, in fact, I think, the freest society in the world. The level of protection for freedom of speech in the United States I think has no parallel elsewhere. Er this is not a gift, it’s not because it was written in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers were aware of this. James Madison once pointed out that a ‘parchment barrier’, something you write on paper, will never protect freedom. Freedom will be protected by struggle.
PILGER: Let’s talk about today. What do you mean when you say that the media ‘Manufactures Consent’ in a in a manifestly free society?
CHOMSKY: Mm once again I borrowed the phrase, actually it was a joint book with Edward Herman. We borrowed the phrase from one of, from the leading, the dean of American journalism, and one of the leading progressive intellectuals, Walter Lippmann. Er he wrote back in the 1920s that manufacture of consent is a central part of what he called the ‘art of democracy’. And he had a theory behind it, in what are called progressive democratic essays, and he put it very lucidly, and he expresses the general assumption. The theory is that er it’s a theory that goes back to the founding fathers, and in fact back to British liberalism in the 17th century. Er the theory is that the general public are what he called the ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders’. They are a ‘bewildered herd’ and he said ‘we’, meaning what he called the responsible men, the small group who have to | do things, make decisions, run things, ‘we’ have to protect ourselves from the trampling and rage of the bewildered herd. We have to make sure that those ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders’ stay outside. And he developed the conception of democracy, which is the one we have, er the public are, function, they are to be spectators, not participants. Now, since it’s a democracy, they are permitted occasionally to lend their weight to one or another member of the responsible classes, and that’s called an election. And then they’re supposed to go home and attend to their own affairs, because what, how things are run is none of their business. Now, he also understood that you cannot do it by force. The country is too free, it’s no longer possible to do it by force, so therefore you have to manufacture consent, control opinions.
PILGER: As I understand it, I mean, what you’re saying is that while literal censorship doesn’t exist, in the United States and I presume other democracies, that thought control, brainwashing, is a flourishing industry
CHOMSKY: I think the two facts are correlated. I mean, as the state, the capacity of the state to control by force, as that declines, other means have to be picked up to compensate for it, and as I, and er indoctrination is the obvious means. And, as I say, this is entirely self-conscious. [sic; not, for example, ‘unconscious’]
PILGER: It can’t be compared, for example, with anything that went on in the Communist world? You’re not suggesting that?
CHOMSKY: Not at all. In fact there are radical differences. And the differences are quite complex again. Life is never simple.
PILGER: Let’s talk a little about the Gulf War. Because that was very much a media war. How does that fit into your description of, You’ve described three types of bloodbaths. I think benign bloodbath, er constructive bloodbath, and nefarious bloodbath.
CHOMSKY: That was a constructive bloodbath
PILGER: That was a constructive bloodbath?
CHOMSKY: Yeh. It was done for a power purpose. For achieving, it was like Suharto’s massacres in Indonesia, which er elicited enormous euphoria in the west. And similarly the bloodbath in Iraq elicited not only euphoria but a tremendous amount of jingoism. It was very striking in England to see the revival of the kind of old jingoist currents. Here we were finally, to quote Lloyd George, we were bombing the niggers again, the way we were supposed to do. And there was a lot of pleasure about that. The Gulf War was particularly pleasurable to elite groups because there was a guarantee that they weren’t gonna shoot back. It wasn’t a war. A war is something where two sides shoot at each other. This was just a slaughter. Er and it achieved power ends. Now, it was interesting to look at the public attitude toward it. Er the place to look is just prior to the actual fighting, like prior to January 15th when the bombing began. There was a period from August till January where a decision had to be made as to how to respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. And the right decision is to reverse it. But the question is how? Now, in a democratic society, if such a thing existed, there would, when the executive decides to use force, that’s a strong move. Er it has to give a justification. It has to show that force, quick use of force, is the proper means, and there should be discussion about that. Reasons should be presented, a debate should be presented, and so on. What’s striking about this case is that no reason was ever presented. Now the public, up until the bombing started, by about two to one, was in favour of a negotiated settlement, which would include Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait in the context of discussion of regional issues. The people who said that, took that position, did not know that Iraq had offered that, and that high US officials had announced that Iraq had offered it, and the US had rejected it. There had never been any discussion of it in the media. Each person who took that position thought I must be the only person who thinks this.
PILGER: Mm. The last time I saw you speak, in south London, you | defended, very vigorously, the right of a man to have his say, a heckler, and he happened to be a man of neo-Fascist views. Does that right of free expression in your view extend to everybody?
CHOMSKY: I mean if we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
PILGER: Let me take another example. Er recently Moslem extremists, in the last few years Moslem extremists in this country were actually allowed to er call for the death of Salman Rushdie. Would you support their right to speak in that way?
CHOMSKY: To speak, yes, but I think the Bentham standard is the one that should be observed. If, if suppose two people walk into a store, suppose you and I walk into a store and you have a gun, and er I tell you shoot, shoot the store-owner. Well, that’s speech, but it’s not protected, because that’s speech which is part of a violent act.
PILGER: But shouldn’t that be, as in the case of a racist being allowed to speak, shouldn’t that be simply and indeed it is in this country, illegal? I mean it’s incitement to murder
CHOMSKY: You have to ask whether it’s incitement to imminent violent action. Now, you know, there’s no precise litmus test that tells you where to draw the line. But freedom of speech is an important enough value so that you need an extraordinary argument to over come it, and I think, there are such cases, I gave one, for example somebody who says ‘shoot’ when someone else has a gun, OK that’s crossing the line, but I don’t think there are many cases that cross the line. And in fact er it was kind of interesting to watch the British reaction to the Rushdie case. Er for example it went to the courts, and er er the courts ruled I don’t remember the exact wording that the er that the Islamic Community brought it to the court saying that Rushdie should be regarded as subject to the equivalent of seditious libel, then the courts ruled that if he had criticised the Queen and the Anglican Church, if he had mocked them, then he would be subjected to penalty, but it was only Islam
PILGER: Yes, it was selective. But that still doesn’t detract from the fact that the the principal person burning Rushdie’s books and organizing that and calling for his er his death was was inciting to murder
CHOMSKY: Yeh, that’s close
PILGER: You wouldn’t defend his right to do that, would you?
CHOMSKY: I agree, that’s, we’re getting near the border, I mean if we got to the point where somebody said ‘shoot’, and there’s Rushdie standing over there, that’s not protected. Somebody making a speech saying I think I ought to be killed, I don’t think they oughta be stopped from making that speech. Now, you know, exactly how you make these decisions is a subtle matter. But it seems to me protection of the right of freedom of speech is extremely important.
PILGER: Your enemies have a certain value to you? Do you judge perhaps the success of what you’re doing by the er by the intensity of attacks on you?
CHOMSKY: Well, I mean, I would sort of weigh it in the balance. For example, if I started to be praised by establishment sectors I would ask seriously whether I’m not doing something wrong, why are they praising it? However, again, it’s not a litmus test. Er there’s a personal cost of course..
PILGER: There’s something else, isn’t there, because I read that while your colleagues and friends from the 60s, many of them, perhaps most of them, had burned out, you’d kept going, and that inside you felt often an enormous frustration and anger. On the surface you’re a very gentle person..
CHOMSKY: I don’t think you should underestimate the compensations. The country is a very different country than it was thirty years ago. It is a much more civilised country – outside of educated circles, it’s a much more civilised country. Now that’s not because of me. But it’s because of thousands of people doing local organising and actions of various kinds and I can play a role in what they do. Many of those people need someone, groups need someone, to come in and give a talk or do some research or be in a demonstration or something. And there’s tremendous compensation for doing that.
PILGER: Well, assuming history hasn’t ended, where is the next popular movement coming from?
CHOMSKY: Oh, I think there are there are many of them. Take say environmental issues. Er they’re not, they can’t play games with that any more. We’re reaching the point where the question of human survival may be at stake. But there’s a core question which has not been addressed, and that’s the question of power in the state economic [?indecipherable; sounded like ‘cump’] nexus. It’s basically the question of corporate power. We have to revive the understanding of the 18th and 19th century that autocratic control of the economic system is intolerable. There’s a major attack on democracy going on in the worlds, an absolutely major attack. Er decisions about human life are being raised to a level so high that even parliaments are not influencing them. So, there’s a kind of a de facto world government being established, which involves the IMF and the World Bank and the Gatt and the G7, you know the G7 meetings and so on, executive agreements, which are being designed to be insulated from any form of popular pressure. Er they do serve interests. They reflect something real. They reflect the internationalisation of er the economy. They reflect transnational, they reflect the interests of transnational corporations, international banks, and so on. People talk about the end of history, but what they’re seeing is a tremendous attack on democracy and that has to be understood and struggled against. That’s a big problem.
PILGER: Noam Chomsky, thank you.
[Credits roll horizontally, across the bottom of the screen, as the two, now-darkened, figures sit and talk a bit. ‘Chimes of Freedom’ plays; not Bob Dylan’s version]