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Noam Chomsky on Principles & Values

Political Activist


Great Seal of Massachusetts defined "City on a Hill"

To this day, the US is reverentially admired, at home at least, as "a city on a hill." The inspirational phrase "city on a hill" was coined in 1630, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony's Great Seal. The seal depicts an Indian pleading to the colonists to "Come over and help us." The charter states that conversion of the population is "the principle end of this plantation." The British colonists were the benevolent humanists, responding to the pleas of the miserable natives to be rescued from their bitter pagan fate.

The Great Seal is a graphic presentation of "the idea of America" from its birth. It should appear with Ronald Reagan who blissfully described himself as the leader of a "shining city on the hill" while orchestrating the ghastly crimes of his years in office, leaving not only slaughter and destruction in much of the world but also major threats of nuclear war and terror, and as an extra benefit, a major contribution to global jihadism.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p. 21-22 , Jun 1, 2010

2008: woman & black candidates show US has become civilized

The two candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary were a woman and an African American. That was historic. It would have been unimaginable forty years ago. The fact that the country has become civilized enough to accept this outcome is a considerable tribute to the activism of the 1960s and its aftermath, an observation with lessons for the future. Obama's message of "hope" and "change" offered a virtual blank slate on which supporters could write their wishes.
Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p.209-210 , Jun 1, 2010

Both major parties are well to the right of US population

The word that immediately rolled off every tongue after the presidential election was "historic." And rightly so. A Black family in the White House is truly a momentous event.

There were some surprises. One was that the election was not over after the Democratic convention. One might expect that the opposition party would have a landslide victory during a severe economic crisis, after eight years of disastrous policies on all fronts, with an incumbent so unpopular that his own party had to disavow him, and a dramatic collapse in US standing in world opinion. The Democrats did win, barely. If the financial crisis had been slightly delayed, they might not have.

A good question is why the margin of victory for the opposition party was so small, given the circumstances. One possibility is that neither party reflects public opinion. As many studies show, both parties are well to the right of the population on many major issues, domestic and international.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p.207 , Jun 1, 2010

US freedom & privilege mean we must use power responsibly

I'd like to consider the US role in the world. The most obvious reason is that the US is the most important power in the world. It has overwhelming military force and other forms of power. It has a determinative impact on anything that happens in contemporary world history.

The second reason is, of course, that we're here. We happen to have an unusual degree of freedom in the US, and, for most of us, privilege. That confers enormous responsibility for our own actions, and for our influence on policy. Even if it were not the case that this is by far the most powerful country in the world, that responsibility would or should be of primary concern to us.

Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 45 , May 25, 2002

Elite seek magic keys; underclass works toward solutions

Over the years, I have noticed a very striking difference between talks I give to more elite and less elite audiences. In meetings and discussions with less privileged people, people never ask, What should I do? They say, Here’s what I’m doing. What do you think about it? Maybe they’d like some reaction or suggestions, but they’re already dealing with the problem. They’re not sitting around waiting for a magic answer, which doesn’t exist.

When I speak to elite audiences, I constantly get asked, What’s the solution? If I say obvious thing like Pick your cause and go volunteer for a group that’s working on it, that’s never the answer they want. They want some sort of magic key that will solve everything quickly, overwhelmingly, and effectively. There are no such solutions.

People who are actually engaged in dealing with the problems of life sometimes just give up. You can find that too. But many keep struggling effectively and bring about changes.

Source: The Common Good, interviews by David Barsamian, p.151-52 , Feb 7, 1997

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Page last updated: Mar 15, 2014