Chomsky Provokes No Protest

Despite all the handwringing over Phi Psi, the Robert George event, and last semester’s free speech debacles, Noam Chomsky arrived on campus Nov. 12 without a peep of protest from any student groups. The infamous linguist-cum-foreign policy critic delivered his talk to a packed LPAC theater.
No one seemed particularly troubled that this is a man who has equivocated on the evils of Pol Pot, praised China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, suggested Eastern Europe under the USSR was a “paradise,” and collaborated with Holocaust deniers. Instead, the Cooper Foundation, Linguistics Department, Lang Center, and a host of other Swarthmore departments and programs offered Chomsky a warm and weirdly uncontroversial welcome.

Professor of Linguistics, Donna Jo Napoli, who studied under Chomsky at MIT, offered the introduction. Lest any eager Swatties get the wrong idea, Napoli started on an anti-egalitarian note, stipulating that no one was to ask Chomsky to sign any books, though we could attempt to send a prepaid envelope to MIT. She then began by praising Chomsky’s commitment to the scientific method to language. “Simply through rational reasoning, Chomksy arrived at the truth.,” said Napoli. Ironically, Chomsky’s talk had positively nothing to do with linguistics and, breezing through about 70 years of foreign policy conspiracy theories, was quite short on facts. When he took the state, Chomsky called Napoli’s introduction “irrelevant.”

Chomsky explained that his talk would be a critique of “Really Existing Capitalist Democracy,” or rather, America’s “radical kleptocracy.” From here, he commented on just about every leftist cause imaginable: the minimum wage, unions, nationalized healthcare, abolishing standardized tests, and staving off environmental catastrophe.

Chomsky accused the Republican Party of “a neoliberal assault on the population” and said the Party’s “nativist” base is “still fighting the Civil War.” He then drew a comparison between the present day United States and the Weimar Republic.

Chomsky next pivoted to the “dark shadow of nuclear war” and asserted that the idea that “governments exist to protect national security in international relations—that’s a myth.”

“As you all know,” said Chomsky, President Obama’s drone campaign, “is the greatest terrorist campaign in history.” Not to outdo himself, Chomsky asserted that the U.S. retaliation on Osama bin Laden was a violation of the Magna Carta “that could have escalated nuclear war.”

At 7:55pm, Professor Napoli moved toward the podium and urged Chomsky to shorten his remarks. “I’ll cut some stuff,” he responded, before bemoaning America’s absence of a free press and  presenting a disjointed theory that President Kennedy rebuked Nikita Khrushev’s attempts at diplomacy before the Cuban Missile crisis. Chomsky posited that the true reason behind the Missile Crisis was “a terrorist campaign Kennedy was running—Operation Mongoose.”

Without pausing to explain, Chomsky soldiered-on to a critique of Henry Kissinger, 1973-era Israel, and a supposed nuclear war scare in 1983 Russia, without bothering to substantiate any of these episodes with historical facts.

Before wrapping up, Chomsky made sure to defend Iran’s enrichment of uranium. “Of course they have that right,” said Chomsky. Iran is “developing uranium as part of a deterrent strategy against the U.S. and Israel.” Iran’s enrichment is just a “Western obsession,” insisted Chomsky because “[N]onaligned countries vigorously support Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Almost no one regards Iran as a threat besides the U.S. and its allies.”

Encouraged once more to finish his remarks, Chomsky defended China’s actions in the South China Sea and then dourly concluded that, under our current capitalist system, the “prospects of survival are pretty dim.”

Some conservative Swatties, attempting to deduce any thesis in Chomsky’s rant, suggested that a more coherent lecture title would have been “America sucks.” But critics of Chomsky were few and far between. According to the Phoenix, Chomsky’s reception was “extremely enthusiastic.”



  1. I’m really curious to read more of the material which you excerpted in your second paragraph, do you have any sources you could send me?

  2. I will concede the author’s premise that the absense of protest over a visit from Chomsky suggests an inconsistency on the part of the Swat community. However, I also believe that such a protest would only serve to give credibility to a man who is generally understood (outside the bubble, at least) as an unqualified nutter. Most progressives won’t even associate him with their cause because he no longer agitates or provokes, he simply amuses. Chomsky and reality are two ships passing in the night. Swarthmore’s leftist establishment needs no help in discrediting itself when it insists on inviting wing nuts like this to campus. The school is ripe for a conservative renaissance. For now, let Chomsky and his delirious fans run their mouths. They hurt themselves more than any protest could.

  3. No protest? Maybe because you DIDN’T PROTEST! If you have what you see as legitimate problems with a speaker, why were YOU not out there with signs or writing criticisms and calling for protest before he came to campus?
    The reason other speakers get protested is because students care enough to voice their views publicly ahead of time, instead of merely posting cowardly accusations after the fact.

  4. in much the same way that trill means nothing as a descriptor of anything but invokes cool feelings in those saying it and those listening to it being said, independent becomes a meaningless suffix when placed at the end of “swarthmore” while still allowing those writing under the meaningless bannerhead to wriggle with the newfound coolness felt after using what the writer undoubtedly feels to be an edgy or transgressive amount quotation marks

  5. Okay, two things.

    First, and this has been bothering me since the talk, the problem with Chomsky’s example of the Cuban Missile Crisis is NOT what he said about Operation Mongoose. Kennedy and the CIA were indeed running an operation that was attempting to overthrow Castro, which is why he appealed to the Soviets in the first place. That likely DID influence the decision to place missiles in Cuba. The problem was his point that Kennedy categorically refused to remove the Jupiter missiles, which is just blatantly untrue. Kennedy refused to do it publicly, Khrushchev acquiesced, and the US pulled them out secretly. Then they established a direct phone line between them so that it would never happen again. Not that you’re wrong, but don’t call someone out for “[not] bothering to substantiate any of these episodes with historical facts” if you’re not going to do it yourself, especially when a quick Wikipedia search will show you that Operation Mongoose was only example he used that actually supported his (dubious at best) argument. In addition, this “Iran is “developing uranium as part of a deterrent strategy against the U.S. and Israel.”” is probably true. Why pick arguments he was even remotely on the right page about when there were so many more ridiculous ones to choose from?

    Secondly, and this relates to my first point, are you serious with this quote? “But critics of Chomsky were few and far between. According to the Phoenix, Chomsky’s reception was “extremely enthusiastic.”” I have talked to exactly zero people who were happy about his talk. Even my most vocal liberal friends who were looking forward to his talk were disappointed and somewhat taken aback by the both content and the overall logical incoherence. I don’t know who you’re talking to that was happy about the talk once the talk had actually taken place, but from where I’m standing THEY are few and far between, not the critics.

  6. I’m not actually interested in protesting the speakers we bring to campus anyway, so I wouldn’t have protested this either, but for what it’s worth, “extremely enthusiastic” was definitely an overstatement. Plenty of people in my classes found his arguments to be unbased in reality. I don’t know if it was a majority or minority opinion, but you might be reassured to know that there was no clear consensus in support of his ideas (unlike the consensus of economists that think finance is bad for the economy? What? There’s ever been a consensus of economists?)

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