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#1
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Are there many Noam Chomsky fans around? Given that he appears to be essential reading among global academic communities, and was once voted the world's top public intellectual, I thought I'd better try and expand on my limited knowledge of his thought. Can anyone recommend a good place to start with any of his work? I was impressed today by the convincing (yet rather slow) way in which he calmly informs this audience at the University of Dublin that the world as we know it will soon end, due to the iniquities of what he calls 'really existing capitalism':

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g_star_raw_1989
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#2
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#2
I am a fan of Chomsky, I would say youtube videos of his lectures and interviews are a good place to start. The book I most enjoyed from him is ​ 'Manufacturing Consent'.

Depends what you're interested in: his political essays, philosophy or work on linguistics?
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#3
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#3
(Original post by g_star_raw_1989)
I am a fan of Chomsky, I would say youtube videos of his lectures and interviews are a good place to start. The book I most enjoyed from him is ​ 'Manufacturing Consent'.

Depends what you're interested in: his political essays, philosophy or work on linguistics?
Thanks, I've found a few more to watch (I just wish they weren't so long! what with revision and everything...)

Everything really, although less so his linguistics. I would say his politics or more accurately his political philosophy look most interesting. I've previously avoided him because he just seemed like a messiah for the pseudo-intellectual conspiracy theorists (personal experience), the intellectual equivalent of a Che Guevara poster, but having read a few online introductions about his thought on anarchism and having watched some of clips of him in debate it's clear that there's more to him than that.
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g_star_raw_1989
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#4
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(Original post by tjf8)
Thanks, I've found a few more to watch (I just wish they weren't so long! what with revision and everything...)

Everything really, although less so his linguistics. I would say his politics or more accurately his political philosophy look most interesting. I've previously avoided him because he just seemed like a messiah for the pseudo-intellectual conspiracy theorists (personal experience), the intellectual equivalent of a Che Guevara poster, but having read a few online introductions about his thought on anarchism and having watched some of clips of him in debate it's clear that there's more to him than that.
If the videos are an annoyance, I would recommend searching "Chomsky" on the iTunes store podcasts and there are lots of free ones you can download. Perfect for long train journeys.

A lot of people from across the political spectrum have something to say about Chomsky but I find it is best to read/listen to his material and make your own judgement.

Another great starting point would be "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky".
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#5
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(Original post by g_star_raw_1989)
If the videos are an annoyance, I would recommend searching "Chomsky" on the iTunes store podcasts and there are lots of free ones you can download. Perfect for long train journeys.

A lot of people from across the political spectrum have something to say about Chomsky but I find it is best to read/listen to his material and make your own judgement.

Another great starting point would be "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky".
Ah interesting, I'll have a look.

Yeah that's what I thought. I know in America the media are often quite critical of him; I thought he made a good point here about how problematic it is that Americans often have entirely different concepts of terms like 'libertarianism' and 'conservatism' to the rest of the world.
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miser
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#6
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#6
I'm mostly a fan of Chomsky - but more his opinions on politics and global affairs rather than philosophy (though I haven't read any of his philosophy of language work). As mentioned, his most famous work and the best starting point would probably be Manufacturing Consent. He has a very large number of books - my best advice to you would just be to browse Amazon's 'people who bought this also bought' recommendations.
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wilson_smith
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#7
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(Original post by tjf8)
Are there many Noam Chomsky fans around? Given that he appears to be essential reading among global academic communities, and was once voted the world's top public intellectual, I thought I'd better try and expand on my limited knowledge of his thought. Can anyone recommend a good place to start with any of his work? I was impressed today by the convincing (yet rather slow) way in which he calmly informs this audience at the University of Dublin that the world as we know it will soon end, due to the iniquities of what he calls 'really existing capitalism':

As appears to be the case among many people, Chomsky was pretty instrumental in my politicisation - I have great admiration for him, despite, in several respects, growing to disagree with his political philosophy.

While Manufacturing Consent is often cited as Chomsky's magnum opus, I would not recommend it as an introductory platform to his wider work; it's a relatively dry and methodical work documenting media distortion, notwithstanding the brief hypothesis submitted in the early pages concerning how market forces pressure and constrain popular media (which are briefly given five-fold here). If Chomsky's political philosophy interests you, I would point you to four things:

1] Firstly, it is necessary to acknowledge Chomsky's political philosophy flows from, and likely emerged during the cultivation of, his linguistics, which postulates the existence of a human language faculty and a corollary universal grammar - central is his epistemology, which moved against the empiricist dogmatism of behaviourist psychology in the disciplines early history (i.e. which, at its most fantastical, reduced consciousness to the mere aggregation of cognitive inputs; that is, sense experience). Chomsky is an Enlightenment rationalist, he believes that innate faculties of persons give, shape and constrain important elements of knowledge. Where political philosophy is concerned, he predictably submits an essentialist view of human nature; we have an innate capacity and yearning for freedom (as a sphere to exercise ourselves and fulfill our potentialities). That is, we are self-perfecting beings in the Roussean/Kantian sense that we have an innate capacity for reason and freedom which we have not exhausted, and are moved - by some function, even the capacity itself - towards realising that capacity. A couple of things worth reading on this topic are Chomsky's seminal critique of Skinner (the paradigmatic, and highly influential, behaviourist), which was central to the cognitive revolution in psychology in the 1950s-1960s, and this relatively clear overview of Chomsky's epistemology. Of course, Chomsky's rationalism is implicit - and often foundational - throughout many of his works. The most integrated account of the linguistic, rationalist, and anarchistic elements of Chomsky's thought is probably 'Language and Freedom' (it's not published online unfortunately).

2] This lecture is one of the most clear and contextualised substantiations of Chomsky's political philosophy - it draws heavily from several of the 'classical' political philosophers of Western modernity, and in that capacity at least, is insightful in the construction/derivation of Chomsky's own world-view.

3] Chomsky's 'Notes on Anarchism' is probably the most concise explication of Chomsky's anarcho-syndicalism. 'Chomsky on Anarchism' offers a more comprehensive account.

4] The famed Chomsky-Foucault debate is, at the very least, indicative of the limitations of the scope and substance of Chomsky's political philosophy.

It is worth saying that Chomsky has - for a long time - largely removed himself from serious political philosophy to focus on issues of more pressing and consequential importance, namely international relations. He is genuine and heart-feld, and, in this respect, gives attention to subjects in proportion to the degree to which they might relieve human suffering.

Anyway, the basic contours of Chomsky's political philosophy are simple enough: (i) persons have an innate capacity for freedom and creativity; (ii) any social system ought to function to create maximal space for the exercise and furtherance of that freedom and creativity; (iii) anarchism best fulfills (ii).

While Chomsky is broadly an anarcho-syndicalist where it comes to (iii), he nevertheless self-describes himself as a 'fellow traveller', and thus does not offer a comprehensive or ostensibly infallible account of such a system; he believes we should maintain broad anarchistic principles to guide us - through experimentation - to a better world. Probably one of the most interesting aspects of (iii), Chomsky's anarchism, is his commitment to Enlightenment philosophy (including, inter alia, Rousseau, Kant, Schelling, Scottish Enlightenment figures, and - most importantly - Humboldt). He broadly asserts, with particular emphasis on Humboldt, that several of these nominally liberal-orthodox philosophers, who preoccupied their political philosophy with the cultivation and progression of creative human faculties, were somewhat limited by their historical location: pre-capitalist society. For Chomsky, the basic predicates and reasoning of such philosophers, although not acknowledged by them at the time, is manifestly anti-capitalist. That is, capitalism - marked as it is by gross authoritarianism and oppression (i.e. the fragmentation and intensification of labour under strict hierarchies of control) - should commit thinkers like Humboldt to a post-liberal philosophy appropriate to the industrial age. For Chomsky, this philosophy is anarcho-syndicalism.

Briefly, there are - for me - two broad faults within Chomsky: (i) as David Graeber has commented, Anarchism is predominantly an ethical and revolutionary discourse concerning anti-authoritarianism and creativity - Chomsky's political philosophy is strictly anarchistic, with important foundations and elaboration drawn from Enlightenment liberalism. The result is a predominantly ethical view leap-frogging a structural Marxist understanding of capitalism, creating a sort of blunted and half-formed position without the ability to comprehensively critique capitalism beyond basic ethical propositions (which, while true, don't offer the kind of traction that Marxism can); (ii) more seriously, Chomsky's rationalist universal grammar situates him diametrically opposed to the prevailing ascription of primacy to the discursive construction of the subject (i.e. critical theory and so-called post-modernism). That is, in rooting his linguistics in the notion of a universal set of grammatical properties innate within persons and drawing from Enlightenment philosophy in his epistemology and political philosophy, Chomsky has - at least seemingly - precluded himself from admitting the power of language in constructing and constraining reason i.e. he cannot engage with third-wave feminism or far wider questions of identity construction. Pretty sure he implicitly maintains some, frankly untenable, positivist notion of a transcendental reason stemming from innate faculty.
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#8
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(Original post by miser)
I'm mostly a fan of Chomsky - but more his opinions on politics and global affairs rather than philosophy (though I haven't read any of his philosophy of language work). As mentioned, his most famous work and the best starting point would probably be Manufacturing Consent. He has a very large number of books - my best advice to you would just be to browse Amazon's 'people who bought this also bought' recommendations.
Thanks, I'll have a look. I'm quite a bibliophile anyway so I'll probably end up getting as many as I can!

(Original post by wilson_smith)
...
Thanks for the thorough response! It's particularly interesting actually because it seems that your critique of his positions is from quite a left-wing perspective, which is something I don't hold, so I'll be interested to see whether I agree with your points after having done some more reading. It's also of interest that you mention he drew philosophical influence from Enlightenment Liberalism, a school I'm naturally quite inclined towards.

Anarchism is predominantly an ethical and revolutionary discourse concerning anti-authoritarianism and creativity - Chomsky's political philosophy is strictly anarchistic, with important foundations and elaboration drawn from Enlightenment liberalism. The result is a predominantly ethical view leap-frogging a structural Marxist understanding of capitalism, creating a sort of blunted and half-formed position without the ability to comprehensively critique capitalism beyond basic ethical propositions (which, while true, don't offer the kind of traction that Marxism can)
It was my understanding that some of the goals and tenets of Marxism and mainstream Anarchism were fairly similar and compatible. I know Chomsky was influenced to an extent by some Marxists while he was at university, although he never accepted their ideology; do you know of any good sources of him commenting on or critiquing Marxism? Has he perhaps, to your knowledge, acknowledged or challenged the 'half-bakedness' of Anarchist theory in relation to Marxist theory? Ie., does he openly accept that Anarchism might be less thorough in its critique of Capitalism, or is that your analysis?
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wilson_smith
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#9
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#9
(Original post by Plainview)
It was my understanding that some of the goals and tenets of Marxism and mainstream Anarchism were fairly similar and compatible. I know Chomsky was influenced to an extent by some Marxists while he was at university, although he never accepted their ideology; do you know of any good sources of him commenting on or critiquing Marxism? Has he perhaps, to your knowledge, acknowledged or challenged the 'half-bakedness' of Anarchist theory in relation to Marxist theory? Ie., does he openly accept that Anarchism might be less thorough in its critique of Capitalism, or is that your analysis?
Marxism and anarchism contain countless disparate strains, many of which overlap in part, and a few of which overlap to the point of being indistinguishable. In their most common conception, they hold relative normative unity on the end product (i.e. communism), but are diametrically opposed practically on the means of arriving there (i.e. anarchism is resolutely anti-hierarchical, whereas Marxism tends towards authoritarianism). Chomsky almost ubiquitously criticises authoritarianism, though few are directly stated against Marxism (besides 'actually existing socialism' perhaps - there's a YouTube video somewhere of Chomsky levying historical critique of Lenin and Bolshevism). It should be said, Chomsky has become relatively estranged from political philosophy (because he believes both that it's harder to say anything of significance in this field, and relatedly, because his work on international relations can tangibly help people). To your final question: no. Chomsky verges on the anti-intellectual at times, or at least anti-theoretical, he believes theoretically rudimentary truths - such as the basic ethical tenets of anarchism - and basic empirical fact (he's quite the positivist at times) are sufficient for effective anti-capitalism. Sorry for lack of links (and spacing, for that matter), wrote this in a rush.
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wilson_smith
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#10
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#10
Also of note: Young Chomsky > Chomsky today in his late eighties. His cognitive ability and general sharpness have visibly lapsed, though he, of course, remains lucid enough.
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Aspiringlawstudent
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#11
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#11
Can't stand the man.
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username818763
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#12
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#12
Quite fond of him. Have read some of his books and his speeches are certainly thought provoking even if I don't always agree.
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#13
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Amazing man.
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anarchism101
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#14
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#14
Some of his stuff is great, some not so much. His theories of media and culture are great. His international relations stuff is good most of the time. When it gets to domestic and national politics though, not so much; he's far too willing to compromise. For example, he spent four years giving scathing and usually spot on attacks on Obama but come 2012, he's come up with some rationalisation for voting for him again.
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wilson_smith
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#15
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(Original post by anarchism101)
Some of his stuff is great, some not so much. His theories of media and culture are great. His international relations stuff is good most of the time. When it gets to domestic and national politics though, not so much; he's far too willing to compromise. For example, he spent four years giving scathing and usually spot on attacks on Obama but come 2012, he's come up with some rationalisation for voting for him again.
I'm not committing myself to the thought, but its is hardly untenable - or at least not unconventional - to hold that X is bad to the power of 10, but, given the choice of one's coercer between X and Y, when why is bad to the power of 20, to choose X.

He votes for Obama, and encourages others to do so, without pretensions; it's merely an effort to marginally better peoples lives.
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#16
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#16
(Original post by anarchism101)
Some of his stuff is great, some not so much. His theories of media and culture are great. His international relations stuff is good most of the time. When it gets to domestic and national politics though, not so much; he's far too willing to compromise. For example, he spent four years giving scathing and usually spot on attacks on Obama but come 2012, he's come up with some rationalisation for voting for him again.
Well he wasn't exactly going to be voting for Romney now is he.......
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Yael
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#17
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#17
If only he wasn't the traitor of Israel I would be prepared to say I am his fan.
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Duke Mehnard
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#18
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#18
The man is quite an inspiration to me. I disagree with the vast majority of what he has to say, but I also know that is a far more intelligent man than I am commanding a far greater ethos than I do. He inspires me to be better than what I am know and to strive to improve.
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allyewhoenter
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#19
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#19
Bah, he's good at what he knows and terrible at the rest. Also he has all kinds of theory latent behind his empirical research, but then lambastes anyone who tries to write about theory. An excellent linguist though.
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namename
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#20
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#20
(Original post by Plainview)
Are there many Noam Chomsky fans around? Given that he appears to be essential reading among global academic communities, and was once voted the world's top public intellectual, I thought I'd better try and expand on my limited knowledge of his thought. Can anyone recommend a good place to start with any of his work? I was impressed today by the convincing (yet rather slow) way in which he calmly informs this audience at the University of Dublin that the world as we know it will soon end, due to the iniquities of what he calls 'really existing capitalism':
Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar.
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