“Furious charges, stunning irrationality and utter nonsense” Noam Chomsky responds to John Gray’s book review

Noam Chomsky

The Guardian, February 15, 2012

John Gray (Delusions of grandeur, Review, 11 February) writes that “it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that, for Chomsky, America is virtually the sole obstacle to peace in the world”. This and other furious charges (eg that I think the US is uniquely evil, can solve every problem in the world, etc) is based entirely on the fact that the collection of op-eds that he reviews (Making the Future) focuses on US and British policies and commentary, a natural and entirely appropriate concern. The stunning irrationality of his inferences renders comment superfluous.

Gray fulminates that I do not bring up “intractable conflicts” such as Iran-Saudi Arabia. Actually I do, repeatedly. Thus I discuss the standard interpretation that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are calling on the US for defence against Iran, noting that it keeps strictly to the alleged views of the ruling dictators, ignoring the US-run polls that reveal that by overwhelming margins, the public regard the US and Israel as the serious threats, with Iran barely listed. Opposition to US policies is so strong that a large majority feel that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons. It is instructive that Gray cannot even perceive the deep contempt for democracy revealed by these practices.

Gray cites only one of the 29 op-eds, which deals with the fashionable topic of “America’s decline”. But he dismisses this refutation of his major thesis because it “turns out to be largely about the role of money in shaping legislation in Congress, … hardly news”. Towards the end, there are indeed a few sentences about this topic, citing Thomas Ferguson’s discussion in the Financial Times of how congressional practices have so radically changed that those who most fund the party get the posts of influence — surely news.

These comments are a minor part of a review of how “America’s decline” has been largely self-inflicted, much too little discussed when this topic is addressed. The broader context is the decline in American power from 1945, when it reached its peak — to Gray “a characteristically hyperbolic assessment”, in the real world a virtual truism for the reasons discussed — and on to today, when earlier policies remain but the capacity to implement them has sharply declined, again refuting Gray’s wild accusations.

Gray writes that “the US resembles Latin America some decades ago”, a fact I am unable to “comprehend”, mired in my “Americo-centric” delusions; more accurately, because it is utter nonsense. A nuanced interpretation — accurate to my knowledge, and ignored by Gray — is given in the book.

Of particular interest is Gray’s outrage over my critique of mainstream debate over the Iraq war, which, as I pointed out, is similar to Soviet commentary on Afghanistan in the 80s, ranging from support for the noble cause to criticism of the “mistake”, the position Gray advocates. I concede that I do not share his admiration for the commissar culture — implicit, but unmistakable.

Noam Chomsky