The Pathos of Politics (70) Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states. The logic is straightforward: a despotic state can control its domestic enemies by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business. The public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products. ~ Noam Chomsky

American linguist and political commenter Noam Chomsky (1928–) was as cynical about the actuality of modern democracy as Plato was of the ancient variety. At a personal level, Chomsky linked freedom to capitalist success.

Capitalism is basically a system where everything is for sale, and the more money you have, the more you can get. And, in particular, that’s true of freedom. Freedom is one of the commodities that is for sale, and if you are affluent, you can have a lot of it. It shows up in all sorts of ways. It shows up if you get in trouble with the law. For that reason, it makes a lot of sense, if you accept the capitalist system, to try to accumulate property, not just because you want material welfare, but because that guarantees your freedom. It makes it possible for you to amass that commodity. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky saw a natural alliance between the economic and political elite: plutocracy in the guise of democracy.

Personally, I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition.

Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level – there’s a little bargaining, a little give-and-take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward.

Just as I’m opposed to political fascism, I’m opposed to economic fascism. I think that until major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it’s pointless to talk about democracy. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky believed that a wealthy minority controls the key social and political institutions, including mass media and the financial system, in most countries. That control ensures that modern society functions to favor this powerful elite, which endeavors to maintain its privileged position.

The media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly. ~ Noam Chomsky

This concentration of power is structural rather than conspiratorial. A mutually supportive network of institutions strives to maintain status-quo stability.

The public relations industry’s regular task is to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices, thus undermining markets as they are conceptualized in economic theory, but benefiting the masters of the economy. And it recognizes the benefits of undermining democracy in much the same way, creating uninformed voters who make often irrational choices between the factions of the business party that amass sufficient support from concentrated private capital to enter the electoral arena, then to dominate campaign propaganda. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky cynically admired the propaganda that props up the ruling regime in so-called democratic countries.

The point of public relations slogans like “Support Our Troops” is that they don’t mean anything. That’s the whole point of good propaganda.

You want to create a slogan that nobody is going to be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky considered the political machinery of the United States to have converged into a support system for the corporate status quo.

In the past, the United States has sometimes, kind of sardonically, been described as a 1-party state: the business party with 2 factions called Democrats and Republicans.

That’s no longer true. It’s still a 1-party state, the business party. But it only has 1 faction. The faction is moderate Republicans, who are now called Democrats.

There are virtually no moderate Republicans in what’s called the Republican Party, and virtually no liberal Democrats in what’s called the Democratic Party. It’s basically a party of what would be moderate Republicans and similarly, Richard Nixon would be way at the left of the political spectrum today. Eisenhower would be in outer space.

There is still something called the Republican Party, but it long ago abandoned any pretense of being a normal parliamentary party. It’s in lock-step service to the very rich and the corporate sector and has a catechism that everyone has to chant in unison, kind of like the old Communist Party. ~ Noam Chomsky in 2013