On Anarchism (Noam Chomsky): First Impressions of the Penguin Special Edition

Noam Chomsky is the “world’s most important intellectual“, and few who know and understand his philosophy, his Science and/or his socio-economic and geo-political comment71s4zmthzul-_sl1500_ary would argue otherwise. Although that title was given to him by the NYT, in a vain and failed effort at sarcasm, it has stuck and for good reasons. Whether you have read Chomsky or not, whether or not you have heard him speak, chances are you know his name, and you have some idea of what he is about. This, despite the American media’s unabashed attempts at ignoring his very existence. And these are precisely the issues that Chomsky discusses in this volume — intellectual traditions, public consciousness, media, government, power politics, environment, philosophy, theory, oppression, repression, propaganda, and underneath it all, mankind’s instinctive urge to probe, to question, to revolt, and to defy.

In his quintessential fashion, Chomsky remains theory-free in his political discourse, and avoids jargon. His political works have always been cut-n-dry, bare-bones, and deliberately “un-inspirational”, as he consciously chooses to focus on data and analyses instead. This volume, although written in a similar fashion, is at once vastly different. Chomsky, here, reluctantly assumes the mantle of the father of modern anarcho-syndicalism, and takes upon himself the task of explaining to Everyman the centuries old political-humanist-philosophy of anarchism, its genealogies, its history, and its position and role in our society today. Understanding any ancient epistemology is a monumental task, and even more so the task of trying to explain in one book all the relevant underpinnings of such a tradition. Yet, this is the task that Chomsky undertakes in this volume, and in so doing he almost approximates poetry. From Marx and Bakunin, through Humboldt and Kant, right down the Paris Commune and the Spanish Revolution of 1936, Noam Chomsky painstakingly locates, quotes, places in context, deconstructs, elaborates, and simplifies the very truisms and fundamental moral objectivities that form the basis of anarchist thought. Chomsky lets that historical figures do their own talking, as his style, and restricts his own role to that of a commentator. Yet these commentaries are what makes this volume so important — they shed light on the sub-textual, bring to the surface the underlying, and in a stroke of brilliance demarcates the boundaries that separate Marxism, Socialism, Communism and Anarchism.

Chomsky’s deep insight not only elaborates on the philosophical foundations of Anarchism, but places Anarchist thought in its true context, and presents it less as a consciously formulated system of argumentation/political actions, and more as an innate human instinct, a deep-seated evolutionary dis-trust of power, authority, boundaries and control. Chomsky does not approach issues with a fixed political thought (process), precisely what he insists Anarchism is not, but rather with an Anarchist’s instinctive need to question authority — thus arriving, functionally, at the true definition of Anarchism.

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