Noam Chomsky's "Failed States" has elicited a perceptive analysis (you will have to read it in its entirety as Jeff Weintraub presented it here
) of the methods by which truths are converted to half-truths, half-truths to lies, and lies are transmuted to truth. Fascists can be given the moral protection of liberalism and Holocaust Denial is made respectable. When George Orwell wrote 1984, he could not imagine the potential of the method in the hands of a master. From Jeff Weintraub's compilation, quoting Peter Beaumont in the Observer:
Reading Failed States, I had an epiphany: that by applying a Chomskian analysis to his own writing, you discover exactly the same subtle textual biases, evasions and elisions of meaning as used by those he calls 'the doctrinal managers' of the 'powerful elites'. The mighty Chomsky, the world's greatest public intellectual, is prone to playing fast and loose.
It is important to recognise this fact because the Chomskian analysis has become the defining dissident voice of the blogosphere and a certain kind of far-left academia. So a sense of its integrity is crucial. It is obsessively well-read, but rather famished in original research, except when it is counting how often the liberal media say this or that in their search for hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden, bias.
Indeed, Chomsky is the master of elision, quite literally. He always has an apposite quote to back his points, from an impeccable source. The "..." in the quote are barely noticed by even the most attentive readers. In this way, for example, Chomsky could make Anthony Lewis of the New York Times write that Yitzhak Rabin wanted a state that was small and poor, while Lewis in fact never wrote any such thing. It would be a fruitful exercise to set a graduate student to comparing Chomskyian quotes to their originals, and document the subtle or not so subtle shifts in meaning that are achieved in this way.
At the same time, Chomsky mastered the art of stating his own views, however, outrageous, so that their meaning is clear and yet he can maintain absolute deniability. Chomsky was a consistent and persistent apologist for the Serbian war criminal regime of Bogdan Milosevic. He also took up the cause of a pro-Nazi Holocaust denier, smothered the murderous regime of Hafez Assad in encomiums and pioneered the idea that anyone who objects to Syrian war mongering and obstructionism (the "refusal front") is a racist. However, it is not surprising that nobody can ever pin him down as really advocating any of the execrable things he advocates. His invariable response will be "I never said that." "Show me where I said that." There are numerous examples in Weintraub's compilation. The precise technique of destructive ambiguation and decontextualization needs to be documented and analyzed in detail.
The propaganda that was churned out in the first half of the twentieth century by the apparatus created by the Great Dictators was crude. It was effective primarily for masses of uneducated people. Pravda and the Volkischer Beobachter were not meant to stand the scrutiny of free academic discourse, and did not have to do so. Chomsky however, perfected the art of disinformation to the point where it allows him to carry any point, however outrageous, and generate a following of earnest intellectuals who are convinced that these grotesque distortions are the true gospel of progressive theology.
The basics of the message of Chomskyism and its variants however, are not different from the basic tenets of the gospel of the comintern: America is responsible for all evil in the world, together with its colonialist imperialist lackeys, the Zionists. This principle, not much different from the rantings of Mahmud Ahmedinejad, is masked in verbal sophistry and conceptual indirection, to the point where its adherents think they have discovered a powerful tool of intellectual analysis.
What is important about Chomskyism however, is not Chomsky himself, but the fact that he has produced a whole new methodology of deception, that will be used by his students and emulators for generations to come. There is no God but Chomsky. Finkelstein is the prophet of Chomsky. Chomsky has shown how, by tweaking the facts ever so slightly, removing a word here and there from a quote, embedding morally outrageous ideas in careful qualifiers and other techniques, one can generate a wholly false version of reality and history, that is difficult to challenge, and turn morality on its head. War criminals and racists like Assad and Milosevic become good guys, and heroes like Yitzhak Rabin and Vaclav Havel are turned into villains.
What makes Chomskyism effective? There are many discernible techniques, some quite legitimate, though beyond a doubt the "will to believe" on the part of the faithful is a big factor. Other important points:
The spearhead of their attack is often based on legitimate issues - The US intervention in Iraq is a disaster, no doubt about that. It is an issue ready-made for Chomsky. You have to agree with him about that central point, and consequently you must be cautious not to be swept along and accept his more dubious contentions. This is an old tactic. In the 1930s and late 1940s, Stalinist propaganda highlighted racial injustice in the United States. They pointed to real injustices, and too many people were trapped into accepting their solutions as well.
They are frightfully well prepared and they marshal the facts - Chomsky and his acolytes can come at you with two dozen facts and quotes before you can say "Joe Stalin." All of these facts and quotes have been specially "dressed" and served up to prove the point. In some cases they might be true, in others not, and in still other cases they contradict facts that Chomsky used previously. When you do follow up the quotes, you find that Anthony Lewis did indeed include the words that Chomsky quotes about Rabin, but that he in fact meant something quite different, a meaning destroyed by omitting crucial text. Or else you find that indeed, Economist published an allegation that the Khmer Rouge genocide never took place, but they only published it as a letter from a reader, not as their opinion. One after another, the "facts" and citations and quotes fade out of reality. However, you get the feeling you would need a team of research slaves to verify each fact and judge its significance. This sort of intellectual "shock and awe" has bested some very good debaters.
They obscure principles by harping on inconsequential flaws in the arguments of opponents. - Norman Finkelstein scored a success with his "Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict," because he did a fair job of discrediting Joan Peters' absurd contention that there were no Arabs in Palestine before the Zionists got here. The book however, is a collection of essays, built around the principle contention that Jews have no right to self determination and that Zionism is somehow evil. Finkelstein have very effectively leveraged on the flaws in one pro-Zionist book in order to advance a totally absurd intellectual position, as though the quality of Joan Peters' scholarship is what determines the Jewish right to a homeland. It is like saying that the US should not be a country because George Washington didn't really chop down the cherry tree when he was a child. The other essays in that book are pedestrian and unconvincing. He somehow tries to show that Israel was at fault for the 6 day war, and that Benny Morris's analysis of the Palestinian refugee problem was incorrect because Morris does not follow the gospel according to Finkelstein. But Finkelstein leveraged a flawed argument to advance his own absurd idea and make it palatable.
Any amateur hate monger can stir up anti-Zionist or anti-American sentiment. That doesn't require a master. However, the proof that Chomskyism is a powerful intellectual technique is that it can convince earnest "progressives" to support Holocaust denial, Serbian racism, denial of the massacres in Cambodia and any number of other outrageous ideas generated by Chomsky and his followers.
Chomsky has a refined and sardonic sense of humor. One is tempted to think that his campaigns are an elaborate practical joke, or an experiment in the art of persuasion. One can imagine the maestro sitting in his office and saying to himself, "What absurd idea can I get the morons to believe today? I know, I'll teach them that rumors about the force of gravity are a capitalist-Zionist plot spread by the CIA."
The power of getting, say, 20 million young minds, to believe that Pohl Pot never existed, or that Hafez Assad was a humanitarian must be enticing to a certain type of personality. Don't be surprised if one day there is an epidemic of Chomskyites trying to fly out of the top floors of University buildings, because Chomsky proved to them that it was possible with a hundred quotes from experts. When confronted with his responsibility for the tragedy, he will say "I never said people could fly. Show me where I said that people could fly."
It is certain that Chomsky has written a few new chapters in the handbook of deception and disinformation, following those written by the Cominform, Dr. Goebbels and Madison Avenue. It is not clear how well his techniques will fare in the hands of lesser practitioners.
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Replies: 5 Comments
It isn't just an issue of what a so-called "serious historian" thought, it is what is actually put out regarding the book (or not put out). That is also revealing in the perpetuating of the fraud. Additionally, when Prof. Finkelstein criticizes other aspects of Israel's history regarding the Palestinians, he uses the works of serious historians including Benny Morris.
To state that his critique of Peters' book "suggests" he references no other sources is nonsense. To dismiss the broad support of the American intellectual community because a claim of ignorance regarding "serious historian(s)" is also ridiculous. Benjamin Netanyahu might not be a "historian", serious or otherwise, yet on his web page, the Peters book is at the top of his Middle East resource links.
[Noam Chomsky -
Excerpted from Understanding Power, The New Press, 2002, pp. 244-248 http://www.chomsky.info/books/power01.htm]
" And it was very popularóit got literally hundreds of rave reviews, and no negative reviews: the Washington Post, the New York Times, everybody was just raving about it. Here was this book which proved that there were really no Palestinians! Of course, the implicit message was, if Israel kicks them all out there's no moral issue, because they're just recent immigrants who came in because the Jews had built up the country. And there was all kinds of demographic analysis in it, and a big professor of demography at the University of Chicago [Philip M. Hauser] authenticated it. That was the big intellectual hit for that year: Saul Bellow, Barbara Tuchman, everybody was talking about it as the greatest thing since chocolate cake."
LanceThruster, Saturday, July 8th
"The reviews the Peters book got initially revealed that quite a few took it seriously. Dr. Finkelstein's critique of it met with such resistance specifically because it embarrassed so many academics."
That's because the book is uneven. Not everything in it is condemnatory.
Her point about the UN having created the Palestinian refugee problem by not insisting on resettling them as they did with other refugees at the time is still valid.
What is suspect in her book is her methodology. But then Norman's methodology is not above suspicion either.
scribe, Tuesday, June 27th
Although it is some time since I read Joan Peter's book, my recollection is not that she claimed there were "no Arabs" living in what became Palestine, rather that there had been significant inward migration into Palestine. She also cited that UNRWA methods had effectively inflated the numbers of Palestinian refugees. I am not aware that anyone has proven that she falsified the British FCO or Ottoman documents that she cited. Thus while her conclusions may have been flawed, there is some evidence to suggest that there are elements of truth in what she claims.
My recollection is that Mr. Chomsky and Finkelstein's attacks upon the book prevented any serious consideration of it.
Rod Davies, Monday, June 26th
The reviews the Peters book got initially revealed that quite a few took it seriously. Dr. Finkelstein's critique of it met with such resistance specifically because it embarrassed so many academics.
LanceThruster, Monday, June 26th
"They obscure principles by harping on inconsequential flaws in the arguments of opponents. - Norman Finkelstein scored a success with his "Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict," because he did a fair job of discrediting Joan Peters' absurd contention that there were no Arabs in Palestine before the Zionists got here."
This is an important point. It also suggests that people like Finkelstein have only this single book on the history of the Jewish State.
It should also be noted that Benny Morris and other Israeli historians have severely critiqued Ms. Peters' book and I don't know of any serious historian who took the book seriously.
jdyer, Monday, June 26th
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