Chomsky: Scholar or Sap?

, Peter Seabrook, Leave a comment

When the scholars you look up to need to do some remedial thinking, you may need to look elsewhere for your mentors.

In a recent speech, Dan Flynn, author of the forthcoming Intellectual Morons, pointed to Professor Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an example of a wayward sage. “His shadow really looms large over our time. People like Chomsky have a huge influence because they drive the culture, and in turn the culture drives politics, and in a lot of ways, people like Chomsky are more powerful than the people that work in this [Congressional Office] building.”

Flynn noted “at least one survey says he is the most widely cited academic that is currently alive today. . . it says a lot about higher education and academia that he would be, at least within the humanities and the social sciences . . . the top guy. He has more scholarly citations than anyone else.”

Speaking to a packed room at Accuracy in Academia’s summer Capitol Hill Conference, Flynn described Chomsky’s “connect-the-dots, conspiracy-minded” thinking. “Chomsky has really instilled sort of a reflexive anti-Americanism on the Left, the kind of anti-Americanism that responds to any event, whether it’s a Third World death, or AIDS in Africa, or some sort of environmental catastrophe halfway around the world, the sort of stock answer is always ‘It’s America’s fault! Blame America!’ You heard that from Chomsky after 9/11 when he would say things like ‘You know, 9/11 was terrible, but. . .’ and then cite a whole list of sort of grievances, real or imagined, against this country.”

“I would guess that Noam Chomsky probably has a higher I.Q. than anyone in this room,” Flynn continued, “I would also guess that he is wrong probably more than everyone in this room.” The source of Chomsky’s errors was his decision to “[let] his ideology rather than his brain do his thinking.” Chomsky is one of “the people who rely on theory, rather than facts, to guide them, and you’re gonna get lost if you do that.”

Flynn cited Chomsky’s denial of Pol Pot’s massacres in Cambodia in a 1977 article he wrote for The Nation and a 1992 pamphlet Chomsky released claiming “that the postwar world was entirely constructed by a conspiracy between State Department officials here in the U.S. and ex-Nazi army officers” as examples. Chomsky’s followers “went in for it. Didn’t matter if it was true or false,” Flynn said. Chomsky was “factually incorrect, politically correct.”

To the college students in the crowd, Flynn advised “You’re not going to get a rebuttal to the Noam Chomskys of the world from your professors [or] from your textbooks. If it comes from anyone, it’s going to come from you.” He quoted C.S. Lewis: “‘If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road. And in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.’”

“For the true believer, ideology is like the Rosetta Stone of everything. . . . Ideology acts as a mental straitjacket; it blinds adherence to reality, it justifies dishonesty, and it breeds fanaticism,” Flynn contended, making a more general argument for common sense and individual thinking.

In Flynn’s words, an example of “ideology” would be “a theory spun out of someone’s head that has not been tested or has not been tested sufficiently” with a very broad scope, possibly “seek[ing] to explain all of history, as Marxism does.” A “principle would be something like a tried-and-true idea, a rule;” Flynn cited the Golden Rule and the idea that “government gets its just powers from the consent of the governed” as examples of principle—more like helpful guidelines than the outright commands of an ideology.

“To succumb to ideology is to sort of put your brain on autopilot, it’s to not think, it’s to sort of rely on theory to inform your reaction to people, ideas, events, to dictate your views.” Flynn, author of Why the Left Hates America, recounted a trip he had taken to the University of California-Berkeley to give a speech. “Before I even got to the podium, there was an orchestrated campaign to shout me down.” The interruptions proved successful in cutting Flynn’s speech short, but the protestors pressed their point further.

“They grabbed a bunch of my writings and they had a Nazi-style book-burning. And this is at Berkeley, home of the free-speech movement of the 1960s, having a book-burning,” Flynn observed. Exploring the reasons for such behavior, he pointed out that “they’re used to sort of thinking within an echo chamber on the campuses . . . it’s just other people agreeing with them . . . and when they’re confronted with someone putting forth ideas that they’re not used to hearing, that’s when their mental circuits start going haywire.”

A rising sophomore at Kenyon College, Peter Seabrook is an intern at Accuracy in Academia.