Since the days of the Vietnam war, Noam Chomsky has been one of the leading figures of the global intelligentsia. Born in 1928 in Philadelphia to two Jewish parents, Chomsky grew up in a very politically active household. His parents and extended family were connected to socialist politics and anarchism. As a result, by the age of 10, Chomsky had already written an essay on the spread of fascism. At the age of 16, while studying philosophy in the University of Pennsylvania, he decided to study linguistics and completed his BA in the field. After that, Chomsky became a fellow at Harvard University and submitted his doctoral dissertation. In 1955, he joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an assistant professor and worked there until his retirement in 2002.
Despite his immense contribution to the field of linguistics, Chomsky has always focused on grassroot activism. He joined the protests against the Vietnam war, refused to pay half of his taxes as that would go to the military and was even arrested for an anti-war procession outside of the Pentagon. This land ed him in the masterlist of the then US president Richard Nixon's political opponents.
The esteemed Institute Professor Emeritus has continued his activist actions like supporting the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement in 2011 and advocating for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. As one of the most influential living scholars, Chomsky's work is crucial for understanding global politics, modern imperialism and society at large. But as his bibliography consists of over 170 publications, it may seem intimidating for newcomers to get into his works. This list will help these readers to get acquainted with his works and find areas of interest for further exploration.
1. Who rules the world? (2016)
One of his recent publications, "Who rules the world?" is a collection of 23 essays that attempt to answer the question posed in the title. This book is comparatively far more accessible for new readers. It let go of his typical rigorously deep analyses in favor of covering a broad range of ideas: wealth disparity in the US to the country's relationship with Iran.
In Chomsky's opinion, the US, even though the de facto world hegemon, has lost some of its power and therefore has to rely on its allies in the G-7 and international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF.
Chomsky also states that the military actions of the Western Powers are not motivated by securing their nation but projecting power and protecting corporate interest. He cites examples of US intervention in Latin America, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Middle East to prove that those wars had little to do with national security and a lot to do with control over the world and its own populace. Its contemporary and relevant nature and accessibility makes it perfect for readers unfamiliar with Chomsky.
2. On Anarchism (2005)
Despite being a socialist, Chomsky has vehemently denounced the authoritarian tendencies found in many leftist circles. From a very young age, Chomsky has been a supporter of anarchism: the belief that abolishment of all hierarchical organizations, including the state, will result in a voluntary, cooperative and inclusive society which will be beneficial for all.
"On Anarchism" not only provides a crash course into anarchist philosophy but also provides its readers with a glimpse of Chomsky's values and thought processes. It showcases his linguistic expertise when Chomsky connects the very concept of freedom to the usage of language. But in this piece, Chomsky mainly dismantles the authoritarian ideologies taught to us. He also advocates for "anarcho-syndicalism" where people will be governed by themselves through direct democratic process. Compared to most of his writings, "On Anarchism" is far more personal and auto-biographical, referencing his childhood and upbringing in many instances and giving new readers the opportunity to learn more about the author and his beliefs.
3. Hegemony or Survival (2003)
Like many of his works, "Hegemony or Survival" revolves around Chomsky's scathing remarks about the foreign policy of the US. In the nine chapters of this book, Chomsky attempts to dismantle and showcase various parts of the "Imperial grand strategy" adopted by the US. He argues that since WW2, the US has adopted the aforementioned strategy to hold on to global dominance and to secure the interest of big businesses. He draws the attention of his readers to the blatant hypocrisy of Western powers and shows that these countries are not bothered with protecting democracy or human rights in the slightest, but only motivated by the accumulation of resources and influence. He applies this argument in the context of various countries like: Kosovo, Cuba, Nicaragua, Palestine and Israel. Chomsky also does not shy away from criticizing the "War on Terror", which was still very popular in the US at that time. The book provides a rock solid understand ing of geo-politics in the first years of the twenty-first century which still shapes our world.
4. On Palestine with Ilan Pappe (2015)
Written in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war by two Jewish scholars, "On Palestine" definitively proves that Judaism and Zionism are two completely different ideologies. This collection of interviews discusses the history of the conflict, the financial and diplomatic support of Israel by the US and the inaction of the UN, the EU and other humanitarian organizations. But more crucially, both scholars try to provide a solution to the ongoing conflict in the region. They also outline the role of both states, their populace and the international community for achieving peace. But Pappe and Chomsky do not agree on everything and their diversity of opinion gives the readers plenty of space to think for themselves about this long winded conflict.
5. Manufacturing Consent with Edward Herman (1988)
Even though it may be a bit too dense for laymen like us, "Manufacturing Consent" is definitively the most influential book Noam Chomsky has written so far. The authors primarily focus on the "Propagand a model of communication" that is being developed to this day. In this book, Chomsky and Herman completely rejects the idea that media is free and acts as a legitimate check against the government. Instead, media only exists for two purposes: generating profit for their owners and breeding compliance among the populace. Even when the media criticizes the government, it usually paints a benevolent picture: replacing the malfeasance of the authorities to mere incompetence. It also introduced the idea that we are now all too familiar with, that the media does not sell us their products, but sells us as the product to their advertisers. This revolutionary outlook has fundamentally shaped media communication and the very world we inhabit.
As he is the most cited living author in the world, it is needless to state that Chomsky's works have been crucial in the academic circles. But as one of the great communicators and public intellectuals of our age, familiarity with his thought will no doubt provide us the ability to think critically about the society and socio-political systems that surround us and shape our world.