Hegemony isn’t a word I like

The leadership of the ALP is up for grabs, so why don’t I write about a complete irrelevancy? From the same Tim Blair column that Ken Parish links to below:


Anyone who picks up Noam Chomsky’s latest book probably deserves to have their hands removed. But, since we’re still months away from instituting fundamentalist Blairia Law, those grabbing a copy of Hegemony or Survival will notice this throbbing praise for Noam on the cover, credited to The New York Times: “Arguably the most important intellectual alive.” Trouble is, the quote has been abbreviated. The full line, as uncovered by excellent left-wing British writer Oliver Kamm, is: “Arguably the most important intellectual alive, how can he write such nonsense about international affairs and foreign policy?”

Where was this “uncovered”? Oliver Kamm cites Terrorizing the Neighbourhood, that is, a book by Noam Chomsky. So while you can be appalled at the gall of Chomsky for continuing to pimp this quote context-free, still it remains that neither Blair nor Kamm nor myself would’ve come across it if Chomsky hadn’t been at least somewhat honest.



Indeed, Chomsky is not exactly shy about the full New York Times quote. I first came across it in Manufacturing Consent [the movie]:


…the line about the “arguably the most important intellectual” in the world and so on comes from a publisher’s blurb. And you always got to watch those things…because if you go back to the original you’ll find that that sentence is actually there — this is in The New York Times — but the next sentence is: “Since that’s the case, how can he write such terrible things about American foreign policy?” And they never quote that part. But in fact if it wasn’t for that second sentence I would begin to think that I’m doing something wrong. And I’m not joking about that. It’s true that the emperor doesn’t have any clothes, but the emperor doesn’t like to be told it, and the emperor’s lapdogs like The New York Times are not going to enjoy the experience if you do.

Putting to one side the talk of imperial canines, what is clear is that Chomsky is actually proud of the full quote. A badge of honour, if you will. Furthermore, careful readers will notice that the quote has changed. No longer is Chomsky writing “nonsense” about “international affairs”; he’s evolved to “terrible things” on the topic of “American foreign policy”. So which is the actual New York Times quote? Neither, as it turns out.


If we assume that the New York Times hasn’t twice described Chomsky in such a book-cover baiting way, then this is the quote that Chomsky is doing such a poor job of paraphrasing:


Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today. He is also a disturbingly divided intellectual. On the one hand there is a large body of revolutionary and highly technical linguistic scholarship, much of it too difficult for anyone but the professional linguist or philosopher; on the other, an equally substantial body of political writings, accessible to any literate person but often maddeningly simple-minded. The ‘Chomsky problem’ is to explain how these two fit together.

So the actual quote is rather more flattering than Chomsky’s paraphrase of it. This should surprise no one, given the lapdogs-of-empire talk and the fact that Chomsky hates the New York Times with only marginally less fervour than Ann Coulter.


What does surprise is the reaction of Andrew Sullivan, Tim Blair, Imre Salusinszky etc. They’ve been known to accuse Noam Chomsky of every form of intellectual dishonesty imaginable, yet when they came across Oliver Kamm’s uncovering, all of a sudden their critical faculties vanished. So there you have it: they’ll believe anything Noam Chomsky tells them, so long as it conforms to their worldview.


Wait, that’s not surprising at all.

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34 Responses to Hegemony isn’t a word I like

  1. murph says:

    A coyote howls in the distance, his voice echoing between the walls of the abandoned buildings. The wind picks up just enough to roll the tumbleweeds a few yards down the dusty main street…

  2. Michael says:

    “A coyote howls in the distance, his voice echoing between the walls of the abandoned buildings. The wind picks up just enough to roll the tumbleweeds a few yards down the dusty main street…”

    lol…
    In a little town called Chomsky’s Reach?

  3. Graham says:

    Never mind that, this is the bit that has me scratching my head here: “The full line, as uncovered by excellent left-wing British writer Oliver Kamm,”

    “excellent”? “left-wing”?

    What are these terms doing next to each other in a Tim Blurgh column?

  4. roop says:

    just reading kamm’s blog now, and i’d say that left-wing is a bit of a stretch, and “excellent” is just silly. but that’s just my opinion.

  5. Niall says:

    Merely more ‘left-v-right’ drivel from the vacant space Blair used to keep his greymatter in. Like so many so-called journalists in this country, who could become something and someone of note if they indulged in real journalism, Blair can’t drag himself out of the same gutter he’s been in for years. Name-calling and ideological assassination seems to be the grist of the Australian journalistic mill. It’s all just so much ‘ho-hum’

  6. W says:

    Roop, more with the Imre as Bunyip bull. Do you write it cos you’re an idiot who doesn’t know it’s wrong? Or do you write cos you know it’s wrong but you’re an idiot who thinks it’s funny to write it?
    Urgh. Either way, eh?

  7. mgl says:

    “just reading kamm’s blog” now, roop? For the first time? Really?

    Seems to me you had a few comments on it last week (overusing the word “jeebus” again, as I recall), before Kamm took down comments on his blog.

    Minor gotcha, I know. Inconsequential, really. But still fun.

  8. Nice own goal there mgl – there’s nothing outside your own personal reading of roop’s remark of kamm’s blog to indicate that roop was claiming to have lost his Kamm virginity.

    Minor gotcha, I know. Inconsequential, really. But still fun.

    And why so much fuss over what Chomsky’s publisher’s Sales and Marketing people do with NYT copy when they’re blurbing his books anyway? It’s just free enterprise at work.

  9. cs says:

    Good one roop … windschuttling the windschuttles!

  10. Craig G. says:

    A plague on all your houses I say.

    My initial attraction to blogs was their apparent independence of thought and ability to think outside the square / ideological straitjacket.

    Somedays, regrettably, the blogs are merely shadows of a Piers Akerman v Mike Carlton, Mike Carlton v Piers Akerman tit for tat feud which is about as intellectually engrossing and relevant as that between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Or Kelly Osborne and Christine Aguilera.

  11. Geoff Honnor says:

    “A plague on all your houses I say.”

    Craig, I can only admire your continued clear resolve to avidly peruse Troppo.

  12. Mork says:

    Nice scoop, Roop!

  13. ChrisV says:

    Oliver Kamm is a self-described left-winger, but if you ask me he’s more of a neocon.

  14. roop says:

    Roop, more with the Imre as Bunyip bull. Do you write it cos you’re an idiot who doesn’t know it’s wrong? Or do you write cos you know it’s wrong but you’re an idiot who thinks it’s funny to write it?
    Urgh. Either way, eh?

    actually it was only the latter, since you ask.

  15. roop says:

    Seems to me you had a few comments on it last week (overusing the word “jeebus” again, as I recall), before Kamm took down comments on his blog.

    jeebus, he’s right. those comments have gone. how strange.

  16. Graham says:

    As I recall, weblogs weren’t doing the tit-for-tat thing when I started mine.

  17. mark says:

    Niall, before Blair found a willing Movable Type-using host, he was using Blogger, not Grey Matter.

    Graham, nor mine. At least, not according to this column I read saying “real ‘blogs didn’t start ’till after Sep11” (cough choke splutter). It was in the (electronic) paper, so it must be true.

  18. Robert says:

    Mark, you’re too geeky by half. Niall was referring to the pre-blogging definition of grey matter — the brain.

  19. Edgar Allan Po-faced says:

    Tim doesn’t seem to have run a correction online… maybe The Bulletin will run (another) correction to his column in its print edition.

  20. Geoff Honnor says:

    The Chomsky take on what the NYT published:

    “..the line about the “arguably the most important intellectual” in the world and so on comes from a publisher’s blurb. And you always got to watch those things…because if you go back to the original you’ll find that that sentence is actually there — this is in The New York Times — but the next sentence is: “Since that’s the case, how can he write such terrible things about American foreign policy?” And they never quote that part. But in fact if it wasn’t for that second sentence I would begin to think that I’m doing something wrong. And I’m not joking about that. It’s true that the emperor doesn’t have any clothes, but the emperor doesn’t like to be told it, and the emperor’s lapdogs like The New York Times are not going to enjoy the experience if you do.”

    What the NYT actually published:

    “Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today. He is also a disturbingly divided intellectual. On the one hand there is a large body of revolutionary and highly technical linguistic scholarship, much of it too difficult for anyone but the professional linguist or philosopher; on the other, an equally substantial body of political writings, accessible to any literate person but often maddeningly simple-minded. The ‘Chomsky problem’ is to explain how these two fit together.”

    In other words in his own discipline – Linguistics – he’s brilliant. On politics and, by extension, foreign policy) he’s crap (which is basically the paraphrasing/intent/interpretation that Chomsky himself applies to it).

    So, what was the issue again? :)

  21. Murph says:

    Geoff! You little beauty! That should shut the pie holes down at the Gnome Chimpsky fan club for a while.

  22. Edgar Allan Po-faced says:

    Eh? Blair consistently bangs on about slack misquotation; surely the issue is his petard, not Chomsky’s.

  23. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Eh? Blair consistently bangs on about slack misquotation; surely the issue is his petard, not Chomsky’s.”

    Ed, you’ll be delighted to hear that no-one is actually “right” or “wrong” here – bar devotees of infinite exactitude or those attempting to wring a silk purse out of a split hair.

    It’s just that some people have cited Chomsky’s precis of what the NYT wrote, rather than the direct quotation itself. But the meaning is unchanged. Eveyone’s a winner, baby!

    If the aim is simply to “get Blair” then a rather more meaningful casebuild is required. On the other hand, Roop is definitely on to it to have spotted the difference……

  24. more with the Imre as Bunyip bull. Do you write it cos you’re an idiot who doesn’t know it’s wrong?

    I don’t suppose it would be too much to ask you to provide concrete supporting evidence for your claim that Imre and Bunyip aren’t the same? Actually, yes, it probably would. Forget I said anything.

  25. Edgar Allan Po-faced says:

    Geez Geoff, you’ve taken what was a fairly amusing pick-up of Blair’s ironical error and turned it into an inadequately gigantic argument designed to bring down everyone’s favourite weblog-to-print recycler.

    Where’s the chuckles in that?

  26. Edgar Allan Po-faced says:

    Geez Geoff, you’ve taken what was a fairly amusing pick-up of Blair’s ironical error and turned it into an inadequately gigantic argument designed to bring down everyone’s favourite weblog-to-print recycler.

    Where’s the chuckles in that?

  27. Edgar Allan Po-faced says:

    …or, indeed, in double posting?

  28. JML says:

    I find it difficult to buy the “Imre as Bunyip” line, for the reason that Bunyip is a much better writer than Imre.

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