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Today cognitive scientist, political activist, and the “father of modern linguistics” Noam Chomsky celebrates his 90th year. We jumped at the chance to compile a reading list of his writings, not only because we have published him several times on topics ranging from anarchism to JFK, but also because Chomsky is integral to the history of Boston Review itself.
In our Fall 2011 issue, editors-in-chief Joshua Cohen and Deb Chasman wrote: “When Josh first took on Boston Review in 1991, he was inspired by Chomsky’s important essay, ‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals.’ With no experience in magazine publishing, Josh had a vision that BR could be a place where reasoned argument could be brought to bear on the realities of politics and power, all in service of democracy’s promise.”
Almost thirty years later, we hope you agree that it is—and if so, consider making a donation to our end of year fundraising campaign.
At the height of the Vietnam War, Chomsky penned “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” a stunning rebuke to scholars for their subservience to political power. Today we face a similar array of crises. What are the obligations of contemporary intellectuals?
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“We have two choices: to abandon hope and help ensure that the worst will happen; or to make use of the opportunities that exist and perhaps contribute to a better world. It is not a very difficult choice.”
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“The scale of military spending is phenomenal, regularly increasing. The United States is responsible for almost as much as the rest of the world combined, seven times as much as its nearest rival, China. ”
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“The first question that comes to mind about ‘humanitarian intervention’ is whether the category exists. Are states moral agents? Or were Machiavelli, Adam Smith, and a host of others correct in concluding that they commonly act in the interests of domestic power?”
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“There are useful things to say about universality in language and about universality in human rights, but talking about universality in language andhuman rights raises difficulties.”
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“There is no justification for ‘preventive’ war—the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat—and even the term ‘preventive’ is too charitable.”
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“No one—even JFK himself—could have known how he would react to the radically changed assessments of the military/political situation immediately after his assassination.”
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A recording of a lecture Chomsky gave at MIT in 2013, where he pinpoints his favorite type of anarchism as being “a kind of voluntary socialism or libertarian socialism in the tradition of Bakunin, Kropotkin, and others.”
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