Why is Noam Chomsky quoted so often

(SZ from 10.10.2001) The inventions of the flat file and other organizing conveniences of modern office technology have obviously bypassed the greatest living thought leader of the anti-globalizationists.

Behind the fire door that says "Noam Chomsky", loose papers are piled on the floor and books tumble on top of each other on the shelves, mostly by Chomsky himself, published in English, German and other languages.

It's just like entering a student's office at lunchtime. Only many minutes later, when Noam Chomsky arrives, opens the fire door and shuffles to a back room with a bag full of books, does it become clear that there is help in this office after all. "They still have to go back to the library," says Chomsky politely, and someone replies: Okay.

Cheered like a pop star

Chomsky is not a man of grand gestures. His words are well-chosen and most of the time there is a provocation for the powerful and the rich. But even the sharpest attacks against the American state, against politicians and multinational corporations, he presents as if he were talking about marginal extensions of his linguistic theory.

Chomsky knows that he is weak, but the masses of globalization critics cheer him on like a pop star. And he is quoted more often than any other living humanities scholar. Chomsky's renowned university, the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), recently named him "Citation Champion" because he is now one of the ten most cited sources in human and social sciences, alongside Shakespeare, Marx and the Bible.

Noam Chomsky is now 72 years old. He was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1928, and has a younger brother. Chomsky studied linguistics, mathematics and philosophy in Philadelphia, then moved to Harvard University and put his doctoral examination at the University of Pennsylvania in 1955.

After receiving his doctorate, he taught at MIT and was appointed full professor of linguistics there in 1961 - at the age of only 32.

An outsider at first

At first he was considered an outsider because he attacked the prevailing doctrine at the time, which sees a person's language ability as the result of a pure learning process. Chomsky revolutionized philosophical linguistics with his theory that every human being has the ability to form sentences from birth.

Neil Smith, linguistics professor in London, pays a memorable comparison of Chomsky's work: "He did for the cognitive sciences what Galileo did for physics." Chomsky has published 70 books and well over 1,000 articles alone. The New York Times calls Chomsky "the most important living intellectual of our time".

As a political publicist, Chomsky became known in the 1960s for his criticism of the Vietnam War, since then he has increasingly developed into a critic of the propaganda machine of the media and the overpowering "corporate sector".

Chomsky opposes globalization, which in his eyes only does justice to investors. There is no critical authority, because the media are also companies, says Chomsky, and are closely interwoven with the rest of the corporate sector. The basic evil for him is the abolition of the Bretton Woods system, with which control over the capital markets was given up. "Liberalization of the financial markets and democracy are incompatible," says Chomsky, because it gives corporations power.

"I have nothing against globalization," says Chomsky, "but I question the right of companies to invest where they want. Why don't the workforce have to decide?"

The US as a rogue state

For Chomsky, propaganda is the establishment's most important weapon, and he tries again and again to turn it and turn it against the powerful themselves. Alluding to the US power politics ideology of dividing states into good and rogue states, Chomsky called the United States a "violent, criminal rogue state".

In the Kosovo war he condemned the NATO operation as a "war crime" and commented on the terrorist attacks of September 11th with the controversial remark: "The acts of terrorism were an atrocity, but in their extent they were smaller than many others, for example Clinton's bombing of the Sudan. "

The established American left has since turned away from him. Its central organ, the New York Times, is just as much an instrument for the mighty as Harvard University is. There is a big difference between Harvard and MIT, Chomsky once said: "Harvard trains the people who run the world; MIT the people who make it work. As a result, MIT is much less concerned about ideological control must and leaves more space for independent thinking. "

Progress through protest

Chomsky does not offer a ready-made model of society as an alternative. He is a fan of the Tobin foreign exchange tax, and he advocates the democratization of companies. But he is more concerned with educating people.

"A discussion has to be opened," he says, and he is not thinking of the media, nor of politics, because they are all interwoven with the corporate sector, but of a protest movement "which now includes the majority of the population. Because the majority believe that companies have too much power. " It is not democratically legitimized, says Chomsky. "But social progress has never been possible in any other way."