Chomsky and the idea of power, imperialism and globalism

The book Masters of Mankind by Noam Chomsky is a must-read for various reasons. This collection of essays, ranging from 1969 to 2013, highlights the real nature of power as it has evolved during the last 4-5 decades. More importantly, in the book, Chomsky shatters the myths of those who protect the power and privileges “of the few” against the interests and needs “of the many”.

Even before one gets to Chomsky’s views and analyses, there is a rather succinct foreword by Marcus Raskin, the prominent American social critic, political activist, author, and philosopher. Raskin is known for his progressive views on social change in the United States, which seem to align with those of Chomsky on some critical issues.

What sets the tone for the book though is Raskin’s attack on the imperial brand of globalism – not the same as globalization – that emanates from the Pentagon and Wall Street. Raskin says it is basically an example of “oligarchy posing as the spread of democracy”. “Economically, poor nations are treated to a burlesque of Adam Smith’s ideas of a free market while in reality being burdened by colonialism and neocolonialism”, writes Raskin.

Going by this line of argument, globalism, in its present form, appears to be a kind of economic impoverishment through technology and imperialism. Whether we agree with this entirely or not we can find evidence of the same in the context of a much more in the face corporate globalism that we find manifested today.

If the likes of Chomsky and Raskin are to be believed, the humane and political potential of an individual is routinely turned into a bundle of unrequited desires answered only by deplorable working and living conditions

Ehtesham Shahid

If the likes of Chomsky and Raskin are to be believed – and there are compelling reasons to do so – this is where the humane and political potential of an individual is routinely turned into a bundle of unrequited desires answered only by deplorable working and living conditions.

The intellectual and the farmer

In the opening chapter of Masters of Mankind, Chomsky analyses the condition of the postwar Western welfare state. Interestingly, according to him, “the technically trained intelligentsia” also aspires to the positions of control in the emerging state capital societies. “A powerful state is linked in complex ways to a network of corporations that are on their way to becoming international institutions”.

Chomsky gives specific examples of the devastating heritage of the colonial era and quotes the 1967 testimony of USAID Mission in the Philippines to prove his point. This testimony summarizes the plight of agriculture in the country as a “product of studied neglect”.

“The average farmer in Central Luzon makes about 800 pesos from his farming operation. His condition has not changed in the last fifty years. Perhaps even more critical than the actual condition of rural inhabitant…is the ever increasing gap between urban and rural living,” the report, quoted by Chomsky, says.

In an essay written in 2003 – Confronting the Empires – Chomsky takes on the US version of “imperial ambition”. He says that the way to “confront the empire” is to create a different world, one that is not based on violence and subjugation, hate and fear. He mentions Colombia as an example of the collateral damage that this imperial ambition can make. He talks about peasants who were driven from their lands by chemical warfare – called “fumigation” under the pretext of a US-run “drug war” that few take seriously.

Chomsky is indeed among the greatest living public intellectual of our time. He has routinely questioned some of the most conventional wisdom that we have become accustomed to. For instance, perhaps his most engaging arguments are about whether capitalism, in principle, is compatible with democracy.

Masters of Mankind keeps the reader engaged till its concluding passages such as the following. “Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call ‘the rights of nature’, while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.” That surely is one of the fault-lines dividing us around the world.
Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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