American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky has been on the scene for many decades.
Surprisingly, however, many of his key beliefs are still misunderstood and misrepresented.
Here’s what Chomsky actually believes and why.
What are Noam Chomsky’s political views?
Noam Chomsky made a name for himself challenging the status quo of American and global politics.
Since breaking into the public consciousness half a century ago, the now elderly Chomsky has had a commanding presence on the left side of American politics.
Many of his ideas and critiques of the United States have come true in various ways and found expression through the growing populism movement including its leftist variant under Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the right-wing populist campaign of Donald Trump.
Due to his outspoken style and willingness to call out many of the sacred cows of American ideology and lifestyle, Chomsky became quite famous and his ideas had the chance to percolate outside the narrow bubble of academia.
For this, he became something of a hero to the global left, despite the fact that he’s also diverged from the left in various significant ways.
Here’s a look at Chomsky’s key beliefs and what they mean.
Chomsky’s signature political belief is anarcho-syndicalism which basically means libertarian socialism.
This is essentially a system in which individual rights and freedoms would be balanced with a maximally pro-worker and pro-safety net society.
In other words, increased worker rights, universal healthcare, and socialized public systems would be combined with maximal protection of rights of conscience and religious and social freedom.
Anarcho-syndicalism proposes smaller communities living via direct democracy and proportional representation, as encapsulated by libertarian socialist Mikhail Bakunin who said: “Liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”
This is essentially Chomsky’s view, that socialism must be combined with the greatest possible respect for individual rights.
Failure to do so leads down a dark path to Stalinism, which figures such as Chomsky point to as the dark side of socialism which must be avoided.
2) Capitalism is inherently corrupt
Another of Chomsky’s key political beliefs is that capitalism is inherently corrupt.
According to Chomsky, capitalism is the breeding ground of fascism and authoritarianism and will always lead to grievous inequality and oppression.
He says that democracy and personal freedom are ultimately irreconcilable with capitalism as well since he claims that a profit motive and free market will always ultimately destroy rights frameworks and legislative policies or subvert them for their own benefit.
3) Chomsky believes the West is a force for evil in the world
Chomsky’s books have all advanced the belief that the United States and its Anglophone world order including Europe are, in sum, a force for evil in the world.
According to the Boston intellectual, his own nation, as well as their large club of allies, are basically a global mafia which destroy nations who won’t economically comply with their directives.
Despite being Jewish, Chomsky has controversially included Israel in that list of nations whose foreign policy he considers to be a manifestation of Anglo-American power projection.
4) Chomsky strongly supports freedom of speech
Some of the biggest controversies in Chomsky’s public and academic career as an MIT professor have come from his free speech absolutism.
He even famously defended the free speech rights of a French neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier called Robert Faurisson.
Chomsky essentially believes that the antidote to hate speech or lies is truthful speech with a positive intention.
Censorship, by contrast, only encourages bad and misleading ideas to become more taboo and spread more rapidly, partly because human nature assumes something forcibly restricted must have some allure or accuracy to it.
5) Chomsky doesn’t believe most conspiracies
Despite challenging many existing power structures and the capitalist ideology, Chomsky doesn’t believe in most conspiracies.
In fact, he believes that conspiracies are often convoluted and paranoid ways to distract and misdirect people from the basic facts of the world’s power structures.
In other words, he thinks that focusing on secret plots or ETs or hidden gatherings, people should be focusing on how government policy directly aids corporate monopolies, harms the environment or destroys Third World nations.
Chomsky has spoken out forcefully against many conspiracies and also blames the popularity of various conspiracies for the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
6) Chomsky believes American conservatives are worse than Hitler
Chomsky stirred controversy for recent quotes claiming that the American Republican party is worse than Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP; German Nazis).
He made the claims in the context of claiming that the Republican party’s refusal to take global climate change seriously directly imperils all human life on earth, claiming that the Republican party’s policies will end “organized human life on earth.”
According to Chomsky, this makes the Republicans and Donald Trump worse than Hitler, since their policies will supposedly kill all life and the potential of life in the near future.
As you can imagine, these comments brought a lot of consternation and offended many people, including former supporters of Chomsky.
7) Chomsky believes America is semi-fascist
Despite living and building his career in the United States, Chomsky fundamentally believes that the nation’s government is semi-fascist in nature.
Fascism, which is the combination of military, corporate and governmental power into one bundle (as represented by the eagle holding the “fasces”) is indicative of the American and Western models according to Chomsky.
Corporations and governments “manufacture consent” for economic policies, wars, class warfare, and numerous injustices, then take along their chosen victims for a ride, setting them against other pawns as they pursue more control and domination.
According to Chomsky, everything from the war on drugs to prison reform and foreign policy is an incestuous swamp of conflicts of interest and imperialist authoritarians who often like to disguise their crimes and injustices under words like “democracy” and “freedom.”
8) Chomsky claims to be socially libertarian
As Milan Rai wrote in their 1995 book Chomsky’s Politics, there can be no doubt that Chomsky is a major influence both politically and philosophically.
Chomsky’s academic influence has chiefly been through his work in linguistics in claiming that the capacity for language is innate in human beings rather than socially learned or conditioned.
Politically, Chomsky advances the view that questions of social belief and culture should be left to local communities and individuals.
He belies this belief, however, with his frequent condemnatory statements about religious conservatives and socially conservative individuals, making it clear that he regards their traditional views as hateful and unacceptable.
He also advanced beliefs about abortion and other topics which make it clear that he does not regard opposition to abortion as a valid political or social position that should be permitted.
This raises larger questions, of course, about what would be the federal law of the land that he would find acceptable in the context of smaller self-governed communities, particularly relevant in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of the landmark 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade.
Nonetheless, Chomsky’s claimed goal is a society of anarcho-syndicalist structures in which individuals could live in communities as they wish and come and go in a larger structure which permits their freedom of conscience and free speech rights.
9) Chomsky believes even freedom must have hard limits
Despite his persistent championing of freedom of speech and individual rights, Chomsky has made it clear he does sometimes believe in hard limits.
He made this crystal clear in October of 2021 when he made controversial comments about COVID-19 vaccination and those who choose to remain unvaccinated.
According to Chomsky, the unvaccinated are making the pandemic worse and it is justified to socially and politically exclude them in significant ways to pressure them to get the vaccine and make their lives much harder in every way if they do not.
While this upset some of Chomsky’s supporters and other leftists, others felt it was a rational statement that did not necessarily contradict his previous support for individual rights.
Getting Chomsky right
Chomsky’s hard critique of economic exploitation, global inequality, and environmental disregard are sure to strike a chord in many.
His further claim that socialist principles can be fused with a maximal freedom, however, may strike many as also being too good to be true.
The left tends to regard Chomsky with reverence and a solid core of respect for his questioning and critique of Anglo-American power.
Centrists and the corporate left tend to see him as too far left but at least useful in moving the Overton window further away from cultural and political rightism.
The right, including both its libertarian, nationalist and religious-traditional wings tend to see Chomsky as a one-trick pony who gives far too easy a pass to China and Russia while focusing too much on the excesses and abuses of the Anglo-American order.
What’s certain is that Chomsky’s ideas and publications including his landmark 1988 book Manufacturing Consent will continue to be a key part of the cultural and political dialog going forward for centuries to come.