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Noam Chomsky's latest exposé of the havoc wreaked by corporate greed and imperialist zeal pierces the façade of "free market" capitalism with almost forensic skill.

Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (Hamish Hamilton 2010) 336pp

Chomsky reveals the protean nature of imperialist doctrine from a wealth of academic sources. What emerges is a picture of incredible ideological smoke-and-mirrors from the proponents of neo-liberalism.

One particularly perverse idea that Chomsky dismantles is the concept of "the abuse of reality".

This is the idea that reality is judged by the extent to which the "national purpose" has been achieved- an aim which can only be realised by contemplation of "the evidence of history as our minds reflect it".

Any reliance on the objective historical record (a concept which is itself the source of contempt in post-modern circles which see history as series of competing "narratives") is to be discarded, as merely the "abuse of reality".

It is only those blessed with recourse to a higher national purpose who can judge the righteous aims of "exceptional" states such as America.

Hopes and Prospects takes as its main focus this concept of "American exceptionalism"- a pernicious pseudo-philosophy which grants America exemption from basic moral actions on the grounds that is an exceptional state entity for who the normal rules of international diplomacy don't apply.

Chomsky spends a great deal of the book demonstrating in painstaking detail that there is nothing "exceptional" about America's actions or the idea that it is somehow exempt from standard moral practices.

Indeed, America acts in exactly the same way that all empires act- with the callousness and arrogance of those who feel above the law because they are its ultimate enforcer.

He describes how American military bases have been established across the world in the name of "security" or "stability" but are really just networks of fear and intimidation proliferated in a bid to outdo and suppress all global competition.

He also explains how "American exceptionalism" is extended to the ruthless actions of Israel in its continuing acts of aggression against Palestine and the people of Gaza.

These chapters are some of the most insightful and even-handed in the book. He reports how Hamas repeatedly called for ceasefires and peace talks with Israel and that time and again it was Israel that broke ceasefire and perpetrated gross acts of war upon Palestine.

He dismantles any notion that Israel's actions are in any way acts of "retaliation", however disproportionate, and rightly describes them as acts of aggression and war in defiance of international law.

He explains how America publicly condemns "disproportionate" Israeli acts but never pursues legal action. He describes this as a "nudge and wink" relationship where Israeli leaders know they will get away with the acts that the USA claims to deplore.

Chomsky has some interesting things to say about political economy in a section which details the state's use of centralised planning by the military to achieve the developmental aims which individual capitalists are unable to achieve- such as constructing roads, railways and even the internet; all tasks assigned to the US military at crucial stages of American development.

The chapters of Hopes and Prospects that deal with Obama's presidency make for fascinating reading. He describes Obama as a skilled legal operator with a carefuly refined use of words who walks a tightrope between pleasing the American people and pleasing the corporations who fund political parties and influence both domestic and foreign policy.

He explains how Obama capitulates to the corporations when their interests conflict with those of the American people, which is most of the time.

Obama's controversial healthcare plan started out with a public option but was systematically attacked by the right and gutted of any ability to hold health insurance providers to account or properly regulate the system, let alone reform it.

Obama's election campaign is described as a "blank slate" onto which the hopes of his voters can be mapped but which contain no real content.

Of interest is the fact that public healthcare was massively popular amongst American people in polls with over 70% in favour of it despite concerted efforts by the mainstream media to decry it as a social evil.

Chomsky uses statistical data from polls to reveal that governments are significantly to the right of their populations all across the world and as such Hopes and Prospects is a vital guide to debunking the insidious idea that people get the governments they deserve.

In fact Chomsky reveals how Obama not only maintained the continuity of America's imperial agenda which advanced rapidly through the Reagan and Bush years but that Obama has actually gone a lot further than Bush ever did in escalating war in the Middle East.

It is in describing the actions of imperialist states that Chomsky excels: plainly and even-handedly correcting myths and misrepresentations about international relations with reference to mainstream news publications, academic journals and scholarly works.

He even attempts to reclaim the idea of globalisation from its neo-liberal architects.

Chomsky describes two competing forms of globalisation- the expansion of capital across the globe in the name of the free market and the humanitarian attempt to foster true internationalism, fostering unity between diverse social groups.

He expertly debunks the notion of free markets with rigorous historical examples. His essential argument is that markets can only be "free" once wealth has been appropriated first through imperialist wars.

This merely translates into the freedom of the powerful to exploit the weak first through militaristic, then through economic means.

It is in describing the alternatives to such a seemingly all-pervasive system of expropriation and exploitation that much of the book falls down.

As fascinating as Chomsky's articles are (the book is collated from a string of lectures delivered by the author over a one year period) the fundamental flaw is the lack of any really concrete "hopes and prospects" other than a relatively vague notion that the ideas of various pro-democratic movements such as the "World Social Forum" in South America will somehow take hold and change the balance of power in favour of social justice and economic equality.

He points to the expansion of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a genuine prospect for humanity whilst simultaneously acknowledging that "American exceptionalism" will inevtitably frustrate any possibility of global disarmament.

Chomsky doesn't make it clear how such worthy aims are to be achieved in the face of such blatant obstructionism.

More uplifting is his emphasis of the importance of internal resistance and political activism in Afghanistan, citing the example of Malalai Joya, a politician who went into hiding after defying the repressive political establishment.

Her continuing battle for equality and genuine democracy from within her own country is an inspiring rebuttal of the imbecilic notion that democracy has to be enforced from above by foreign invaders rather the developed from below by the very people who seek emancipation.

But there are not enough examples of concrete political prospects such as the anti-capitalist movement which exploded in Seattle in 1999, democratic revolutionary struggle in Thailand and Nepal, a rising labour movement in China or political resistance to austerity programmes in Europe to create a dynamic picture of the alternatives to global capitalism.

It is true that humanity has great prospects for radical, progressive change but it is not nearly enough to hope that such change will emerge spontaneously from a generalised sense of injustice. For those who wish to change the world it is not enough to merely hope- we have to act.


#1 Haroun Lazim 2010-07-10 04:22
chomsky has always responded to questions on the future with something as close to hesitation as is possible with him. he may point to examples of resistance and positive movements like the above, but always stops short of responding to generalised struggle. i think he's right to do so, not only because the future is necessarily a slippery thing, but because of its infinite complexity. when asked how the world that we radicals want might come about and particularly how we might help that along, he has indicated that the key must simply be to support specific struggles for social justice. its no use harping on in the broadest terms about a future society when trying to connect with people
#2 matt Houlihan 2010-07-10 04:59
I think the point he also makes is that the multiplicity of grassroots demands for independence and democracy require local and internationalist solutions, not a one size fits all formula for confronting the obstructionism of the US empire, after all, every new revolutionary movement is peculiar to the community to which it is born, as evidenced by the many new movements in central and latin america and asia.

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