This is a private email correspondence I found on line between Chomsky and a person designated as "K". Chomsky does reply to those that send him personal emails. I think he spends something like 6 hours a day doing this. I think it's an interesting discussion.
This has been absolutely amazing to witness the media's response to Ron Paul's rise in the polls. He is the only one taking your stance on the IAEA report being propaganda. In this article from CBS they even refer to his policy as Chomskyesque. First time I have seen that.
I know his right-wing economic views make him difficult to accept as a leftist but isn't it worth it if he could demilitarize the US? Shouldn't the left and non-interventionists support him as he is being attacked so heavily? This seems like a pivotal moment in history.
C: It’s a judgment call. I agree with some of his views on international affairs, even if sometimes not for his reasons. But it’s hard for me to support a candidate who is committed – whether he knows it or not – to placing our fate in the hands of unconstrained corporate tyranny, to destroying public health and public education, and who describes global warming as the greatest hoax of all time, demonstrating not only a willingness to destroy the possibility of decent life for our descendants but also utter irrationality, since he doesn’t even pretend to provide arguments to counter the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of qualified scientists.
K: In my opinion the only reason he is so credible on foreign policy is because he is a right-winger with these irrational views. It is like only Nixon could go to China. You have been saying these things for years but it hasn't gotten to the mainstream media because the left is perceived as weak if it is dovish in foreign policy. But to have a conservative/libertarian point it out it makes the argument that much more credible. If he was to all of a sudden say that global warming is real, abortion is okay and human evolution is a fact he would lose all credibility in the Republican Party.
Also, in Canada we don't have a federal department of Education, it is delivered by the provinces. Do you think these federal run institutions are necessary or should they be left up to the states to decide?
C: You might be right that he can reach the media in ways that rational people can’t, but that doesn’t make me feel a lot better about it.
In the US, what’s left to the states is commonly far more susceptible to control by concentrated economic power and corruption is more flagrant. In the case of education, elimination of federal mandates would take with it special education, and much else that property owners (who probably send their children to private school) would be unwilling to fund. Actually, education is largely under local control, but the federal government involvement has been generally beneficial.
K: I saw one of your responses where you discussed Ron Paul's vision of health care and I think it is a little more nuanced. He has said that he would not eliminate Medicaid, Medicare or SS because he acknowledges that people have paid into it and have become dependent on it and that he would phase it out over time.
Don't get me wrong I live in Saskatchewan the home of single-payer universal health care and I still believe it is the most efficient way to deliver it but Ron Paul's policies are not as off the wall as you claim.
At the last debate he went on a huge rant about racial discrimination in drug policy and ended off by yelling, "How many rich white people do you see get the electric chair?"
Also, you keep saying it is academic because the business community would never let him get elected but it certainly not helping his case by having you, someone that people trust, say that he is crazy. He is not crazy. He is just extremely anti-collectivist.
Overall, he is a force for Hegelien-scale change and a change for the better and he needs all the help he can get. You yourself said once of religion "that things don't always come in nice little packages". This appears to be one of those cases, no?
C: Not sure what you saw, so can’t comment. I haven’t written anything about Paul, and don’t recall ever having brought him up in talks. When I’m asked questions, I say what I think.
I certainly shouldn’t say that Paul wants to terminate health care and SS immediately. As a believer in contracts, he would naturally want to terminate them only after current contractual obligations are fulfilled – which is just as bad, or maybe worse. He’s been very good on opposing crimes of state, as you say, notably crimes of war; his ads are remarkable. But we should bear in mind that that’s a corollary to his wanting to virtually close down the federal government and transfer government authority to states, which, as we all know, are far more subordinate to concentrations of private power than even the federal government is. It’s a recipe for corporate tyranny (like much of what passes for “libertarian” in the odd usage of this term that’s developed in the US and the Anglosphere generally) – except that the society would probably crash first. I don’t think it’s quite accurate to call the “libertarian” position he espouses “anti-collectivist.” In the legal literature, corporations are called “collectivist legal fictions,” and the “libertarian” stance, whatever may be intended, is designed to transfer even more power to these unaccountable entities.
I don’t think and I don’t think have ever suggested that he’s crazy. On the contrary, I’ve often said that if I had to have dinner with one of the candidates for election, I’d pick him. At least he’s honest. I do think, however, that what he stands for – from denial of health care and security for the elderly, to rejection (without argument as far as I can find out) of the massive scientific evidence on global warming, to transferring authority to states (hence even more than now to corporate offices), and much more, the transformation he’s calling for would be very harmful.
I don’t see what I can do when asked a question apart from answering it as accurately as I can.
K: I think you are raising perfectly legitimate concerns. The same ones I feel but can't express. You never said he was crazy just that his policies were off the wall.
But why are states more susceptible to corporate tyranny? As an anarchist shouldn't more power be distributed on a decentralized model? What about the argument that each state acts as a social and economic laboratory and if you don't like it you can move to another state or vote in a different form of government? On the Jon Stewart show Ron Paul was asked about whether he would allow single-payer health care system at the state level and his response was that he would never advise that but he would not stop the states from doing it.
As to corporations being collectivist Ron Paul argues against corporate personhood. He says that only individuals have rights. He says the state protects these corporate rights and it seems hard to argue. Would it not be the case that the more the US withdraws from foreign intervention allows poorer countries to exert their own sovereignty and possibly nationalize their industry without the CIA being involved? This seems like a positive consequence of isolationism.
C: States are much weaker than the federal government, hence much easier for concentrated power to influence and control. That’s why there is such massive corruption at the local and State level, and why it’s the federal government that has to establish conditions that business hates, like OSHA, EPA, etc.
The issue of personhood is a different one. With rights of persons or not, corporations are “collectivist legal fictions” established and maintained by state power.
One can make a case for isolation, but that’s not Paul’s position. For him, isolationism is a corollary to virtually eliminating the Federal government.
It’s nice that he wouldn’t force States to deny health care and Social Security, but that doesn’t bear on the fact that his views in this regard seem to me simply savage.
K: I have been thinking about your responses where you say Ron Paul's views on social security and medicare are savage. But the right is hammering him saying he is going soft on "entitlements" because he is saying he won't eliminate them because of the social dependency on them. This view seems compassionate not savage. Here is an article out today that asserts he is "Weak on Entitlements".
C: Paul is very frank about his plans to dismantle social security and medicare. Social Security is a highly successful program, with minimal administrative cost, that has raised huge numbers of elderly people out of poverty, and is a lifeline for large parts of the population. His arguments show that he understands nothing about the program. Medicare has also been quite successful, given the constraints imposed by the outlandish privatized health care system, an international scandal (vastly more inefficient than medicare, which has to work through it). In this case Paul’s stand appears to be pure ideology.
It’s true that no matter how savage one is, the Republican right will be happy to outdo you.
Incidentally, I’m not accusing Paul of understanding the consequences of his proposals. He seems to be a nice person, and probably understands little about this. I’m speaking only of the consequences.
K: As for states being weaker and more susceptible to corporate tyranny, that may be true, but the federal government allows for corruption on a much greater scale, like the federal reserve lending 16 trillion to the banks with no interest and then paying interest to get the money back. As an anarchist, don't you think it is easier to keep corruption in check when power is decentralized and broken up among the states?
C: One may have what opinion one likes about that, but it isn’t corruption. It’s a bailout of the banks, bipartisan. It’s true that the states can do much less of this sort of thing, just as they can do much less to protect health and welfare. They have far more limited resources, and in the crazed right-wing anti-government thrust of recent years they have to have balanced budgets, so can barely function, just as a business or a household couldn’t under those constraints.
Anarchism would suggest supporting the federal government over the states. There are simple reasons for that.
The massive business propaganda campaign of the past decades has sought to demonize government (selectively: it wants to keep what serves its purposes, like the programs of their statist hero Reagan). The reason is that in our socioeconomic system, when government is weakened, power shifts even more to the hands of concentrated private power. That’s why US-style “libertarians” are dedicated anti-libertarians (whatever they may believe). Part of the propaganda campaign is to portray government as some kind of mystic entity separate from the society. It’s not of course. It’s largely an agency of private capital, but differs in that it is at least partially accountable to the public, which is why business wants the population to hate it. Anarchists should know better – and they do. If you look at the serious anarchist publications, like Freedom, a lot of what appears in their pages is calls for government to do more to protect people from the ravages of private capital.
And the reason they want government power to be devolved to the states is that they know that concentrated private power can control the states much more easily that the federal government.
K: Also, he is not an isolationist as he still desires trade with other nations just not military intervention, right?
C: I didn’t suggest that he’s an isolationist. It’s hard to find out just what he advocates in this realms, apart from mantras about “free trade.”
K: Does it matter if his reasoning is different from yours? Are we not just arguing over the means rather than the end? The rest of the GOP and Obama have all agreed that a war with Iran is the desired end. Why can't we agree with those that we share an end and work out the means through debate?
C: Paul is opposed to a war against Iran, as a corollary to virtually shutting down the federal government, which would bring catastrophic consequences – including, very likely, more foreign wars. If his policies of strengthening private capital (which is the consequence, whether he knows it or not) would succeed, they’d find their own ways of fighting the wars they want, without even mild constraints from an organized public.
K: Professor Chomsky, What is your view on natural rights?
C: Serious question, and requires a serious answer. Not in a brief letter.
K: The reason I am asking is because I always find myself in debates with right-wingers who say that people do not have a right to health care, education, collective bargaining, etc...but that we only have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these "natural" rights just seem to me to be arbitrary, irrational ideals and the only rights that actually exist are the ones that are bargained for in the class struggle and are in constant flux.
C: Since they have no argument for rejecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there’s no way to debate their arbitrary assertions. That aside, without the rights they reject there’s no way for the general population to achieve the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. If you’re starving, you’ve lost your right to life.
As you say, these are justifications for privilege, not serious arguments.
K:I agree that if one is starving they lose their right to life. When i bring that up in discussions I get answers like, "Well how did they get into that position in the first place? They obviously made some bad decisions..." things like that...
C: It’s true that they made bad decisions. They chose the wrong parents. Despite much Horatio Alger propaganda, the US has some of the lowest social mobility in the industrial world.
That’s putting aside the sheer savagery of the answer, which merits no comment.
K: If I argue the state is to provide food for starving people then I get responses like taxation for social programs is theft of private property which is an infringement on the right to property...tyranny of the majority type rhetoric...
C: One of the major arguments of the slaveowners. Abolitionist wanted to take away their property. Incidentally, if taxation is an infringement on the right of property, then the same is true of the taxation that has made it possible, from the earliest days and dramatically in the modern period, for the dynamic state sector to provide the basis for the economy that then yields profit to those to whom it is handed over – like IBM, Microsoft, Apple, the financial institutions, Walmart, etc.
The idea that taxation is infringement on private property is natural for Nazis and Stalinists who utterly despise democracy. In a democratic society, taxation is an agreement of the public on how to implement the policies on which they have decided.
Again, the savagery of these claims is even more shocking than their ridiculous intellectual level.
K: What do you think of that?
C: It’s your choice who you want to have discussions with.
K: It is not my choice who I have conversations with. I knock on doors for the NDP and these are the answers that real people in Saskatchewan are saying. Saskatchewan(and Alberta) are of huge geo-political importance. That is why Alberta Premier Redford is at the Bilderberg meeting in Virginia. I am trying to talk to human beings who can be persuaded through rational arguments. I refuse to just give up on human beings because they have been more brainwashed than others.
C: That makes sense. I hope you make some progress. Curious to hear such views from the major oil-producing regions, even more dependent on taxpayer subsidy than most industry.