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ReviewofNoamChomsky:ALifeofDissent,byRobertBarsky

ReviewofNoamChomsky:ALifeofDissent,byRobertBarsky.
PublishedbyMITPress1997
JohnGoldsmith

JournaloftheHistoryoftheBehavioralSciences199834.2:173180.

1.NoamChomskyneeditbesaid?hasearnedlegendarystatusforhisprolificwriting
inlinguisticsandradicalpolitics,aswellasforhisprodigiouspersonalcorrespondence,
hiscrushingscheduleoflectures,hisinspiringteaching,histechnicalbrilliance,histake
noprisonersdebatingstyle,andhispersonalgenerositytowardshisstudentsandother
youngerscholars.[Footnote1]Nowinhislate60s,heisretiringfromhispositionatMIT,
andthisretrospectiveonChomskyscareerbyRobertBarsky,anassistantprofessorof
EnglishattheUniversityofWesternOntario,isascloseaswearelikelytogettoa
personalmemoirfromChomskysownhand.IthewscloselytoChomskyspublished
viewsonhiswork,anditcontainsmanylengthyquotationsfromBarskyscorrespondence
withChomsky,allowingthereadertoheartheunbuttonedChomskytoheartheopinions
thathecanstateplainlywhichhedputmorecautiouslyinaformovertlymeantfor
publication.
[Footnote1:IamgratefulforcommentsonadraftofthisfromAmiKronfeld,Robert
Barsky,GeoffreyHuck,andFritzNewmeyer.Someorallofthemmaycontinuetothink
thatIaminsufficientlysympatheticinwhatIpresentbelowtothematerialthatIcriticize.
Theyareprobablycorrect,andIthankthemforseveralimprovementsinwhatfollows.]
ALifeofDissentisacloseupshotofanextraordinaryindividualwhoseworkhastouched
forthebetterthelivesofmany,includingthewriterofthisreview.Butitseemstometo
bealas!idiosyncraticandoftencrankyhistory.Thereare,afterall,twoquestionsthat
begtobeansweredinanyprofileofNoamChomsky:first,howdoesheinretrospectsee
thechangesheandhiscolleaguesbroughttolinguisticsunderthebannerofgenerative
grammar,andsecond,whathasbeentherelationshipbetweenhisworkinlinguisticsand
hispoliticalactivism?ThequestionofhowChomskysworkinlinguisticsrelatestothatof
otherlinguistsisonethatIknowbetter,andthevisionthatemergesinthisbookisonethat
isinanumberofimportantrespectsinaccurate,andincertainotherrespectssurprisingfor
theirlackofperspective.WithregardtohowChomskyhasmanagedtointegratetwo
careersofmythicproportion,inactivismandinacademiaonecanonlylistenwitha
certaindegreeofawebutsomethingisnonethelessmissinghere,likeagreatsauce
lackinganimportantingredient,andIwillreturntowhatitmightbebelowinSection3.
Barskydoesprovidewhatwillbeformostreadersnewandrevelatoryinformationabout
thepoliticalmilieuinwhichChomsky,andhismentorZelligHarris,navigatedinthe
middledecadesofthiscentury,withaveryinterestingchapteronHarris,Avukahand
HashomerHatzair.

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2.OneoftheessentialelementsinBarskysaccountofChomskyscareerisanelement
ofwhatIdcallamythintheoriginofmanyheroes:thenotionthatChomskycametothe
fieldoflinguisticsasanoutsider,overcominggreathostilitydespitealackofsupportfrom
theleadinglightsinthefield.[FN2]Barskywrites,"Inthesummerof1954Chomsky
wasstillanoutsidertothefield.Hedidmanagetopublishafewreviewsandarticles,
oftenoutsidethefieldoflinguistics"(8182)"So,bythemid1950s,NoamChomsky,a
newlymintedscholar,stoodattheforefrontofanonexistentfield.Hewasalso
unemployed."(84)."In1955Chomsky,inhisownwords,hadnoidentifiablefieldor
credentialsinanything."(86).
[FN2:Similarpointsaremade,withconsiderablygreaterwit,byGeoffPullum(1991,
chapter6).]
Thefacts,asBarskydescribesthem,suggestquiteadifferentpicture.Chomskystudied
closelyforseveralyearswithoneoftheleadingtheoreticiansinlinguistics,ZelligHarris,
inoneoftheleadingdepartmentsoflinguistics,attheUniversityofPennsylvania,andhe
studiedwithotheroutstandingscholarsthere,notablythephilosopherNelsonGoodman.A
yearafterreceivinghisB.A.atthetenderageof20,heobtaineda4yearjuniorfellowship
withtheHarvardSocietyofFellows(arguablythecountrysmostprestigioushomefor
youngscholars)withHarrisandNelsonGoodmansbacking.Whenthatwascompleted,a
joinedamachinetranslationprojectatMIT,againwithHarrisbacking,underVictor
YngvessupervisionChomskywasviewedbymanythenasanoutstandingyoung
scholar,andYngvesappointmentofChomskywasbasedinlargepartonHarrisstrong
backingofChomsky(Yngve,p.c.).Inthesummerof1954,Chomskywasaslittlean
outsidertothefieldoflinguisticsasa25yearoldmancouldpossiblybe,andby1955or
1956,hehadparlayedandwhynot!hiscredentialsandhisbacking(nowfromother
scholars,includingthelegendaryRomanJakobson)intoatenuretrackpositionatMIT
tenureandpromotionfollowedquicklyafterthat.
IvealreadyalludedtoanotheraspectofthismyththatChomskysworkwassooutr
thathehaddifficultygettingitpublished.Therecord,asfarasIhavebeenabletofindit,
suggeststhatChomskyhadnomoretroubleinhisyouththananyoneelse.Did
personalitiesandschismsplayarole?Nodoubt,astheyalwaysdo.AndrMartinet,
twentyyearsoldthanChomskyandeditorofamajorjournalinthemid1950s,does
recountwithsomesmuggleeinhismemoirshowheensuredthathisjournaldidnot
publishanearlyChomskysubmission,thoughMartinetsaccountmixesintwoother
factors:first,thatMartinetsjuniorcolleagueatColumbia,UrielWeinreich,wasastrong
advocateofChomskysworkatthatpoint,andsecond,thatMartinetultimatelyheldit
againstbothChomskyandWeinreichthattheypracticedwhatMartinetperceivedtobea
Jewishsortoflinguistics.[Footnote3]
[Footnote3:ThereadermayimagineforhimselfwhatmightliebehindMartinets
perversecategories.Forhispart,Martinetinhismemoirs(Martinet1993)saysthatJewish
linguisticsisthekindoflinguisticswhereyoudontpayenoughattentiontofacts,unlike
hisownkind.MartinetsevidenthostilitytoChomskyinthisworkisworthasecond
thought.ThathostilityappearstoderivetosomedegreefromChomskyscultural
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backgroundforMartinetdoesnotfailtodrawthereadersattentiontoalinguists
religionwhenthelinguistisJewishbuttoagreaterdegreederivesfromChomskys
considerableprofessionalsuccessandinfluence.]
OneareathatIfoundparticularlyinterestingisBarskysdescriptionofChomskysrelation
totheheateddisagreementsbetweenthegenerativesemanticistsandtheinterpretive
semanticistswhatRandyHarrishascalled"thelinguisticwars."[FN4]Barskys
account,again,largelyfollowsChomskyspresentviewofthoseevents.Thisviewisthat
duringthatperiod,he"hadquitedifferentthingson[his]mind."(151).Barskysays,
"Whilethebattle[thelinguisticwars]ragedonatMIT,Chomskyreachedthepeakofhis
antiwaractivity.Betweenfulfillingthiscommitment,conductinghislinguisticresearch,
andpublishingtheresults,hehardlywouldhavehadtimeforpowerstrugglesevenifI
hadbeeninterested."(151,withaninternalquotefromcorrespondencewithChomsky
dated14August1995).Thisis,blessedly,theonlyplacewherespecialpleadingisoffered
inChomskysdefense,thoughitisunattractiveenoughinthissingleplace.Fillingout
ChomskyandBarskysargumentaretheunspokenassumptions,somethinglikethis:
othersmayjudgethequalityandtheintensityofanintellectualdebatebythewritten
record,andonemayjudgethatLakoff,Ross,Postal,McCawley,Jackendoff,andothers
werecaughtupinthepassionofthatlinguisticmomentinjustthatway.ButChomskys
involvementinthesequestionscannotbejudgedonthesamegrounds,forwhenhismind
turnedfromlinguistics,itturnedtotrulyimportantthings,likethewarinVietnam,while
whentheotherlinguistsmindsturnedfromlinguisticstootherthings(liketheirkids
snifflesortheirmortgagepayments,perhaps),theycontinuedtofeelsweptupinadebate
thatwasatempestinateapot,whenviewedfrom,say,theperspectiveoftheUnited
Nationsorthedraftresistancemovement.Ironically,itisthisBarskyChomskyversionof
historythatputsthemajoremphasisonintangibleandsubjectivehumanemotions(and
doesitthroughthetreacherouslyunreliablelensofpersonalrecollectionstwentyyears
later,ratherthanthroughdocumentaryrecord)ratherthancarefulevaluationoftheissues
involved.[FN5]
[FN4:Myinterestisreflected,amongotherthings,inabookthatIwroteonthesubject
withGeoffreyHuck.]
[FN5:AmiKronfeldhaspointedouttomethatChomskyhaslongremarkedthathe
consciouslyletgoofcertainresearchprojectsthathehadbeenseriouslyinvolvedin
becauseofhiscommitmenttotheantiwareffort.AsfarasIknow,thisreferstoareas
suchasmathematicallinguisticsandphonology,twoareasthatChomskydidnotreturnto
afterthispoint.ButtheissuesjoinedduringthelinguisticwarswerethosethatChomsky
remainedinterestedin.]
Andonecannothelpbutwonderhowseriouslythisargumentismeanttobetaken,when
offeredinthecontextoffactuallyinaccurateremarks.Chomskyisquotedassayingthat
theappointmentsmadeinhisdepartmentwereofgenerativesemanticists,citingPostal,
Ross,Perlmutter,andKiparsky(151).ButPostalbecameagenerativesemanticistafterhe
leftMIT,Rosslongafterhewashired,Perlmutterwasneveragenerativesemanticist(as
farasIcansee,andasfarasPerlmutterhimselfisconcerned[personalcommunication,
1987]),andKiparsky,ofcourse,wasaphonologist,whowasacoauthorofasinglepaper
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thatcouldbeinterpretedasgenerativesemanticistintone("Fact,"withCarolKiparsky).
Curiously(atleast,tomeasalinguistitseemscurious)Barskydoesnotattempttosayjust
whatitisthatconstitutedthegreatbreakwithAmericanstructuralism,norwhatthe
reasoningwasthatunderlayChomskysdecisiontomakethatbreak.Thefundamental
issueisthenatureoflearningthedevelopmentalprocessthatleadstoknowledge.Once
Chomskyhaddecidedtotakehisviewsoftransformationalsyntaxseriously,hehadto
decidehowtodealwiththefact(foritcertainlyseemedtobeafact)thatnothinginany
wayliketheassociationistlearningstrategiesenvisagedbypsychologyinthe1940sand
1950scouldprovideanaccountthattooklinguisticdataasinputandproduceda
generativegrammarasoutput.
Chomskytookamajorleap,anddecidedthatifhistheoryofsyntaxwascorrect,then
thosetheoriesoflearningmustbewrong.Inthefirst(andinmyview,muchmore
interestingphase)ofgenerativegrammarthephasethatlastedfromTheLogical
StructureofLinguisticTheory(publishedin1975,butwrittenin1955)throughAspectsof
theTheoryofSyntax(1965)heproposedthatlinguisticknowledgewasepistemologically
justifiedbyitsformalsimplicity,aslongasthegrammargeneratedsentencesthatwere
largelyconsistentwiththedataofthelanguageacriticalaspectofthispositionwasthat
theformalsimplicityatissueherewasonethatpossibly(inChomskysview,almost
certainly)wasgeneticallyidiosyncratic.Generalprinciplesoftheoreticalsimplicitywould
takeoneonlyasmallpartofthewaytowardsdevelopingamodelofuniversalgrammarin
whichtheformallysimplegrammarsaretheonesthatareepistemologicallypreferred,on
Chomskysview.Chomskyheldlittlehopefortheprospectsofengaginginformation
theoryintheserviceoflinguistictheory,despiteinformationtheorysconsiderablecachet
atthetimeatMIT.Furtherpropertiesofgrammarsfoundconsistentlyamonghuman
languageswhicharearguablytakenbythehumanlanguagefacultyasdesirable(or
expected,thatispreferredasanalysisonthebasisofsuggestiveprimarydata)
characteristicsofgrammarwouldbediscoveredbylinguists,onChomskysview,and
manyofthesewouldbeexplainableonlyinanevolutionarysense.
Thisinterestingperspectivewaslargelyabandoned,beginningperhapswithChomskyand
Lasniks"FiltersandControl"(1977),tobereplacedbytheprinciplesandparameters
view,whichisinessenceanabandonmentofthenotionoflearningortoputiteven
moretendentiously,acalltothepositionthatlinguisticshasnothingofsignificancetosay
aboutthehumanlearning,forthereisessentiallynolearninginthematteroflinguistics.
Theseareissuesthatgowellbeyondtechnicalquestionsinlinguistics,evenif
understandingtheminalltheirdetailsmaybeanintellectuallydauntingenterprise.Afull
boreanalysisofChomskysintellectualcareermustcometogripswiththis,notleast
becausetheissueoflearnabilityincognitionisnotultimatelyunrelatedtotheissueofhow
malleablehumanbeingsarewithregardtotheirneedsanddesiresinapoliticalcontext.

3.PoliticsChomskyspublicactivismfirstreachedawideaudienceinconnectionwith
hisuncompromisingstanceagainstAmericanmilitaryinvolvementinVietnam,through
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hisarticlesinTheNewYorkReviewofBooksandhisbook,AmericanPowerandtheNew
Mandarins,publishedin1969byPantheon.Hiswiderangingscholarlyapparatusandhis
devastatingrebukeofwhathesawasliberalcomplicityinthepublicjustificationofan
utterlyimmoralwarinSoutheastAsiawonforhimbroadrecognitionandaloyal
followingasearlyas1967.Intheyearssince,hehaspublishedarangeofdetailed
criticismsofWesternjournalistsandacademicwriterswho,onChomskysview,violate
themostelementaryprinciplesoflogicandargumentationinordertojustifyandmaintain
thefirstworldspoliticalandeconomicorder.Hehasattackedthehypocrisyandthe
ideologicallybasedweaknessrampantinwritingatvirtuallyeverylevelinmainstream
politicaldiscourseinthiscountry.
Forthisalone,ChomskywouldreceiveanyprizethatImighthavetoawardfor
courageouslyopposingsuchevilsasAmericaninvolvementinVietnam.Butinthecontext
ofBarskysbook,wedliketoknowmoreabouthowChomskyspoliticalactivismis
connectedtohisviewsonhumannature,andBarskyofferssomethoughtsonthismatter
thatseem,byandlarge,tobeinadequate,inmyview.
Fromearlyoninhispoliticalwritings,Chomskyhasrejectedthiseasyconnectionbetween
abeliefinhumanplasticityandoptimisticpoliticalutopianism,infavoroftheview(one
associatedinsomecircleswiththeearlyMarx)thathumanshavearichlydefinablenature,
withnaturalinclinationstowardscreativity,constructiveandcooperativeenergy,and
egalitariansocialrelations.BarskycitesonseveraloccasionsChomskysfirstpolitical
essay,writtenwhenChomskywas10,ontheSpanishCivilWar,andhediscussesatsome
lengthChomskysviewthattheanarchistmovementinBarcelonaduringtheCivilWar,
describedbyGeorgeOrwellinHomagetoCatalonia,wasoneoftherareoccurrencesin
modernhistorywhere,inChomskysopinion,humanpoliticalnaturewasallowedto
surface(tousealinguiststurnofphrase).Irememberveryclearlyasacollegestudentin
thelate1960showmuchthissameviewwaswidelyheld,andwidelyseenasbeing
implemented(aswellascouldbemanaged)byCastrosandMaosNewEconomicMan,
inonlyslightlydifferentform.[FN6]
[FN6:AmiKronfeldhasraisedthequestionastowhetherthisisafairconnectiontomake
werenotthepoliciesofCastroandMaofarmorehospitabletoanavantgardistviewofthe
revolutionaryparty,therevolutionarypartyleadingtheworkermalgrlui?Whoever
mistookCastroforaleftanarchist,afterall?Myrecollectionisratherclearthatmany
peoplewho,likethiswriter,wereincollegeinthelate1960shadpreciselythatimage,one
thatwasexploredatlengthinsocialistpublicationsinthiscountryatthattime.Thispoint
isnotwithoutsomeconsiderablerelevance,fortheimageofautopiafoundedonworkers
controloftheirmeansofproductionwillalwaysbejudgedbyhowplausibleitisto
imaginethatsystemastheprincipalorganizingprincipleofsociety.IfIsraelikibbutzim(or
theshortlivedworkerscouncilsinBarcelonaduringtheSpanishRevolution)canserveas
anexistenceproofforsuchaview,theirexistencewillundercuttheview(compelling,for
many,inthisdayandage)thatbothhistoricalandessentialistforcesconspiretoleadnon
marketdrivensocietiestoeconomicruin,topolicestate,orboth.]
Barskyobservesthathumanbeingsrequirelibertyandanurturingenvironmentinwhich
toexpresstheirhumanity(113),andnotesthatthishasbeencentraltoChomskysthought.
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HecitesHumboldtonthis:"whenfreeofexternalcontrol,allpeasantsandcraftsmen
couldbetransformedintoartists,i.e.,peoplewholovetheircraftforitsownsake,who
refineitwiththeirselfguidedenergyandinventiveness,andwhoinsodoingcultivate
theirownintellectualenergies,ennobletheircharacter,andincreasetheirenjoyments."
(113).
Inthepoliticalrealm,then,humannaturecanbecharacterized,butthosecharacteristics
areexpressedbyahighlymalleablenaturethatrespondstothenurturingorthehostile
environmentinwhichitfindsitself.Andthatnatureisfundamentallygood.Itwouldbe
goodforhumankindgloballyforeachindividualtoachievethisselfrealization.Thisview
leavesinsufficientroom,inmyopinion,fortherootsofevilinhumannatureallevilends
upbeingattributedtothesystem,andallgoodtoindividualhumannature,surelyan
untenabledisjunction.
Intheend,BarskysaccountofChomskysviewsleavethedifficultquestionsunanswered,
andbarelyasked,Ifear.[FN7]
[FN7:ThereaderofthisbookshouldbepreparedforunexpectedapologeticsfromBarsky
(thoughthesehavenothingtodowithChomsky,asfarasIcantell):"TheSovietUnion
was,andstillis,falsereferredtoandcondemnedasacommunistorMarxiststateby
historians,journalists,andpoliticalscientists.Itwas,infact,aBolshevikstateledby
ironfistedtotalitarianleadersandsupportedbyapowerfulandomnipresentarmy
committedtoupholdinginterestsandpowerstructuresthatwouldneverhavebeen
permittedtoexistinatrulycommuniststate."(39).]

4.History.Anumberofunfortunateinsomecases,misleadingerrorsofhistorical
recordcanbefoundinthisbook.Thereisanallusionto"theStalinistFascistpactthatwas
forgedduringWorldWarII"(29),presumablyareferencetotheshortlivedtreaty
betweenGermanyandtheSovietUnion,signedAugust23,1939,beforeWorldWarIIis
generallytakentohavestartedandofcourseHitlerignoredthepactandinvadedthe
SovietUnion,andtheirwariswhatwasforgedduringWorldWarII,nottheirpact.
(Barskysnextsentenceis,"Themisrepresentationofeventspersistseventodayin
standardhistoricaltexts,"thoughwhatheisreferringtoisunclear).Thisinturnis
followedbyapassagethatisdifficulttofollow,becauseitseemstosuggestthatatapoint
whenChomskywassevenyearsold(thatis,throughmostof1936hewasbornDecember
7,1928),hispoliticalanalysisoftheSpanishCivilWarledhimtounderstandStalins
psychologybetterthanmostadultStalinistsympathizers,manyofwhomweretakenby
surprisebyStalinsoutrageouspurgesduringthelate1930s.Bycomparison,Chomskys
friendSeymourMelmanhadtowaituntil1939when(hetellsBarsky)"thisfamous
RussiangeneraldefectedandwrotearticlesintheSaturdayEveningPost"(heisclearly
referringtoGeneralWalterKrivitsky,EuropeanchiefoftheGRU,theSovietmilitary
intelligenceapparatus,whodefectedin1938,followingStalinsassassinationofIgnace
Poretsky/ReissinSwitzerland).Inretrospectitseemsobviousthatanyonewhocouldnot
concludethatStalinwasfunctionallyinsanebythelate1930sneededtohavehisglasses
cleaned,butwhatthishadtodowithasixorsevenyearoldboyinPhiladelphiaremains
obscure.
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BarskyonoccasionseemstoputsomeoddthoughtsintoChomskyshead.Atonepoint(p.
123f),Barskywrites,"[h]eknewwhathadhappenedtofiguressuchasRosaLuxemburg
(murdered),AntonioGramsci(jailed),BertrandRussell(jailed,aswell),KarlKorsch
(marginalized),andSaccoandVanzetti."SaccoandVanzetti?Sacco,accordingtorecent
accounts(Russell1986),wasindeedguiltyofmurderingthepaymasterin1920,though
perhapsaswithLeeHarveyOswald,AlgerHiss,andJudgeCraterwellneverreally
know.ButBarskyistobeencouragedtowatchhishistoricalparallels.Andofcourse,
BertrandRussellwontheNobelPrizeforLiterature.
TheChomskyFaurissonAffairin1979remainsasorepointforsomeinthediscussionof
Chomskyspoliticalwritings,andisdiscussedatlengthbyBarsky.ForChomskyasfor
Barsky,Chomskysinvolvementwasentirelyamatterofsupportingfreedomof
expression.UnsympatheticcriticsuseditasanopportunitytobrandChomskywithanti
Semiticlabels,butevencriticspotentiallysympathetictoChomskyspoliticalviewsfelt
hisremarksshowedlackofjudgment.WhenChomskyasserted(whetherinallhonesty,or
asarhetoricaldevice,wellneverknow)thathehadnotreadwhatitwasthatFaurisson
hadwritten,andthathedidnotcare,becausewhatwasatissuewasFaurissonsrightto
expresshisviews,notthevalidityofthoseviewswhenChomskyassertedthat,critics
(myselfincluded)shooktheirheads.SurelyChomskyshouldhavetakentheopportunityto
readwhatwasatissue:surelyhehadtakentheopportunity:isthereanything,afterall,that
themandoesnotread?WasChomskysstatementthathehadntreaditjustarhetorical
device?Andifhehadtakentheopportunitytoreadit,whydidhenotsaywhatwemight
expecthimtosay:somethinglike,inthelightofwhatwehavelongknownaboutNazi
sponsoredexterminationofEuropeanJews,surelyacontemporarywhoquestionsthe
broadoutlinesofthatpropositionmusthaveeitherascrewlooseorahighlydubious
politicalagendabuteitherway,Idefendhisrighttosayitandpublishitwithoutbeing
takentocourtbytheStateasacriminal.
Itseemstomethatitwasthefactthatthisexpectationwasnotmetwaswhatstuckinthe
crawofmanyofhiscritics.Itishardwell,impossibletoacceptatfacevaluethenotion
thataprinciple(suchasthatoffreedomofexpression)issobroad,deep,andexceptionless
thatoneneednotlookatanyparticularcasetodeterminewhetherfreedomofexpressionis
whatisatissueandyetthatseemstobewhatChomsky(atleastaspresentedbyBarsky)
asksustoaccept.
AsIseeit,thepointis(orisbestviewedas)onewhichpragmatismhasbestarticulated,
andIdontmeantousethetermpragmatismasithasoccasionallybeenusedina
colloquialsense,tomeanwhateverworksbestforoneselfintheshortrun.Imeanrather
theviewofhumanactivitythatBarskysayswasgoverninginthebesteducationthat
Chomskyreceived,athisfirstschool,oneorganizedalongthelinesofJohnDeweys
philosophy.Pragmatismtakesprinciplestobealwayssubjecttorevisionandto
reinterpretation,basedoncontinuedhumanexperience.Principlesappliedwithoutregard
fortheircontext,andprinciplesappliedtoparticularcaseswithnoconcernforlearning
abouttheeventualconsequencesofthatmodeofapplicationoftheprincipletheseare
principlesthathavenotevolvedpragmatically.EvenaschoolchildknowsJusticeHolmes
classicformulationoftherestrictiononfreedomofspeech:onecannotcry"Fire!"in
crowdedtheater,knowingthatthereisinfactnodangerfromfire.TheFrenchgovernment
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has,apparently,madeacriminaloffenseoutofcertainkindsofhistoricalfalsification
(howeverthatisdefinedinFrance).Theargumentstobemadeagainstthisarepresumably
thefamiliarones,regardingthedangerstosocietyofundertakingthatkindofstaterun
censorshipthatishowIseeit,inanyevent,thoughitseems,fromBarskysaccount,that
Chomskywouldstronglydisagreewithit,andmightevenviewitas"acontemptible
position"(178),forChomskyisquotedassayingthatitwouldbeacontemptibleposition
todefendfreedomofspeechonthegroundsthatthespeechthatmightbesuppressed,inan
atmospherethatdidnotdefendsuchfreedom,wouldturnouttobevaluable.
Theissueismuchlikethedebateconcerningcapitalpunishment.Idontdoubtthatalarge
proportionofthosefirmlyagainstcapitalpunishmentholdthepositionbecauseoftheir
beliefinthesanctityofhumanlife.Sowheredowefitintheargument(supposingthat
thereissuchanargument)againstcapitalpunishmentonthegroundsthatithasnotbeen
effectiveinloweringthecrimerate?Isitasignofmoraldwarfismtofindacontextin
whichthatisofanyrelevance?Perhapsheresomewouldsaythatsuchcontingent,
empiricalmattersshouldnotenterintothediscussion,butclearlyotherswoulddisagree.If
welowertheanteandconsidervegetarianism,therewouldclearlybesomewhoholdthat
eatinganimalfleshiswrongonpurelymoralgrounds,whileotherswouldsupport
vegetarianismonthegroundsthatitlowerstherateofheartdisease.Fewwouldobjectto
thepragmaticviewhere:principlesatvariouslevelsmayinteract,andonsomeoccasions,
principlesthataremorallymoremundanemaybeasinfluentialasthosethataremorally
refined.Surelyissuesoffreedomofspeechfitintosuchacategory.
Intheend,thisepitomizesmuchofwhathasbeencontroversialaboutChomskysviews.
Onissuesofimportance,Chomskysuttercertaintyofthecorrectnessofthepositionthat
hetakesiscaptivatingandattractiveuptoapoint,atleast.Formostofushumans,the
criticalpointsinourliveshavebeenthemomentswheninsightarrivedanduncertainty
evaporated.OnBarskysaccount,Chomskyscareerhasnotbeencharacterizedbyaseries
ofscientificdiscoveriesandpersonaltriumphs,buthasbeenjustthegeneralworkingout
inanattimessympatheticenvironmentofideasthathestartedoutwithwhenhewasabout
sevenyearsold.Ofcourse,thatsnotverydifferentfromtheChomskianviewofthe
languagefaculty.Maybetheresaconnection.

References
Huck,Geoffrey,andJohnGoldsmith.1995.IdeologyandLinguisticTheory:Noam
ChomskyandtheDeepStructureDebates.London:Routledge.
Martinet,Andr.1993.Mmoiresdunlinguiste.Paris:QuaiVoltaire.
Pullum,GeoffreyK.1991.TheGreatEskimoVocabularyHoaxandOtherIrreverent
EssaysontheStudyofLanguage.Chicago:UniversityofChicagoPress.
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Russell,Francis.1986.SaccoandVanzetti:TheCaseResolved.NewYork:Harperand
Row.

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