Quotes from The Responsibility of Intellectuals, by Noam Chomsky

- ‘Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of the governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us. The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much deeper than what MacDonald calls ‘the responsibility of people,’ given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy.’
- ‘It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies.’
- ‘No one has said that there is something strange in the offer of a major chair in the humanities to a historian who feels it to be his duty to persuade the world that an American-sponsored invasion of a nearby country is nothing of the sort. And what of the incredible sequence of lies on the part of our government and its spokesmen concerning such matters as negotiations inVietnam ? The facts are known to all who care to know. The press, foreign and domestic, has presented documentation to refute each falsehood as it appears. But the power of the government’s propaganda apparatus is such that the citizen who does not undertake a research project n the subject can hardly hope to confront government pronouncements with fact.’
- ‘The Russian notes of March-April 1952, which proposed unification of Germany under internationally supervised elections, with withdrawal of all troops within a year, if there was a guarantee that a reunified Germany would not be permitted to join a Western military alliance.’
- ‘In addition to this growing lack of concern for truth, we find, in recent published statements, a real or feigned naivete about American actions that reaches startling proportions. For example, Arthur Schlesinger, according to the TimesFebruary 6, 1966 , characterized our Vietnamese policies of 1954 as ‘part of our general program of international goodwill.’ Unless intended as irony, this remark shows either a colossal cynicism, or the inability, on a scale that defies measurement, to comprehend elementary phenomena of contemporary history.’
- ‘It surpasses belief that a person with even a minimal acquaintance with the record of American foreign policy could produce such statements. It surpasses belief, that is, unless we look at the matter from a more historical point of view, and place such statements in the context of the hypocritical moralism of the past.’
- ‘…political analysis, that is, analysis of the actions of governments in terms of motives that are unexpressed in official propaganda and perhaps only dimly perceived by those whose acts they govern.’
- ‘It is an article of faith that American motives are pure, and not subject to analysis.’
- ‘The ‘hysterical critics’ are to be identified, apparently, by their irrational refusal to accept one fundamental political axiom, namely that the United States has the right to extend its power and control without limit, insofar as is feasible. Responsible criticism does not challenge this assumption, but argues, rather, that we probably can’t ‘get away with it’ at this particular time and place.’
- ‘Is the purity of American motives a matter that is beyond discussion, or that is irrelevant to discussion?’
- ‘Should decisions be left to ‘experts’ with Washington contacts – even if we assume that they command the necessary knowledge and principles to make the ‘best’ decision, will they invariably do so? And, a logically prior question, is ‘expertise’ applicable – that is, is there a body of theory and of relevant information, not in the public domain, that can be applied to the analysis of foreign policy or that demonstrates the correctness of present actions in some what that psychologists, mathematicians, chemists, and philosophers are incapable of comprehending?’
- ‘There is no body of theory or significant body of relevant information, beyond the comprehension of the layman, which makes policy immune from criticism. To the extent that ‘expert knowledge’ is applied to world affairs, it is surely appropriate – for a person of any integrity, quite necessary – to question its quality and the goals it serves. These facts seem to obvious to require extended discussion.’
- ‘Having settled the issue of political irrelevance of the protest movement, Kristol turns to the question of what motivates it – more generally, what has made students and junior faculty ‘go left,’ as he sees it, amid general prosperity and under liberal, Welfare State administrations. This, he notes, ‘is a riddle to which no sociologist has as yet come up with an answer.’ Since these young people are well-off, have good futures, etc., their protest must be irrational. It must be the result of boredom, of too much security, or something of this sort. Other possibilities come to mind. It may be, for example, that as honest men the students and junior faculty are attempting to find out the truth for themselves rather than ceding the responsibility to ‘experts’ or to government; and it may be that they react with indignation to what they discover. These possibilities Kristol does not reject. They are simply unthinkable, unworthy of consideration. More accurately, these possibilities are inexpressible; the categories in which they are formulated (honesty, indignation) simply do not exist for the tough-minded social scientist.’
- ‘Anyone can be a moral individual, concerned with human rights and problems; but only a college professor, a trained expert, can solve technical problems by ‘sophisticated’ methods.’
- ‘The cult of the experts is both self-serving, for those who propound it, and fraudulent.’
- ‘When we consider the responsibility of intellectuals, our basic concern must be their role in the creation and analysis of ideology.’
- ‘Quoting Marx’s well-known of the belief of the bourgeoisie ‘that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions through which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided.’ ’
- ‘The backward countries have incredible, perhaps insurmountable problems, and few available options; the United States has a wide range of options, and has the economic and technological resources, though, evidently, neither the intellectual nor moral resources, to confront at least some of these problems. It is easy for an American intellectual to deliver homilies on the virtues of freedom and liberty, but if he is really concerned about, say, Chinese totalitarianism or the burdens imposed on the Chinese peasantry in forced industrialization, then he should face a task that in infinitely more important and challenging – the task of creating, in the United States, the intellectual and moral climate, as well as the social and economic conditions, that would permit this country to participate in modernization and development in a way commensurate with its material wealth and technical capacity.’
- ‘If it is necessary to approach genocide in Vietnam to achieve this objective, than this is the price we must pay in defense of freedom and the rights of man.’
- ‘In pursuing the aim of helping other countries to progress toward open societies, with no thought of territorial aggrandizement, we are breaking no new ground. In the Congressional Hearings that I cited earlier, Hans Morgenthau aptly describes our traditional policy towards China as one which favors ‘what you might call freedom of competition with regard to the exploitation ofChina’ (op. cit., p. 128). In fact, few imperialist powers have had explicit territorial ambitions. Thus in 1784, the British Parliament announced: ‘To pursue schemes of conquest and extension of dominion in India are measures repugnant to the wish, honor, and policy of this nation.’ Shortly after this, the conquest of India was in full swing. A century later, Britain announced its intentions in Egypt under the slogan ‘intervention, reform, withdrawal.’ It is obvious which parts of this promise were fulfilled within the next half-century. In 1936, on the eve of hostilities in North China, the Japanese stated their Basic Principles of National Policy. These included the use of moderate and peaceful means to extend her strength, to promote social economic development, to eradicate the menace of Communism, to correct the aggressive policies of the great powers, and to secure her position as the stabilizing power in East Asia . Even in 1937, the Japanese government had ‘no territorial designs upon China .’ In short, we follow a well-trodden path.’
- ‘In no small measure, it is attitudes like this that lie behind the butchery in Vietnam, and we have better face up to them with candor, or we will find our government leading us towards a ‘final solution’ in Vietnam, and in the many Vietnams that inevitably lie ahead.’  

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