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The  Prosperous Few and the Restless Many (The Real Story Series)
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many (The Real Story Series)
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
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25 of 57 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unilluminating and ephemeral, November 19, 2002
This pamphlet comprises interviews with Chomsky from the early 1990s. They are not probing, and the subject matter is dated. It is not an illuminating read. No assumption or statement of Chomsky's is debated or challenged; the typical formulation of the interviewer Barsamian's contributions is "I'd like you to comment on...", rather than "your judgement must contend with this piece of countervailing evidence".
Barsamian starts with economics. Chomsky cannot let up on the notion that when a company establishes a plant in another country it is "exporting jobs". No international economist would agree; so far from "undercut[ting] opportunities for productive labor at home", as Chomsky puts it, the US has created 50 million new jobs since 1970. Chomsky makes what is commonly known as the 'lump of labour fallacy', believing that there is a fixed amount of jobs that trade redistributes, whereas in reality an open economy is able to redistribute factors of production from lower-valued to higher-valued goods and services. Likewise Chomsky inveighs against GATT (now the World Trade Organisation) and the North American Free Trade Agreement, but misunderstands their rationale. It is wrong, and has been shown to be wrong, to say that "NAFTA will very likely be quite harmful for American workers too. We may lose hundreds of thousands of jobs." Trade has little effect on aggregate employment; it merely shifts employment between sectors. The economic argument for trade - that the consequent ability to specialise will enhance productivity - is not addressed by Chomsky, who prefers to level charges of nefarious intent against free traders.
Turning to politics, Chomsky returns to his theme of the alleged imperialist designs of the United States. He continually makes judgements that are supposed to be taken on trust but demand scrutiny. He declares, for example, that "the military budget is mainly for intervention. In fact, even strategic nuclear forces were basically for intervention." Really? Where has the US "intervened" with strategic nuclear weapons since 1945? The rationale of US strategic nuclear forces is to deter a strategic nuclear attack on the American mainland. Chomsky appears to be merely declaring with rhetorical flourishes his disapproval of American military intervention. Ironically, his lambasting of all such intervention prevents him from analysing important developments in American policy over the last 20 years. He condemns the Reagan administration for intervening in Grenada ("it turned into a complete disaster", which apparently is how Chomsky sees the restoration of democracy), yet fails to note how cautious Reagan was in projecting American power compared with his successors. Chomsky is not propounding a history of US foreign policy, but he ought in fairness to deal with its complexities rather than merely make bald generalisations.
The discussion then takes a turn that has to be read to be believed: a chapter nominally about Yugoslavia makes accusations against Chomsky's domestic critics that, to say the least, require rather extensive evidence if they are to be sustained. Chomsky attributes to "the right wing in the West" support for Serb aggression. His evidence for this thesis is hardly careful or extensive: it consists solely of a letter to The Economist from a well-known eccentric Serb apologist. Chomsky pays no attention to rather better-known sources, such as Margaret Thatcher or Jeane Kirkpatrick, who called at an early stage for support for Bosnia. Ironically, the case against other western conservatives over Bosnia - namely that a pessimism about the limits of politics prevented them from acting sooner against Serb imperialism - is not available to Chomsky, who in this booklet repeats exactly their 'realist' arguments: "You have to ask about the consequences, and they could be quite complex.... It's not so simple."
The book gets worse. Chomsky casually describes the historian Angelo Codevilla as propounding an argument about the effects of colonialism that is "so low you'd have to go to the Nazi archives" to find something comparable. Comment on Chomsky's rhetorical trope is unnecessary. Chomsky instead extends his approval for exposing official deceit to, of all people, the Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu. Those who have read David Stoll's book on Miss Menchu will appreciate the irony here.
Chomsky next turns to decrying the society he lives in. He depicts the United States as a haven for ubiquitous and influential religious fundamentalism. The trouble is, he once again cites no data and considers no countervailing evidence. The US does indeed strike the outside observer as unusual in its extensive civic professions of religious conviction, but the crucial question for a democratic polity is not its citizens' beliefs in origins and eschatology but whether those beliefs are separated from political practice. The subtlety of this question is not considered in Chomsky's ex cathedra assertion that "we could move back to real pre-Enlightenment times" - a particularly tendentious remark when read in 2002, not long after the US has managed to move one society, Afghanistan, firmly out of pre-Enlightenment times.
The booklet concludes with a section entitled 'Outside the Pale of Intellectual Responsibility'. The words are apparently a description of Chomsky by Martin Peretz, and Barsamian implicitly invites the reader to be shocked that so damning a judgement could be uttered of so upright a man as Chomsky. But then Chomsky discloses something remarkable. He complains that the New York Times doesn't always print his letters, and reveals that on at least one occasion, and possibly more, "I contacted a friend inside, who was able to put enough pressure on so they ran the letter." Read that statement again. On Chomsky's own account, he used personal connections in order to gain access to newspaper columns reserved for the public, rather than allowing his arguments to be considered on their merits. So far as I am aware, this aspect of Chomsky's political activism has received little comment, and it deserves to be better-known.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2011 6:51 PM PDT


What Uncle Sam Really Wants (The Real Story Series)
What Uncle Sam Really Wants (The Real Story Series)
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
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37 of 66 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lacks substance, data and context, November 18, 2002
This booklet ostensibly runs around four areas: the alleged goals of US foreign policy; the 'devastation' the US is supposed to have wreaked thereby; what Chomsky calls 'brainwashing at home' (i.e. the fact that Americans overwhelmingly disagree with Chomsky's political opinions); and 'the future'. Unfortunately, whereas the course for scholarly historians is to propound a falsifiable thesis by assembling evidence, Chomsky in this book resorts frequently to unsupported assertion and omission of relevant data.
In their 'forward' [sic], the editors remark that those who admire America's role in defending democracy will "find much of what you read in this book incredible". Couldn't have put it better myself. Chomsky begins with an account of the Cold War that reads as history would have been written if the wrong side had won. Echoing the language of Soviet diplomacy, he refers, incredibly, to 'the US-Nazi alliance'. He depicts US post-war strategy as "hard-line extreme, you have documents like National Security Council Memorandum 68 (1950)" - as if this document were a malign and unprovoked declaration of aggression. Extraordinarily, Stalin appears nowhere in Chomsky's discussion, yet his actions and attitudes were the key to America's reluctantly committing men and materiel to a decades-long struggle to contain Communist totalitarianism. Chomsky fails to mention that President Truman, a fiscal conservative who balked at the idea of tripling the defence budget as envisaged under NSC-68, had initially rejected the document's recommendations. The reason Truman changed his mind was Stalin's aggression in launching the Korean War. Chomsky's is, by any objective standards, a partial and misleading account of post-war US diplomacy. (Chomsky compounds this characteristic by taking out of context a quotation by George Kennan, from Policy Planning Study 23, that supposedly demonstrates US concern to perpetuate global inequality. In the original document, Kennan is in fact making a separate and reasonable point that US security operates under certain constraints.)
Having started in such a vein, the book becomes no more reliable as it proceeds. Chomsky declares, while citing no evidence whatsoever, that "nobody in the corporate world or government takes free trade seriously". The very best one can say about such rhetoric is that it involves an unfalsifiable assertion: I have some experience of "the corporate world", and I can assure Chomsky that I take free trade very seriously indeed, on the demonstrable evidence that it enhances living standards globally. If Chomsky's blanket assertion is to be believed, then I am presumably either lying in this review or deceiving myself; either might in principle be true, but it is incumbent on Chomsky to demonstrate such conclusions rather than merely assert them.
Chomsky proceeds with what is not even a caricature of US foreign policy, for a caricature would at least have a recognisable grain of accuracy contained within it. He presents US foreign policy as "tolerat[ing] social reform only when the rights of labor are suppressed and the climate for foreign investment is preserved". This is a fine example of Chomsky's method. What does he mean by 'tolerate'? Does he mean 'allow to continue without external hindrance'? If so, why between 1985 and 1990 did the US stand by and watch the far-Left President of Peru, Alan Garcia, systematically wreck his country's economy with two million per cent inflation, the bankrupting of public reserves and the nationalisation of private banks? Does Chomsky instead mean merely 'agree with' - in which case why is the US presumed to have no legitimate viewpoints in foreign policy? Chomsky does not say. He claims that studies show a "correlation between torture and US aid and provide the explanation: both correlate with improving the climate for business". He cites no evidence and gives no sources for this charge, which is sharply at odds with the history of US aid in Latin America (torture and violence in Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s were negatively correlated with US aid in the region - which is to say, President Carter's human rights policy showed a concern exactly opposite to what Chomsky claims as the basis of US foreign policy, and it didn't have the effect that Carter wished). But even if we accept this claim at face value, it is not generated by Chomsky's premise. Correlation does not indicate causality: both time-series should be joint covariance-stationary. This might seem a pedantic observation about what is, after all, merely a political pamphlet, but Chomsky is cited by the editors as a scholarly authority, and it is therefore worth pointing out some of the straightforward analytical flaws that this work contains.
Such weaknesses appear again and again as Chomsky levels unsubstantiated accusations against America. He asserts that "a tyrant crosses the line from friend to villain when he commits the crime of independence". Really? The US was sympathetic to the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua in 1979 precisely because it did promise independence; that view was revised only when it became clear that the Sandinistas' distinctive characteristic was not independence at all, but subservience to Leninist principles of arbitrary despotism. Again: "The US wasn't upholding any high principle in the Gulf." What about the principle that small nations shouldn't be annexed and pillaged by large bellicose ones? Chomsky might believe the US was insincere in its stated objectives, but that stated objective was certainly upheld. The most priceless assertion in the book is, for my money, Chomsky's insistence that "the US has very little popular support for its goals in the Third World". Anyone who recalls the television pictures in December 2001 of the residents of Kabul crying with joy at the fulfilment of the US goal of toppling the Taliban might reasonably wonder at the quality of the research that has gone into this book. As Chomsky concludes the book with the rallying cry "You can also do your own research", one can only hope that his readers will show him how it's done.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 15, 2014 3:15 PM PDT


Chronicles of Dissent: Interviews with David Barsamian
Chronicles of Dissent: Interviews with David Barsamian
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
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9 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Long on indignation, short on inquiry, October 15, 2002
This book comprises a series of interviews conducted with Noam Chomsky from the late 1970s through to aftermath of the Gulf War. In a sentimental introduction, Alexander Cockburn states that "Chomsky's greatest virtue is that his fundamental message is a simple one". Chomsky's message is indeed simple, though I am not sure that this should necessarily be counted a virtue rather than a debilitating weakness: the book is testament to a single animating principle, namely the excoriation of western democracies, without so much as a pretence of considering countervailing evidence. The interviews are in fact more properly characterised as a set of deferential supplications where no source is referenced by Chomsky and no assertion is challenged by his interlocutors. This is rarely a path to enlightenment.
The first interview is nominally devoted to Chomsky's academic specialism, linguistics, but the reader should prepare for disappointment. In reality it comprises only Chomsky's traditional complaints against America and Israel - and that forms the substance of the whole book. But if the complaints are traditional, the manner of their exposition becomes increasingly and unimpressively strident. Chomsky declares that, mirabile dictu, "There is such a thing as international terrorism." And who is a principal progenitor of terrorism? Why, "the United States is one of the main sponsors of it", of course. Chomsky neither defines his terms nor gives any evidence for this judgement save for complaining at US efforts in the 1960s - early in the 1960s, for the missile crisis initiated by Khrushchev secured the tacit renunciation of such efforts - to overthrow Castro's dictatorship in Cuba. Now, there are strictly pragmatic arguments for allowing Castro to oppress and impoverish Cuba's people without external hindrance, but it is difficult to see any ethical reason to do so, for in no sense could the people under such a system be said to be exercising self-determination. Moreover, given that Castro was a strong advocate during the Cuban Missile Crisis of launching a nuclear first strike against the US (on 26 October 1962 he sent a cable to Khrushchev urging such an "act of legitimate defence, however harsh and terrible the solution would be"), there genuinely was a clear case for US preventive war against his regime. Yet Chomsky, with apparent indifference to these geo-political realities, damns US actions as 'terrorism'. As often happens, the reader who lacks a historical background might be susceptible to this sort of rhetoric, but it does not withstand critical scrutiny and is far from the levels of scholarship that ought to be axiomatic for someone in Chomsky's position.
The quality of analysis does not improve as the book goes on. Chomsky's insistent theme, as I say, is the supposed iniquities of Israel; he advances this notion with scant substantiation but a great deal of abuse. He condemns the Anti-Defamation League and Alan Dershowitz in terms that indicate a revealing defensiveness on his part (apparently they "defame and intimidate and silence people who criticise current Israeli policies" - an absurd charge given the well-known eagerness of Dershowitz to engage Israel's vituperative opponents in debate), but he goes far beyond the bounds of reasonable polemic when he describes the prosecutor of Adolf Eichmann, Gideon Hausner, as "us[ing] this terminology which is in fact rather reminiscent of Eichmann himself" (Hauser had apparently referred to the PLO, reasonably enough given its record of terrorism, as a cancer). He believes US support for Israel is founded on considerations purely of realpolitik, portraying Israel as a "strategic asset" for the US. Indeed, Israel is a strategic asset for the US, being the only state in the region to hold free elections and to have an independent judiciary, but there is more to it than that. Chomsky maintains all states have a common character - "they are instruments of power and violence, that's true of all states" - and thereby manages to miss the huge, qualitative difference between a liberal democracy like the US (or Great Britain, or Israel) and a totalitarian state like Iraq or Cuba. Certainly democratic states need to exercise force in their defence against terrorism, as Israel has had to do for decades, but that force is limited and accountable, rather than indiscriminate and aimed at civilians. These are rather basic questions of political sociology and history, and they receive literally no acknowledgement in this book.
One surprising aspect of the book is that it refers to - if only to brush off - certain aspects of Chomsky's career that more than anything have damaged him in the eyes of former sympathisers. Barsamian refers to "your apologia for Nazi and Khmer Rouge genocide". Having thus been presented with a convenient straw man to knock down, Chomsky waxes indignant about these charges. The problem is that no one has ever made them. The particular comments of Chomsky that earned him notoriety were an indulgent description of the views of a Holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson, not (as Chomsky claims here) a defence of free speech, and attempts to discredit the accounts by Cambodian refugees of Khmer Rouge genocide - which accounts were in fact horribly accurate.
There is much else in this book, but it rarely rises above the level of calling other people names. Many of those Chomsky disapproves of are designated 'racist'. Abba Eban, former Foreign Minister of Israel, is apparently a racist for making the unexceptionable and irrefutable judgement that the Palestinian leadership, which has three times rejected the offer of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, has 'never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity'. The New Republic, a bastion of American liberalism, is of course 'outright racist' - apparently because it disagrees with Chomsky's denigration of Israel. A Christian religious broadcast is 'typical of a racist culture'. To begin with, the effect of this sort of stuff is comic, but after a while merely becomes banal. Like the book itself.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 9, 2009 11:49 PM PST


Peace in the Middle East?: Reflections on justice and nationhood
Peace in the Middle East?: Reflections on justice and nationhood
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
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8 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Speculative scheme of an imaginary movement, August 12, 2002
In his 1992 collection of interviews Chronicles of Dissent, Noam Chomsky declared, of the Arab-Israeli conflict, that a two-state settlement was "the only realistic political settlement, for the time being, in the past ten or twelve years". It's fortunate that he inserted that chronological rider, for it is a matter of record that twelve years before he gave that interview (which was conducted in 1986) he was virulently opposing any such arrangement. This book, published in 1974 and long out of print, is the evidence. In it, Chomsky proposes "some form of socialist bi-nationalism ... supported by an international socialist movement that does not now exist" as the proper political arrangement in Israel and the disputed territories.
This scheme requires an element of explication: Chomsky here seriously proposes not only an entirely speculative socialist order, but also the abolition of the Jewish state. He makes the right of Jewish self-determination subsidiary to his own ideological views, whether or not anyone else - specifically any Jew or Arab living in the region - happens to agree with them. It could be argued that, by proposing bi-nationalism, Chomsky is opposing the state rather than Jewish nationalism as such. But that is not the position advanced in this book. Rather, Chomsky argues that a specifically Jewish state incorporating a large Arab minority must be a denial of democracy. He thereby makes both a conceptual and a historical error. It is perfectly possible for a state to reflect a dominant culture and at the same time to be thoroughly democratic, provided that it guarantees and respects the civil and political liberties of minorities. That is precisely the position of constitutional democracies such as Great Britain and the United States, both of which have powerful undercurrents of civic nationalism allied to their democratic polities. Why should a Jewish state be any different merely on account of its being Jewish?
Chomsky does not vouchsafe an answer to this quite fundamental question: rather, he caricatures the animating philosophy of the Zionist movement in order to make it appear anti-Arab. To that end, he gives a tendentious account of the Biltmore Hotel conference of 1942, at which David Ben-Gurion and his Labour Zionists acknowledged that their previously inchoate agitation for a Jewish homeland had been superseded by the need for a Jewish state. Chomsky claims that this conference thereby elided the distinction between Ben-Gurion and his Revisionist adversary Jabotinsky. That is a remarkable attempt to rewrite the history of Zionism, given that the Zionist militia, the Haganah, was attempting at that moment to apprehend groups such as the Irgun. Chomsky makes no allowance for either the essentially liberal (and impeccably Wilsonian) argument for a Jewish state, or the exigencies of the position of Ben-Gurion and the Zionist movement in general. The British Mandatory authority was hardly sympathetic to Zionism, and indeed actively impeded Jewish immigration to Palestine; Western governments had closed their own borders to Jewish emigrants from Europe; and, of course, Nazi Germany was attempting to kill every Jew in Europe. For Chomsky to present the mainstream Zionist movement in those circumstances as somehow chauvinist for demanding a Jewish state - at any time but especially at that time - evidences poor historical judgement.
That is not merely a theoretical issue, for it carries damaging practical implications. It denies the very legitimacy of a Jewish state regardless of anything that state might do. Chomsky makes no reference to the security dilemmas of Ben-Gurion and the pioneers of the Jewish state as they struggled to defend themselves against Arab aggression and at the same time crack down on terrorism committed against Arabs by maverick Jewish fractions. Israel, in appallingly difficult circumstances, was attempting to build a democratic (and, incidentally, socialist) polity, which granted equal citizenship and full political rights to Arabs as well as Jews. There are many aspects of Israeli society that fall short of the ideals of its founders, but these have nothing to do with some inherent illegitimacy of the notion of Jewish nationalism. They are part of the human condition; the wonder is that Israel, having lived under a state of siege throughout her life, is so open a society. Chomsky nowhere gives credit for this fact, and instead proposes a scheme of bi-nationalism that, even at the time he wrote it, bore no relation to the views of the Israeli Left and was absolutely rejected by Israel's fiercely hostile neighbours. It is true that before the founding of Israel some Zionist thinkers, notably Martin Buber, advocated a bi-national state, but once the nascent Zionist movement took root in Palestine that option proved entirely incapable of fulfilment. There was, in short, no equivalent to Buber anywhere in the Arab world who favoured such a scheme.
I have criticised this book for its hostility to Jewish collective identity, but the lasting impression gained from reading it is of its political unreality. Chomsky unabashedly proposes the abolition of the Jewish state, and advances instead a proposal that "Palestinian Arab and Israeli have equal rights in the whole territory of Mandate Palestine". In short, the most extreme irredentist territorial claims of both sides come to fruition in a utopian political scheme - at precisely the time that Israel, the supposedly chauvinist state, was proposing territorial compromise with her neighbours under the Allon Plan! Chomsky's anti-Israel tergiversations are capable of various explanations, and there is one particularly obvious explanation for his opposition to the notion of a Jewish state; nonetheless, I don't think it's the right one in this case. Rather, Chomsky is here displaying what the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski has identified as the inherent totalitarianism of Marxism: the dream of a total unity, in which such particularist characteristics as nationhood are assumed to be evidence of `false consciousness'. Though this book is a forgotten part of Chomsky's oeuvre, it thus stands as a faithful expression of his ideology.


Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian
Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
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19 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreferenced claims and unreliable judgements, August 8, 2002
This book comprises half a dozen extended interviews conducted in the mid-nineties with the polemicist Noam Chomsky by a radio producer, David Barsamian. Even admirers of Chomsky are likely to be dismayed by the lack of incisiveness of the questions. An interview does not have to be hostile or even argumentative to illuminate its subject's thinking, but Barsamian's questions and interjections go beyond mere sympathy with his subject's views. An example is "Are you looking forward to the summer at Wellfleet, on the Cape?" On receiving the answer "yes", Barsamian follows it up with, "And you get a little sailing and swimming in on the side?" (It turns out that Chomsky is agnostic on this supplementary question.) Lest I be accused of ill grace in subjecting pleasantries to criticism, I stress that these questions are representative of the tone of the book. Barsamian's typical formulation is not "a counterexample to your view would be X; how do you incorporate this into your explanation?" (as you would find in, say, Ramin Jahanbegloo's `Conversations with Isaiah Berlin', or Didier Enribon's `Looking for Answers: Conversations on Art and Science' conducted with Ernst Gombrich) but "what do you mean by Y?" This is not really interviewing at all, because the exchange goes one way only. No assertion or judgement of Chomsky's is challenged in the book, even as a device to draw out the complexities of a subject. In the first interview, for example, in denouncing the Reagan years, Chomsky declares - without offering any empirical evidence in favour of the proposition, let alone being asked for it - that since the 1980s there has been an "absolute reduction in standard of living for a majority of the population". In fact, there has been a steady increase in living standards in the US, in real as well as nominal terms, when you consider wages and salaries plus benefits (i.e. total compensation); the Council of Economic Advisors' annual `Economic Report to the President' contains a handy table showing this measure as an index.
Unfortunately, that particular factoid is by no means atypical of the book, which is generally unreliable in fact and interpretation. In the interview entitled `Rollback', Chomsky complains that "The very fact that the concept `anti-American' can exist - forget the way it's used - exhibits a totalitarian streak that's pretty dramatic." Think about that for a moment. Leave aside the consideration that the term `anti-American' has a recognisable and precise meaning - reflexive and prejudiced opposition to anything and everything that the United States might do in order to preserve its interests, such as protecting her citizens from terrorism - and consider the cognitive aspect of Chomsky's remark. Surely, the reader will ask, Chomsky cannot be saying that merely thinking about an abstract quality is totalitarian; yet I cannot think of any other way to interpret this extraordinary remark, especially given that Chomsky explicitly enjoins us to ignore practical applications
A diffuse interview follows on "History and Memory", a title that apparently alludes to what Chomsky can recall from some decades back. Evidently his recall is uncertain, for he states that "my impression is that the Nagasaki bomb was basically an experiment". Again, think about that. Chomsky is here going way beyond the thesis, long debunked, of Gar Alperovitz that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were intended as a political signal to deter the Soviet Union. He is claiming far more than the case expounded by revisionist historians that Harry Truman dropped the bomb without compelling military reason (though in fact the military arguments were strong and Truman's decision was eminently defensible to prevent mass killings of both Japanese civilians and American troops - see A.L. Hamby's biography of Truman, "Man of the People"). He is asserting that the US killed Japanese civilians on a whim. Chomsky states, as well he might, that "somebody ought to check this out, I'm not certain"; the critical reader might reasonably feel that to charge democratic leaders with crimes comparable to those of Josef Mengele but on a vaster scale requires a rather high degree of evidence. He will not find it here, and Chomsky allocates to others the task of assembling it.
So it goes on, with allegations and claims surprising only for their passionate intensity rather than their predictable content. Chomsky denounces Elia Kazan for his truthful testimony against Communist subterfuge in the film industry, and hails Lillian Hellman, whose account of Communist resistance to Nazism, dramatised in the film "Julia", has been shown to be untruthful (see William Wright's biography, "Lillian Hellman: The Image, The Woman"). In an interview on the Federal Reserve, Chomsky declares that the US economy conforms to Keynes's well-known warning about a country's capital development becoming "the by-product of a casino". Chomsky has unfortunately misunderstood this passage of "The General Theory". Keynes was concerned specifically about the sources of fixed capital investment; yet in advanced capitalist economies such as the US and the UK, it is very rare for to companies to finance their fixed capital investment from the capital markets. (The single exception to this rule is investment in premises, where the scarcity of land places a lower limit on the capital losses that may be sustained by a company.) Rather, they almost invariably finance it from shareholders' reserves. In the final interview, Chomsky turns his attention to his prolonged campaign against Israel. He asserts that, owing to supposed Israeli aggrandisement, "the issue of two states [i.e. a Palestinian state alongside Israel] is dead". Well, indeed it is dead, but its death has nothing to do with Israeli policy, which at Camp David and Taba offered the Palestine Authority a state with Jerusalem as its capital. As the world knows, Yasser Arafat responded with a campaign of violence and demagoguery - which is why we are where we are.
I am a charitable reviewer, but I am hard-pressed to find redeeming features of this book. It contains no references and scant substantiation for judgements that are at best questionable. I cannot recommend it.
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The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering
The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering
by Norman G. Finkelstein
Edition: Paperback
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82 of 268 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A highly familiar ideological bent, July 26, 2002
One of the two central facts of Jewish life in the 20th century was the almost unfathomable suffering of the Holocaust. The moral enormity of that crime has posed the terrible dual responsibility on Jews specifically and civilised people generally of commemorating the dead and protecting future generations from the awful consequences of anti-Semitic bigotry. Sometimes (I can think of certain exhibitions at the Holocaust museum in Washington) the attempt to meet that historical obligation has failed by descending into kitsch. As the historian Lucy Dawidowicz observed, considering the Holocaust presents the perennial temptation to indulge in inappropriate analogy (e.g. the appalling history of slavery and racial segregation in the United States: a monstrous evil but not an act of genocide).
There is much that could be written about the difficulties of discharging this moral obligation to past and future generations, and the diverse answers that Jews and others of goodwill have given. But to attempt such an account demands of a writer moral imagination, sensitivity and historical awareness. it is an understatement to say that Finkelstein's polemic does not exhibit these qualities. It is intemperate, abusive, obtuse - and at times astonishingly sentimental. Rather than provide historical or ethical insight into the Holocaust, Finkelstein prefers to mock and exploit the Jewish dilemma of how to make new generations aware of it. He derides historians of the Holocaust as "worthless" purveyors of "shelves upon shelves of shlock". Their efforts in commemorating the Holocaust are, in Finkelstein's judgement, also "worthless, a tribute not to Jewish suffering but to Jewish aggrandisement". The Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a moral giant of our times, is denounced as a "charlatan" who has a "shameful record of apologetics on behalf of Israel".
And there, in that last judgement, lies the nub of Finkelstein's rhetoric. His book is not a sociological or historical inquiry about the Holocaust at all: it is a means of propounding his own far-Left politics. By denouncing what he perceives to be a "Holocaust industry" - supposedly a racket that preys upon the generosity of European nations to extract wealth and gain influence - Finkelstein exemplifies an ideology that is eerily familiar. It has its roots in the 1930s, when the French Communist leader Jacques Doriot founded his Parti Populaire Francais, which aimed to preserve France from Jewish influence, and it extends to the anti-Zionism of the totalitarian Left today.
Quite apart from its dubious politics, Finkelstein's thesis is consistently unreliable in its historical judgements. The immediate post-war period was very far from being a favourable one for the Jewish national movement or for the development of a supposed (and I invoke Finkelstein's language reluctantly) "Holocaust industry". There was certainly no wave of sympathy for the Jews. Those western statesmen who were instinctively sympathetic to the Jews, such as Harry Truman, felt vindicated, but Ernest Bevin, who as British Foreign Secretary inherited the Palestine mandate, was frankly hostile to the cause of Zionism. More to the point, Jews had become so traumatised by the terrible events of the war years that it took years for Jewish communities to examine in any systematic way the sufferings that they and their families had undergone. For Finkelstein to malign this painful process as a politically-inspired act of mawkishness is a device that, for this reader at least, brings to mind the famous remark of Joseph Welch to Senator McCarthy in the darkest days of wild accusations made against decent men: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
Comment Comments (15) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 25, 2013 5:27 AM PDT


Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order
Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
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85 of 250 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A poor treatment of complex global issues, July 25, 2002
In this polemic Chomsky attacks `neo-liberalism' in international political economy. To that effect, he damns every supranational economic organisation and agreement that he can think of (the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, NAFTA, MAI etc.), charging them with being the agents or instruments of US multinational corporations intent on pillaging the Third World, despoiling the environment, and various other sins. The book is not so much an argument as an expostulation; and it is undermined at almost every turn by extravagant rhetoric and weak reasoning.
International political economy is - like all economics - a discipline about trade-offs and the assessment of costs and benefits. There are various criticisms that can plausibly be levelled at all of the bodies or treaties that Chomsky fulminates against, but it is important in formulating them to have a mind to what these institutions or agreements are designed for. To put mildly, the targets Chomsky denounces are not the same thing and do not pursue the same ends. It serves no purpose and does violence to critical inquiry merely to denounce them all as agents of US big business and of free-market fanaticism. The IMF, for example - a prime villain in Chomsky's account - has received much criticism from the school of free market economists that Chomsky believes it represents. These economists (see, for example, Money and the Nation State, edited by Kevin Dowd & Richard Timberlake, and published by the libertarian Independent Institute in 1998) charge the IMF with creating `moral hazard' in international lending, and wish to see the institution abolished. A different view, which I hold, is that the IMF performs a valuable service in allowing troubled economies a breathing space to sort out their difficulties, as was clearly the case with the `tequila crisis' in Mexico in 1994-5, and in fact ought to be more active in its prescriptions than it has been - consider the case of Argentina's ruinous currency peg, which the IMF was highly sceptical of and ought to have stood out against. There is room for discussion and disagreement about how far the IMF should loosen conditionality for its loans (and I am something of a dove in this respect), but these are inevitable debates about how to make effective a necessary and valuable part of the global economy.
Similarly, the World Trade Organisation has nothing whatever to do with free-market fundamentalism or US big business: it is neither more nor less than a commercial court that tries to eliminate discrimination on grounds of nationality. It is a thoroughly progressive institution whose effectiveness is greatly in the interests of the developing world, as evidenced by its first major ruling when it upheld Venezuela's complaint against a US levy on foreign petroleum producers. The World Bank, which under its current management - much to my regret - has veered very far from the cause of globalisation, went to immense lengths to support Third World socialist projects (such as the `ujaama' projects of President Nyerere's Tanzania), with extremely bad results for the impoverished peoples of the countries concerned.
To subsume these differing institutions, aims and approaches into a catch-all damnation of the machinations of big business is neither a profound nor a reliable guide to the modern global economy. Quite how Chomsky reaches his conclusions is of some interest, however, for it indicates quite a lot about the economic reasoning of the anti-globalisation movement. In short, Chomsky just hasn't acquainted himself with the normative arguments and positive findings of those he attacks; this is just not good enough in a book that aims to scrutinise the global economic order, for economics is a rigorously technical and empirical discipline, and not a matter of opinion. I give just two instances if the book's deficiencies in this respect, but they could be multiplied at great length.
Chomsky attacks the advocates of NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Agreement, for supposedly claiming the it would create jobs. In this, Chomsky has just not understood the point - a very fundamental one - about trade. The basic Ricardian argument for trade does not depend on its effect on aggregate employment (which is virtually unaffected by trade: what matters in the short run is the level of aggregate demand, and in the long run is the so-called NAIRU, or Non-Accelerating-Inflation Rate of Unemployment); trade raises not employment but living standards. The chronic poverty that has afflicted Third World nations like Tanzania under a policy of 'self-reliance' demonstrates the point.
My second instance of the weakness of this book's treatment of economics is Chomsky's throwaway reference to William Greider's anti-globalisation polemic One World, Ready or Not. The Greider thesis that Chomsky has latched on to is that there is excess supply in the global economy owing to workers' not receiving enough to buy the goods capitalism produces. This claim is absolutely untenable in theory and in practice: wages are not set abstractly, but are pinned to the marginal product of labour. To put it simply, an additional dollar of output must represent an additional dollar of income to someone. The only way the `excess supply' nostrum could hold is if you claim that the additional dollar of income goes to someone with a higher marginal propensity to save - and that conclusion requires a study of the facts. This book doesn't trouble with the facts, which are that savings rates in most industrial economies have been falling for years, while in the developing countries they have been growing less quickly than investment demand.
Enough already. Chomsky is not an international economist, and his book is depressingly short on empirical research and economic logic. Indeed the book is almost a logical fallacy itself, for it exemplifies the anthropomorphic fallacy that one may attribute personality - in this case a wicked and grasping avarice - to an abstraction, namely the `capitalist system'. At any rate, it is a poor book that does nothing to enhance its author's reputation in his chosen personal interest - far from his specialist field - of politics and economics.
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Renegades
Renegades
by Adrian Weale
Edition: Hardcover
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well-told and overlooked story of venality and stupidity, April 6, 2002
This review is from: Renegades (Hardcover)
This book tells the story of those few Englishmen who served the cause of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. I know of no other account of these shamed and shameful men (and one or two women); it is a little-known story, and Weale - who has done much research in the Public Records Office on matters of national security - tells it well. (I should add that, while the only edition of the book that appears on the Amazon web site is the original 1994 edition, a new and revised edition has lately been published in Great Britain, and is available from Amazon's UK site.)
The book begins with a useful historical account of the development of British Fascism, which was led by the former Labour Cabinet minister (and, before that, Conservative MP) Sir Oswald Mosley - sometimes thought to have been an economic visionary and great orator, but in fact a silly and unintelligent man with thuggish tendencies. It then discusses individual cases of Britons who served the Nazi cause, either as propagandists (notably William Joyce, who broadcast defeatist propaganda under the title 'Lord Haw-Haw') or as soldiers under the specifically British division of the SS, the Free Corps. Apart from Joyce, who was a ferocious and bitter anti-Semite, many of the men depicted appear more pathetic than sinister. This judgement especially applies to the dull and untalented POWs who turned to the Nazi cause but were in fact despised by their masters as much as they were reviled at home. The most perplexing case is of a scoundrel and waster called John Amery, who, extraordinarily, was the prodigal son of a British Cabinet Minister (an impeccable patriot and supporter of Churchill) Leo Amery. John Amery clearly never got a grip in life, and lived in a haze of debauchery and drug abuse, constantly hounded by creditors.
Yet Weale makes it clear that no sympathy should be extended to these traitors. He tells of one young Englishman, Thomas Cooper, who was trapped in Germany as war was declared, had never travelled far from home, and who joined and stayed with the SS believing the alternative would have been a concentration camp. Yet there is clear and chilling circumstantial evidence that Cooper committed atrocities against Jews and even boasted about his actions.
The close of the book tells of the inevitable fate of these malcontents. Joyce and Amery were hanged as traitors, while others - among them a disgusting man called Eric Pleasants - continued to live out their days. The finale gives the reader an uneasy feeling. Amery was a traitor, but he was clearly mentally unfit to stand trial and should not have been hanged. The British traitors - even Joyce, who was too hardened a Nazi to be effective as a propagandist - were too incompetent and too few in number to do much damage to our side in the War. British Fascism was never such a threat to the war effort as were, say, pro-German isolationists in the US, who acted as a lobby against US entry into the war. But these men betrayed their country, a liberal democracy, and served the cause of evil; they were accessories to the most vile regime in recorded history. Their pathos should not overshadow their support for that cause. Weale gives an important, indeed unparalleled, account of this aspect of Britain's war, with extensive research and much detail.


Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda (Open Media Pamphlet)
Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda (Open Media Pamphlet)
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
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47 of 123 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Intemperate and inconsequential, February 8, 2002
This pamphlet ostensibly discusses the impact of the communications media in shaping people's views on public policy. The subject is an interesting but inconclusive area of sociology and political science, in which some useful work has been published in the past few years (for example, Benjamin Page's 'Who Deliberates?'). Most such work, in my judgement, exaggerates the media's importance as intermediaries in a deliberative democracy, but raises important questions about matters of selection bias and the framing of policy issues. Chomsky's polemic doesn't begin to approach, and doesn't appear to be familiar with, this body of work. It is short on analysis and long on abuse. Few readers are likely to gain insight from its melange of unsubstantiated assertion, unfalsifiable thesis and frequent resort to abuse.
The unfalsifiable thesis is the notion that the communications media are a consistent force for communicating the policy preferences of a homogeneous elite, thereby 'manufacturing consent' among the governed. As an analytical device, this is useless, for it precludes nothing and predicts nothing. In Great Britain, for example, most newspapers opposed military action in Kosovo in 1999, but Tony Blair went ahead anyway and won public respect for doing so. One can read Chomsky's pamphlet on alleged media control in vain for any insight into the ambiguous relationship among the executive, the press and the people that this incident illustrates. All one will find is a refusal to credit people's ability to judge public policies for themselves.
Chomsky is thus a consistent elitist in the mould of Herbert Marcuse, and the reader should be prepared. But even so, it is still a shock to see just how deep is the contempt expressed in this pamphlet for the citizenry of a liberal democracy. What can one make, for example, of the assertion, with its preposterous identification of public opinion with unthinking militarism, that during the Gulf War everybody 'goosestepped on command'? Even as hyperbole, this is gross condescension and hardly consistent with democratic precepts. Unfortunately there is no stopping the stream of vitriol directed at those who have the temerity to hold different views from Chomsky. He asserts, "no reason was given for going to war that could not be refuted by a literate teenager." I can assure Chomsky that the 80% of us in the US and Great Britain who supported Operation Desert Storm are not automata and were perfectly capable of stating an overwhelming justification for going to war: we didn't wish to see an aggressive and expansionist tyranny succeed in annexing and plundering a neigbouring country, threaten Israel and the Arab states, and augment its weapons of mass destruction. Fortunately for world peace, our side ignored the prescriptions of the anti-war activists and defeated Iraq. But to Chomsky, if he loses the argument, there must be dark forces at work: the overwhelming public support freely and responsibly given to our leaders and armed forces was, in his judgement, "the hallmark of a totalitarian culture".
In his new book 'Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline', Judge Richard Posner notes that "the enormous volume of Noam Chomsky's political writings ... has received little public attention, much of it derisory." No one who has read 'Media Control' will be surprised by that information.
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The Verdi-Boito Correspondence
The Verdi-Boito Correspondence
by Giuseppe Verdi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $28.45
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving testament to friendship and musical genius, January 20, 2002
This superbly-annotated collection of more than 300 letters between Verdi and his librettist Arrigo Boito shows not only an insight into musical creativeness but also the workings of generous and selfless friendship. Boito invested an immense amount of time and effort in his own opera Mefistofele; as those who witnessed its revival at the English National Opera a few years ago will attest, it is a hack work that can only successfully be portrayed as parody. In these letters, Verdi is ceaselessly encouraging and interested in the work, though he must have known that it was not a work of art. For his part, Boito is touchingly appreciative of his colleague's talent - he habitually addresses Verdi as 'Dearest Maestro' - and in their exchanges the reader can gain a glimpse into the creative workings that, Wagner not withstanding, produced the finest body of 19th-century opera.
There is real spine to the work of Verdi and Boito: it encompasses politics, religion, pathos and tragedy. These letters are testament to the men's friendship and genius; it is a moving and important work, and I strongly recommend it.


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