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on December 9, 2012
Everybody talks about being dissatisfied with government, and it does have its share of problems. However, putting aside partisan differences, maybe it is time to reevaluate what we want. I found this book to provide one such alternative. The book does draw from many other resources, but fills in the reader on the merits of each. And it poses a central question, "how do we best interpret the values of the great movements in liberty in our quickly changing world." This is a good question, and a great place to start when one is attempting to build a governance structure while at the time having to protect civil liberties and personal well-being.
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on December 6, 2005
A small book of only 67 pages from a talk given in 1970 and yet valuable, relevant, undated information.

In this book Chomsky goes into four main avenues of government This is not a perfect interpretation.

1. Classic Liberalism - a tamed down version of the dog eat dog, Laissez-Faire economics, which is small government or non-government intervention in a capitalist society, but here minus the rugged individualism and wage slave labor. So it's sort of a combination of the Laissez faire liberty with the civil libertarian of individual social freedoms which are, not obstructed by entrepreneurial capitalist greed of free market fundamentalism.

2. Libertarian Socialism - anarchism, council communism - here the working class becomes the government, but not a dictatorship of the proletariat, but rather a democracy of the proletariat, councils and committees vote on issues, not elected representatives who act as the decision makers. There is no state ownership and authoritarian domination but self governing through democratic means. Some anarchism wants to do away with the political organization of the state, where as here the commune exists All of this is experimental and is believed to be achieved only by revolution and only when the conditions are ripe.Only by active participation of the masses in self-government and social reconstruction could bring about what Rosa Luxemburg described as the complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule, just as only their creative experience and spontaneous action could solve the myriad problems created in libertarian socialist society. Here there would be no vanguard party here but equalitarian participation through technology and education.

3. State Socialism And 4. State Capitalism

It is here the range of decisions that are in principle subject to public democratic control are quite narrow, from the political decision makers and central institutions as well as the centers of private power which exert an inordinately heavy influence through media, thought control of political organizations by biased concentrations of private power and autocratic institutions. Democracy is limited mainly to elections which subsequently can by pass public opinion in decision making and use means of control or propaganda to influence public policy. Centralization of power becomes dominant over democratic decision making., from the top down as opposed to the bottom up.

"American society is indeed open and liberal values are preserved. However, as poor people and black people and other ethic minorities know very well, the liberal veneer is pretty thin.. . . . Roughly speaking, I think it's accurate to say that a corporate elite of managers and owners governs the economy and the political systems as well - at least in a very large measure. p. 64 It is here that the deciding of issues by the electorate is secondary to the election of the men who are to do the deciding. where the political parties act in concert in competitive struggle for power. If that weren't so, it would be impossible for different parties to adopt exactly or almost exactly the same program.(Joseph Schumperer).
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on May 28, 2006
How unfortunate that, busy with business as usual, we don't devote more time to discusssing with those around us how our economic and political life could be. Perhaps it is too enjoyable to sit back and watch "American Idol".

Chomsky at his most provocative:

* Can we make modern society democratic?
* Can the U.S. population join in the push for change along with people in the rest of the world? Is it willing to take a chance to disturb the status quo? Can it seem the point of that, even with the inevitable errors along the way? Or have we been lullued into sheepish acceptance of authority and the way things are?
* Has hyping the need for the war machine indeed become the way to win our tax dollars and support for aggression? Does the war machine require the kind of efficent, centralized managment that corporate executives and lawyers best provide? Does the focus on war damage our cultural and moral life? Do the corporate executives bring with them a mindset that is profoundly anti-democratic, anti-libertarian, anti-worker?

This book may be short on pages but it's long on issues you can think over and discuss with others. The libertarian socialist position Chomsky favors may not work but responding to its challenges may lull you out of sleep. Our capitalist ways seem horribly incapable of addressing the crises of sustainability that have begun. Now is the time to turn off "American Idol" each week and instead read this book and talk with others each week about it. No one person can change the tide: not until each of us is an "American Helper" is their hope for our country or the world in the crises ahead.
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on January 15, 2007
Chomsky is an excellent writer and linguist, and his books are always a pleasure to read. If you are interested in governing or politics, you may enjoy this book ('may,' as in 'unless your excessively conservative').
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on February 26, 2012
In 1970 Noam Chomsky gave a talk at the New York Poetry Center entitled "Governments in the Future." The talk was later published as a short book by Seven Stories Press. Although the talk occurred during the Cold War era, much of what Chomsky says has relevance for the exercise of governmental and private power today and the possibilities that still exist for a just and equitable social and economic arrangement among human beings at some indeterminate point in the future.

Chomsky's Thesis

Chomsky states his thesis early on: "I think that the libertarian socialist concepts--and by that I mean a range of thinking that extends from left-wing Marxism through anarchism--are fundamentally correct and that they are the proper and natural extensions of classical liberalism into the current era of advanced industrial society."

He then sets out to demonstrate that libertarian socialist concepts are indeed rooted in classical liberalism.

On Classical Liberalism

Chomsky argues that for classical liberalism the state is viewed as inherently an "antihuman institution" because it's limits and controls on human behavior and largely militates against the "free, searching [and] self-perfecting" "essence" of human beings, thus inhibiting "the full harmonious development of human potential in its richest diversity" Chomsky believes this view is essentially correct. He cites (almost to the exclusion of any other classical liberal thinker) Wilhelm von Humboldt as evidence for the claim.

Although contemporary conservative capitalist thinkers believe they are direct philosophical heirs of classical liberalism, Chomsky argues persuasively that their belief can only be superficially and tenuously supported. Chomsky points out that classical thinkers valued "freedom" to such an extent that it excluded what we would perceive today as (and what Humboldt embryonically perceived as) machine-like and alienated labor--a staple of capitalist economies. He points out that Humboldt supported state intervention when "'freedom would destroy the very conditions without which not only freedom but even existence itself would be inconceivable'"--a state of affairs, Chomsky correctly says, "which are precisely the circumstances that arise in an unconstrained capitalist economy." While these considerations indicate a probable eventual leftward drift at the inception of classical liberalism, Chomsky hastens to add that capitalism was far too nascent for classical liberal thinkers to envisage the pernicious forms that "industrial capitalism would take."

Libertarian Socialism

Given the "free, searching [and] self-perfecting" "essence" of human beings, a "consistent anarchist," Chomsky says, "must oppose the private means of production." That means that an anarchist (i.e. a libertarian socialist) must oppose both the ownership of the means of production in capitalist economies but also state socialist economies as well. The means of production and the relations they produce must be democratically controlled by the workers themselves:
"[S]tate power must be eliminated in favor of democratic organization of industrial society, with direct popular control over all institutions by those who participate in--as well as those who are directly affected by--the workings of these institutions. So one might imagine a system of workers' councils, consumers' councils, commune assemblies, regional federations, and so on...."

Such an arrangement constitutes true democracy. Chomsky goes so far to say, "democracy is largely a sham when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether it's owners, managers, technocrats, a vanguard party, a state bureaucracy, or whatever."

How and when will the end of private or state ownership of the means production result? Chomsky doesn't possess a crystal ball and, so, doesn't make any predictions. But whenever it occurs, Chomsky believes that "the state must disappear, to be replaced by the industrial organization of society in the course of the social revolution itself." Here Chomsky distinguishes libertarian socialism from the Leninist tradition of Marxism that holds that the state ownership of the means of production is a perquisite for the creation of a communist society and the dissolution of the state. In fact, Chomsky holds that Bakunin's warnings that a "red bureaucracy" would "be worse than the Czar himself" were prescient.

Given the military might and near global hegemony of the USA, Chomsky interestingly believes "For just this reason, it's essential that a powerful revolutionary movement exist in the United States if there are to be any reasonable possibilities for democratic social change of a radical sort anywhere in the capitalist world." Chomsky could easily be correct, but it certainly makes the prospects of an outbreak of libertarian socialist societies seem grim if they are contingent on a "powerful revolutionary movement" existing in the nation where it is least likely to exist given the highly refined and powerful means of social control that exist in the USA as is described by Chomsky in many of his works (e.g. Manufacturing Consent).

State Socialism and State Capitalism

In this section Chomsky states that because he is mostly concerned about "our society" he mostly concentrates his analysis on state capitalism even though some of what he says can be applied to both systems.

State Capitalism consists of "two systems of power": "the political system and the economic system." While the former system consists of elected officials who set public policy, the latter system is a collage of "private empires" "free from public control, except in the remote and indirect ways in which even a feudal nobility or a totalitarian dictatorship must be responsive to the public will." One consequence of this system of private economic empires is that it induces an authoritarian state of mind in large segments of the population, making them feel as though they are fitfully subject to "arbitrary decrees from above" which they must dutifully obey. Another consequence is that these private economic powers are minimally subject to popular democratic control, so much so that governments are specifically legally forbidden to interfere with and regulate many of their economic activities. A third consequence of the system of private power is that the narrow range of public policy that is subject to popular democratic control can be subverted by the "heavy influence" of private power through the media, political processes and organizations, and by supplying the "top personnel for the parliamentary system itself." Summarily put: "In short, the democratic system at best functions within a narrow range in a capitalist democracy, and even within this narrow range its functioning is enormously biased by the concentrations of private power and by the authoritarian and passive modes of thinking that are induced by autocratic institutions such as industries."

In conclusion, for those interested in the philosophical and historical patrimony od libertarian socialism, "Governments in the Future" is a must read.
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on March 22, 2017
Very short, but still a very informativevand accessible insight to Chomsky's understanding of classical liberalism. Borrows a lot from Wilhelm von Humboldt and Rudolf Rocker
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on June 8, 2005
This book is actually from a speech he gave in 1970 but in written form. Basically Chomsky provides a framework consisting of four "idealized [ideological] positions" concerning governance which he compares and contrasts. The four are classical liberal, libertarian socialism, state socialism(Bolshevism) and state capitalism. He defends the libertarian socialist position and argues that it is the proper and appropriate form of governance because he sees it as the natural extension of classical liberal ideas, with its conception of human nature: that a fundamental element of our nature is the need for creative work and inquiry. He argues that in order for this conception of human nature to be realized, a high degree of freedom is required so that people can animate, explore and test their inborne creative faculties. This translates to the necessary dismantling of the state and economic system which should be supplanted with systems that maximize and strengthen this "idealized position".

He makes a very good argument as to why we should do away with our current systems, but what the reader must always keep in mind is the perspective from which he analyzes and judges the world. Whether you agree with him or not ultimately depends on your own conception of humanity.

All in all, I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in political philosophy or just politics in general.
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