Above Photo: Noam Chomsky. Brill / ullstein bild/Getty Images.
Noam Chomsky delves into how half a century of neoliberalism set the stage for contemporary fascist movements from Hungary to India and the US.
This is the second part of a two-part interview.
World-renowned linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, essayist, and political activist Noam Chomsky returns to The Chris Hedges Report to continue their discussion on contemporary fascism, the war in Ukraine, and the tasks of the left in a time of ecological and political crisis. You can watch the first part of this two-part interview here.
Noam Chomsky is the author of more than 150 books on topics that include linguistics, the press, the inner workings of empire, and the war industry. He is a Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and an Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include Hegemony or Survival, For Reasons of State, American Power and the New Mandarins, Understanding Power, The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature, On Language, Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship, The Fateful Triangle, and many others. His latest book is Notes on Resistance, interviews by David Barsamian.
Studio: Adam Coley, Dwayne Gladden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Chris Hedges: Welcome to part two of my interview with Professor Noam Chomsky. All intellectuals of our generation, at least if they are genuine intellectuals, are, in some sense, children of Noam Chomsky. No single contemporary intellectual has broken more ground or elucidated more of our reality as a society, nation, and empire than Noam Chomsky. He is a world-renowned linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, essayist, social critic, as well as a fearless political activist. He is the author of more than 150 books on topics that include linguistics, the press, the inner workings of empire, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the war industry. He is a laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona and an institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His books include Hegemony or Survival; For Reasons of State; American Power and the New Mandarins; Understanding Power; The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature; On Language, Objectivity, and Liberal Scholarship; The Fateful Triangle; and many others. His latest book is Notes on Resistance: Interviews by David Barsamian. Joining me for part two of our interview is professor Noam Chomsky.
I wondered if you could speak about the origins of authoritarianism and neo-fascism in the United States, as well as much of the rest of the world, from Viktor Orban in Hungary to Narendra Modi – You mentioned him last week – In India. What are the forces that created these political monstrosities? And I wonder how similar this moment in history is to the 1930s?
Noam Chomsky: Well, that touches a personal… Has personal meaning to me. I’m old enough to remember the ’30s, and there’s a certain irony. In the 1930s, as a child, I could sense the enormous fear that fascism was spreading inexorably over the world. The Nazis first started [inaudible]. [inaudible] school newspaper in Oregon. It was about the fall of Barcelona, the [inaudible] in Spain. Austria had gone. Czechoslovakia had gone. Now Spain is gone; is it ever going to end? There was, at that time, a sign of hope – The United States. The United States was breaking from the fascist pattern, but there were fascist elements here with the New Deal, new labor action, all beginnings of social democracy. It was counter to the collapse of continental Europe to fascism.
Unfortunately, it’s not being replicated. In some ways, even the opposite. Take a look at Orban’s Hungary that you mentioned. That’s a striking case. Orban has created what he called an “illiberal democracy”. It means no democracy. State power takes over, destroys the media, destroys the academic world, no political parties, no independent institutions. Created a reactionary, Christian nationalist, racist state. That’s Viktor Orban. That’s the ideal of the Republican Party. We see it. About a month ago, there was a conference in Budapest of the far right organizations in Europe, many with neo-fascist origins. In Budapest, naturally, because that’s the ideal. The star participant was the Conservative Political Action Conference. It’s basically the core of the Republican Party.
They actively participated. Trump gave a speech lauding Orban’s vision of the future. And Tucker Carlson went wild about it. He worships him in a documentary about it. A couple weeks later, there was a conference in Dallas, Texas, run by the same group, Conservative Political Action Conference, core of the Republican Party. Who was the keynote speaker? Viktor Orban. That’s the ideal to which we want to strive. Racist, [inaudible] fascist, Christian nationalist, illiberal society which crushes independent thought, independent media, to the extent that they are, and other institutions.
Well, in a couple of weeks, there’s going to be a vote about that in the United States. The Supreme Court has already been basically handed over to these forces. [inaudible] makes speeches at the Vatican in which he almost says [inaudible]. Most reactionary Court in memory taking up this coming term, some really scary cases they’ve had no reason to take up other than as an effort to try to undermine democracy and lay the basis for takeover of the country by a far right minority party. the Republican Party. I hate to call it a party anymore. They can be a permanent governing party as a minority party. [inaudible] mechanisms, including cases the court has decided to take up like Moore v Harper, which could lay the basis for legislators and states of simply overturning the popular vote. Could go to that point.
These are all developments taking place right here, perfectly open. Not only taking place in Europe. The Modi case, I think, has slightly different origins. That’s creating a racist Hindu ethnocracy in a country with a very large Muslim population and tearing to shreds Indian secular democracy. It fits into the pattern with somewhat different sources.
In the West, I think a large part of what’s happening, a very large part, is the bitter, savage, class war that’s been conducted for the last 40 years. It’s called neoliberalism. It even has rhetoric about markets and so on. But that’s widely misleading. It’s basically savage class war. And it was understood by the leaders. It starts with Reagan and Thatcher. Their first moves in office were to attack, undermine the labor movement, opening the door for the corporate sector to enter with illegal strike-breaking efforts, organization efforts tolerated by the criminal state. That made sense. If you’re going to carry out a bitter, savage class war, better eliminate all the means of defense.
And it’s gone on for the United States. We have measures of it. I’m sure you know that the Rand Corporation about a year ago came out with an estimate that about $50 trillion – That’s not pennies – $50 trillion had been transferred to the pockets of the top 1%, or to a fraction of them, mostly in the last 40 years of class war. Meanwhile, real wages have stagnated, and for [inaudible] workers, benefits have collapsed.
In fact, it’s quite striking. You look back at the 1970s. The United States was not all that different from other industrial powers in such things as cost of healthcare or availability of healthcare, mortality, incarceration, measure after measure. Then it started splitting bad enough in the other industrial societies. England is much like the United States, to some extent, in Europe.
Well, what all these things have done is create waves of anger, resentment for institutions, hopelessness, and it’s just fertile terrain for demagogues. Trump’s a perfect example where [inaudible] comes, stands with a sign in one hand saying, “I love you,” while the other hand is stabbing you in the back. His entire legislative program’s a bitter attack on working people and the poor. Similar things have been happening in Europe. Individual cases, you can see differences, but it’s pretty common all over. I mean, it’s not the first time in American history.
You look back at the 1920s, it wasn’t all that different from today. The labor had been crushed by Woodrow Wilson’s repressive actions. Red Scare, the worst repression in American history. They used the Espionage Act to undermine political parties, the Socialist Party, independent thought, independent media, labor. Huge inequality. That was then. We’re living in a similar period. Then I said, well, there are many different causes for different [inaudible]. But I think there’s one fundamental strain that underlies all of them. When you destroy the social order, destroy the possibilities for people to organize and protect themselves, atomize the society, people living with precarious jobs. Go through Trump territory, rural towns in the United States. The industries are gone thanks to Bill Clinton’s new liberal globalization programs, which were explicitly designed to undermine American labor and to support investor rights and corporate rights, and did that, in fact.
Labor was opposed to those, but they were dismissed. Press wouldn’t even talk about the proposals. Well, how has this supported young people living? Mortality is even increasing, which is unheard of, in the white working class. Nothing like that’s happened. [inaudible] they’re called by economists deaths of despair. This has been going on for the last couple of years. In this kind of environment, you can get support for greater fascist elements of the Trump variety, Orban, Meloni in Italy [inaudible] in England. [inaudible] crop up, this is fertile territory for them. And I think the right answer, if it can be achieved, is what was done in the ’30s. Labor movement revived and political organizations revived. Labor action took place. Sympathetic administration. You’ve got the origins of social democracy. A lot of things to criticize there, but it’d be a step forward for basic human rights and bills here.
Chris Hedges: I want to ask about the Democratic Party, because this slow-motion corporate coup d’etat, to steal a line from John Ralston Saul, produced these figures like Clinton, who you mentioned, Tony Blair. The labor had some voice in the Labour Party in the UK and in the Democratic Party. And as you correctly pointed out, Clinton betrayed labor. We now see the Biden administration that is not able to fulfill its most tepid campaign promises including $15 minimum wage, his Build Back Better plan. To what extent is the ineffectiveness and even alliance with the Democratic Party with corporate America to blame for the rise of this neo-fascism?
Noam Chomsky: Considerably. It starts in the late Carter years. The Democratic Party in the 1970s basically abandoned whatever commitment it had to the working class and the poor, became a party of affluent professionals, the kind of people who show up at Obama’s fancy parties to listen to Beyonce. The last gasp of solicited concern for the interest of working people was the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment bill of 1978. Carter didn’t veto it, but he watered it down so that it was toothless and voluntary. Since then, it’s hard to find anything. So yes, that means that there’s no defense for working people in the political system.
To Biden’s credit, he did better than I expected, I should say. On the domestic front, not international. So take the Build Back Better program, which I think probably came out of Bernie Sanders’s office in the Senate Budget Committee and was based on lots of activism on the ground mostly by young people, just as the climate program was. That wasn’t a bad program. It was cut away step by step by 100% Republican opposition. Republicans aren’t a political party. They’re some other kind of organization. Got to block everything that might help the public, that might come down to the benefit of the other party. So block everything, and a couple of right-wing Democrats have gone along.
And you can argue that Biden could have fought much harder for it. He’s not a fighter. He’s not [inaudible]. Well, nevertheless, by the standards of the past, he did take some steps back towards a time when the Democrats had at least some kind of concern for working people and the poor. Couldn’t get very far with it. The shift to the right over the past couple of generations is pretty startling. Then you go back and you look at somebody like Dwight Eisenhower. I remember when Eisenhower was elected in ’52. I thought the world was coming to an end. How can we have such a reactionary president?
And I look back now, it looks like the liberal positions are not all that different from Bernie Sanders in many areas. Strong supporter of the New Deal. Speeches saying that anybody who doesn’t think the workers should have the right to organize doesn’t belong in our political system. That’s conservatism back in the 1950s. Bernie Sanders, who I think is doing a great job, is considered very radical with positions that, by our past standards or by European standards, are like moderate social democracy.
Well, the country’s really shifted in the last 50 or 60 years, mainly with the neoliberal assault, which we should regard as what it is – Savage class war. And one of the major victims is all organized human society. It’s led by climate deniers. It’s 100% of the Republican Party. Trump, of course. They’re going to kill us all. Maximize the use of fossil fuels. Eliminate measures to mitigate the disaster.
We have a narrow window in which we can overcome what will be the final crisis for human beings on Earth. Narrow window is being closed. And these forces, they already have the Supreme Court. They’re likely to take Congress. They’ll lay the basis for undercutting Democratic elections by all sorts of means that we’re familiar with. They may become a permanent minority party leading the way over the precipice joyfully with the strong support of the corporate sector, which is gleeful as [inaudible] bloated with profits as it’s racing to destroy the world. It’s an astonishing picture.
Chris Hedges: I want to ask about foreign policy and Ukraine. We’ve given some $50 billion in weapons and aid to Ukraine. That’s almost the entire budget of the State Department and USAID. You, Seymour Melman, and others have written about the permanent war economy and the economic and social consequences of that. Unchecked militarism is often cited by historians such as Arnold Toynbee as the principle reason for the collapse of empires. Is this where we are? And if we are, what does collapse look like? Given the current rhetoric and the perpetuation of the war in Ukraine, it may look like a nuclear holocaust.
Noam Chomsky: Well, there are very unique characteristics here. You captured US policy accurately. Official US policy, continuously reiterated by defense secretary Lloyd Austin and others, is that we must perpetuate the war in Ukraine in order to severely weaken Russia, meaning no diplomatic settlement. Perpetuate the war. Meanwhile, we are pouring out resources into destruction. Others are as well. We keep on the present course, we’re going to go over the precipice. We’re already reaching irreversible tipping points. The World Meteorological Association just, I think, yesterday, a couple days ago, came out with an analysis saying we’ve got to do double renewable electricity by 2030 or else we’re done for. And we have to end fossil fuel use by what’s called net zero by 2050. And we shouldn’t be misled by that. Net zero can mean, and the corporate sector wants it to mean, keep using fossil fuels and pretend to remove the poisons from the atmosphere. Not that.
When they talk about net zero, they mean stop using them except at the fringes. Don’t rely on them. Well, that’s quite a task. It’s feasible. But instead of working on that, what we’re working on is maximizing the use of fossil fuels. We need them for the war in Ukraine. We need them because the gas prices are too rotten and so on. In fact, sometimes when you look at what the human species is doing, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
You can take one of the best newspapers in the world, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It’s a very good newspaper. Critical, independent newspaper. It has a lead article today lauding the agreement between Lebanon and Israel over the natural gas fields in the Mediterranean near the border. Just take a look at the scientific analysis. A week ago, Israeli scientist [inaudible] came out with analyses showing that their earlier estimates were far too conservative, that the Eastern Mediterranean was going to rise two and a half meters by the end of the century. 10 feet, roughly. Can you imagine what that means? Here you have Lebanon and Israel squabbling over who will administer the coup de gras when the two countries collapse under water. And if you wanted to write a satire on the human species, you wouldn’t know how to do it because what they’re doing exceeds satire.
And the same thing is happening in South Asia. Same thing is happening with Ukraine. Maximize destruction. Don’t move to negotiate a settlement. I’ll try to stay something about that. [inaudible] announced that [inaudible]. It’s what almost all the world wants, back to that question we discussed the last meeting about not knowing what people want. I mean, almost the entire world is pulling for a negotiated settlement right now. Even three-quarters of Germans through Europe. No. Can’t have it. Got to keep the war going to weaken Russia, pouring out fossil fuels, reversing the limited measures to try to deal with the overwhelming crisis we’re facing.
If you look at the details, you hardly know how to talk about them. Take a look at the corporate sector. I’m sure you saw this, but a couple of weeks… One of the big concerns of scientists is the heating of the Arctic is going much faster than the rest of the world, which exposes the permafrost. Permafrost has a huge, colossal amount of carbon. If it melts, it all goes into the atmosphere. Well, one of the oil companies, ConocoPhillips, their scientists figured out a clever way to slow down the warming of the permafrost, some technique for driving cooling [inaudible].
Why aren’t they doing it? So that they can harden the surface of the permafrost and drill for oil. Are we all insane? I mean, you [inaudible] Biden. Yeah. What’s left of the climate bill – A little bit, not much – Provides credits for carbon removal, removal of carbon from the atmosphere. So ExxonMobil’s going into new fields that have so much carbon in them that they don’t want to use them for oil. And they’re drilling there so they can get carbon out, which they can then remove by some mostly non-existent technology, and get credits or subsidies from the government. It’s like capitalism going insane. Not just savage capitalism. They’re going totally insane. All of this is happening before our eyes.
Chris Hedges: It’s like the end of Easter Island. I want to ask whether you think the corporate state is reformable, or does it have to be overthrown the way the decayed Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union were overthrown? I know you support Extinction Rebellion, as do I. That’s certainly the position they’re coming from.
Noam Chomsky: Well, I can understand the reasoning, what I was just discussing, which is just a tiny example, supports the reasoning. But there’s a problem: Time. Look at the time scales. We’re dealing with a huge problem of heating destroying the environment. Compare that with a possible time scale for large-scale change in our socioeconomic system. They’re not in sync. The timing for dealing with the climate catastrophe is much narrower. So like it or not, we’re going to have to deal with this problem within a reformed, controlled, regimented state capitalist system. We can work on trying to go beyond at the same time. We shouldn’t give that up. But I think that’s the real world that we’re living in. That’s not impossible. Remember that before the neo-liberal class war over the last 40 years, there was a period of what’s called regimented capitalism. Not beautiful by any means, but under control.
That’s when you had conservatives like Eisenhower strongly support labor [inaudible] very high growth rate [inaudible]. Pretty egalitarian, a lot of programs [inaudible]. No financial crisis because the treasury department was doing its job. It ended with Reagan [inaudible] and Richardson. And then financial crisis after crisis and bail-outs and so on. But that didn’t happen in the ’50s and ’60s. Now, it was capitalism and other state capitalism, plenty of flaws, serious runs with [inaudible] at least not suicidal like the current system. So I think it’s possible. At the same time, I think we should be working to lay the basis and consciousness and institutions for going well beyond.
Chris Hedges: Great. That was professor Noam Chomsky. His new book is Notes on Resistance: Interviews by David Barsamian. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, Dwayne Gladden, and Kayla Rivera. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.