Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hegemony or Survival


Noam Chomsky. Now there is a name that garners respect. I've found that whenever I say the phrase "I'm reading Chomsky" I automatically get respectful nods. I suspect it's less because those I'm talking to have read his works but rather because he has one of "those" names. He has a Russian name, and for some reason if you ever say you are reading anything by a Russian (sounding) author you get the respectful nod.

I've made attempts at reading his works before and could never seem to get through them. He is a prof. at MIT in Linguistics and Philosophy but (for those who do not know) often writes/talks about "the state of the nation" and other such exciting topics.

truth be told, I have never been a fan of his. NOT, because of his thoughts on subjects but more because his books are ridiculously hard to get through. I KNOW he is a linguist and I KNOW that he knows what he is doing when it comes to writing "correctly" but come on... If you are going to write about a topic that people that are not linguists have an interest in, please try to write so that average reader has a chance of understanding you. I liken him to Shakespeare. You may understand the words, and occasionally you may even understand the meaning, but if you really want to get it all, it is best to spend hours surrounding yourself with it.

Hegemony or Survival deals with US foreign policy in this century and asks the question (basically) when is it too much? When, if ever, is it possible for the US to overstep it's bounds.

I enjoyed the parts that dealt with S. America, Cuba, and Iraq, but I wish he would have organized the chapters into clearer categories. His sentences are thick with quotes and he often brandishes odd-ball "titles" on those he thinks are villains. Consequently diminishing his arguments against terms like "terrorist". I enjoyed the book but would not recommend it to the average reader.

Excerpt:
Enemy Territory
Those who want to face their responsibilities with a genuine commitment to democracy and freedom -- even to decent survival -- should recognize the barriers that stand in the way. In violent states these are not concealed. In more democratic societies barriers are more subtle. While methods differ sharply from more brutal to more free societies, the goals are in many ways similar: to ensure that the "great beast," as Alexander Hamilton called the people, does not stray from its proper confines.


Controlling the general population has always been a dominant concern of power and privilege, particularly since the first modern democratic revolution in seventeenth-century England. The self-described "men of best quality" were appalled as a "giddy multitude of beasts in men's shapes" rejected the basic framework of the civil conflict raging in England between king and Parliament, and called for government" by countrymen like ourselves, that know our wants," not by "knights and gentlemen that make us laws, that are chosen for fear and do but oppress us, and do not know the people's sores." The men of best quality recognized that if the people are so "depraved and corrupt" as to "confer places of power and trust upon wicked and undeserving men, they forfeit their power in this behalf unto those that are good, though but a few." Almost three centuries later, Wilsonian idealism, as it is standardly termed, adopted a rather similar stance. Abroad, it is Washington's responsibility to ensure that government is in the hands of "the good, though but a few." At home, it is necessary to safeguard a system of elite decision-making and public ratification -- "polyarchy," in the terminology of political science -- not democracy.

2 comments:

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