Rancid Discussion Thread: Chomsky’s Provisional Fascism

In the last thread, commenter pnuwb introduced Chomsky’s essay, published yesterday, in which he wrote about wars of aggression. As pnuwb pointed out, the piece is “a decent anti-war article”  that ends with the conclusion that “carbon emissions are a greater crime than war or aggression.”

Pnuwb claims that this conclusion “allows [Chomsky] to imply that the existence of the fascist state’s army is tragically necessary to stop the capitalists from polluting.” I felt at the time that this was something of a leap, until commenter Pwnership Society Treasurer cited an article in which a quote by Chomsky adds weight to pnuwb’s inference:

Suppose it was discovered tomorrow that the greenhouse effects has been way understimated, and that the catastrophic effects are actually going to set in 10 years from now, and not 100 years from now or something.

Well, given the state of the popular movements we have today, we’d probably have a fascist takeover-with everybody agreeing to it, because that would be the only method for survival that anyone could think of. I’d even agree to it, because there’s just no other alternatives right now.”

There is no limit, apparently, to how many ways Chomsky, an alleged anarchist, can tout a provisional alliance with state authority. Again and again, he wrings his hands over the collusion between the state and the corporate sector, on his way to recommending the corporate-controlled state as our best hope of reigning the corporate sector in. This finds its most extreme expression in a willingness to make common cause with fascism.

I am curious what people make of this, first in regard to the logic that leads Chomsky to conclusions of this kind. I am also interested in what people who reject this logic would offer as rebuttal, and people who don’t reject it would offer in support.

I am also curious what Chomsky means by ‘given the state of popular movements today.’ I had initially thought he meant that there is no popular leverage against fascism at the moment, but now I think he means there is no movement activity that would be as effective as fascism against looming environmental catastrophe.

Finally, what about the implication that carbon emissions are a greater crime than wars of aggression? Considering the relationship of oil to U.S. foreign policy, is it sensible to even make a distinction?

Anything peripherally on topic or more is welcome.


Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of State Repression

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part 1

Passing Noam on My Way Out Part 2: Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Intermission

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118 Responses to Rancid Discussion Thread: Chomsky’s Provisional Fascism

  1. b-psycho says:

    .Chomsky seems under the impression that an openly fascist regime would give a flying fuck about the environment…Why??

    • Tarzie says:

      That was my first impulse too. I guess he sees it as something we all ratify in a state of emergency as opposed to the usual fascism that aids and abets corporate and oligarchic predation. You could say he’s playing kind of fast and loose with what fascism is.

      • b-psycho says:

        If he seriously sees it that way, then he’s basically saying that in emergency situations fascism is indistinguishable from idealized “representative” democracy. “When SHTF you’ll all cry out for Decisive Leadership”…

        Jfc, the main point of Anarchism is that concentrated power is inherently bad, and he implies the opposite!

      • Tarzie says:

        When asked what he means by anarchism, Chomsky claims it’s the belief that all authority must be justified. If it can’t be justified, it must be dismantled. It’s a fairly conservative anarchism that rationalizes all his provisional support for state authority. You’re right on the money in interpreting him. Elsewhere he has said the state ‘can be as benign as we make it.’

      • TFG Casper says:

        I’ve got to say that using that particular quote in that particular manner is a very succinct example of “taking something out of context”. One could argue, quiet correctly I think, that he meant something very different than a desire for a fascist solution. Read the quoted text linked above.

      • Tarzie says:

        “Read the quoted text just above” you advise, as if no one’s done that but you.

        For the record, no one is arguing that a fascist solution to the climate crisis is Chomsky’s preference. We’re examining the hypothetical Chomsky presents, in which he states, unambiguously, a condition under which he would accept fascism. Chomsky is known for his plain-speaking ways, so it’s fascinating how many of his acolytes stop by here to tell us how we can’t take anything he says at face value, at least when it’s unflattering.

    • James says:

      The first action of the fascist regime would be to disband the military*

      From this tweet.

      * As with DOD budget numbers, these numbers exclude things they shouldn’t. For instance, energy/gas usage required to maintain the nuclear arsenal falls under the DOE, not the DOD.

      • pnuwb says:

        I missed your irony until I read the tweet thread.

        The gap between his idiotic statements and his reputation gets more and more hilarious by the day.

  2. srogouski says:

    I’ve actually made the same argument myself, that perhaps the best, the only way to deal with global warming would be some kind of progressive military dictatorship. But as “b-psycho” points out, military dictatorships are rarely, if ever progressive.

    Still, I think Chomsky addresses an important point. Dealing with global warming will take some level of coercion, and, if alarmist articles like the recent one in the Guardian are correct, a rather severe level of coercion. The Chinese aren’t necessarily going to cut back on their coal fired power plants because of some aggreement at the UN.

    I suppose it doesn’t make much sense even to discuss the issue without the context of people like Derrick Jensen, who’s addressed it in great detail.

  3. Pingback: Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of Domestic Repression | The Rancid Honeytrap

  4. bigLaborLobby says:

    It’s a little weird. You could come up with a hypothetical scenario where anything seems supportable. Usually when Chomsky gets these kinds of questions he waves his hands and dismisses considering hypotheticals that aren’t relevant to reality. In fact, two seconds searching on /r/chomsky gets this

    http://i.imgur.com/3J3YxOM.png?2 << Last question

    Of course, he might say this is worth considering because this is a more realistic hypothetical, so, maybe we'll live to see fascist-Chomsky. Crossing my fingers.

    • bigLaborLobby says:

      Then again, the kid’s basically answering exact same hypothetical Chomsky did, lol.

    • Tarzie says:

      You could come up with a hypothetical scenario where anything seems supportable.

      I don’t agree. I think a lot of anarchists would reject Chomsky’s provisional support for fascism in the proposed conditions. As anarchists go, Chomsky seems particularly reluctant to imagine possibilities outside the state and corporate sector.

      Apparently he’s not waving his hands at this hypothetical because he is using it to illustrate that the “the state of the popular movements we have today” affords us “no other alternatives [to fascism] right now” should an emergency arise. Given his sunny view of limitless movement opportunities, I guess this means we’re all failing.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        Of course you could come up with a scenario where provisional support for fascism was acceptable, it would just need to be more extreme than Chomsky’s. My guess is that most anarchists would say they wouldn’t support it because they don’t agree fascism would be the only option in his apocalypse-versus-fascism scenario. I suppose that means they have an even more optimistic view about movement-building than Chomsky.

      • Tarzie says:

        your point entirely eludes me, I’m afraid.

      • Tarzie says:

        The thing I love about statists is how they think everyone’s a statist (or even a fascist) in a metaphorical foxhole.

        I suppose that means they have an even more optimistic view about movement-building than Chomsky.

        Or perhaps they have a more pessimistic view than Chomsky of fascism.

        Chomsky’s hypothetical is like a pitch for benign Martians who set everything right. If we assume that the Martians will save humanity, then yes, it’s inarguable.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        The point was to respond to your disagreement, and then muse about the implications of disagreeing with Chomsky’s hypothetical.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        Yeah sure, if you don’t assume the fascist government is going to keep the human race alive the hypothetical falls apart. I took that as a primitive.

      • Tarzie says:

        oops missing point again…

        Seems you’re basically saying his hypothetical is right on the money if we ignore how fascism historically works and assume that it will work in Chomsky’s hypothetical. Isn’t this what the smarties call a tautology?

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        It depends on what kind of question you want to ask. I actually agree, without assuming it, that a fascist government would keep the human race alive in that scenario, but I also think that popular movements would grow rapidly after such grim news so supporting fascism wouldn’t be desirable. Chomsky’s point was to disparage the state of popular movements today, but yeah, you can beat his hypothetical by changing the assumptions if you want to.

        I am missing your point, not about how you get around the hypothetical, but about exactly what you’re arguing with me over.

      • Tarzie says:

        I am missing your point, not about how you get around the hypothetical, but about exactly what you’re arguing with me over.

        1. Assumption that there are realistic scenarios where anarchists would find fascism acceptable. Even if true, which I don’t concede, it’s not germane.

        2. Conceding Chomsky’s point that fascism is the most viable alternative to failed movements.

        3. Tautological suggestion that one must accept as a premise Chomsky’s hypothetical fascism working.

        It’s quite possible that we are simply fucked: neither movements nor fascism will help us. Since this is a strong possibility, endorsing fascism seems like a really weird way for the country’s most revered anti-authoritarian to go. A benign fascism seems no more likely than a sudden surge of earth-saving movement activity, especially when you consider the state’s role in promoting both corporate predation and carbon emissions, and its role in suppressing movements that fight for the earth and the creatures living on it. In the absence of these movements that make fascism inevitable, what is going to make the fascist state benign, rather than an efficient mechanism for suppressing social unrest and distributing dwindling resources upward?

      • Tarzie says:

        I think emanating fail has hit on the real meat of the matter, or a chunk of it.

        “What is the point of espousing anti-authoritarianism…”

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        1. If you throw in the word realistic, sure. I agree it’s not relevant.

        2. I don’t concede that point, and never said I did. My own thoughts are in my above comment.

        3. Tautological reasoning would require neither arguing premises or conclusions. I’m fine with arguing conclusions.

        I read their comment, and I agree with it.

        I don’t think there’s really a disagreement this time. I posted because I thought it was interesting and amusing that a reader posed essentially an identical hypothetical to Chomsky and he dismissed it saying there was not useful to speculate.

      • Tarzie says:

        It seems you did more than lol at Chomsky’s change of heart, but I won’t quibble.

        I find your idea that movements would suddenly flourish once emergency hit and the state clamped down interesting.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        Clamp down? I didn’t think the state would clamp down at all, my guess is the state is as interested in the survival of the human race as everyone else.

      • Tarzie says:

        I misinterpreted this to mean prolonged support of fascism wouldn’t be desirable. I see that’s not what you meant.

        I also think that popular movements would grow rapidly after such grim news so supporting fascism wouldn’t be desirable.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        That is, since the status quo implied certain doom, the state would be much less likely to oppress movements that challenged it.

      • Tarzie says:

        Well saving humanity doesn’t mean *all* of humanity, and I find it unlikely that the state in emergency circumstances wouldn’t use its power to suppress unrest and ameliorate conditions of a privileged few at the expense of the many. I think the idea that the state would ever be open to movements that challenged it extremely implausible even in the most dire circumstances.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        Depends on which state you’re talking about. I was referring to our current nominally democratic state. I haven’t given Chomsky’s premise much thought, but my first inclination is to think that fascism would be interested in saving *most* of humanity, aside from whoever gets sent to the modern gulags or whatever. That is, I really do think stopping climate change is in the elite’s best interest, and saving most of humanity in the process is a side effect of it.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I realized that you were talking about a nominally non-fascist state and edited. I still don’t think it makes any difference. I think a non-fascist state would still use it’s authority to benefit a few at the expense of many, as it does now.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        I don’t think that changes the hypothetical scenario. I understood it as starting from the current system, where would we move to.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah. I deleted that.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        Movement can mean lots of things.

        Here’s my guess of Chomsky’s thought process:

        Our current state would not respond to climate change as is. Since popular movements against climate change are nonexistent, fascism.

        I don’t think any of these “movements” would be movements challenging the state.

      • Tarzie says:

        You’re omitting that Chomsky is endorsing fascism, not simply saying that it’s mostly inevitable should the state get serious about averting catastrophe.

        Movements needn’t challenge the state (in a revolutionary way) to meet state resistance. They need only challenge the interests the state typically represents. You seem to be imagining a situation in which elites and the teeming masses all band together to save the earth and I find this extremely implausible. The crisis will be accompanied by increased competition for resources and habitable land. Since it is the absence of movements that places the onus on the state for fixing things, there is no leverage on preventing the state from operating exactly as it does now in relation to promoting elite interests over others.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        They would be reformist movements opposing climate change. My thought is that since stopping climate change is now in the state’s best interest, these would flourish.

      • Tarzie says:

        My thought is that since stopping climate change is now in the state’s best interest, these would flourish.

        well maybe — though I don’t think so, because not all of them would be proposing solutions that the rulers would ratify — but as I said, there is going to be all kinds of social unrest and movements to go with it that the state will have no interest in entertaining. Both you and Chomsky are proposing scenarios in which a state doesn’t act like a state.

      • I also think that popular movements would grow rapidly after such grim news so supporting fascism wouldn’t be desirable.

        This to me is the craziest part of his hypothetical. He rejects the ability of popular movements to succeed in the exact type of situation in which popular movements are most likely to form. In his hypothetical, everyone agrees that global warming is a problem of apocalyptic proportions. Universal consensus on an existential threat is the ideal context for a successful popular movement. In fact, what he is describing is a popular movement for fascism.

      • Tarzie says:

        Well said. He’s got an imagination problem that always tilts toward state power. In this case it seems misanthropic and elitist at heart.

  5. Peter says:

    “…allows [Chomsky] to imply that the existence of the fascist state’s army is tragically necessary to stop the capitalists from polluting.”

    The very power system that brought these problems to the fore are gonna solve it? LA had the Red Car mass transit which was systematically dismantled by Big Business in favor of profits and pollution. I’m trying to imagine the Chinese who now sell/consume more autos than the US standing in the smog of LA and thinking “we gotta get ourselves some of this.” They saw a working profit model and went for it, consequences be damned.

    Chomsky seems to be doing what human nature favors: find a justification for everything he’s doing, everything he’s saying and everything he believes. When the questions get pointed this normally intelligent man will just make shit up rather than pause, reflect or entertain doubt.

    What would Chomsky’s criticism of Chomsky be? Spend more time with the wife, kids and grandchildren? His self deprecation appears to end at favoring dumpy, casual attire.

    If it appears I’m coming off self-righteous and stompy-foot it’s because I’ve followed the instance of professional engineer Tony Szamboti who had Chomsky’s audience about 9/11 and laid out privately and in painful detail the history, the data, the physics, the fraud and the publications (and publication refusals, even though substantive, blatant errors were shown in accepted papers) only to have him shrug his shoulders and say “It’s really not my bag, man.” In another instance he had the nerve to toss out “Well, if the towers were blown that means al Qaeda did it.” Ergo, his incredulity (for whatever reason) outweighs everything else and his ignorance of facts will not prevent him from expressing a strong opinion that insults common sense.

    This last was shared as a WINDOW into Chomsky, not an attempt to change subject (Chomsky’s fascism) nor derail the discussion at hand.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, I recently saw something where he said something to the effect that Osama Bin Laden achieved all his goals with 9/11, as if empire didn’t have its own reasons for invading Afghanstan and Iraq and keeping the entire population in a state of fear. That’s just pure state doctrine.

      Even if one isn’t a Truther, Chomsky’s statement that state involvement in 9/11 is inconsequential is just idiotic.

    • Jay23 says:

      It reminds me of his dismissal of any notion of a JFK conspiracy. “Who cares if it was a jealous husband or something?” He is just so married to the notion that JFK was a brutal cold war hawk that it never occurs to him that even if true, powerful elements in the government might have thought otherwise and wanted him out.

    • babaganusz says:

      “What would Chomsky’s criticism of Chomsky be? Spend more time with the wife, kids and grandchildren? His self deprecation appears to end at favoring dumpy, casual attire.”

      lost his wife ~6 years ago. wouldn’t be surprised to find that correlated with a greater frequency of contemptible/contemptuous commentary. (nor i.m.o. would that be any excuse for unloading any such commentary in obvious “for the record” settings.)

  6. I’d even agree to it, because there’s just no other alternatives right now.
    I feel kind of dumb, but — what exactly is the point of espousing an anti-authoritarian position if you’re not going to do the work of imagining/describing a, at the bare minimum, non-fascist future? Falling back on coercion and explicitly militarized authority due to emergency is basically fascism, right? I don’t think I’m making stuff up.

    I read his comments here as scolding the younger generations, in addition to being reactionary. He lays the blame for his agreement with fascism squarely outside his own moral horizon — instead of a choice he’s deliberately making, he must do so thanks to “the state of the popular movements we have today”.

    So there’s two ugly tendencies here: reactionary lack of imagination and full-on Dadly disappointment. He wouldn’t have to hit you/Sieg Heil if we’d just give him better movements.

    • Tarzie says:

      Ratified entirely.

    • dmantis says:

      I feel your pain. I immediately thought I must be the stupid one after reading it. I mean how can one assume any organization of a fascist state will be inline with any concerns regarding a movement as varied and complex as the environment.

      Even if we assume that as the lowest common denominator our fascist state (built with puppy dogs and rainbows, no doubt) will want to keep us alive, that does not mean that it would incorporate what is best for the environmental movement. Is he seriously attempting to make the leap that since fascism=military intervention abroad, then military intervention abroad=stopping environmental catastrophe?

      I assume his logic is based simply on scale. A problem that is global must be solved through decisive action regardless of universal agreement. It seems very WWII propaganda-ish to me. Perhaps an example merely of generational bias?

      I did not give this much thought, but just off the top of my head, anarchists could make the counter argument that the looming environmental catastrophe is a problem that could begin with how we consume. The response could emphasize disparate, decentralized, micro-scale reactions (instead of a heavy-handed fascism). With a drammatic rise in DIY manufacturing and rapid prototyping, reliance on existing forms of commerce, transportation and infrastructure decrease.

      Even this is small-step, rose-colored glasses stuff and does not speak to the intricacies of the problem. Nevertheless, at least it doesn’t boil down to “Yay, Fascism!”…holy fuck.

  7. AmishRakeFight says:

    I’m so happy this topic came up on this blog. Climate change is something I follow quite closely and I’ve recently been pondering how to blend my scientific understanding of it with my anti-state and anti-capitalist views to come up with a viable path forward.

    The issue of preventing climate change used to be the only issue that gave me pause about anarchism. I feared that there simply might not be sufficient time to organize an alternative to the existing economic and political system, before the climate would become severely and irreversibly destabilized. So not long ago, I would have argued that successfully reducing carbon emissions in a timely manner would require petitioning the government or forcing it to act through movements.

    I’ve abandoned that idea for reasons other commenters have brought up, but just for completeness, they are mainly that 1) the government is one of the primary causes of carbon pollution and frequently enacts policies that exacerbate the problem, and 2) were the government to obtain the necessary control and power to actually mitigate climate change, I don’t believe it would actually follow through and/or it would use said power in nefarious ways such that the final outcome would be scarcely distinguishable (in terms of human suffering) from an unmitigated climate catastrophe. Once I gained a detailed understanding of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I realized that no matter how bleak climate change projections seemed, the state couldn’t be the answer (I realized how foolish it would be to petition heads of state to save the world from climate change, when they had come horrifyingly close to annihilating the entire world and practically every living thing upon it).

    So to address Tarzie’s first curiosity regarding the logic that leads to Chomsky’s conclusion, I actually have a defense to offer. I’m not saying this is how it went down with Chomsky, but anyone who spends some time reading climate science projections and studying the scientific debate surrounding what lies in our future and our grandchildren’s future can very quickly be driven to a state of pure desperation. We’re talking about suffering and death, not just human of course, and on a timescale measured in millennia. I’m not being alarmist or hyperbolic with that statement. The idea of children suffering for the sins of their ancestors is repulsive to all but the most grotesque sociopath. When combining that injustice with timescales that we can’t really comprehend, I can actually see how a well-intentioned person could see a fascist takeover as a lesser-evil. I don’t know if I’d call it strictly logical because it’s a false dichotomy, but I can at least sympathize with the motivations even if I disagree with the conclusion. Again, to be clear, I’m not speculating that Chomsky arrived at his conclusion based on that logic. I’m just offering what I view as a plausible explanation of the thought process that could lead to such a conclusion.

    Regarding Tarzie’s second curiosity, I agree that Chomsky is essentially saying that the current state of the environmental movement couldn’t offer a meaningful solution to accelerated climate deterioration. And I’m inclined to agree, primarily for a reason that dovetails perfectly with this blog’s primary topic. I see the most visible elements of the “climate movement” as being entirely controlled by their very own set of elite left-icon heat vampires, most notably Bill McKibben and his 350.org. I won’t go into details, but here is a good place to start for anyone interested in how this blog’s left-media critique intersects the issue of climate change:

    “Finally, what about the implication that carbon emissions are a greater crime than wars of aggression? Considering the relationship of oil to U.S. foreign policy, is it sensible to even make a distinction?”

    This is an interesting question. Your second question ties back to where I started where I talk about reason 1). The policies of capitalist governments across the globe are a significant cause of carbon emissions. As for which is the greater crime, I can’t answer that. Both of them end up with incomprehensibly large amounts of human suffering, death, environmental degradation, and irreversible damage. But I think the debate is purely academic – as I said previously, it’s a false dichotomy. We don’t have to choose the lesser evil here. Therefore, I can’t bring myself to contemplate which is the greater crime if there isn’t much to be gained in the exercise. I see it like arguing about which death would be preferable between burning to death or drowning – why go through all the ugly thoughts when there really isn’t much to gain?

    • Tarzie says:

      Thanks, Amish. Much to think about here.

      Always great when you show up.

      So any thoughts on averting catastrophe? Also, can you talk a bit more about how your study of the Cuban Missile Crisis affected your outlook?

      • AmishRakeFight says:

        I’ll start with your second question and try to keep it brief. I was shocked when I learned how close the world had come to all-out nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I mean, here were heads of state that were so obsessed with domination and power that they were willing to cause the complete collapse of human civilization, unimaginable environmental devastation, and utter death if the other side didn’t yield to them. I couldn’t comprehend callousness and sociopathic nature of that magnitude. That realization was a radicalizing moment for me – the knowledge that the state could be THAT evil. I didn’t live through the actual events, but I can look back at my study of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a major determining factor in leading me from my former statist politics to my current anarchism. For any political issue, anytime the state was offered up as a possible solution, I’d remind myself that the state was evil enough to cause the earth’s next mass-extinction event.

        As for averting the catastrophe, I can’t offer a comprehensive plan. Climate change is a tricky issue when it comes to solutions because in addition to the challenge other issues face in terms of mobilization/strategy/tactics, there is an additional criterion of “will it make enough difference to matter before it’s too late?” So as a starting point, I’d advocate looking at a pie chart of sources of carbon emissions and start with the largest contributors, which are typically electricity generation, transportation, agriculture, industry, and de-forestation.

        I don’t feel qualified to go into a detailed list of recommendations for attacking those major carbon sources, at least without a good deal of research. But one thing that I want to point out, one of the few things that give me hope for the future, is that many tactics for combating carbon pollution sync very well with other leftist and/or anarchist goals. For example, supporting local agriculture and growing a portion of one’s own food strengthens communities, weakens industrial state-subsidized agriculture, reduces carbon emissions, and can be done in ways that reduce animal abuse and reduce exploitation of farm workers. Supporting public transportation or bicycles reduces resource extraction, lowers carbon emissions, and weakens global energy companies. Direct action has also proven to be effective in combating mountaintop removal coal mining, and I have tremendous respect for radical environmentalists who partake in such actions. There are a range of options for tactics and strategies that vary from individual action (such as vegetarian and vegan diets, consumerism, etc.) to organized direct action, to community-scale movements, and plenty in between.

        I wish I had the knowledge and abilities to crunch the numbers on all of those ideas in terms of their effect on carbon emissions. But until I hear otherwise, I’m going to assume that any actions that can simultaneously improve the environment/climate and accomplish other lefty goals is a worthwhile use of one’s time.

        One last thing. There are many good-intentioned people out there who care about climate change, but they have been ensnared by celebrity icons and heat vampire movements (such as 350.org). Exposing these toxic cesspools and the status-quo-serving icons that lead them is, I think, of high importance (and of course, that’s not limited to the issue of climate change). Personally, your blog has been very instrumental in that arena, so thank you.

      • Tarzie says:

        This is great, Amish.

      • Will Moyer says:

        One of the few things that give me hope for the future, is that many tactics for combating carbon pollution sync very well with other leftist and/or anarchist goals.

        Amish, I’d love to read a full post or article elaborating on this point. I find it really frustrating how many environmentalists who are otherwise anti-authoritarian, seem to have no imagination in this area.

      • AmishRakeFight says:

        I wish I could direct you to a blog or article, Will. Most of the examples I brought up above resulted in just hashing out the ideas in my own head, which has been a comparatively recent undertaking for me, so many of my ideas are half-baked. Like I said, I’m not informed enough to do the math on my proposals for cutting carbon emissions. But even if the carbon impact turns out to be miniscule, when an action can produce a plethora of other, tangible benefits, it still strikes me as worthwhile.
        It would be very inspiring to see radical leftists unite around these common causes. And I could just be ignorant – maybe there are substantial efforts towards that end that I’m just not aware of. There are many reasons the left is fragmented, one of which is certainly because the capitalist state wants it that way.

      • robertmstahl says:

        As for CO2 (or is it oxygen, from James Lovelock, about 21% going to 22% doubling the risk of forest fires?), there is the current, yet long in developing, incredible work dismissed by the current intelligentsia, of Randell L. Mills with Blacklight Power. His quote on the blog today:
        “The heavy lifting (theory, analytical, instrumentation, power/kinetics, astrophysical, validations, publications, intellectual property, business model, technical, systems, power conversion, etc.) is over. We are going to blow through this engineering phase, and rocket onto the market.”

    • wendyedavis says:

      May I add:


      and (cough) this?


      The only hope I see is a massive revolution of consciousness and awareness, myself. Learning that we all are in it together, militaries should be stood down, there is enough to go around in egalitarian societies, renewables are coming on strong and there is no stopping that in any event. What the next tipping point to the epiphanies have yet to be determined, of course. But mass suffering will be part of it all, I reckon. Sharpens the mind, as they say.

    • nomad says:

      I’m sure you’re right about the carbon, but unless you also figure in ongoing geoengineering you’re omitting an important piece of the puzzle. You cannot devise a solution that actually has a chance of working without recognition that geoengineering is a factor. And since it, like the awareness of global warming arose about 15 years ago, it may prove to be the major factor.

      • nomad says:

        And even if you don’t buy into the “chemtrail” theory, the fact remains that air traffic is leaving lingering contrails that congeal into clouds contributing to scientifically measurable global dimming. It is a shame that those concerned with global warming don’t see the need to take anthropomorphic global dimming into consideration. I would be surprised if it turned out not to be a contributing factor. But, of course I know you can’t be taken seriously in the anti-climate change community (or what ever it is called) if you talk like that.

      • babaganusz says:

        last time i thought of this is was seeing a piece about Stewart Brand. included albedo-tweaking exercises (on an industrial scale) and something about restoring extinct species a la Jurassic Park. i can see how many could find one excuse or another to refuse to take the notions seriously (or simply fear the most cinematic implications), but my understanding is that our species as a whole is ignorant enough of scientific principles/discoveries/advances that there no such thing as a flawless pro-environment (or pro-science, or pro-radical-science) message…

    • babaganusz says:

      thanks for the links. seconds before i start going over them (and in case i otherwise forget to come back here for a while), are you familiar and/or ‘on board’ with concerns on the scale of this group? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_boundaries
      i ask because even five years later (and i only read a treatment of it by Mark Lynas two years ago), most articles/comments/diversions i see touching on environmental concerns mention a maximum of three of these (and of course most ‘only’ mention carbon dioxide, not that that alone isn’t emergent enough).

  8. higharka says:

    Do you think it’s age that’s gotten to him, or was he a paid operative to begin with? I’d suggest the latter; they have these guys all over the country, in science, education, and especially entertainment, pretending to be “normal” successful people, and they’re just waiting for the right moment to activate them to change the national dialogue. Look at how well Greenwald massaged the Snowden spectacle.

    To openly advocate fascism for the first time without getting hauled off, you have to be a dumpy wimp like Chomsky, but now that he’s said it, Limbaugh can say it as many times as he wants, and blame it on liberals.

  9. pnuwb says:

    I think you are correct that he is contrasting popular movements with fascism, which make it clear he is talking about an authoritarian regime, not the archaic popular ‘fascism” of Greece, and it makes it all the more disturbing when he later says “everybody” would agree to it, since it now clearly means something like “everybody with power” or “all of my white academic and activist colleagues”.

    You asked two questions which I think are most important : “[What is the implication of saying] that carbon emissions are a greater crime than wars of aggression? Considering the relationship of oil to U.S. foreign policy, is it sensible to even make a distinction?”

    It is sensible to make a distinction between carbon emissions that fuel the authoritarian state and war, and carbon emissions that warm a poor family’s home, which Chomsky has not done. It is not sensible to imply that wars of aggression and the carbon burning that fuels them are separate or separable, as Chomsky has done.

    A better distinction between military aggression and carbon emissions is possible though extremely difficult to make useful given the fact that they intersect so much in the real world. Rich white men can imagine a world of wind farms and a sustainable energy where brown people have been destroyed by Green Fighter Jets. Others can imagine a multiracial world of peace and harmony with a few extra degrees of temperature. Both may be absurd, but by claiming that carbon emissions are worse than military aggression (which in this context includes gas chambers and all) I believe he is making a distinction between these two often co-dependent things in the worst possible way.

    • thedoctorisindahouse says:

      Taking our car culture and energy consumption to be symbiotic with wars of aggression is hard to swallow since we could switch to wind, water, solar and nuclear. The nuke plants would leave us having to colonize only a few African countries for uranium. Much less war is already possible. What to make of oil and gas exploitation on US territory, which is such a large part of US consumption?

      The wars of aggression have more causes than oil for ourselves. Proxy conflict with other states, control of territory and the military technology economy among them.

      • pnuwb says:

        As usual, I’m not sure I fully understand your points or how they relates to mine. Sounds interesting though. I agree (if this was one of your points) that the state can fuel much of it’s domestic oppression using wind power, and many of Chomsky’s favourite European states already do, which is Chomsky is why this Green Fascist State thing is not entirely hypothetical, but for now war relies on coal to manufacture it’s weapons, adn oil to fuel it’s tanks and jets, at least.

      • Our “car culture and energy consumption” could also be described as “capitalism”, which requires continuous increases in energy consumption for continuous economic growth. As our wars of aggression have been waged in service of neoliberal empire, then yes, war and energy consumption are symbiotic. Actually, energy consumption and most forms of systematic domination are symbiotic. Wherever empire gets its energy, it will use it to dominate. Global warming isn’t the intent, just the side effect. Although I’m sure the ruling class will find a way to take advantage of it. Empires gonna empire after all.

      • pnuwb says:

        Like you, I am not yet convinced by lastwheel argument that buying petrol to put in your car fuels war. I’m not convinced he’s wrong either, I just can’t see the direct causation.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think he’s wrong about the US at least because, one, the US is only one market for oil, albeit a big one; and two, the US gets most of its oil from Canada and Latin America; and three, it’s my understanding that the US goal where Middle East oil is concerned is controlling the access of its economic rivals.

  10. davidly says:

    I’d rather succumb to the 10-year-catastrophe than a fascist regime. I suspect the fascist regime would prefer we succumb to both. Call it the 10-Year-Catastrophe Plan.

    • thedoctorisindahouse says:

      Many would agree with you. I think the question is how many would not. Chomsky, in his privilege, would without question rather live than die, even if it meant supporting overt fascism. Just so long as he can keep his privilege.

      The rest of the world, amazingly, would also rather live and thus would support fascism (like they don’t already?) if it promised them it could fix their crisis and seemed credible.

      • davidly says:

        Of course they do, but the promises are and never will be credible.

      • pnuwb says:

        You’re assuming that global warming will kill more than state oppression, which I think is buying into Chomsky assumption and false dichotomy. Global warming may wipe out many niche species that live on the verge of existence. It can only kill humans by exacerbating the problems of famine and war that are closely linked.

      • pnuwb says:

        Like Chomsky, you say “rest of the world” when what you say refers to those who are “not” under threat of being killed directly or indirectly by some form of non-temperature-related state power, which for most brown people is the case.

  11. jason says:

    an excerpt from http://www.pedrothelion.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=137229
    According to Ruddiman’s hypothesis, the deaths of so many in such a short time [due to the Black Death], over terrain extending from the Po Valley to the Incan Empire, left hundreds of millions of hectares abandoned to reforestation. The rebounding woodland devoured 13.8 billon tons of carbon, accounting for more than half the missing 10 ppm. The oceans ate the rest, probably as part of a feedback loop set off by the die-off. (Cold water stores more CO2 than warm water, so falling temperatures would have created an ever more efficient carbon sink, leading to falling temperatures, before something broke the loop.)

    How the Little Ice Age ended is perhaps even more revealing than how it began. As population lurched toward recovery, settler cultures felt the tension between lands and hands, sending ax-wielding farmers into the forests of Massachusetts, the Volga River Valley, and Manchuria. Between 1700 and 1920 the world’s forests lost 537 million hectares, as agrarian societies increased their land use more than threefold. The carbon in all of those trees—together with soil itself, the greatest source on the surface of Earth—wafted up to thicken the eight-mile-high envelope that distinguishes this planet from Mercury. The world counted few coal-burning factories in 1850, but their numbers followed an accelerating curve as petroleum joined coal to provide the hydrocarbons that would generate two more centuries of economic growth. Under the new energy regime, atmospheric carbon levels rose by 100 ppm between 1750 and the present.
    massive reforestation? and no, that does not require chomsky’s fascist Leviathan who are more inclined to engineer a new “Black Death” for we the sheeples.

  12. thedoctorisindahouse says:

    Chomsky (cited here):
    Well, given the state of the popular movements we have today, we’d probably have a fascist takeover-with everybody agreeing to it, because that would be the only method for survival that anyone could think of.

    There is no limit, apparently, to how many ways Chomsky, an alleged anarchist, can tout a provisional alliance with state authority.

    Direct from the global warming denier’s mouth. How many ways you can come up with to do nothing but whine about dad while dismissing all the real problems. This would only be intellectually petty if it wasn’t also a reflection of an anti-science insecurity posing as intellectual rigor.

    I never thought I could be made to think of Chomsky as a doer.

    • Tarzie says:

      Who denied global warming? Wasn’t me.

      I think my favorite trolls are the ones that tell me I’m wasting my time. Imagine what a colossal waste of time it is to troll someone who’s wasting their time, to say nothing of all the time you’ve spent commenting here and talking about me on Twitter.

      I’d ask what the hell you meant by this — “if it wasn’t also a reflection of an anti-science insecurity posing as intellectual rigor” — except as a I keep telling all the other trolls, the topic here is not me.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        Your readability is your greatest crime. Makes me read even when it’s about what a victim you are from your “trolls”. What a wimp and when you’re caught, you avoid every point. A coward’s coward.

      • Tarzie says:

        Translation: Wah wah! You blocked me. Wah wah!

        Face facts, you love this blog. At least the real trolls straight up hate everything about me. You’ve given me far too much cause to find your animus flattering. You should quit while you’re behind.

        It’s not avoiding points or cowardice to simply not address bullshit accusations or to insist, yet again, that I am not the topic here. I may be a coward in all sorts of ways, but not intellectually. You’re simply making shit up.

  13. Michael says:

    This is a great discussion. And also very sad.

    I’m reminded of something a friend of mine told me about living in Mexico City (he’s from Mexico City), where the crime is very intense and where his mother has been kidnapped several times (mostly in an abbreviated, “fast food” form of kidnapping where the kidnapper holds you up at gunpoint and forces you to drive to an ATM and take out X amount of cash).

    Anyway, when asked if he and his loved ones are constantly on edge in Mexico City, he replied that no, not really–people go about their daily lives. To make it clear to me, someone who grew up placid Iowa, he said: “It’s like with global warming. We’re destroying the planet. We all know we’re destroying the planet. But we go shopping and watch TV and do so without any panic and without being ‘on edge.”

    I believe the reason for this lack of panic is an internalized understanding of our own powerlessness in a state of oppression. We know that if we were to attempt to challenge the state, it would find a way to make us commit suicide (Schwartz) or just murder us in our beds (Fred Hampton) or burn us alive (MOVE). I’ve seen a similar kind of tranquillity before in people with terminal illness who have accepted their inevitable decline.

    In an effort to make this relevant, one of the ways Chomsky sometimes structures his lectures is to enumerate the sins of the state and then to say that we are all at fault for those sins and that it’s up to all of us to change the state. This in the same lecture where he’ll assert that the state does not represent the populace whatsoever! It’s similar to telling a person with a terminal illness that it’s their fault they have it and that they are fools for not not dying. It’s a ridiculous and demoralizing thing to say:

    A.) Look at these horrible things the state is secretly doing–I’ll tell you in great detail all about of them.

    B.) The state does not give a fuck about the popular will (unless that will happens to coincide with the interests of elites).

    C.) It’s all your goddamn fault that the state is doing all this shit! Shame on you!

    I see a germ of this sort of thinking in his reaction to the global warming crisis, in this provisional support for fascism and his characterization of popular movements. If the oppressed populace is, ultimately, at fault for global warming for not reigning in an out of control state, why empower them to provide a solution? In Chomsky’s mind, they’ve already failed. Might as well give the whole thing over to the oligarchs and military.

    Does that make sense? I’m new here. Love the blog.


    • Tarzie says:

      Totally makes sense. I think A,B,C are especially great. It’s kind of the template for left culture, really. Handwringing, powerlessness and, incongruously, blaminess.

      Glad you like the blog.

    • BlanchoRelaxo says:

      Michael your comment expresses a summary of what hasn’t sat well with me about the Chomsky I have consumed but that I haven’t been able to put a finger on previously. There is a sort of circular logic which, as was also noted elsewhere on this thread, is not only tautalogical but also quite misleading. The misdirection and ambiguity serves to disempower rather than embolden and inspire people who would take action of some sort and I think this where Noam does most of his feasting as a heat vampire. Thank you.

      I also think a lot of his audience yearn for this hollow validation.

  14. Harpfool says:

    Don’t want to take the fun out of the intellectual exercise, and there are a lot of great thoughts in this thread, but from having watched my father in his mid-80s succumb to Alzheimer’s, I’d guess what you’re documenting in your Chomsky posts is Chomsky’s significant mental deterioration. I’m no intellectual giant, but even I can see that if the existing protofascist state came out of the closet in response to global warming, it would be to keep the masses in their place, not to fix the problem – sort of Katrina New Orleans via Boston Bombing lockdown. “Your city is now underwater? Welcome to your new desert concentration camp.” So while I think these topics are worth pursuing because the issues extend way beyond the putative subject, and I learn a lot from you and the other commenters here, I still suspect that when it comes to Chomsky you’re just about at the point of shooting fish in a barrel.

    • Tarzie says:

      The quote about fascism is from a 2002 compilation, which means Chomsky was at most 73 when he said it and possibly much younger. I don’t think that’s old enough to give him a pass.

      I’ve thought about these posts and Chomsky’s age but he seems quite lucid and people take him seriously enough to solicit his thoughts on Snowden and BDS. Your father’s experience with Altzheimer’s is irrelevant unless there’s evidence that Chomsky suffers from that or any form of dementia. People get old but their opinions don’t usually change radically. When I look at old footage of Chomsky, I don’t see a big difference in viewpoints. I think because he’s an icon people just haven’t scrutinized him very closely. He’s talked a lot of nonsense for quite a while.

      • Harpfool says:

        Thanks for getting me back on track – should have checked out the original reference. I was stuck on the rather decrepit image from the previous post. Agree the dementia is irrelevant – my father also talked a lot of nonsense when in his prime.

  15. tanglebum says:

    One thing Chomsky’s sadly right about it seems to me is BDS, not for the reasons he gives as far as I can discern them, which seem weak and tangential, but because it’s pressuring people who will clearly stop at nothing to defend their delusional position.
    There’s no out from the pressure. They won’t back down, and the prospect of an election that brings sensible politicians to leadership…that’s about as likely as the prospect of it happening in the US.
    Much more probable is exactly what we’re seeing now only more intense: masks off, and blood everywhere.
    I support the BDS guys, good kids doing what they can. And stands need to be taken. But tactics are important too, BDS is symbolic, an optimistic dream, and dreams are vital now, but the reality is a deepening nightmare.

    • Stephen says:

      I agree and really can’t see why it’s not basic common sense to understand the huge differences between SA and Israel. Activism increasingly mirrors reproduction (in the economic sense) in that the value of actions are usually irrationally dependent on a previous bubble, something no doubt affected by the commodification of successful actions like those to defeat apartheid.

  16. hubris says:

    As one of the founders of the elite “Club of Rome” put it so famously:

    “In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill … All these dangers are caused by human intervention and it is only through changed attitudes and behaviour that they can be overcome. The real enemy, then, is humanity itself.”http://hubpages.com/hub/Club_of_Rome

    – Alexander King, founder and Bertrand Schneider, secretary of the “Club of Rome”, the environmental elite think tank in The First Global Revolution, pp.104-105 – http://www.amazon.com/First-Global-Revolution-Report-Council/dp/0671711075

    And Maurice Strong, first Secretary General of the United Nations Environmental Program, said:

    “What if a small group of these world leaders were to conclude the principal risk to the earth comes from the actions of the rich countries?…In order to save the planet, the group decides: Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring this about?”

    Maurice Strong’s UN agency was established in 1972 , an outgrowth of this agency became today’s “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC). That name ring any bells?

    • Amanda says:

      Ah, yes… The Council of the Club of Rome and “The First Global Revolution”…

      So then, that settles it: “Global Warming” does indeed appear to be another elite-manufactured boogie man, no?

      • babaganusz says:

        that elites would want to direct/oversee any particular investigation says precisely nothing about how seriously such an investigation should or shouldn’t be taken. keep on fishin’.

  17. Bitman says:

    The quote about fascism is from a 2002 compilation, which means Chomsky was at most 73 when he said it and possibly much younger. I don’t think that’s old enough to give him a pass.

    Two points to add to this illuminating discussion:

    1. The crucial reference point for Chomsky’s affection for an authoritarian state may be the Second World War. As he himself has stated, that was a moment in US history (one he lived through) during which the US [in his view understandably!] basically reverted to totalitarianism in its efforts to confront the Nazis. Recall haptic’s excellent comment last thread about Chomsky’s formative experiences of (more or less successful) resistance occurring during the Vietnam Era. Here we have perhaps a similar experience, where he lived through a “successful” totalitarianizing of the state for purposes he regarded and still regards as legitimate, and after which saw the re-emergence of a state which, when one puts the rather important exception of the new intelligence apparatus and burgeoning MIComplex aside (something Chomsky has always underappreciated), had an even broader liberal character than did the pre-war society.

    2. When asked what he means by anarchism, Chomsky claims it’s the belief that all authority must be justified. If it can’t be justified, it must be dismantled.

    This is true, but this means that at the deepest levels Chomsky is a rationalist, not an anarchist. One is responsible for the “foreseeable consequences” of one’s action, in his view. If one opposes an authoritarian state but does so in a way that does produce a reliable confidence that the subsequent regime will be more just or democratic, then the existing unjust state may be supported against it on “rational” grounds.

    Recall this exchange with Foucault from 40 years ago. I don’t reproduce the fuller context here because i don’t want to clutter up the comment thread, but the link is available below to read the fuller context:


    But I would merely like to reply to your first sentence, in which you said that if you didn’t consider the war you make against the police to be just, you wouldn’t make it.
    I would like to reply to you in terms of Spinoza and say that the proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. And because it will overthrow the power of the ruling class it considers such a war to be just.

    Yeah, I don’t agree.

    One makes war to win, not because it is just.

    I don’t, personally, agree with that.
    For example, if I could convince myself that attainment of power by the proletariat would lead to a terrorist police state, in which freedom and dignity and decent human relations would be destroyed, then I wouldn’t want the proletariat to take power. In fact the only reason for wanting any such thing, I believe, is because one thinks, rightly or wrongly, that some fundamental human values will be achieved by that transfer of power.

    I take this to mean that Chomsky accepts that if anarchists or some other opposition group could not articulate the means by which their struggle to dissolve the state would lead to a more just world, it may well make “rational” sense to oppose them.

    • When asked what he means by anarchism, Chomsky claims it’s the belief that all authority must be justified. If it can’t be justified, it must be dismantled.

      This is true, but this means that at the deepest levels Chomsky is a rationalist, not an anarchist. One is responsible for the “foreseeable consequences” of one’s action, in his view.

      This comment helped me think through my problems with Chomsky’s position a bit more clearly. I think describing him as a rationalist is dead on. The belief that authority must be justified is a value free statement, perfectly compatible with any number of authoritarian regimes including neoliberal ones.

      How you justify authority and the nature of the authority so justified is the crux of political and moral beliefs. Authority has always been “justified”, even if only by a cosmology which holds the king to be an intermediary with the gods.

      Chomsky may be talking about rational justification independent of claims based on the supernatural or tradition, but even within that sphere there is an array of potential positions one could have on what rational justification means. Is it enlightenment style natural law based rights? Utilitarian maximization? Democratic consent? Human freedom? Or any number of potential values on which one could justify authority. For Chomsky, the utilitarian concern seems to trump all others, most notably human liberation and democratic principles. I would point out that citing pragmatic, utilitarian benefits for repressive authoritarian regimes is neoliberalism’s bread and butter (e.g., Pinochet, Lee Kuan Yu, Kagame etc). So even if Chomsky comes to different conclusions on what political order maximizes human happiness, his moral approach is similar to that of the neoliberal empire he criticizes.

  18. Jay23 says:

    “[W]hat about the implication that carbon emissions are a greater crime than wars of aggression?” – That’s one reading but I think you’re being a little too hard on him. I read it as “intentionally destroying the earth and humanity’s future to cash a bigger paycheck is a greater crime than a war of aggression.” Debatable as well, but I didn’t see any implication that foregoing a Prius makes you as bad as a war criminal.

    • Tarzie says:

      “I didn’t see any implication that foregoing a Prius makes you as bad as a war criminal.”

      Oh God. Isn’t it obvious that shorthand is being used here, and since Chomsky’s focus is on corporate predation, that’s what the shorthand is for? Global warming caused by corporations?

  19. Jay23 says:

    To me the text is clear, and pnuwb’s paraphrase is misleading. Carbon emitters are a far broader class than Chomsky was accusing of being worse than war criminals. Not a big deal, enjoyed the comment thread as always.

  20. Anand says:

    Hi. First time posting on the blog, though I’ve read many of the posts (while disagreeing with most of them, both on the characterization, as well as the emphasis). Still, interesting food for thought.

    You are quite right in claiming that “There is no limit, apparently, to how many ways Chomsky, an alleged anarchist, can tout a provisional alliance with state authority.” Chomsky has said this many times. Another commenter’s description of him as a “rationalist” rather than an “anarchist” is with some justice. In my reading (and I have read Chomsky for many years), “anarchist” is kind of a default view, always to be modified as circumstances warrant. This is why he offers qualified support for many statist policies. Chomsky has said many times that there are no general principles and one has to examine each case concretely.

    Here is an old interview discussing Brazil in 1997, which is a good illustration of his thinking. The last 2 questions are the ones relevant to the post.


    He describes the justification for statist policies as “expanding the floor of the cage”. He also has some interesting discussion of “devolution” from federal to state authorities in the US (he is pretty critical of it). I have no idea whether his description is accurate.

    As to provisional support to fascism, I only see it as a hypothetical where things become very desperate. Firstly, it is a very long shot and I see it as illustrating a point, more than anything else. The point being in what circumstances coercion, even massive coercion, is appropriate. Since there are no large scale political movements right now able to shoulder the task of transforming the economy, one has to work with instruments which are available, namely the state. He is assuming that, in the hypothetical, if the state is able to see beyond its nose and recognize the desperate situation. In any case, as I said, it is very marginal chance and consistent with his earlier statements that there are no general principles which are applicable to all human behaviour, except platitudes.

    • Tarzie says:

      No need to splain Chomsky to me, professor, particularly his fascism hypothetical, the intended meaning of which could not be more clear. I don’t think we interpret Chomsky that differently. We differ on merit.

      For me, Pwnership Society Treasurer nailed the foolishness of Chomsky’s fascism example with this:

      In his hypothetical, everyone agrees that global warming is a problem of apocalyptic proportions. Universal consensus on an existential threat is the ideal context for a successful popular movement. In fact, what he is describing is a popular movement for fascism.

      Others made the worthy point that Chomsky’s statism and, by extension, his provisional fascism, assume the state is the most reliable defense against problems created and/or aggravated by the state. This seems illogical.

      It also seems illogical to think that a benign, earth-saving fascism will emerge in an environment bereft of earth-saving movements. Chomsky might as well conjure savior Martians, or the second coming of Jesus, but then if he did that, he couldn’t make one more counterintuitive pitch for state coercion.

      It should be obvious that there is a world of possibilities between rigid adherence to “general principles” in all circumstances and an anarchism that chronically touts the virtues of state power. The pragmatism you credit Chomsky with might be more persuasive if he showed a deeper, more consistent, understanding of how states work. Quaint notions like ‘the state can be as benign as we make it’ do not inspire confidence, even if you put aside his disgusting whitewash of U.S. domestic repression.

  21. Anand says:

    I agree that we differ on the value, not the interpretation of Chomsky’s views. I was just elaborating on my interpretation, not explaining him to you.

    As to the “foolishness” of Chomsky’s fascism example, I read Chomsky’s argument as saying that in the hypothetical, there isn’t a popular consensus on the scale of the threat.

    In other words, the hypothetical is the following. The popular understanding in the US is the same as right now (with many people believing it is a liberal hoax etc.) but the magnitude of the problem is that within 10 years something very bad is going to happen. In this hypothetical case, since the population doesn’t agree with doing something very drastic, coercion has to be used. Hence the provisional support for fascism.

    If there was indeed popular appreciation for the scale of the threat, there would be no need for coercive action against their will. It doesn’t make any logical sense to me.

    • Tarzie says:

      I read Chomsky’s argument as saying that in the hypothetical, there isn’t a popular consensus on the scale of the threat.

      At the moment there isn’t any consensus in the state either. So then, the question is, what, exactly, is the merit of conjuring a hypothetical in which impending global catastrophe has no positive impact except on the state, which after aiding and abetting global destruction for decades (not simply from its contribution to climate collapse but also via nuclear weapons) suddenly shifts into earth-saving mode? Why assume that with a 10-year deadline looming, the state and its puppetmasters suddenly get a clue, while movements and rank and file humans remain unmoved?

      Put another way, if you’re an anarchist and you’re just going to make shit up — instead of considering your 10-year doomsday scenario with imagination and logic — why not err on the side of global anarchism saving the day? Or martians? Or Jesus? None of these are less feasible than benign fascism.

      If Chomsky’s point is to simply illustrate a set of conditions under which he would support fascism, the question again, is, what is the point of doing that, if not to profess faith in state power that exceeds faith in anything else?

      • babaganusz says:

        “Why assume that with a 10-year deadline looming, the state and its puppetmasters suddenly get a clue, while movements and rank and file humans remain unmoved?”

        because ‘growing populations increasingly encouraged to be unquestioning [or otherwise distracted] by vested, powerful influences’ is such a compelling portrait of reality. as you’ve said, we may be fucked regardless, and that would be a hefty chunk as to why. (not that i buy into the guilt-trip-the-masses angle – at least, i try not to most of the time…)

        then again, as others have indicated, whether the state were ‘getting a clue’ in this scenario is irrelevant if that ‘clue’ did not transform/reinvent What It Is To Be A State or Behave Statishly.

    • As to the “foolishness” of Chomsky’s fascism example, I read Chomsky’s argument as saying that in the hypothetical, there isn’t a popular consensus on the scale of the threat. […] If there was indeed popular appreciation for the scale of the threat, there would be no need for coercive action against their will. It doesn’t make any logical sense to me.

      Although this has generally been addressed more ably by others, I can’t resist chiming in on any discussion in which I am quoted flatteringly. I do have two points that might be worth making, though:

      First, I think this is an excessively charitable reading of the hypothetical. He says “with everyone agreeing to it” which I take at face value. I see nothing to indicate we should use anything but a plain language approach to interpretation. You are right given this fact the provisional support for fascism does not make logical sense. That’s the point.

      Second, on Tarzie’s point about it revealing an authoritarian imagination through his trust in the state and distrust in the rabble, consider an alternative hypothetical that makes his point about the state of popular movements using the exact same assumptions: “There would be a fascist takeover because contemporary popular movements lack the means to sufficiently mobilize and oppose it with a non-authoritarian alternative.” It would be nice if he would imagine that he, as an esteemed anarchist, would take some minimal effort to oppose a fascist takeover instead of “I’d even agree to it”. Although I guess he’s honest with himself on that point at least.

  22. Xelcho says:


    Thank you for posting this. It is really interesting. Having not read every comment I would like to offer this, at the risk of repeating someone else’s point:

    This seems like a perfect example of the logical fallacy referred to as the excluded middle argument. I dare not venture further than that as the rabbit hole of intentions and consideration of other options is a full universe of options. I am surprised to see that very few have offered this directly to Chomsky and to require him to provide any historical evidence to support his assertion that this exceedly limited subset of options makes sense.


    • Tarzie says:

      I think a lot of us have challenged the logic of Chomsky’s formulation though without naming particular fallacies. For me, the interesting thing is what these technical problems reveal about Chomsky’s politics and biases.

  23. haptic says:

    Have to hand it to you, Tarzie. This is a very ugly bit of Chomskydom.

    You and the commenters here have succeeded where I’ve never seen anyone else succeed, really, in locating serious and genuinely (as opposed to superficially) troubling inconsistencies in Chomsky.

    It’s instructive. We can only benefit from being critically aware of this stuff.

    I think your interest in the dynamic of marginalization within the left has been a very fruitful critical avenue. It seems obvious now that this line of inquiry would lead directly into deep critique of what is going wrong with the left, but it wasn’t obvious before I read your blog. I’m envious.

    • Tarzie says:


      You shouldn’t be envious, though. Everyone contributes and your contribution has been substantial.

    • davidly says:

      IT hovers conceptually yet is very real, that categories are objects with margins and categories outside of those categories. Categorization therefore lends itself to marginalization. The extent to which a category is established for the identification of a political bent, just to take the most obvious example, then marginalization is inevitible.

      Media in this sense can be none other than the manufacturing of consent. I cannot imagine a press that doesn’t constantly feel the need to put a name to shit. And in spite of the resistance to being categorized, the marginalization happens. I think “the marginalized left” includes a lot of people who have begun – if they haven’t always – resisted the left/right paradigm.

      Having said that, the label I’d attach to this dynamic is “the marginalization of the marginalized” – the purveyors of which would be people who, knowingly or not, manage to curry more mainstream favor by acting within a newly emerging set of margins.

    • TheKid says:

      “It’s instructive. We can only benefit from being critically aware of this stuff.

      I think your interest in the dynamic of marginalization within the left has been a very fruitful critical avenue. It seems obvious now that this line of inquiry would lead directly into deep critique of what is going wrong with the left, but it wasn’t obvious before I read your blog.”

      I agree with this. I’ve tried to articulate this in this past, but you did a much better job.

  24. Bill Wolfe says:

    T – I think your initial reading of Chomsky is correct, i.e. that he’s saying that current popular movements lack effective political power to block the reactionary facism that would occur in response to that hypothetical scenario (BTW, which might not be far from reality, given threshold and tipping point theories of runaway catastrophic climate change.).

    But I’d add that Chomsky’s also implying that popular movements lack solutions or alternatives that they could mobilize or even hand off to the corporate fascists to implement.

    Not, to the larger question:

    I think the war and aggression is an absurd comparison to posit and a diversion.

    But Chomsky’s 10 year end of world “what if” scenario is useful and realistic, but not really consistent with the science because even if we stopped all carbon emissions, the carbon currently in the atmosphere has huge momentum that will cause warming for hundreds or even thousands of years.

    So, even a fascits takeover of the entire oplanet could not do jack shit to stop or even minimize the problem.

    The scenario Chomsky paints would result in irreversible effects that would make the earth uninhabitable by humans and impossible to support agricultural and industrial civilization. That means 7 billion people would die and all cultures would be wiped out and human evolution over. That’s 7 billion deaths, the erasure of all human accomplishment and history, and the destruction of the future ability of the planet to sustain human civilization (there are theoretical temperature limits to human survival and agriculture that would be exceeded).

    That is the direction we are headed – it is only a question of when, not whether – if current emissions “business as usual” is allowed to continue.

    So, if it were theoretically possible and scientifically feasible (which it is not), would I accept fascist controls to preserve the ability of the plant to support human civilization?


  25. Bill Wolfe says:

    BTW, back to the Chomsky hypothetical:

    It is important to mention that fascist controls could be overthrown and changed by some future revolution. (assuming the fascists were somehow able to avert the climate catastrophe)

    But runaway catastrophic climate change can not.

  26. Bill Wolfe says:

    This reminds me of the sophistication of “better dead than red” thinking.

    • Tarzie says:

      Oh Bill, you had your asshole side nicely in check and now you’ve spoiled it.

      I wish you had contributed something to the Chomsky discussion that is commensurate with your Dadly arrogance, but alas, your effort here was underwhelming. I get the impression that you didn’t venture into the other comments where the vast majority did not, like you apparently, interpret the post as “Fascism: Yay or nay.”

      Rather, a number of us were interested in the bizarre logic by which Chomsky comes by his provisional fascism. His rationale is so odd it’s almost like he begins with an inclination towards fascism and argues backward from it. People who are less inclined than you and Chomskers to imbue the state, let alone, fascism, with magical earth-healing powers – the likes have which have not even been hinted at in history – find this odd and disturbing. And then here you go, making Red and Fascist equivalent when choosing fates worse or better than death. This is all very unedifying stuff.

  27. teal says:

    Much food for thought here. I would like to posit, however, 2 points (call them, jointly, The Lacking Hypothetical):

    1. Global warming is already running away. We have long since passed the magic “point of no return” of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Many populations around the world are experiencing the devastating impact of climate change – even in parts of the US. No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus or boogie man and the Rome thing is, sadly, just about exploiting a real event for the sake of a billion bucks.

    2. Fascism is as good a name as any for the government now controlling the US (oligarchy, according to the latest academic study, but the oligarchs all have corporate and military ties). Fascism does not imply an absolute exclusion of the popular vote.

    With these two postulates (or, in my opinion, facts) in mind, one could conjecture that fascism has been proven to be a singularly inefficacious means of saving the planet’s myriad life forms. For the record, I reject the notion that human life is in any way superior to, or more worthy of propagation than, other life forms. But that is irrelevant, because human life *is* threatened by CC. The imminent unprecedented loss of arable land will ensure that only a small fraction of us survive, if any.

    That is not to say that one should give up the fight! I have a soft spot for Chomsky because he once said this: “If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee that there is no hope” – words I repeat to myself with every headline I read…. AmishRakeFighter is, I think, exactly right in his/her recommendations (and all else), especially about growing one’s own food or buying local wares. S/he could go even further and suggest that the truly anarchical course of action would be to consider oneself personally responsible for combatting global warming. For example:

    Occupy as little space as possible (downsize apartment, close off unnecessary rooms,etc.)
    Don’t have a lawn.
    Use natural light and let your home be uncomfortably warm or cool according to season.
    And last but not least, TURN OFF THE COMPUTER! Bye, now 🙂

  28. Pingback: SICARIO and America’s dark new frontier | Popaganda

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