American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical and Political Essays

American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical and Political Essays



The Pequod Review:

The value of Noam Chomsky's non-linguistic (i.e., political) work lies not so much in his scholarship but in the way he provides a framework for looking at the world in a number of truly radical ways. It can be useful when reading the news or considering a political issue to remember to step back and ask: Is this just a vigorous debate between a very narrow segment of the political spectrum? What are the institutional reasons that this topic is being discussed, rather than other subjects of greater importance? What is the role of government sources or advertisers in driving this story, and our interpretation of it? What economic forces are influencing the journalists and institutions reporting on the story?

Unfortunately, Chomsky's full-length books are poor vehicles for understanding his broader political philosophy for at least three reasons — (i) he cherry-picks his evidence, sometimes citing obscure or unrepresentative studies and quotes; (ii) he writes with a relentless certainty that will lead less informed readers astray; and (iii) he is a very dry and basically bad writer. I cannot really recommend any of his books, except perhaps Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Instead, the best place to start is with the documentary film Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media which provides a good overview of Chomsky’s views and gives a sense of the radical implications of his philosophy. After that, just read his interview transcripts. Some of these have been assembled into published collections, but most of them are available online at the Chomsky Archive and elsewhere.

Despite the flaws of his work, Noam Chomsky is nonetheless one of our most principled and committed social critics. Even when he is wrong, he is wrong in interesting ways — and he forces us all to test our assumptions and consider perspectives that are rarely articulated in mainstream debates. And at the age of 90, he even provided some rare left-wing sanity on the Trump/Russia investigation.

American Power and the New Mandarins, Chomsky's first political book, is a collection of essays and articles primarily detailing the reasons for his opposition to the Vietnam War.