Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics
by Chris Knight
Occupying a pivotal position in postwar thought, Noam Chomsky is both the founder of modern linguistics and the world’s most prominent political dissident. Chris Knight adopts an anthropologist’s perspective on the twin output of this intellectual giant, acclaimed as much for his denunciations of US foreign policy as for his theories about language and mind. Knight explores the social and institutional context of Chomsky’s thinking, showing how the tension between military funding and his role as linchpin of the political left pressured him to establish a disconnect between science on the one hand and politics on the other, deepening a split between mind and body characteristic of Western philosophy since the Enlightenment. Provocative, fearless, and engaging, this remarkable study explains the enigma of one of the greatest intellectuals of our time.
“This is Chomsky from a new perspective, the perspective of a social anthropologist. It connects his science with his politics in a novel and convincing way. Knight has dug deeper and made more interconnections than anyone has done before. The result is truly revelatory.”
— Michael Tomasello, author of A Natural History of Human Thinking
“Chris Knight has done the intellectual world a favour by exploring, with a critical and comprehending eye, the twists and turns of the thought of Noam Chomsky. Anyone who wants to understand the political and intellectual development of ideas that have dramatically altered modern science and political activism should read this book.”
— Daniel L. Everett, author of Language: The Cultural Tool
“Few disagree that language has been a game-changer for the human species. But just how we came by language remains hotly contested. In Decoding Chomsky, Chris Knight strides into this minefield to bravely replace miraculous leaps and teleology with a proposal that actually makes evolutionary sense.”
— Sarah Hrdy, author of Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
“This is one of the most exciting scholarly books I have read in years. Decoding Chomsky will be required reading for anyone at all interested in the history of intellectual and political thought since the 1950s.”
— David Golumbia, author of The Cultural Logic of Computation
For more on the book, and on Chomsky, see:
the Science and Revolution website
NOAM CHOMSKY ranks among the leading intellectual figures of modern times. He has changed the way we think about what it means to be human, gaining a position in the history of ideas – at least according to his supporters – comparable with that of Darwin or Descartes. Since launching his intellectual assault against the academic orthodoxies of the 1950s, he has succeeded – almost single-handedly – in revolutionising linguistics and establishing it as a modern science.
Download Noam Chomsky: Politics or Science? in PDF format [72KB]
Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group concludes his examination of a political enigma.
Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group continues his examination of the Chomsky enigma.
Link to the complete article in Weekly Worker
How is that a powerful critic of US imperialism has been regarded as a valued asset by the US military? In the first of three articles Chris Knight of the Radical Anthropology Group begins his examination of the life and work of Noam Chomsky.
Language is peculiar. No other species has anything remotely like it. If language is part of nature – a kind of organ or instinct, like stereoscopic vision – it’s puzzling. It’s unusual for a complex biological adaptation to be wholly confined to just one species.
From the outset, ‘spirit’ is cursed with the ‘burden’ of matter, which appears in this case in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language. Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness, as it exists for other men, and thus as it really exists for myself as well. Language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity of intercourse with other men.
(Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 1845-6/1963: 85-6)
7.1 Chomsky’s Model
Replying to his many critics, Chomsky (1979: 57) once accused them of not understanding science. To do science, Chomsky explained, ‘you must abstract some object of study, you must eliminate those factors which are not pertinent…’ The linguist — according to Chomsky — cannot study humans articulating their thoughts under concrete social conditions. Instead, you must replace reality with an abstract model. To deny this is to reject science altogether. More on Language and Revolutionary Consciousness