“The person who claims the legitimacy of the authority always bears the burden of justifying it. And if they can’t justify it, it’s illegitimate and should be dismantled. To tell you the truth, I don’t really understand anarchism as being much more than that.”
On December 7, 2018, Noam Chomsky turns 90 years old. In a 2013 Reader’s Digest poll of “The 100 Most Trusted People in America” (topped by Hollywood celebrities), Noam Chomsky, a self-described anarchist, ranked #20 (behind #19 Michelle Obama but in front of #24 Jimmy Carter). Given that anti-authoritarians throughout U.S. history have been routinely shunned, financially punished, psychopathologized, criminalized, and assassinated, Chomsky’s surviving and thriving are remarkable.
In the early 1960s, when few Americans were criticizing the U.S. government’s war in Vietnam, Chomsky was among the first to challenge and resist it. He risked prison time and the loss of an academic career in linguistics in which he had become highly esteemed for his groundbreaking contributions. For more than a half century, Chomsky has used his platform to challenge all illegitimate authorities, including the U.S. government and oppressive regimes around the world. He has voiced a consistent contempt for elite rule—for its atrocities as well as for its subversion of working-class autonomy.
While Chomsky abhors any hero worship—especially of himself—he does value what can be learned from human experiments in living. In this spirit, examining Chomsky’s life has value for anti-authoritarians seeking an understanding of how to survive.
Chomsky knows full well that luck has been a major factor in his beating the odds, but even great luck is not enough for a U.S. anarchist to survive and have a profound impact. Chomsky also possesses extraordinary intelligence, Spinoza-like rationality, and great wisdom about survival.
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