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Thus Spake Dustin

I love reading about Eastern Orthodoxy, scripture, and nonfiction works that challenge me to expand my view of the world.


Review of On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky

Chomsky on Anarchism - Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism (New York: The New Press, 2013). Pp. 170. Paperback $15.95.


A few weeks ago I had read a book about the Middle East. This book was structured as a conversation between a few experts, one of whom was Noam Chomsky. Some of things he said interested me very much; so much so that I decided to learn a bit more about his political philosophy, generally. This book was the introduction for which I was looking.

Though the chapters are composed from letters, articles, and speeches given elsewhere, they are a good compilation that gives the reader a good idea of how Noam Chomsky structures his argument for Anarchism.


The term "anarchism" is a bit misleading here. Many people will automatically associate it with chaos, however, there's much more to it than simple chaos. The idea is that Anarchism seeks to dismantle authority and oppression that survives from the past that no longer functions to help society. These authorities may have been needed in the past, but societies don't stagnate, and, therefore, society always needs to re-evaluate its needs by way of government structures.

It seemed, to me, that Anarchism is able to stand in the middle ground between the two famous European political philosophies of Libertarianism and Socialism. Generally speaking, Libertarianism seeks to have as little government as possible, whereas Socialism seeks to have all property and economic activity within the authority of government.


Anarchism seeks to have labor and economic production owned by those involved in the production of items - so it's not private ownership, but neither is is public/government ownership. These would be voluntary associations - similar to what we may call labor unions. This structure would do away with capitalism, as we think of it. No longer would people be bound to work for others who own the company (as it is today in America), in what Chomsky calls "wage slavery." Instead, those who are actually doing the work would have part ownership in the company through these associations. Then the social, cultural, and economic associations that are formed would elect people to form government structures. In this way, we would be much more democratic than we are today - current American politics is a mix of popularity contests and influence of corporate money, which often contradicts the interests/vote of the people.


Chapter three is about the Spanish Revolution and the brief Anarchist society that was set up there - a society that many people call the closest we've come to actually putting these theories into action. Chomsky's evaluation was to look at how people wrote about this government to show that history is biased. This chapter forms a large part of the book, and I'm not sure it was helpful in an introductory book, such as this. It was very involved and in-depth, and it can easy be skipped if one is more interested in the theory of Anarchism.


Chapter four is an interview with Chomsky that is a bit biographical. It was very interesting, and it gives the reader a sense of how Chomsky came to his views. It also gives a brief history of Anarchism in American, and how America has evolved through the various political philosophies.

Chapter five engages Anarchism further and evaluates it alongside other political philosophies. His goal, in this chapter, is to show how Anarchism is like language. Just as language needs rules for communication to be clear, so too does society need rules. If language has too many rules, or too few, then one won't be understood; and so it is also with societies, which need some structure for creativity and economic freedom - but it's a fine balance between too many rules and too few.

For anyone interested in our future, I highly recommend this book. If nothing else, it will get one thinking about how we've structured our society, and how to best proceed into the future.