Chomsky: Moral Justice Trumps “Legal” Justice and America’s Narrow Political Spectrum

Okay, so I am not one who can churn out literary reviews well, partially, because I don’t like reading literary reviews. They’re too long. I would much prefer something succinct like: “this book is tight, bam-bam-bam- these are the reasons why… but I am not going to spoil it for you so, the end.”

So here’s my half-baked attempt at giving you some sweet takeaways from The Chomsky-Foucault Debate on Human Nature. It’s a collection of interviews from two contemporary philosophers: Noam Chomsky–linguist, political provocateur and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the late Michel Foucault; social theorist who held a chair at the History of Systems of Thought at the College de France.

Initially, I struggled with the philosophic-jargon cluttering up the points each philosopher was trying to make concerning human nature. Philosophers as you know, tend to answer questions with…more questions.

I’m not through with it yet, but already I have come across some good takeaways I find no harm in sharing since they won’t spoil the read, if you choose to take a leaf. (It’s only 200 pages y’all! a philosophy book with only 200 pages!)

On justice and power, Chomsky explains that the two are not always two sides of the same coin especially when laws are created to simply “ratify some system of power.” So in turn, when people realize injustice is being exercised by, let’s say, our government, any actions we do to prevent our government from “committing criminal acts” should not be denoted as “illegal” or unlawful:

A good deal of what the state authorities define as civil disobedience is not really civil disobedience: in fact, it’s legal obligatory behavior in violation of the commands of the state, which may or may not be legal commands. So someone has to be rather careful when calling things illegal I think…in the particular case of the Vietnam war which interests me the most, the American state is acting in a criminal capacity. And the people have the right to stop criminals from committing murder. Just because the criminal happens to call your action illegal when you try to stop him, doesn’t mean it is [emphasis, the text’s] illegal.


Chomsky is also dead-on about the lack of diversity in the discourse surrounding American politics. In schools we learn early on that American is fundamentally different because it is a country that encourages dissent but Chomsky argues that very narrow ideologies dominate the socio-economic-political spheres. We rely too heavily on so-called “experts” with credentials to frame messages and debates about issues that deal with everyday people who, in Chomsky’s opinion, have just as much skills necessary to provide solid analysis.

One of the devices used to achieve this narrowness of perspective is the reliance on professional credentials. The universities and academic disciplines have, in the past, been successful in safeguarding conformist attitudes and interpretations, so that by and large the reliance on ‘professional expertise’ will ensure that views and analyses that depart from orthodoxy will rarely be expressed.

Bottom line:1) People can hold their government accountable for actions they deem unjust, because that principle is exactly what this country was founded on, and 2) Trust yourself. You don’t need to be a “specialist” or “expert” to know how effective or ineffective your government is.

Succinct enough? More literary giftbags to come.


Naima "Nai" Ramos-Chapman is the Associate Editor at Campus Progress, a dancer with Taurus Broadhurst Dance in D.C., and an aspiring visual artist (she doodles). Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Naimaramchap.
  • -k-

    I’d rather get a root canal with no painkillers than read this myself, so keep ’em coming. 😉