By Neeraj Nanda
MELBOURNE, 21 February 2021: Prof. Noam Chomsky, 92, celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist while expressing concern at the decline of democracy and the global ‘drift into authoritarianism, feels this greatest threat to democracy can be addressed with activism, educational programs, and organization. He was in conversation with Sreenivasan Jain, NDTV on day 3 of the virtual Festival.
Talking about the US, he said, Trumpism is very much around and so is Trump. The session opened with Professor Chomsky speaking of the recent storming of the United States Capitol, and how it was a turning point for the country. He shared what it was like to wake up in America in the ‘aftermath’ of Donald Trump. The duo discussed whether Trump can still pose a tangible threat to American democracy, seeing as he is no longer in power – with Professor Chomsky speculating possibilities of continued propaganda for very real support for Trump by his ‘voter base and insisted that the democracy had ‘serious problems’ even before his presidency.
Speaking about the rise of authoritarianism, Professor Chomsky delved into the ‘neoliberal assault’ of the last few decades, explaining how inequality and authoritarianism appear to be inextricably linked. He mentioned an example from a study by the RAND Corporation, a well-respected quasi-governmental organization in the US, which estimates that the transfer of wealth from the lower 90% of the population to a fraction of the top 1% has been about 50 trillion dollars over the last 40 years.
The conversation also raised wider questions about the state of democracy, which appears to be in as much danger from radical majoritarianism in the United States, or in India, as it is from the European Union shifting the seat of several governance decisions away from state governments to Brussels, to an unelected bureaucracy. Responding to Jain’s question on what can be done to resist the threats to democracy, Professor Chomsky said, “There’s no magic key! “You fight it the way you’ve always fought it, with educational programs, with organization, with activism.”
Discussing solutions to push back against the radical majority, Professor Chomsky spoke about the need for the popular forces within an ideological party to press for progressive social action. He spoke about this in the context of the American political system and highlighted how the Biden government’s legislative program on climate change, possibly even better than Obama’s, reflects the direct impact of activism and popular forces within the party pushing the agenda.
Touching the US and India, the Prof. said, America was facing very serious problems and the dismantling of secular democracy in India was a concern. “One cannot give up thinking nothing will happen or decide to do whatever one can do,” he said.
“Over time any political or social movement can work,” he said, pointing to the Independence Movement in India. “It takes dedication and commitment. It doesn’t happen by itself, you have to fight for social programs and reform,” he added.
Reflecting on some of the critical progressive movements like the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights movement among others, he talked about the significance of coming together in solidarity and with constant, dedicated struggle. “There is no point being optimistic or pessimistic. The point is to face the challenges, take the opportunities, get to work, and overcome the problems. It can be done – and optimism says yes, let’s do it,” he said.
Prof. Noam Chomsky lives in Arizona, which he said, a wreckage of the Trump era had the severe onslaught of the pandemic because Trump did not do anything. He is in isolation. His daily life with interviews and answering hundreds of letters he gets daily makes it a very busy life, he told Sreenivasan Jain.
The Jaipur Literature Festival 2021 will take place till 28th February on an exclusive virtual platform.