Chomsky Criticizes God at Columbia

Interrupting Infinity Exclusive Commentary. © 2009 by David St.-Lascaux

Photo by Jawad A. Bhatti

The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism
The Fifth Annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture, Columbia University, December 3, 2009

AS IF WESTERN CIVILIZATION’S Beleaguered Deity doesn’t have enough problems these days, along comes Noam Chomsky. Who is this guy anyway? Political philosopher, linguist (composer of “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”), author of Manufacturing Consent, Hegemony or Survival and a couple of other books, controversial unfriend of Israeli occupation, proposed National Treasure. Railing at America’s Great God-Ordained Men, self-righteous inheritors of the Divine Right of Kings. In a relentless assault on the monopoly on recorded history he says those in power have maintained from the get-go to justify and deny, oh, you know, little things – multi-continental theft and serial, multi-race genocide.

Chomsky has been bashing imperialism in its hydra-headed forms for longer than many of the people in the audience at Columbia for his recent lecture –The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism – have been alive. And he’s covered a lot of territory, making it unlikely that he might say anything new in a close-of-a-whimpering-decade lecture.

But Chomsky wasn’t trying to be original. Rather, he used the wicked rhetorical technique of hoisting the Great Men by their own historical, petarded statements (this being their “Unipolar Moment”) to make his apathy-piercing points.

Chomsky’s lecture was premised on the bland thesis that imperialism represents the raison d’être of Western Civilization, and what he calls the American “Project.” American Imperialism, the topic of his lecture, is either not acknowledged or is presented in the resplendent robes of American Exceptionalism, preordained destiny or “good cause,” while mass murder, for example, is glossed. “The exercise of genocide denial, with a vengeance,” Chomsky caustically deadpanned, “merits little concern, or comment, presumably because it’s so unremarkable….”

Chomsky ran a chronology of the Project beginning in the colonial era and proceeding through “its final stages – final success – in the mid-19th Century.” He paraded a rogues’ gallery of Famous Men whose positions were – and are – proudly self-proclaimed, including President John Quincy Adams (“removing Native Americans from the Southeast” [i.e., Florida]), General Henry Knox, first Secretary of War (noting “the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union by means more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru”), Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (“who wondered at ‘the mysterious ways of Providence which in its wisdom caused the Natives to disappear like the withered leaves of autumn even though the Colonists had constantly respected them”) and Peter Burnett, first governor of California: “The war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct. The inevitable destiny of the White race is beyond the power and wisdom of man to avert.” Unsparing, Chomsky took the sacrosanct geniuses Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson to task as Kiplingesque enablers, quoting Whitman, whom he ironically described as “the progressive national poet,” as saying, “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?” And Emerson: “It’s very certain that the strong British race, which has now overrun much of this continent, must also overrun Texas and Mexico and Oregon… and it will be, in the course of ages, of small import by what particular occasions and methods that it was done.” The image of American Exceptionalism – America as Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill,” Chomsky explained, was coined by John Winthrop in 1630 as “ordained by God.”

Chomsky also observed an ongoing belief in Providentialism – “the conception that [Americans] are carrying out God’s will,” and the concept of Anglo-Saxon superiority. Englishman Charles Darwin, Chomsky said, “endorsed the view that ‘the history of culture of mind from the Greek to the Roman Empire onward only appears to have purpose and value when viewed in connection with or rather as subsidiary to, the great stream of Anglo-Saxon immigration to the West, and finally to the United States, where the advance of civilization has reached its peak….’” Darwin as the original proponent of Social Darwinism… hmm.

Chomsky went on to describe US involvement in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, India, Japan, the Middle East, Palestine, Panama, Southeast Asia and Turkey with quotations from such luminaries as Moshe Dayan, John F. Kennedy and Angela Merkel. In mocking admiration of the Project’s “continuity of planning and interpretation since World War II,” Chomsky closed with an arrogation by the “eloquent” Winston Churchill. There was now, the Great Man twittered, “the responsibility to protect the interests of the satisfied nations, whose power places us above the rest.” Q.E.D.

John Quincy Adams, Chomsky said, repented in his later years, lamenting the fate of “that hapless race of Americans which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty, among the heinous sins of this nation for which I believe God will one day bring us to judgment.” That might be deserved, but one wagers Chomsky not holding his breath.

* * *

Is Chomsky heard? Despite such venues as Democracy Now, it’s fair to say that the masses lack passive access to Chomsky in the MSM (that’s Mainstream Media if you’ve been sleeping) as do the elite, also and alas, in their journals. This one-hour lecture can, however, be seen: Chomsky’s personal site links to it from its video/audio page,, as posted to YouTube –  Noam Chomsky: The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism.” As of the writing of this article, it had been viewed over 20,000 times.

– D. S-L

3 Responses to “Chomsky Criticizes God at Columbia”

  1. Lou Recine says:

    I was intrigued by the title of your piece: “Chomsky Criticizes God at Columbia.” After reading the piece, I am puzzled as to why you gave it this title. Could you explain it to me? Thank you for your time!

  2. St.-L says:

    Dear Lou,

    There were four reasons I give this review its title: 1) readers of the headline, including Chomsky adversaries, might wish to learn more about such claimed blasphemy and read the article; 2) Columbia has had some recent controversy around its invited speakers (specifically Iran’s Ahmadinejad), which is irresistible reading to those interested; 3) Chomsky indeed implies that what he calls American imperialism is G*d’s fault – and his lecture is a litany of examples of claimants to American Exceptionalism who explicitly cite divine ordination and will (they themselves proudly claim that G*d is behind it); and 4) so far, G*d hasn’t punished America as Adams feared he [sic?] one day will. In other words, Chomsky ultimately asks, “Dear G*d, when is the retribution?” – thus «criticizing» G*d for inaction.

    In a sense, you were fortunate to have read this article in the first place (i.e., that it exists, not that I am exceptionally worth-y). An interesting insight I gained from “Chomsky” is one you couldn’t know: I apparently was the only journalist outside Columbia to cover Chomsky’s lecture (to the best of my knowledge, neither local paper – New York Times or Wall Street Journal – deployed a reporter). I recently read that the vast majority of original global news content (by volume of dissemination) comes from something like fifteen sources. (Because of the persistence of intellectual property, Wikipedia has analogous clout in the knowledge space – there are a vast number of verbatim Wikipedia articles online.) Obviously that’s an exaggeration, but “Chomsky” is read daily a year later, which I consider remarkable. The typical search is something like “Chomsky God” – probably yours, and probably the provocative, hyperbolic title the reason you pushed the button and read, n’est-ce pas? Oh, and one more thing: Someone at Google loves me, and it’s not algorithmic.

    All Best,


  3. Jesus says:

    I seriously doubt Chomsky blames God – he’s a “secular atheist” – others have quoted him as stating he’s unsure what he’s opposing. However, if you analyze the history of United States actions, countless presidents, under the umbrellas of conservatism and “faith” have committed some of the most terror-filled acts; thus, he blames “individuals” for their genocide, terror and absence of humanity. Many [of these acts], I would say, counter their so-called faith-filled beliefs – just my two cents.

Leave a Reply