Interrupting Infinity Exclusive Commentary. © 2009 by David St.-Lascaux
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.
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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, chomsky.info/audionvideo.htm, 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