Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Is Noam Chomsky's Failed States a Failed Book?

No, but Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy failed to rise to the heights of the earlier work, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. A more cynical reader might suggest that the MIT linguist is simply repackaging old material to make a quick buck. The book's final chapter promises to turn the "failed state" label back on the United States, but ultimately, in championing Democracy, fails to do so. Had the author championed instead a more organic society going beyond mere majority rule, he may have succeeded.

Still the book is a good read. It covers familiar ground, but gets novel with the situation in Iraq, the book's highpoint, which alone makes it worth the cover price. Chomskyian prose, with its scrutiny, clarity, and sardonic wit, never fails to inspire. On a few occasions, the author attacks the "statists who defame the term conservative," which was most welcome.

This book is more tangential than others I've read by the same author, an approach I like. The reader finds himself in Iraq, then Guatemala, then in a discussion of drug advertising. The style reminded me of Bill Kauffman's Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals; the reader is propelled through the text not by a logical, linear argument, but by the joy of discovery.

Karl Marx has been called "the last of the old Testament prophets," but "America's most useful citizen" is even more deserving of that title (secularly speaking, of course).

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