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America's Dumbest Intellectual

Stefan Kanfer

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Ideas have consequences. Stefan Kanfer writes of the self-promotion of linguist Noam Chomsky and the marketing of his weak ideas.

Walk onto the popular-music floor of Virgin Records in midtown Manhattan, and you encounter, as you'd expect, kids with shoulder tattoos and pierced body parts, wandering through rows of the latest hip-hop, altrock, and heavy-metal CDs as heavily amplified beats thunder. At the checkout counter, though, is a surprise. A single book is on display: perennial radical Noam Chomsky's latest anti-American screed, 9/11--an impulse item for the in-your-face slackers of the Third Millennium. Strictly speaking, 9/11 is a non-book, a hastily assembled collection of fawning interviews with Chomsky conducted after the terrorist attack on New York City and the country, in which the author pins the blame for the atrocities on--you guessed it--the U.S. But you'd be wrong to dismiss 9/11 as an inconsequential paperback quickie. More than 115,000 copies of the book are now in print. It has shown up on the Boston Globe and the Washington Post best-seller lists, and in Canada, it has rocketed to seventh on the best-seller list. And as its prominent display at Virgin Records attests, 9/11 is particularly popular with younger readers; the book is a hot item at campus bookstores nationwide. The striking success of 9/11 makes Chomsky's America-bashing notable, or at least notably deplorable--especially here in New York, which lost so many of its bravest on that horrible day.

... In America, you come across two kinds of fame: vertical and horizontal. The vertical celebrity owes his renown to one thing--Luciano Pavarotti, for example, is famous for his singing, period. The horizontal celebrity, conversely, merchandises his fame by convincing the public that his mastery of one field is transferable to another. Thus singers Barbra Streisand and Bono give speeches on public policy; thus linguistics professor Chomsky poses as an expert on geopolitics.

For the complete article go to the City Journal website.



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