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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“It was Havel who helped, as much as anyone, to put across the idea that Communism was built on an illusion and that, once people began to doubt the illusion, it would collapse.”

Ed West

It says much about this great Czech that he had the signal honour of being sneered at by Noam Chomsky.

I still haven’t got round to visiting the Czech Republic yet, although I have relations across the border in Germany. I must get around to dealing with this oversight soon.

24 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Havel may have not been perfect (who is), but Chomsky is despicable.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Chomsky is beneath contempt. He was a mate of Christopher Hitchens for a long while but The Hitch, being basically a good man with a strong nose for cant, ran out of patience with him.

    Here is a brilliant piece by Hitchens on Chomsky.(Link)

  • “It’s also unnecessary to point out to the half a dozen or so sane people who remain that in comparison to the conditions imposed by US tyranny and violence, East Europe under Russian rule was practically a paradise.”

    Noam Chomsky – feted as “the world’s foremost public intellectual.”

    Vaclav Havel – the real thing.

  • David Lucas

    I once had to deal with a foolish “liberal” dogooder when I was helping out in post-Soviet Lithuania. The task was made much easier when it turned out he was a fan of Chomsky and a book he had with him contained a passage describing how happy and lucky the Baltic states had been have escaped the tyranny of the West.

    It is humbling trying to teach political practice to peolpe who decided to stand around their paraliament expecting tanks to roll in and crush them – and who could still only half believe they didn’t.

  • Dom

    Oliver Kamm made a little cottage industry trying to set the record straight on Chomsky. It’s worth reading this again:

    http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2004/09/an_intellectual.html

  • NickM

    JP,
    Prague is a fantastic city. I love it.

  • From Havel during Czechoslovakia’s Soviet years . But from our point of view is this a reflection on the past, a prophecy of the future or just a recognition of the eternal.

    The post-totalitarian system touches people at every step, but it does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance.

    More at the link.

  • veryretired

    I once had the honor of meeting Havel briefly and shaking his hand. He is on my short list of truly heroic people.

    The cliche’ is that “talk is cheap”, but talking of freedom to a brutal dictatorship is priced very dearly indeed.

    How many of us, truly, have that type of courage?

  • I do, if only because I haven’t much to lose – and I’d like to think it is true of a great many other people too. I much prefer to think of someone like Vaclav Havel in a similar vein to Audey Murphy: in many ways an ordinary man acting in extraordinary circumstances.

    A brief comment on Hitchens: I’m not entirely comfortable with the praise he is getting after his death: in my opinion he’d been softballed for far too long – from well before his diagnosis. That as late as 2010 he was dismissing the Tea Party as just a bunch of red neck hicks does sit somewhat at odds with his previous record of standing up to, rather than indulging, the worst excesses of people on the Left.

  • bloke in spain

    Ah, Noam Chomsky, the buzzing bluebottle that squats on the stinking turd that is left wing intellectualism. There’s a grave needing dancing on. May it not remain empty much longer.

  • zoomraker

    wasn’t Chomsky pointing out that if you were one of the 3 million Vietnamese killed by the American state you might have felt pretty oppressed.

  • Dom

    Zoomraker, Chomsky claimed that Havel, by calling the US a “defender of Freedom”, was complicit in the murder of Jesuits in El Salvador. That’s like … well, let’s see … I guess it’s like saying that Chomsky was complicit in Pol Pot’s murderous joy-ride. My guess is that Chomsky doesn’t see it that way.

    Face it, Chomsky really is a “buzzing bluebottle that squats on the stinking turd that is left wing intellectualism”, a phrase I will never forget.

  • zoomraker – That was part of his point, yes, and it was not a bad one. But here’s where I think it goes off the rails. Chomsky draws an analogy between a hypothetical Vietnamese peasant appearing before the Supreme Soviet and saying about the Soviet Union the kinds of things that Havel said about America. We know that such people could be and were found, so this example is not ahistorical. If that happened, Chomsky imagines that there is an Eastern Bloc Chomsky counterpart who knows better and is disgusted by the easy praise for the Soviet Union. But he holds his nose and writes what the authorities require anyway, because he’s aware of the consequences of not toeing the party line.

    But that is precisely where Chomsky’s silly argument goes off the rails. He seems to want to call Havel immoral for not having spoken truth to power even though the opportunity was available to him in a way that it wouldn’t have been to a Vietnamese peasant speaking to the Supreme Soviet. But in admitting this, Chomsky inadvertently undermines his case: if the US is the kind of place where one can openly criticize the regime, even in the chamber that is the heart of that regime, and the USSR is not, then it is obvious that Havel was right at least as a matter of degree. The US was indeed a force for freedom compared with the Soviet Union.

    Chomsky’s argument rests on two other unstated premises which are both silly. One is that if the US is not a perfect defender of freedom, it is not one at all. Poppycock. Second is that fighting any kind of war where civilians are harmed is incompatible with advancing the cause of freedom. But I wonder what alternative he has in mind? It’s not as though asking the Soviets to stop intervening in the Third World was getting anywhere.

  • James Theobald

    wasn’t Chomsky pointing out that if you were one of the 3 million Vietnamese killed by the American state you might have felt pretty oppressed.

    So presumably Chomsky pointed out that if you were one of the 5 million Germans killed (mostly) by the Soviet state you might have felt pretty oppressed too? Or perhaps being killed only amounts to oppression when it is done by Americans :-)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mike:

    “A brief comment on Hitchens: I’m not entirely comfortable with the praise he is getting after his death: in my opinion he’d been softballed for far too long – from well before his diagnosis. That as late as 2010 he was dismissing the Tea Party as just a bunch of red neck hicks does sit somewhat at odds with his previous record of standing up to, rather than indulging, the worst excesses of people on the Left.”

    Not sure I entirely agree. Hitch won a lot of points in his favour from liberals/leftists, etc for his mockery of religion, but it took quite a lot of guts, remember, to say what he did, and with his tone, about radical Islam in particular. Second, his support for the military overthrow of Saddam and the rest was hardly a popular cause and he lost a lot of old friendships as a result. Nothing “softball” about that.

    On Iraq, he did not regret his support or pretend he was doubtful almost from the start, or engage in a certain level of revisionism, as in the disgraceful case of Andrew Sullivan, another UK expat. Hitchens’ understanding of why Saddam had to go was spot on.

    As for his views on the Tea Party, you have a decent point. Even so, I think Hitchens, given his visceral suspicion of a certain type of US conservative, was probably influenced by the apparent social views of some of the TP crowd. I can remember, in his Hitch-22 autobiography, his saying some rather praiseworthy things about Mrs Thatcher, for instance. And he obviously was a champion of the basic idea of America, of Jeffersonian democracy, the rule of law and the open society. And yes, there is a sense in which he honestly admitted some of his earlier Trotskyite foolishness.

    There are obvious shortcomings. I don’t think he ever really understood economics all that well; on some issues, such as his support for Allende versus Pinochet, he was naive, but not dishonorably so.

    So I don’t think he had a lot of “softball” questions in the last decade of his life. Of course, he had the honour of being denounced by George Galloway and much of the Guardianista commentariat. No higher praise, surely.

    It is my great regret that I never met him.

  • zoomraker

    thanks for your reply Joshua, I don’t know very much about Chomsky and it seems you make some valid points.

    One of the things I find most frustrating about arguing with the UK Sandal Wearing factions is how they move from criticism of the UK State or The American State to becoming apologists for the Soviet Union, North Korean or Iranian state.

  • MajikMonkee

    I read Life by Keith Richards, there’s alot of surprising stuff, its quite funny how unlike most musicians he’s always been completely unimpressed with the left and from what he mentions on taxation and politicians the book pretty much leaves you thinking he’s a libertarian. Apparently the only politician he has ever respected was Vaclav Havel, who got the Stones in to Czechoslovakia after he booted out the commies.
    I reckon a big up from Keith Richards and an insult from El Chomo means you’re a pretty awesome character!

  • John K

    Zoomraker, Chomsky claimed that Havel, by calling the US a “defender of Freedom”, was complicit in the murder of Jesuits in El Salvador. That’s like … well, let’s see … I guess it’s like saying that Chomsky was complicit in Pol Pot’s murderous joy-ride. My guess is that Chomsky doesn’t see it that way.

    Wasn’t Chomsky quite the apologist for Pol Pot? He probably thought it reasonable to liquidate the anti-social elements in Cambodia.

  • Thanks for the tip, MajikMonkee – I’ll look it up. One more good reason to be a Stones fan.

  • My favorite part about all of Chomsky’s commentary on Southeast Asia was how the Vietnamese Communists, who he always insisted were merely defending their homeland against a puppet regime and later an invasion, turned around and invaded Cambodia almost immediately, causing at least as much human suffering in that already-suffering country (by bombing medical convoys and cutting off food supply lines) as the US invasion had in Vietnam. I don’t remember hearing Chomsky mention anything about this ever, but then he writes so MUCH it’s impossible to keep up with everything. Does anyone know if he ever said anything about the Vietnamese invasion? I’m guessing if he did it was that it was only ever atrocious because the US presence had radicalized the VC. Well.

  • “Nothing “softball” about that.”

    Oh sure. His stand against Islamofascism and support for the invasion of Iraq were not what I had in mind though. I was thinking of far more recent things (i.e. from 2008/2009 onward), like sycophantic interviews with a younger generation of fan-boys. Some of it was cringe-worthy. He should have been debating with Mark Steyn or someone of that caliber.

    “As for his views on the Tea Party, you have a decent point.”

    Well thanks Jonathan – that was what I was really driving at. Had he come out and supported the Tea Party on the grounds of bare political-economic necessity alone, it may be that a lot of people on the Left (especially the young) would have been shamed into re-evaluating their own prejudice on this score. Yet he couldn’t even bring himself to do this. Instead, he merely induldged their prejudice like any other two-bit hack. At the very least, that is a discomforting irony from someone who once stood up to Clinton when relatively few other journos (certainly on the Left) would or even could.

    “Of course, he had the honour of being denounced by George Galloway and much of the Guardianista commentariat.”

    Oh I quite agree having made this same point recently to one of the journos here.

  • Paul Marks

    The article that Christopher Hitchens wrote for Slate (on the vile Noam Chomsky) is very good. However, the comments under the article show he was wasting his time with this crowd – even after presenting all this evidence the comments are “you present no evidence” (and on and on).

    There is a saying “do not cast pearls before swine” and even though Christopher Hichens was a man of the left – he should have known that most leftists are swine. Do not waste time writing articles for them (and so on).

    As for Chomsky the best account of him (showing that his political work is a tissue of lies, and that even his scholarly work was just a dead end) is “The Anti Chomsky Reader”.

    On Havel.

    Also a welfare statist (like C. Hitchens), but a very different sort of man……

    Hictchens did indeed mock the Tea Party people – and (most likely) would have held his nose and supported Obama next year – because Obama supports the idea of “compassionate government” (at least he seems to – he tries to give that impression).

    Havel would most likely have not agreed with Tea Party people either – but he would NOT have mocked them.

    He would have asked (politely) “why do you support a smaller Federal government?” And listened (really listened) as people explained their opinions to him.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way the classic modern far left dodge.

    “I am not a Marxist – I am an anarchist”.

    Was basically invented by Chomsky.

    His “anarchism” was collectivist to the core – which is why he always supported the Soviets (and any other enemy of the West).

  • Paul Marks

    zoomraker.

    Many thanks for reminding everyone that leftists support the mass murder of millions of innocent people by the Communists in IndoChina – and then have the barefaced cheek to blame the United States for it.