Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Noam Chomsky is one of the world's most prominent and controversial public intellectuals. He is an internationally renowned professor of linguistics, but he is also a longstanding critic of US foreign policy and the influence of big business over the American government.

Noam Chomsky told HARDtalk the war in Afghanistan is "immoral"

He spoke to Stephen Sackur in a HARDtalk interview recorded on 3rd November 2009.

HARDtalk gave viewers the chance to submit their own questions before the interview, and received over 100 emails. A few of these were put to him in the interview, and Professor Chomsky has answered a small selection of the rest by email.

Below are a few of the questions from viewers put to Mr Chomsky "off air" - with responses. Several others have been separated by topic and can be accessed via the tabs at the top of the page.


Q: What is the "liberal elite" that you have referred to and what defines their morals and ideas? Nicholas Mead, UK

A: The terms of political discourse are vague and obscure, including these, but also virtually all others: 'capitalism,' 'market', 'socialism', 'conservative', etc. I was using the term in the conventional manner, with 'liberal' understood in the American sense, something like 'mildly social democratic', roughly 'New Labour' in the British context.

The term elite refers to those with more privilege and opportunity, hence who dominate decision-making in the economic, political, and ideological spheres. There are no sharp boundaries, no club to belong to. To discover their morals and ideas we investigate what they say but more significantly what they do.

Also polls, which reveal that corporate executives tend to share the views of 'liberal elites' on social and cultural issues, though they tend more towards what's called 'conservative' (a much abused term) on economic issues. Impossible to spell it out here, but I've written reams about the matter, as of course have many others.

Q: How was the linguist instrumental in giving way to the political scientist? In which way did one inform the other? We still love both. Jorge Roca, Argentina

A: Thanks for the kind comment. In reality, the order was the opposite. I was a political activist long before I heard of linguistics, and in fact drifted into linguistics through radical political contacts. But neither really informs the other, except at a rather abstract level, which can be traced to Enlightenment (and earlier) concepts of creativity and freedom as being at the core of essential human nature, most clearly revealed in the normal use of language (a crucial matter in Cartesian mind-body dualism). I've written about it occasionally.

Q: My question for Professor Chomsky is simply, do you believe in the rule of law? Toby Stewart, Switzerland

A: To give that question depth and focus, I would break it down into three sub-questions:

1) When people speak of the desirability of "the rule of law", are they articulating a loyalty towards the private ownership and management of the political economy?

It depends what 'law' we are talking about. Thus the tribal areas of the Northwest provinces in Pakistan are commonly called 'lawless', but Westerners who know the area first-hand say that they are remarkably 'law-abiding' - even if not the law that you and I would like.

There are legal systems that privilege private ownership and management of the political economy, others that do not. Furthermore, law is disobeyed at will by the powerful, notably rogue states like the US and UK, which reveal utter disdain for international law and violate it at will. At home as well. Take Ronald Reagan, who went so far as to veto Security Council resolutions calling for states to observe international law (with British help) and also informed the business world that the government would not implement labour laws, leading to a vast increase in illegal firing of union organizers, as the business press reported (happily).

2) Can 'the law' really be said to exist as distinct from the overall structure of a society's political economy?

Yes, but implementation of the law depends on the distribution of power, among other factors. As in the cases just mentioned.

3) Any military dictator can point at the guy on his left and say "You are now a judge." Who should judge the judges? Should judges be elected by their local community?

We (rightly) don't pay much attention to 'law' as determined by military dictators. The matter of popular election of judges is a complex one, not susceptible to simple formulas. There are reasons to favour local election, but conflicting reasons to prefer judicial independence. Like most matters of human affairs, there are diverse and often conflicting values to consider.

Q: If the world were a peaceful, self conscious place without the threat to its own destruction, what would you be doing? John D, US

A: If the world would 'go away', I would be happy to focus my energy and attention on fascinating and challenging intellectual issues. Among them are many that arise with regard to the nature, use, acquisition and origin of human language, and its role in what is sometimes called by paleoanthropologists 'the human capacity'.

Q: What effect does Mr Chomsky feel all his books, interviews, lectures, films, etc have had on 'the ways of the world'? Johnathon John, Japan

A: That's for others to say.

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