Who Rules the World?

Who Rules the World?

by Noam Chomsky


View All Available Formats & Editions


A New York Times Bestseller

The world’s leading intellectual offers a probing examination of the waning American Century, the nature of U.S. policies post-9/11, and the perils of valuing power above democracy and human rights

In an incisive, thorough analysis of the current international situation, Noam Chomsky argues that the United States, through its military-first policies and its unstinting devotion to maintaining a world-spanning empire, is both risking catastrophe and wrecking the global commons. Drawing on a wide range of examples, from the expanding drone assassination program to the threat of nuclear warfare, as well as the flashpoints of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestine, he offers unexpected and nuanced insights into the workings of imperial power on our increasingly chaotic planet.

In the process, Chomsky provides a brilliant anatomy of just how U.S. elites have grown ever more insulated from any democratic constraints on their power. While the broader population is lulled into apathy—diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable—the corporations and the rich have increasingly been allowed to do as they please.

Fierce, unsparing, and meticulously documented, Who Rules the World? delivers the indispensable understanding of the central conflicts and dangers of our time that we have come to expect from Chomsky.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781627793810
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/10/2016
Series: American Empire Project
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (Emeritus) in the M.I.T. Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. His work is widely credited with having revolutionized the field of modern linguistics. Chomsky is the author of numerous best-selling political works, including the New York Times bestseller Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Imperial Ambitions, What We Say Goes, and Hopes and Prospects.

Read an Excerpt

Who Rules the World?

By Noam Chomsky

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2016 L. Valéria Galvão-Wasserman-Chomsky
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-382-7


The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux

Before thinking about the responsibility of intellectuals, it is worth clarifying to whom we are referring.

The concept of "intellectuals" in the modern sense gained prominence with the 1898 "Manifesto of the Intellectuals" produced by the Dreyfusards, who, inspired by Émile Zola's open letter of protest to France's president, condemned both the framing of French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus for treason and the subsequent military cover-up. The Dreyfusards' stance conveys the image of intellectuals as defenders of justice, confronting power with courage and integrity. But they were hardly seen that way at the time. A minority of the educated classes, the Dreyfusards were bitterly condemned in the mainstream of intellectual life, in particular by prominent figures among the "immortals of the strongly anti-Dreyfusard Académie Française," as sociologist Steven Lukes writes. To the novelist, politician, and anti-Dreyfusard leader Maurice Barrès, Dreyfusards were "anarchists of the lecture-platform." To another of these immortals, Ferdinand Brunetière, the very word "intellectual" signified "one of the most ridiculous eccentricities of our time — I mean the pretension of raising writers, scientists, professors and philologists to the rank of supermen" who dare to "treat our generals as idiots, our social institutions as absurd and our traditions as unhealthy."

Who then were the intellectuals? The minority inspired by Zola (who was sentenced to jail for libel and fled the country), or the immortals of the academy? The question resonates through the ages, in one form or another.


One answer came during World War I, when prominent intellectuals on all sides lined up enthusiastically in support of their own states. In their "Manifesto of the Ninety-Three," leading figures in one of the world's most enlightened states called on the West to "have faith in us! Believe, that we shall carry on this war to the end as a civilized nation, to whom the legacy of a Goethe, a Beethoven, and a Kant, is just as sacred as its own hearths and homes." Their counterparts on the other side of the intellectual trenches matched them in enthusiasm for the noble cause, but went beyond in self-adulation. In the New Republic they proclaimed that the "effective and decisive work on behalf of the war has been accomplished by ... a class which must be comprehensively but loosely described as the 'intellectuals.'" These progressives believed they were ensuring that the United States entered the war "under the influence of a moral verdict reached, after the utmost deliberation by the more thoughtful members of the community." They were, in fact, the victims of concoctions of the British Ministry of Information, which secretly sought "to direct the thought of most of the world," but particularly to direct the thought of American progressive intellectuals who might help to whip a pacifist country into war fever.

John Dewey was impressed by the great "psychological and educational lesson" of the war, which proved that human beings — more precisely, the "intelligent men of the community" — can "take hold of human affairs and manage them ... deliberately and intelligently" to achieve the ends sought. (It took Dewey only a few years to shift from responsible intellectual of World War I to "anarchist of the lecture-platform," denouncing the "un-free press" and questioning "how far genuine intellectual freedom and social responsibility are possible on any large scale under the existing economic regime.")

Not everyone toed the line so obediently, of course. Notable figures such as Bertrand Russell, Eugene Debs, Rosa Luxemburg, and Karl Liebknecht were, like Zola, sentenced to prison. Debs was punished with particular severity — a ten-year prison term for raising questions about President Wilson's "war for democracy and human rights." Wilson refused him amnesty after the war ended, though President Harding finally relented. Some dissidents, such as Thorstein Veblen, were chastised but treated less harshly; Veblen was fired from his position in the Food Administration after preparing a report showing that the shortage of farm labor could be overcome by ending Wilson's brutal persecution of unions, specifically the Industrial Workers of the World. Randolph Bourne was dropped by the progressive journals after criticizing the "league of benevolently imperialistic nations" and their exalted endeavors.

The pattern of praise and punishment is a familiar one throughout history: those who line up in the service of the state are typically praised by the general intellectual community, and those who refuse to line up in service of the state are punished.

In later years, the two categories of intellectuals were distinguished more explicitly by prominent scholars. The ridiculous eccentrics are termed "value-oriented intellectuals," who pose "a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties." Among other misdeeds, these dangerous creatures "devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority," and even confront the institutions responsible for "the indoctrination of the young." Some sink so far as to doubt the nobility of war aims, like Bourne. This castigation of the miscreants who defy authority and the established order was delivered by the scholars of the liberal internationalist Trilateral Commission — the Carter administration was largely drawn from their ranks — in their 1975 study The Crisis of Democracy. Like the New Republic progressives during the First World War, they extend the concept of "intellectual" beyond Brunetière to include the "technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals," responsible and serious thinkers who devote themselves to the constructive work of shaping policy within established institutions, and to ensuring that indoctrination of the young proceeds on course.

What particularly alarmed the Trilateral scholars was the "excess of democracy" during the time of troubles, the 1960s, when normally passive and apathetic parts of the population entered the political arena to advance their concerns: minorities, women, the young, the old, working people ... in short, the population, sometimes called "the special interests." They are to be distinguished from those whom Adam Smith called the "masters of mankind," who are the "principal architects" of government policy and who pursue their "vile maxim": "All for ourselves and nothing for other people." The role of the masters in the political arena is not deplored, or discussed, in the Trilateral volume, presumably because the masters represent "the national interest," like those who applauded themselves for leading the country to war "after the utmost deliberation by the more thoughtful members of the community" had reached its "moral verdict."

To overcome the excessive burden imposed on the state by the special interests, the Trilateralists called for more "moderation in democracy," a return to passivity on the part of the less deserving, perhaps even a return to the happy days when "Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers," and democracy therefore flourished.

The Trilateralists could well have claimed that they were adhering to the original intent of the Constitution, "intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period," by delivering power to a "better sort" of people and barring "those who were not rich, well born, or prominent from exercising political power," in the words of the historian Gordon Wood. In Madison's defense, however, we should recognize that his mentality was precapitalist. In determining that power should be in the hands of "the wealth of the nation," "the more capable set of men," he envisioned those men on the model of the "enlightened statesman" and "benevolent philosopher" of the imagined Roman world. They would be "pure and noble," "men of intelligence, patriotism, property, and independent circumstances" "whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations." So endowed, these men would "refine and enlarge the public views," guarding the public interest against the "mischiefs" of democratic majorities. In a similar vein, the progressive Wilsonian intellectuals might have taken comfort in the discoveries of the behavioral sciences, explained in 1939 by the psychologist and education theorist Edward Thorndike:

It is the great good fortune of mankind that there is a substantial correlation between intelligence and morality including good will toward one's fellows. ... Consequently our superiors in ability are on the average our benefactors, and it is often safer to trust our interests to them than to ourselves.

A comforting doctrine, though some might feel that Adam Smith had the sharper eye.


The distinction between the two categories of intellectuals provides the framework for determining the "responsibility of intellectuals." The phrase is ambiguous: Does it refer to their moral responsibility as decent human beings, in a position to use their privilege and status to advance the causes of freedom, justice, mercy, peace, and other such sentimental concerns? Or does it refer to the role they are expected to play as "technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals," not derogating but serving leadership and established institutions? Since power generally tends to prevail, it is those in the latter category who are considered the "responsible intellectuals," while the former are dismissed or denigrated — at home, that is.

With regard to enemies, the distinction between the two categories of intellectuals is retained, but with values reversed. In the old Soviet Union, the value-oriented intellectuals were perceived by Americans as honored dissidents, while we had only contempt for the apparatchiks and commissars, the technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals. Similarly, in Iran we honor the courageous dissidents and condemn those who defend the clerical establishment. And so on elsewhere generally.

In this way, the honorable term "dissident" is used selectively. It does not, of course, apply, with its favorable connotations, to value-oriented intellectuals at home or to those who combat U.S.-supported tyranny abroad. Take the interesting case of Nelson Mandela, who was only removed from the official State Department terrorist list in 2008, allowing him to travel to the United States without special authorization. Twenty years earlier, he was the criminal leader of one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups," according to a Pentagon report. That is why President Reagan had to support the apartheid regime, increasing trade with South Africa in violation of congressional sanctions and supporting South Africa's depredations in neighboring countries, which led, according to a UN study, to 1.5 million deaths. That was only one episode in the war on terrorism that Reagan declared to combat "the plague of the modern age," or, as Secretary of State George Shultz had it, "a return to barbarism in the modern age." We may add hundreds of thousands of corpses in Central America and tens of thousands more in the Middle East, among other achievements. Small wonder that the Great Communicator is worshipped by Hoover Institution scholars as a colossus whose "spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost."

The Latin American case is revealing. Those who called for freedom and justice in Latin America are not admitted to the pantheon of honored dissidents. For example, a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall, six leading Latin American intellectuals, all Jesuit priests, had their heads blown off on the direct orders of the Salvadoran high command. The perpetrators were from an elite battalion armed and trained by Washington that had already left a gruesome trail of blood and terror.

The murdered priests are not commemorated as honored dissidents, nor are others like them throughout the hemisphere. Honored dissidents are those who called for freedom in enemy domains in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union — and those thinkers certainly suffered, but not remotely like their counterparts in Latin America. This assertion is not seriously in question; as John Coatsworth writes in the Cambridge History of the Cold War, from 1960 to "the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites." Among the executed were many religious martyrs, and there were mass slaughters as well, consistently supported or initiated by Washington.

Why then the distinction? It might be argued that what happened in Eastern Europe matters far more than the fate of the global South at our hands. It would be interesting to see that argument spelled out, and also to see the argument explaining why we should disregard elementary moral principles in thinking about U.S. involvement in foreign affairs, among them that we should focus our efforts on where we can do the most good — typically, where we share responsibility for what is being done. We have no difficulty demanding that our enemies follow such principles.

Few of us care, or should, what Andrei Sakharov or Shirin Ebadi says about U.S. or Israeli crimes; we admire them for what they say and do about those of their own states, and this conclusion holds far more strongly for those who live in more free and democratic societies, and therefore have far greater opportunities to act effectively. It is of some interest that, in the most respected circles, the practice is virtually the opposite of what elementary moral values dictate.

The U.S. wars in Latin America from 1960 to 1990, quite apart from their horrors, have long-term historical significance. To consider just one important aspect, they were in no small measure wars against the Catholic Church, undertaken to crush a terrible heresy proclaimed at Vatican II in 1962. At that time, Pope John XXIII "ushered in a new era in the history of the Catholic Church," in the words of the distinguished theologian Hans Küng, restoring the teachings of the gospels that had been put to rest in the fourth century when the emperor Constantine established Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire, thereby instituting "a revolution" that converted "the persecuted church" to a "persecuting church." The heresy of Vatican II was taken up by Latin American bishops, who adopted the "preferential option for the poor." Priests, nuns, and laypersons then brought the radical pacifist message of the gospels to the poor, helping them organize to ameliorate their bitter fate in the domains of U.S. power.

That same year, 1962, President John F. Kennedy made several critical decisions. One was to shift the mission of the militaries of Latin America from "hemispheric defense" (an anachronism from World War II) to "internal security" — in effect, war against the domestic population, if they raised their heads. Charles Maechling Jr., who led U.S. counterinsurgency and internal defense planning from 1961 to 1966, describes the unsurprising consequences of the 1962 decision as a shift from toleration of "the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military" to "direct complicity" in their crimes, to U.S. support for "the methods of Heinrich Himmler's extermination squads." One major initiative was a military coup in Brazil, backed by Washington and implemented shortly after Kennedy's assassination, that instituted a murderous and brutal national security state there. The plague of repression then spread through the hemisphere, encompassing the 1973 coup that installed the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and later the most vicious of all, the Argentine dictatorship — Ronald Reagan's favorite Latin American regime. Central America's turn — not for the first time — came in the 1980s under the leadership of the "warm and friendly ghost" of the Hoover Institution scholars, who is now revered for his achievements.

The murder of the Jesuit intellectuals as the Berlin Wall fell was a final blow in defeating the heresy of liberation theology, the culmination of a decade of horror in El Salvador that opened with the assassination, by much the same hands, of Archbishop Óscar Romero, the "voice for the voiceless." The victors in the war against the Church declared their responsibility with pride. The School of the Americas (since renamed), famous for its training of Latin American killers, announced as one of its "talking points" that the liberation theology initiated at Vatican II was "defeated with the assistance of the US army."


Excerpted from Who Rules the World? by Noam Chomsky. Copyright © 2016 L. Valéria Galvão-Wasserman-Chomsky. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux
2. Terrorists Wanted the World Over
3. The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia
4. The Invisible Hand of Power
5. American Decline: Causes and Consequences
6. Is America Over?
7. Magna Carta, Its Fate, and Ours
8. The Week the World Stood Still
9. The Oslo Accords: Their Context, Their Consequences
10. The Eve of Destruction
11. Israel-Palestine: The Real Options
12. “Nothing for Other People”: Class War in the United States
13. Whose Security? How Washington Protects Itself and the Corporate Sector
14. Outrage
15. How Many Minutes to Midnight?
16. Cease-fires in Which Violations Never Cease
17. The U.S. Is a Leading Terrorist State
18. Obama’s Historic Move
19. “Two Ways About It”
20. One Day in the Life of a Reader of the New York Times
21. “The Iranian Threat”: Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace?
22. The Doomsday Clock
23. Masters of Mankind

Customer Reviews