For reasons I shall write about very shortly, I have been giving a lot of attention in the past week to the writings of Noam Chomsky. While my longstanding interest in Chomsky lies in his political analysis, I am fortunate that among my regular correspondents are two distinguished academics in theoretical linguistics, who have done their best to instruct me in Chomsky's contribution to that discipline. One of them has in addition sent me a fairly recent judgement by the great man in the field of domestic politics, which I was previously unaware of. (I can fairly, and I believe accurately, claim to have read all of Chomsky's numerous books on politics, but I do not necessarily keep up with all of his interviews.) It is a pearl of great price, and I hasten to share it with a wider audience. It comes from a broadcast interview, On the US elections, Strategies for Radicals and the Independent Media Movement, with DJ Lotus and DJette Aporetics (23 November, 2004), and here is the transcript of the relevant passage, where Chomsky speaks of the election that returned President Bush to the White House:
The question of fraud, though it may exist, is pretty marginal. There's something much more important about the election, namely, that virtually the entire population was excluded. And we know this very well. Public opinion in the United States is studied very carefully, and we have a huge amount of data. The most prestigious institutions that monitor public opinion came out with extensive studies related to the election. Right before the election, this October. They were scarcely reported, almost not at all. And they are very interesting: they tell you a lot about the election. In fact, what they tell you in effect is that the election didn't take place.
I have heard of the Marxist notion of 'false consciousness' (here, for example, is a reasonable - though not necessarily accurate - application of the idea to recent American politics by a radical historian). This, however, is the first time I have ever encountered the proposition that the 120 million Americans who voted in the 2004 Presidential election - many waiting in line around the block for their turn - were deluded in believing that they were eligible to vote. How fortunate, in the circumstances, that they were also mistaken in believing that an election was taking place at all, otherwise there might have been trouble.
UPDATE: In the original version of this post I said Chomsky didn't divulge the names of these 'most prestigious institutions'. My mistake: he names two institutions, one of which has nothing to do with domestic policy and whose findings on American public opinion on foreign policy bear no relation to the claim that the election "in effect... didn't take place". The other institution also studies attitudes to foreign policy. It reported its poll finding in September 2004 that many Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that the President favoured some policies (such as including labour and environmental standards in trade agreements, or joining the International Criminal Court) that he in fact opposed. This is also, believe it or not, what Chomsky means by a finding that the election "in effect ... didn't take place".
I have in addition rephrased a particularly ugly tautology that appeared in my original version.