This is worth reading. The weblog of Commentary magazine has made available from its archives the full text, for free, of what it rightly calls a riveting intellectual feud from 1969. The participants comprise the critic Lionel Abel, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jnr (who died three weeks ago) and the non-historian Noam Chomsky; the subject is Chomsky's critique of American power in his book American Power and the New Mandarins. Follow this link for the whole exchange.
Schlesinger gives a caustic recitation of Chomsky's "scholarly fakery" with regard to a speech at Baylor by President Truman in 1947. He splendidly concludes:
One's suspicion is that Dr. Chomsky has no idea what he is talking about. As his persistence in the distortion of the Truman speech shows him an intellectual crook, so his refusal to confront, or even acknowledge, the serious issues involved in Truman's support of the ITO [International Trade Organization] in this "famous and important" speech shows him an intellectual phoney.
This was Chomsky's first full-length political book (though it was in fact a collection of articles published elsewhere) and the experience of being reviewed by Schlesinger clearly cut him. Many years later Chomsky complained to a tame reviewer (in Chronicles of Dissent, 1992, p. 350):
In the first book that I wrote, American Power and the New Mandarins, in the first edition there’s a slight error, namely that I attributed a quote to Truman which was in fact a very close paraphrase, almost verbatim paraphrase of what he said in a secondary source. I got a note mixed up and instead of citing the secondary source I cited Truman. It was corrected within about two months, in the second printing.
Coincidentally, when I cited American Power in an article about Chomsky for Prospect in November 2005, Chomsky responded with flagrantly selective quotation from his own book. I pointed this out in a letter in the March 2006 edition of the magazine:
Over 40 years, Noam Chomsky (January) has accused many more distinguished men than I of "tacit acquiescence to horrendous crimes." More interesting would have been a defence of his polemical distortions. We get only a reprise. Chomsky's account of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's comments on East Timor excises relevant context, presents unrelated passages as sequential, and interpolates remarks that Moynihan did not make. Even where Chomsky was right to attack western policy, he is analytically unscrupulous.
I noted (November) that from his earliest writings Chomsky "went beyond the standard left critique of US imperialism to the belief that 'what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification.'" Chomsky replies: "To demonstrate my 'central' doctrine, Kamm misquotes my statement that, 'We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the US is dissent—or denazification.'"
The full quotation runs: "We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent or denazification. The question is a debatable one. Reasonable people may differ. The fact that the question is even debatable is a terrifying thing. To me it seems that what is needed is a kind of denazification." Chomsky quotes only the first sentence, suggesting agnosticism on whether the US needed "denazification," and omits the fifth, where he makes precisely that judgement. He withholds this information from Prospect's readers to complain baselessly of misquotation. "The world's top public intellectual responds to accusations of dishonesty," indeed.
What an extraordinary man the world's top public intellectual is.