Study Guide

Noam Chomsky Influences

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George Orwell

In my twenties, I got really into the brilliant English writer and journalist George Orwell. (Ever heard of 1984?) George's book about his experiences fighting on the side of anti-Stalinist communist forces (POUM) in the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, had a profound impact on me.

That book really helped encouraged my thinking about fascism and oppression. Funnily enough, Orwell's own publisher suppressed the book for two years; people just couldn't handle any anti-communism at the time, because they were too busy fighting fascists like Franco (and Mussolini and Hitler …). One totalitarian government at a time, please!

Of course my interests in the Spanish Civil War preceded Orwell's masterpiece. I banged out an essay on the subject when I was 10 years old. But I still had a thing or two to learn from George. Thanks, man.

Bertrand Russell

This British philosopher and big burrito of 20th-century thought hugely influenced my ideas on education. He also galvanized some of my own interpretations of Classical Liberalism and the Enlightenment. His discussions of 18th-century education really got me thinking about how jacked our schools are today.

You know, he's offered some gems about how people aren't empty vessels that educators are supposed to fill with ideas—they are more like flowers that need to be nurtured.

As I see it, education has long been about propaganda; it's just all about getting the people to be compliant and obedient. For more of my insights on this subject, see my interview subtly titled "Education is Ignorance."

Zellig Harris

As my professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Ol' Zellig taught me a lot about structural linguistics and Socialist Zionism—two interests that had an enormous influence on my intellectual pursuits.

(Zellie's Methods in Structural Linguistics is a must read.)

At the time I met him, I was toying with the idea of packing it all in and moving off to a kibbutz. I wanted "to try to become involved in efforts at Arab-Jewish cooperation within a socialist framework, opposed to the deeply antidemocratic concept of a Jewish state". What else is an 18-year-old supposed to do?

What I loved most about Zellig was that his commitment to linguistics wasn't exclusive. I'd like to think it was more a means to an end, actually: a way of opening up other issues of politics and philosophy. Let's just say my mentorship under Zellig was unorthodox, and not everyone approved of him. But he'll always be a Main Man in my life.


I had a pretty significant extended family as I was growing up in New York. They were basically all Zionists. As I have said elsewhere:

[M]y immediate family, my parents, were normal Roosevelt Democrats, and very much involved with Jewish affairs, deeply Zionist and interested in Jewish culture, the revival of Hebrew, and generally the cultural Zionism […] but increasingly, in mainstream Zionism.

My Zionist ideas are not conventional, however, because I went out on a limb and believed in a bi-national state for Palestine. (You probably know that most Zionists believe in a Jewish nation state and aren't exactly up for "sharing" Israel.) And I was not a Trotskyite or Stalinist like a lot of my fellow Zionists.

Also, I never officially joined a Zionist group. When it comes down to it, I am just a wolf pack of one.

The Jewish Working Class

My family may not have had a lot of dough, but we were super-powered intellectuals. So I was lucky to live in a community of politically engaged, highly literate people. It was an incredibly fertile environment in which to be raised.

Families today may sit around and watch "The Voice" together, but the Chomsky unit rapped out about Marx, Freud, books, intellectual and Jewish traditions, and so on.

Thanks to my dad, the Hebrew scholar, I was exposed to all sorts of 19th-century Hebrew literature and Jewish culture. As I have said, "I can't say what long-term effect this reading had on me. It certainly had an emotional impact."

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