Noam Chomsky, champion of freedom of expression, celebrates his 95th birthday

Gone are the days when philosophers were the hottest celebrities. First there were the ancient Greeks. In the Hellenic era, no one was more talked about than Diogenes the Cynic, who slept in a barrel, or the public execution of Socrates by poison hemlock.

A few thousand years later, another era of star philosophers dawned in France, when crowds flocked to listen to the theory of existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre or the feminist readings of Simone de Beauvoir.

Today it seems that the last bastion of celebrity in philosophy is the one and only Noam Chomsky.

Born 95 years ago, Noam Chomsky is a native of Philadelphia and the son of Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Noam Chomsky earned his degrees and doctorate, first in linguistics and modern Hebrew, before specializing in the philosophy of language.

As potentially the most famous living philosopher, it is notable that Noam Chomsky’s academic training is in a much more specialized philosophical area than other famous counterparts.

In fact, his greatest contribution to academic philosophy is his theory of universal grammar. Without going into detail, Noam Chomsky argued that human beings have an innate sense of linguistic grammar that precedes any language learning. According to him, this is why human beings are so good at learning the complex languages ​​we speak from a very young age.

Noam Chomsky, right, during a press conference in support of the Gaza flotilla at the Gaza City port, Saturday October 20, 2012

Noam Chomsky, right, during a press conference in support of the Gaza flotilla at the Gaza City port, Saturday October 20, 2012 – Hatem Moussa/AP

If his theories on grammar and syntactic structures made him a luminary, it was Noam Chomsky’s move into public political criticism that made him truly famous.

Beginning in the 1960s, Noam Chomsky publicly spoke out against the Vietnam War. This attracted the attention of President Richard Nixon, who considered him a political opponent.

Noam Chomsky has published works of political philosophy that advocate anti-war positions, anti-fascism, and free speech. A defense of freedom of expression which led him to defend the rights of the French negationist, Robert Faurisson, however infamous his position may be.

Julian Assange, left, alongside American linguist, philosopher and writer Noam ChomskyJulian Assange, left, alongside American linguist, philosopher and writer Noam Chomsky

Julian Assange, left, alongside American linguist, philosopher and writer Noam Chomsky -Yui Mok/ap

If you want someone to take a stand on divisive political issues, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to American mass consumerism, with the eloquence of an academic, Noam Chomsky is the man for the job. It is not surprising that he became so famous during his long career as a philosopher.

To celebrate his 95th birthday, here are some of his quotes:

“If we don’t believe in free speech for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”.

“Neoliberal democracy. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.”

“Optimism is a strategy for building a better future. Because if you don’t believe the future can be better, you are unlikely to take responsibility for making it better.”

2023-12-07 13:01:34
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