Hidden alliances 5, Cohn Werner

Freedom of Speech

As we have seen, Chomsky boasts that he will defend the
freedom of expression of anyone, any time, presumably
regarding anything, and that he does not need to see
disputed material in order to defend its right to be heard
and published.<57> Bill Rubinstein has already pointed out
that this proposition can hardly be taken seriously since
there must be limits to freedom of speech in any society.
An immediate example is the necessity for prohibiting
commercial fraud. But Chomsky is completely mindless in his
declarations for unrestricted freedom; neither fraud, nor
defamation, nor public mischief of any sort can deter what
he is pleased to call his Enlightenment values. Some of his
more extravagant postures on these matters are reminiscent
of extremist “libertarians” from Caligula to Charles Manson.
We shall look into some of the antinomian sources of his
political thought later in this essay.

To Chomsky there is no question that the “revisionist” neo-
Nazis should be given complete freedom of speech in Western
countries (attempts to restrain them have so far been made
only in West Germany, France, and Canada). He never tires
of exclaiming that freedom of expression should know no
limits, his citation of Voltaire settling the matter to his

I myself have been less than happy with the prosecution of
the neo-Nazis in Canada, and I am not convinced that the
legal prosecution of Faurisson in France is justified. But
the issue is a great deal more complex than Chomsky lets on
because questions of both defamation and fraud must be
addressed. Faurisson and his followers have engaged in an
unbelievable campaign of libel and slander — always couched
in very personal terms — against the scholars and the
witnesses of the Holocaust. Furthermore, as the transcript
of the Zundel trial in Canada has shown, it seems clear that
the “revisionists” are motivated by malice and not by any
historical conviction. I am fortunately not called upon to
vote for or against a gag on these Nazis. But if I were,
and if a study of all the details of a given individual case
were to convince me that freedom of speech should prevail, I
know that I would still be very far indeed from being a
friend to the gentleman in question.

As is generally the case when extremists face legal
difficulties, the neo-Nazis today have two kinds of
supporters: those who wish them well because they are
sympathetic to their cause on the one hand, and civil
libertarians on the other. Since nowadays nobody likes to
be recognized as a Nazi sympathizer, just about everyone who
supports the neo-Nazis today calls himself a civil
libertarian. The trick is to tell who is who.

There is of course no difficulty to this. We all know civil
libertarians. We know who they are, what they do, how they
do it. In America they are akin to the founders and leaders
of the American Civil Liberties Union, and, like them or
not, they are liberal by persuasion, liberal by style and
culture. They have a record of defending various kinds of
unpopular groups, not just one. They will give legal aid to
Nazis but they will not associate with Nazis, will not
collaborate with Nazis politically, will not publish their
books with Nazi publishers, will not allow their articles to
be printed in Nazi journals.<58> On these counts alone
Chomsky is no civil libertarian.

Chomsky misleads us when he tells how he was recruited to
the Faurisson cause. He tries to create the impression that
it was civil libertarians who recruited him: “In the fall
of 1979, I was asked by Serge Thion, a libertarian socialist
scholar with a record of opposition to all forms of
totalitarianism, to sign a petition … “<59> The plain
truth is that Thion was already a partisan of Faurisson at
the time, a man second only to Faurisson himself in the
propaganda that declares the Holocaust to be a Jewish lie.
Insofar as Chomsky is a political friend of Thion’s, and
this certainly seems to be the case at least as late as
1987,<60> Chomsky must be considered a political friend of
these neo-Nazis and not the disinterested champion of free
speech that he pretends to be.

There is also the issue of Chomsky’s relationships to the
civil liberties of individuals and causes that he
particularly dislikes: first those who have dared to
criticize him, and second the Jews who are persecuted in
Russia and in the Arab world. On these matters Chomsky’s
record is anything but civil libertarian.

We have seen that the British linguist Geoffrey Sampson,
having published some mildly critical remarks on Chomsky in
a British work of reference, saw himself banned from the
American edition of that work. Chomsky denies that he was
instrumental in this ban, but his testimony is not
convincing because he also argues in favor of censoring
Sampson <61>:

With regard to a book, readers can form their own
conclusions. But an entry in a reference work is
something quite different. Readers rely on the
reputation of the editors to guarantee that what
is presented is accurate, not fabrication and mere
slander as in this case; and the editors surely
have a responsibility to justify this trust.

Chomsky does not revoke his principle of absolute freedom of
expression of everyone. It’s just a matter of a little
exception that he finds necessary: general books may enjoy
freedom, certainly, but books of reference, well, that’s an
entirely different story. Chomsky is fond of making up
obfuscating little rules like that. But who is fooled by
that? The record here is very clear: Chomsky will gladly
violate his professed principles if it is a matter of
silencing his critics.

Are there any other limits to Chomsky’s generosity on the
matter of civil rights?

Chomsky says that he has been privately active on behalf of
individual dissidents in the Soviet Union, but he has never,
insofar as I have been able to find out, endorsed or aided
the movement to allow the emigration of Soviet Jews. I have
written to him about that, and I have also most particularly
asked him to intervene on behalf of the Jews of Syria.<62>
I was rewarded by a number of vituperative letters from him,
but on the matter of the oppressed Jews he has remained
absolutely obdurate. So when he tells us that he never
refuses to sign petitions on behalf of civil rights48 he
forgets to mention that he does make a tiny little exception
when it comes to the rights of oppressed Jews, his own

To round out the picture of Chomsky’s relationship to
Faurisson and the neo-Nazi movement, something needs to be
said about Chomsky’s repeated assurances that he disagrees
“diametrically” with Faurisson, that in his opinion the
Holocaust did occur. In fact Chomsky has very few words to
say about the subject, but they are words that he uses
often. He allowed, by way of an obiter dictum in an earlier
book Peace in the Middle East, that the Holocasut had been
“the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human
history.” Now, whenever his relationship to the neo-Nazis
is in any way challenged, he trots out these very same
words, quoting himself verbatim, neither adding nor
subtracting from this ten-word formula. The abracadabra
nature of this declaration carries little evidence of
conviction and certainly lacks in persuasive power.
Nevertheless, with respect to the historical reality of the
Holocaust and when writing for an American audience,
Chomsky does not wish to be counted among the neo-Nazis.

On the other hand, as we have learned from Guillaume above
and from the published record as well, Chomsky is also very
careful not to let this little disagreement with the neo-
Nazis spoil his good relationship with them. He wrote to
Rubinstein that there is nothing anti-Semitic about
Holocaust-denial; he agreed with Guillaume that belief on
his part in the historical reality of the Holocaust is a
purely personal opinion — a sort of quirk — and is not to
be regarded as implying criticism of the “scholarly” work
done by Faurisson.

Chomsky has a well-earned reputation as a vituperative
political polemicist. He has a ready store of invective and
he is not stingy with it when attacking the state of Israel
and anyone to whom that state is dear. But aside from the
ten-word self-exculpatory formula that I have shown, Chomsky
has never, to my knowledge, seen fit to criticize Faurisson
or any other neo-Nazi. His “diametric” disagreement with
such people is obviously not something that occupies him
very seriously.

Now that we have seen some of the ways in which Chomsky has
embroiled himself with the neo-Nazi movement I would like to
consider why and how this could have happened. I do not
propose to speculate, in the manner of the ineffable Doctor
Stein, about unconscious psychological quirks or motives.
The public record alone is quite explicit and suggests two
roots of Chomsky’s current neo-Nazism:

A) There is an old ultra-left doctrine of malign
equivalence according to which all worldly government
is equally evil. Chomsky and his friends, under cover
of this neutralist faith, have gone beyond it to
suggest that government and society in the West are in
fact the most evil of all.

B) Certain embittered assimilationist Jewish
individuals have long held that the Jews as a group —
their religion, their society, their leadership — are
in every way despicable, are authors of their own
misfortune, constitute a danger to the peoples of the
world. This set of opinions is technically known as
“self-hatred” and we shall have to return to it below.

These two tendencies, the self-hatred of some Western
intellectuals and the self-hatred of certain Jews, are
perhaps unexceptionable when moderate and separate. But
Chomsky — it is said that he is a brilliant man — has
combined them, twisted them into new forms of absurdity,
invested them with all of his academic prestige and all of
his physical and mental energy, and he has rarely shrunk
from embracing the most extreme and the most hateful

Last-Modified: 1996/12/05

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