Famed linguist Noam Chomsky is concerned that “cancel culture” might be here to stay in American public life.
“I hope ‘cancel culture’ and ‘French structuralist theory’ don’t establish themselves in the U.S., or anywhere else,” Chomsky tells Paradox. “French structuralist theory seems to be pursuit of an elite fringe. ‘Cancel culture’ has seeped into larger domains.”
The MIT professor for decades has argued against postmodern and French structuralist philosophy; theoretical frameworks which have informed today’s progressive movements around intersectionality, and the surrounding media environment. He has also warned about the power of corporate media, and how it drives “cancel culture.” Chomsky’s 1988 book coauthored with Edward S. Herman, “Manufacturing Consent,” details how behemoth media institutions shape mass opinion around American foreign policy objectives, silencing dissidents who speak out.
“The mainstream, including the corporate world, have always implemented an extreme form of ‘cancel culture’ [by] destroying books…publishers, destroying academic careers, silencing voices they don’t like,” continues the theorist. “Of course they’ll pick up new tricks to add to the arsenal, but it barely changes anything.”
Chomsky this past summer signed Harper’s letter on justice and open debate, which warned that, “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”
“Editors are fired for running controversial pieces,” reads the statement. “Books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.”
All the environments the letter sites, from college campuses to newsrooms, all contend with progressive ideologues demanding structural reform from a worldview seeing institutions as oppressive. Despite Chomsky’s objection to French structuralism, which has informed today’s activists and the form of cancel culture practiced in liberal institutions, Chomsky believes cancel culture is inevitable in corporate media and takes many forms.
“Few read them, and fewer understand them,” Chomsky tells Paradox about postmodern and French structuralist academic texts. “The corporate world and media have their own longstanding cancel culture, which is far more extreme than anything discussed now and totally unrelated to it.”