Chomsky and Kagan as Archetypes

In a recent article Pierre Guerlain talks about Noam Chomsky and Robert Kagan as the archetypical representatives of two modes in which intellectuals relate to the notion of the state and its power. (Robert Kagan and Noam Chomsky: Two ways of being a political intellectual, Comparative American Studies, Vol 4, No. 4, pp. 446–458, 2006).

Chomsky represents the scholar who may step outside the narrow confines of his discipline to bring his intellectual training to bear on issues that affect the public at large; such an individual directly addresses the citizenry. In contrast, Kagan represents the expert who addresses the holders of power rather than those over whom power is exercised.

Guerlain describes Kagan as an elitist who feels that an elite group must direct the masses while Chomsky attempts to expose the elites as manipulators. Furthermore, Kagan is a nationalist whereas Chomsky tends to have an internationalist outlook.

Thus, according to Guerlain, intellectuals relate to the holders of power by either advising them on how to exercise it or by seeking to expose the exercise of that power so that citizens can stop its misapplication.

If we accept Guerlain’s categorization then it is not surprising that advisors to the power holders tend to be nationalistic. After all strengthening the nation state is a way of concentrating power and enhancing the value of advisors. Alternatively, exposing the manipulations of power may not necessarily lead to an internationalist outlook but it is not inconsistent with a libertarian outlook that does not privilege the state.

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