The prolific author, linguist, and political activist Noam Chomsky asks us in the title of his recent book, ‘Who rules the world?’ But, what he really means is more precisely ‘Who should rule the world?’ or at least ‘What are the consequences of the decisions of today’s rulers?’
We know that this is the case because Chomsky is not the slightest bit ambivalent that an answer to the book’s title is readily available: small elite in the United States as well as a handful of other Anglophone countries. Chomsky is particularly critical of post-World War II foreign policy planners in the United States and proponents of neoliberal economics. The former made the assumption that the world was the United States’ to control while the latter are responsible for reviving the laissez-faire economics of the 19th century that includes slashing tax rates, eliminating trade barriers and business regulation, and shrinking the role of the government in economic affairs. If a typical person in the world were asked the question, “Who rules the world?” they might well answer the United States. But, a core part of Chomsky’s argument is that the plight of individual people matter more than the artificial state, but matter less to policy planners. Most Americans have suffered, according to Chomsky, right along with other victims of American power.
Of course, those that Chomsky claims to be victims of their own country are often the first to defend it. The feeling abounds in the United States that it is a special country, even one with divine blessing. Early on in the European colonization of North America, it was popular to compare the area to Christ’s parable in the Sermon on the Mount in which he speaks of the “shining city upon a hill” that sends out its light for the world to see. John Winthrop originally made the comparison in 1630 and it was a particular favorite of Ronald Reagan. The tragic irony, as Chomsky points out, is that even while these myths were being formed, a genocide of historical proportions was being carried out against the native populations – first in what was to become the United States, then in Canada, and finally in Australia. While Spanish and Portuguese colonization is hardly to be praised, in areas of the world where they ruled the native populations intermarried with settlers. In areas like the United States they were systematically exterminated. In one telling passage, Chomsky mentions the Great Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that depicts a Native American with a scroll emerging from his mouth that reads: “Come over and help us.” The clear lesson is that America routinely excuses its behavior by declaring it to be ordained by God for the beneficence of “less developed” cultures and the world at large. Since native populations weren’t creating value through private ownership of the land it was incumbent on settlers to improve things.
Several unfortunate realities of the world today are then traced to the founding myth of the United States including United States’ policy in the Middle East and Latin America – a policy that is often anti-democratic while claiming to be the opposite. Significant time is spent in the book on hypocrisy in the United States’ dealings with Israel. While Israel builds settlements and keeps the Palestinian population in subservient poverty, the United States looks the other way and continues generous aid programs to Israel. Dictators from Chile to Indonesia have been embraced in exchange for their anti-Marxist viewpoints. Democracy itself is opposed since the vast majority of the world views American power with suspicion.
Examples of this suspicion include Iran, which Chomsky clearly does not see as a threat. Following the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its’ allies, it was only natural that countries like Iran and North Korea would develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Other examples are given of the American viewpoint of China, where the United States often sees as its right the unfettered access to waters near the Chinese coast, but would never accept Chinese ships in the Caribbean.