Noam Chomsky’s “Star System” and The Modern Neoconservative Elite

By Ash Bledsoe

The American masses absolutely do not play a significant role in shaping foreign policy. Despite the ubiquitous rhetoric celebrating vague notions of “democracy” and “freedom,” the important decision making in these matters is done by the very elite. This is done without much resistance because we have collectively rejected the idea that the masses are intelligent enough to analyze, critique, and decide on complicated foreign policy matters. Indeed, we live in a country where many citizens would be hard-pressed to even find the country that was invaded and occupied to this day by their consent.

D. Quinn Mills of Harvard Business School expressed this attitude well. He agrees that the American public has “become ever more lazy, ignorant and prone to irrational beliefs” and therefore suggests it is increasingly important to “find presidents who are masters of illusions – who take our country in the right direction despite the confusion of the public.” 1

Chomsky, however, wholly rejects the idea that this ignorance is symptomatic of a collective innate intellectual deficit. Rather, he has asserted that the common man is quite capable of complicated analyses and decision making, but he redirects his capacities to other matters: “When I’m driving, I sometimes listen to the radio and I find that very often that what I’m listening to is a discussion of sports…People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it’s plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that… They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.” 2(Chomsky 33)

The common perception that an understanding of matters of foreign policy is out of reach of the average man is a deliberate lie engineered and propagated by the elite. The acceptance of this lie by the public has one essential consequence- it allows men in power to conduct affairs with a minimum of censure and accountability.

The obfuscation of reality is a complex endeavor done by many ways and means, but one particularly effective method is the creation of something Chomsky called “the star system”-

“an array of figures who are often media creations or creations of the academic propaganda establishment, whose deep insights we are supposed to admire and to whom we must happily and confidently assign the right to control our lives and to control international affairs…” 2(Chomsky 42)

Henry Kissinger is the perfect example of one such “star”- almost universally hailed by the media and academia as a genius with unparalleled insight into the subtle matters. His reputation grew as he conducted some of the most disastrous foreign policy of the past century. Indeed, speaking of Kissinger, Chomsky remarked that Kissinger’s memoirs

“give the impression of a middle-level manager who has learned to conceal vacuity with pretentious verbiage…His ignorance and foolishness really are a really are a phenomenon. I’ve written about this in some detail. But he did have a marvelous talent, namely, of playing the role of the philosopher who understands profound things in ways that are beyond the capacity of the ordinary person. He played that role quite elegantly. That’s one reason why I think he was so attractive to the people who actually have power. That’s just the kind of person they need.” 2 (Chomsky 42-43)

In a similar fashion and for similar ends, new stars have been created by the existing establishment; and like their predecessors, they have shown the same dazzling incompetence.

The media blitzkrieg surrounding Condoleezza Rice’s appointment to National Security Advisor (a post formerly occupied by Henry Kissinger) was overwhelming. She was on the cover of every major weekly news magazine and on every major television network. The media, in a typical of display of laziness and submission, failed to investigate Rice’s genuine credentials and instead created an embarrassing circus display. In an exhibit of what can only be described as a new low of absurdity, talking heads dubbed her “the warrior princess”3 and recited her various accomplishments and credentials (she can play the piano!), many of which turned out to be outright lies. For example, much fuss was made over her stated ability to speak fluent Russian, a deliberate falsehood that was exposed in a spectacularly unpleasant moment when she appeared on popular Russian radio Echo Moskvy where sheconfused the words “yes” and “no” and failed to understand the even the simplest non-political questions.4

Similar media treatment was given to other “stars” of the Bush administration- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, and the rest. Though George W. Bush’s bumbling tough talking cowboy routine didn’t exactly inspire faith in his own intellectual capacity, the masses were confident that he had at least surrounded himself with men and women who could be trusted to think and act intelligently and competently.

And thus these stars were able to swindle the public into an almost dizzy fervor in support of invading Iraq. Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations on February 5, 2003 regarding WMD’s, the Wolfowitz Doctrine, and the Rumsfeld Doctrine as applied to Iraq are only three of the major contortions of reality that should have been refuted soundly by an informed public. Indeed, the lies continue to be exposed one after another as the situation decays and unravels in the middle east.

Now that support for the war has evaporated and the modern neoconservative elite have lost all credibility, what is the use of this analysis? Most of these former stars have been so discredited that the threat they posed has been neutralized. It’s doubtful that Donald Rumsfeld could get the authority to plan a tactical strategy for a game of “Capture the Flag.” Their relevance on the global stage is nothing except for perhaps (and hopefully) when they are brought before the Hague as war criminals.

The relevance instead of this discussion concerns the future stars the elite will choose to anoint in the near future. It’s not the people, it’s the system. As Zack de la Rocha recently said, “the whole rotten system has become so vicious and cruel that in order to sustain itself, it needs to destroy entire countries and profit from their reconstruction in order to survive… and that’s not a system that changes every four years, it’s asystem that we have to break down, generation after generation.”5

Soon we will hear that more war is needed, to where and for what cannot be said for sure, though Iran is a likely target. The drums of war will sound and the stars will go on the television and radio, and they will tell us that we can trust them and why we must support the newest phase of aggression and imperialism. That is when action will be needed the most. Until then we must “renounce war and proclaim peace” (Doctrine “Covenants 98:16) and educate each other on the things that matter. It is only through being anxiously engaged in dissent and education of our brothers and sisters that we can hope for more.

  1. D. Quinn Mills and Steven Rosefielde, Masters of Illusion: American Leadership in the Media Age, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  2. Chomsky, Noam. The Chomsky Reader . Patheon Books, New York, 1987.
  3. #1 Condoleezza Rice Secretary of state U.S. November 2005. Retrieved June 10, 2007.
  4. It’s terror when we say so.Retrieved June 10, 2007.
  5. Backus, Paul. From the Front Lines of Rage. Retrieved June15, 2007.