Sunday 21 June 2009

Noam Chomsky Political Discourse Dictionary

Almost every term in political discourse has a literal meaning and a propaganda version. […] The propaganda version - which is typically the one that prevails - that's the version presented by those who have the power to control discourse, propaganda, framework of discussion, and so on. And, in that case, that means primarily the United States.
Presented below select definitions of the ‘propaganda version’ of terms offered by Chomsky. It is a work in progress. Further suggestions (preferably sourced) and comments are encouraged.

Anti-Globalization - a propaganda term devised by the advocates of a particular investor-rights version of international integration. No sane person is opposed to globalization, surely not the left or the workers movements, which were founded on the commitment to international solidarity - that is, a form of globalization that is concerned with the rights and needs of people, not private capital.

Debt Repayment, International - commercial banks made bad loans to their favorite dictators, and those loans are now being paid by the poor, who of course had absolutely nothing to do with the process.

Democracy, Developing Nations – requires that the media and political system be in the hands of local oligarchies or similar elements committed to the form of “development” favoured by U.S. investors, that the public be marginalized (by violence, if necessary), and that the military, with its long-established links to the U.S. system of violence, be granted free rein.

Democracy Promotion - The neoliberal rollback of democracy.

[Note]. Where neoliberal rules have been observed since the '70s, economic performance has generally deteriorated and social democratic programs have substantially weakened.

Demographic Problem – a term devised to disguise the obviously racist presuppositions

Deterrence - means the opposite of what it says. Our offensive stance should primarily be based on nuclear weapons because they are so destructive and terrifying. Furthermore, just the possession of massive nuclear forces casts a shadow over any international conflict, as people are frightened of us because we have this overwhelming force.

Economic Interest, National - a misleading term because countries don't have economic interests, groups inside of them do and those interests may differ.

Failed State - a state that has the formal political institutions, but they are not functioning. Functioning in a democratic society is supposed to mean that public policy somehow reflects public interests and concerns.

Financial Crisis - "the crisis" has a clear enough meaning: the financial crisis that hit the rich countries with great impact, and is therefore of supreme importance.

Globalization - specific form of international economic integration that has been instituted within the "neoliberal" framework of past several decades.

Humanitarian Crisis - a problem somewhere that threatens the interests of rich and powerful people [as opposed to] the massacres in Colombia, for example, or the slaughters and expulsions of people in south-eastern Turkey, which are being carried out with crucial support from Clinton. Those aren't humanitarian crises.

International Community, The - a technical term referring to Washington and whoever happens to agree with it.

Labour Flexibility - a fancy way of saying that when you go to sleep at night, you don't know if you have a job tomorrow morning - and that's supposed to be a very good thing. […] Labour-market flexibility has gotten a bad name as a euphemism for keeping wages down and workers out, which in fact is exactly what it is, which is why it's gotten that bad name.

Legal - in US-Israeli parlance means "illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel.”

Libertarian - means the opposite of what it always meant in history. Here [the U.S.] it means ultra-conservative - Ayn Rand or Cato Institute or something like that.

Literal meaning
Socialist and anti-state, an anti-state branch of socialism, which meant a highly organized society, completely organized and nothing to do with chaos, but based on democracy all the way through. That means democratic control of communities, of workplaces, of federal structures, built on systems of voluntary association, spreading internationally.

Etymology of literal meaning
Throughout modern European history meant socialist anarchist. It meant the anti-state element of the Workers Movement and the Socialist Movement. It sort of broke into two branches, roughly, one statist, one anti-statist. The statist branch led to Bolshevism and Lenin and Trotsky, and so on. The anti-statist branch, which included Marxists, Left Marxists - Rosa Luxemburg and others - kind of merged, more or less, into an amalgam with a big strain of anarchism into what was called "libertarian socialism."

Manufacturing Consent

“The term "manufacturing consent" is not mine, I took it from Walter Lippmann, the leading public intellectual and leading media figure of the twentieth century, who thought it was a great idea. He said we should manufacture consent, that's the way democracies should work. There should be a small group of powerful people, and the rest of the population should be spectators, and you should force them to consent by controlling, regimenting their minds. That's the leading idea of democratic theorists, and the public relations industry and so on”

Moderate - 'they do what we say' - willing to conform to US demands, irrespective of the nature of the regime.

NAFTA Miracle - a "miracle" for U.S. investors and the Mexican rich, while the population sank into misery.

National Security Interests - only an incidental relation to the security of the nation, though they have a very close relation to the interests of dominant sectors within the imperial state, and to the general state interest of ensuring obedience.

Nicaragua, The U.S. War Against - if we want to be kind to the United States - we could say it was international terrorism. A stronger, probably more accurate, term would be outright aggression.

Peace Process - conventionally used to refer to whatever the U.S. government happens to be doing, often undermining diplomatic efforts.

Radical - not under U.S. control.

Rogue State - is used to refer to any state that is disobedient, that the US has in the sights of its rifles. […] An instrument of propaganda, to beat selective enemies over the head.


  1. a code word referring to a “favourable orientation of the political elite” – favourable not to their populations, but to foreign investors and global managers.
  2. subordination to Washington’s will 

Terrorism - literal meaning - the calculated use of violence against civilians to intimidate, induce fear, often to kill, for some political, religious, or other end. It turns out to be almost the same as the definition of official U.S. policy. Except, when it is U.S. policy, it is called ‘counter-insurgency’ or ‘low-intensity conflict’ or some other name. Furthermore, if you apply the literal definition, you conclude that the U.S. is a leading terrorist state because it engages in these practices all the time.

propaganda version - directed against the United States or its allies and carried out by enemies

Terrorism, International - introduced during the 1980s when it was pretty clear that the Soviet pretext was collapsing and another one had to be found and "international terrorism" was invented as a pretext to replace it.

Tough love - love for the rich and privileged, tough for everyone else.

Tradepropaganda version [used in addition to literal meaning]. An operation inside of a command economy which has to cross borders. E.g. US trade with Mexico after NAFTA - about half of it is not trade in any serious sense. It's just interaction as internal to a command economy. If General Motors makes the parts in Indiana and sends them to Mexico to be assembled because they have cheaper labor and fewer environmental constraints, and then sends them back to Los Angeles to sell the cars, that is called trade in both directions, but it is not trade in any reasonable sense. 

U.S., The -
  1. a leading terrorist state.
  2. "United States" is conventionally used to refer to structures of power within the United States; the "national interest" is the interest of these groups, which correlates only weakly with interests of the general population.


  1. Ayn Rand hated Libertarians and didn't use the word. She described herself as a "radical for Capitalism," which is appropriate for her political philsophy. (Her overall philsophy she called "Objectivism."

  2. You are right that Ayn Rand rejected libertarianism. The definition is taken from Chomsky’s own words (as they all are). It is fair to suggest that libertarian has become an abused term. Chomsky was describing how Americans have come to perceive libertarianism as right-wing doctrine. Thank you for the comment.

  3. Just added video to the Libertarian definition