According to his website, 94-year-old public intellectual Noam Chomsky has amassed 88 publications, six esteemed awards and speaking engagements at more than 20 universities throughout his career, including Lehigh.
Chomsky joined more than 200 people in Neville Hall via Zoom to discuss American intervention in the Russo-Ukrainian war and the rise of right-wing extremism.
The Douglass Dialogues, a club co-founded by Raihan Alam, ‘23, and Declan Coster, ‘22, hosted the event on April 10. Chomsky is the 20th speaker the Douglass Dialogues has welcomed at their discussions.
Coster said he and Alam founded the club in hopes of creating a space for all students, regardless of beliefs, to discuss current sociocultural and political issues.
“(Alam and I were) just really interested in having difficult conversations, talking about the different thinkers that we like,” Coster said.
Coster said he thinks Chomsky has a unique perspective to offer those who may not have had a comprehensive education on United States history.
Chomsky said for the last 40 to 50 years, the world has been subjected to a “savage class war” caused by neoliberalism, a term that promotes free markets, meaning government involvement should be limited.
“(Trump) has turned on the reins to what is called an illiberal democracy,” Chomsky said. “That is not a democracy, but an autocracy — a racist, xenophobic, autocratic system from the top.”
In regards to recent conflict, Chomsky said he believes there are two potential outcomes from the Russo-Ukrainian war.
“What happens if you keep fighting?” Chomsky said. “Either one side or the other capitulates, or it just goes on in a stalemate which wears down (and) destroys both sides.”
Political science professor Anthony DiMaggio, who advises Alam in his academic research, helped organize the event, as Chomsky is a colleague of his.
DiMaggio said Chomsky is one of the most cited academics and an important modern intellectual.
He said Chomsky has the power to attract many people on campus, which is why he was chosen to speak.
“(Chomsky) is a very prominent intellectual when it comes to foreign policy, and the Ukraine-Russia conflict is very highly salient today in terms of global conflict,” DiMaggio said. “We just thought there would be a lot of people interested in that angle.”
DiMaggio said U.S. foreign policy and militarism are important to discuss because there could be unintended negative consequences if other countries are angered by U.S. funding of military conflicts.
He said he is concerned violence may become more mainstream and a legitimate political tool.
“Right-wing extremism in general, I think that this is something that everybody in the country should be paying attention to, be concerned with,” DiMaggio said. “That is something we ignore at our own peril: the rising acceptance of political violence.”
Kieran O’Connor, ‘23, a member of the Douglass Dialogues, said the event encouraged debate, allowing for people to express their opinions and consider different perspectives.
He said the talk was a unique opportunity to learn about Chomsky’s views on history and politics. He thinks the high turnout, compared to other speaker events, was due to Chomsky’s contentious views, generally recognizing his name and intrigue.
“He’s 94 now, and him discussing things like Vietnam and World War II — things he was fully alive for — it was really interesting to see that perspective and talk about the cycles of world history from someone that was actively living it,” O’Connor said.