The Masses Choose the Best Elites


The votes are in, and Foreign Policy lists the top 20 public intellectuals chosen by its readers. Noam Chomsky's got the top spot, but Hernando DeSoto and BjΓΈrn Lomborg make a respectable showing at 13 and 14, with Milton Friedman the top write in vote.

NEXT: Charles Rocket Was Too Beautiful For This World

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Chomsky? Still? Haven’t we crested that point in internet discourse where his Googlage is mostly mockery?

  2. I think Krugman’s the most obvious steamer on the list. But thanks to the beauty of the internet poll and the genius of TimesSelect, I wager he won’t even make top 50 next year.

  3. Apparently, if you’re a columnist for the New York Times, that makes you a “public intellectual,” whereas writing for other papers makes you a mere columnist.

    *rolls eyes*

  4. Ahh, America’s colleges: providing Chomsky with a new crop on 19-year-old fans every year. I yearn for the day he and Nader finally run together under the “Gollumesque” ticket with the campaign slogan, “Nader/Chomsky: Relevant in but not beyond 1979.”


  5. Milton Friedman:

    “I am a libertarian with a small l and a Republican with a capital R. And I am a Republican with a capital R on grounds of expediency, not on principle.”

    Hear hear!!

    And Camille Paglia made #20.

  6. Chomsky is a brilliant linguist, but an unrepentant fascist / communist.

    In his world Castro and the pre-iron curtain USSR are blissful utopia.

  7. junk,

    I disagree A LOT with Chomsky, but where has he written that the USSR was a utopia? When as he ever described himself as a communist?

  8. Chomsky is a self-described anarchist who wants to rid the world of a money economy.


    One of the bigger knocks against Chomsky was that in the late 1970s he was far too willing to attack authors who were describing events on the ground in Cambodia.

    He’s also met with folks like Castro as late as a year or two ago. I mean, whatever you think about U.S. policy towards Cuba (stupid and counter-productive IMHO), shaking hands with that thug doesn’t make much sense.

  9. Re: Chomsky. I remember a South Park episode where Stan and Kyle are talking to hippies (“know-it-all college hippies”, in Cartman’s terms),and there is an exchange that’s something like this:

    H: “and in a perfect society, people will work together to provide goods and services for each other”
    Stan: “you mean like a town”
    H: “No, and when you need something you just go get it”
    S: “You mean, like a store.”
    H: “You little eickmans just don’t get it.”

    The whole idea of anarcho-syndicalism (Chomsky’s ideological ballywick) is that you can replace existing structures with localized, democratic committees that negotiate and decide all the issues that crop up. The problem, obviously, as South Park shows, is that Capitalism does the same thing only with an (ideally) minimal recourse to coercion on the governing body’s part (unless you’re an anarcho-capitalist– which I am not).

    In other words, Chomsky’s and idealistic buffoon. That said, he’s also a buffoon who makes a lot more money than I do– so now we know what I’m really bitching about.


  10. Hakluyt,

    I distinctly remember seeing a picture of him laughing it up with Castro and I was so disgusted. I can’t imagine what he was thinking.

  11. eric mattingly,

    Heh. I’ve heard of that episode but never saw it. If you watch the movie The Corporation you’ll notice that sort of thinking is what the documentary is driving at.

  12. Chomsky also said that the invasion of Afghanistan was an international crime and would result in a holocoust for the Afghan people. Add the Taliban to the list dispiciples that Chomsky chooses to associate with and support.

    Chomsky is almost a characterature of the self-hating Western Intellectual. He never met a third world murderer or thug he didn’t like and support as long as the thug was sticking it to the West, regardless of how many of his own people were being murdered. Chomsky winning this poll compliments that sinister little mediocrity Harold Pinter winning the Noble Prize last week. These are dark times in which we live.

  13. junk,

    I should also note that Chomsky’s work as a linguistic has been called into question as well by other linguists. I am far from qualified to make a decision about who is right, but one should note that those in his own field don’t necessarily agree with him.

  14. See, even though, like I said, I’m disgusted with Chomsky, I think that saying

    He never met a third world murderer or thug he didn’t like and support as long as the thug was sticking it to the West, regardless of how many of his own people were being murdered.

    is extreme and really baseless.

    I get frustrated with those on the left who ignore his shortcomings and those on the right who can muster more outrage for his philosophical support for murderous regimes than our own government’s financial and military support for murderous regimes.

  15. Hakluyt,

    A good rule of thumb with intellectuals in technical fields like physics, economics and linguistics is that if you are a non-professional in the field and you have heard of them, they are probably not the best in the field regardless of how much the media hypes them. The best people in those fields are too busy doing research and difficult work to have time to bloviate publicly about this or that. I am not qualified to judge Chomisky’s ability either, but the fact that he has time to do so many things not related to his field makes me skeptical.

  16. John,

    Well, this is where I learned about this disagreement within his field:

  17. John,

    Well, being an ex-historian, I can tell you that he is a crappy historian.

  18. eric mattingly:

    You missed the best part of that exchange.

    H: “Can’t you imagine a world where there’s this guy who, like, bakes bread for everyone?”

    S: “You mean, like, a baker?”

    H: “No, little dude, you just haven’t been to college yet.”

    I love that episode. Nothing is more menacing than the hippie jam band festival coming to your town.

    Cartman: “Good for the economy, Mayor!? They’re hippies! They don’t have jobs!!!”

  19. Les,

    Lets go to the record.

    In Distortions at Fourth Hand [1] , Chomsky and Herman assure us that anything wrong in Cambodia was the fault of the USA, that there was decisive evidence proving the innocence of the Khmer Rouge, evidence which, alas, ?space limitations preclude? them from presenting.

    In 9/11, a set of interviews published in late 2001, Chomsky spared the nation no culpability: ?The U.S. is a leading terrorist state, as are its clients.? American history was but one bloody aggression after another, each whitewashed by compliant news media and fed to a gullible public. Chomsky was careful to describe the 9/11 attacks as a ?horrendous atrocity,? but he also painted violence against the U.S. as an understandable reaction to American foreign policy. In a lecture at MIT, where Chomsky has taught since 1955, he even found a silver lining in a past surprise attack: ?The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor led to many very good things. If you follow the trail, it led to kicking Europeans out of Asia?that saved tens of millions of lives in India alone.?

    When Vaclav Havel addressed Congress in 1990 and praised the U.S. for inspiring those under the totalitarian boot, Chomsky scorned this freedom fighter for uttering an ?embarrassingly silly and morally repugnant Sunday School sermon in Congress.? The truth remained: ?In comparison to the conditions imposed by U.S. tyranny and violence, East Europe under Russian rule was practically a paradise.?

    In 1967, he observed that, ?if it were true that the consequences of not using terror would be that the peasantry in Vietnam would continue to live in the state of the peasantry of the Philippines, then I think the use of terror would be justified.?[6] In 1970, he admitted that some people were killed during the campaign but insisted that this was less important than the fact that land reform ?laid the basis for a new society? that has ?overcome starvation and rural misery and offers the peasants hope for the future.?

    I could go on and on, but I won’t waste anymore space in this thread. I stand by exactly what I said. If you can find anything worthwhile he has done or decent cause he has defended, feel free to add a counterpoint.

  20. So, Hak. Did you fall on the wrong side of the publish or perish situation, or is there something fantastically Hakluytian we should all be reading?

  21. Jason Ligon,

    Is this an episode where Cartman (a sociopath) is the hero?

  22. Jason Ligon,

    Don’t you realize how many unread and unpublished dissertations and theses are laying about the country? πŸ™‚

  23. I could go on and on, but I won’t waste anymore space in this thread.

    Yeah, all that cutting and pasting can be real hard on the wrists.

  24. Jason Ligon,

    My two favorite episodes that I have seen concern the trip to the rain forest and the episode where they take the Ethiopian kid and his people to another planet. After whatching the Scott Tinnerman episode I concluded that Cartman is a sociopath.

  25. Carpel Tunneler,

    Cutting and pasting doesn’t make it untrue. Chomsky is one of the most disgusting people to have inflicted themselves on public life in the last 100 years. As bad or worse than Ezra Pound but with a lot less talent.

  26. Yeah, all that cutting and pasting can be real hard on the wrists.

    As we all know, sore wrists take up the most space.

  27. Jason Ligon,

    I am doing research on a novel, if you are interested in reading something I have written.

  28. Hak:

    Yah. Cartman was the protagonist in that one. He was the Man Who Knows The Horrible Truth, But No One Believes Him necessary to all disaster plots.

    “Mayor, I know hippies. I’ve hated them all my life. I’ve never seen anything like what this town is about to face.”

    Cartman is, among other things, a vehicle for the creators to convey unpopular and unpleasant truths. It is important that someone of crappy character make observations and that they still turn out true. Or maybe not.

  29. Hak:

    I’ll spring for it, just so I can say, “Hey, that guy told me to go read more books before I embarrass myself further!”

    Might as well start with that one, I guess.

  30. John,

    I wasn’t disagreeing with your condemnation of Chomsky, but the extreme words you use.

    He never met a third world murderer or thug he didn’t like and support as long as the thug was sticking it to the West, regardless of how many of his own people were being murdered.

    There’s no evidence that he supports, for example, North Korea or, contrary to the above poster, the Taliban (thinking we shouldn’t have invaded doesn’t equal support for the regime). He’s shown no support for Al Qaeda nor any number of other terrorist groups that have targeted Americans. I just think hyperbole is not useful.

    That said, I still think the financial and military support given by our government to murderous regimes will always be exponentially more significant and more worthy of outrage than Chomsky’s vocal support for similar regimes. I don’t understand the thinking on the right that what Chomsky says is more important than what our government actually does.

  31. Jason Ligon,

    Why does Cartman hate hippies? πŸ™‚ Keep in mind that I have only made it through season five.

    Anyway, the novel is going to concern the middle east of today and the main protagonist will be a French spy.

  32. Be sure to catch Chomsky’s newest treatise, Respect My Author-i-tie, Bitch, where he expounds on why an unnamed, formerly talented linguist has left cutting edge linguistics behind to become a raving idiot in politics, history, and culture. Great read.

    Frankly, I believe that Chomsky and Gore Vidal were both abducted by aliens and replaced with Kodos and Kang. It’s the only danged thing that makes any sense.

  33. joe-esque list proposal thread:

    Which episodes of South Park speak to your inner libertarian?

  34. Chomsky’s an idiot. The fool actually stated just after 9-11 that he didn’t believe that Osama ordered the attack because the Taliban claimed to have taken away his satellite phone.

  35. Hak,

    Carman hates hippies because Stone and Parker wanted to have a show with a 21st Century Archie Bunker, but knew that in our politically correct utopia, they could never get away with having an adult say the things that Archie Bunker said in the 1970s. So, they decided to have a child be Archie Bunker. That is Carman. One of my favorite Carman moments is when he becomes a televangilist and Kyle comes to tell him that he is going to hell for doing it to which Cartman responds, “Kyle, if you had seen the Passion of the Christ, you would know that hell is reserved for those who deny our lord Jesus Christ, specifically Jews.”


    Chomsky argues that North Korea was the victim of the Korean War and that the United States started the war. He also has numorous times stated that North Korea is a peaceful nation only pursuing nuclear weapons to defend itself from U.S. imperial ambitions. If that is not supporting North Korea I don’t know what is. I don’t think a few “they are a bad regimes, but ..” quite cuts it.

  36. John,

    Yes, but Archie Bunker wasn’t a sociopath like Cartman.

  37. John,

    …and that the United States started the war.

    Yeah damnit, the U.S. forced all those North Korean soldiers into South Korea! πŸ™‚

  38. Bleah. I’ve lost some respect for Foreign Affairs, which I’ve liked pretty well up to this point – mostly sensible, and reasonably nonpartisan, although tending to a kind of realpolitik view. I guess hard lefties probably see it as incorrigibly right-wing, though.

  39. Hak,

    Bruce Cummings made a nice career out of that lie that North Korea started the war.

    Carman is a sociopath and completely over the top. He is much worse than Archie Bunker, but that is what he was intended to be.

  40. Sorry,

    That the U.S. started the war.

  41. The Hippie eppisode was the best ever. I didn’t stop laughing for twenty minutes after it ended. South Park is the best libertarian booster on basic cable. Penn and Teller’s Bullshit is the best on premium cable. FWIW note the simpatico of these quotes.

    “There’s nothing worse than a college know it all hippie.”
    South Park

    “That remark is so foolish, I can only atribut it to higher education”

  42. John,

    Yeah, I figured it was a flubbed statement. πŸ™‚

  43. If the masses choose Chomsky, it’s no wonder they need elites.

  44. John, I wasn’t disagreeing with your condemnation of Chomsky, but the extreme words you use.

    “He never met a third world murderer or thug he didn’t like and support as long as the thug was sticking it to the West, regardless of how many of his own people were being murdered.”

    There’s no evidence that he supports, for example, North Korea or, contrary to the above poster, the Taliban (thinking we shouldn’t have invaded doesn’t equal support for the regime). He’s shown no support for Al Qaeda nor any number of other terrorist groups that have targeted Americans.

    Well, note John’s exact words. Maybe he just hasn’t actually met them yet.

  45. In my interpretation, Cartman is also a kind of Hudibrasian figure who refuses to be reduced to a simple political mouthpiece (rather like Falstaff, but not THAT compelling). To say he is a sociopath is almost an understatement– he doesn’t just represent the upopular side of american culture, but every foul thing we secretly love and are horrified with at the same time. We’ve all wanted to feed someone their parents in a bowl of chili at least sometime in our lives; through Cartman we can now have the depraved pleasure and triumph of seeing it happen. That’s why I would argue he (along with Homer Simpson, for radically different reasons) is one of the two great television characters of the last 25 years (and maybe through all tv)– and the real genius of Southpark.

    The hippie episode was funny (I especially appreciated the college hippie crack, being a devoted member of the hallowed halls of bullshit–or, at least, a grad student wandering through them), but I was disappointed because they didn’t rip on that dude at UC-Denver very much. I was hoping for a savaging, but didn’t get it. To make the Chomsky connection– that guy (I can’t remember his name for beans)was warmly congratulated by big C. after publishing his “book” after 9/11.

    The most libertarian Southpark? There are a lot, but I think there’s a good case for either the Wal-Mart episode or the Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich episode.

  46. I actually found an internal line of mine had been crossed at the Cartman feeds kid his own parents thing. I didn’t know the line was there, but I was horrified at the end of that episode. It just wasn’t funny to me.

    I didn’t watch another episode until after Team America. About as far as I will go with Cartman and still find him funny was the evil drug dealer bit he was doing in the fat farm.

    I now find South Park to be much more of a hit and miss proposition. AWESOME-O was pretty damned great. The hippie jam fest was amazing.

  47. There’s something deeply . . . right about a thread discussing Cartman and Chomsky in stereo, as it were.

    The Best South Park Ever: Cripple Fight.

  48. Jason Ligon,

    I really think the South Park creators work without a net in that when they hit, its incredible, but when they miss its unwatachable. As much as I like the show, I have to admit that about half of the episodes are just aweful. The other half are make the bad half worth it however.

  49. I may be a sicko, but the chili episode is probably my favorite. I was delighted when, last season I believe, Terrence and Phillip break up the act and the kids are trying to get them back together and Cartman quips:

    “Dude, either get back together Phillip or I’ll feed you your parents.

    Kyle: He’ll do it man”

    I also like Cartman faking like a handicapped kid and getting his ass kicked.

    I wonder what Noam Chomsky thinks about South Park– or, “The Passion of the Christ?”

  50. Jason Ligon,

    That episode bothered me, but I still loved it. Of course I also love Titus Andronicus. πŸ™‚

  51. “I also like Cartman faking like a handicapped kid and getting his ass kicked.”

    Oh, that one rocked indeed.

  52. The best part of that episode is when Cartman is studying up on how to act retarded and they show him watching a bunch of Kid Rock videos.

  53. I don’t think South Park could be more relevant than in the Wal-Mart episode, especially given this story from today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer–

    Aides to Kucinich, Nader, Dean bought supplies from chain

    Monday, October 17, 2005
    Stephen Koff
    Plain Dealer Bureau Chief

    Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Howard Dean and others on the national stage have badmouthed Wal-Mart over its wages, benefits or impact on American communities.

    Yet, their aides have bought office and campaign supplies there — and presumably saved their bosses money with the low-price shopping.

    Records reviewed by The Plain Dealer show that political organizations headed by these politicians — as well as John Kerry, Wesley Clark, the liberal activist group America Coming Together and the pro-feminist group Emily’s List — have spent money at Wal-Mart over the last 2? years.

  54. All of my psychologist friends think Chomsky is a joke.

    All of my linguistics friends think Chomsky is Satan.

  55. Stevo,

    That’s a good point!


    Okay, forget North Korea, my bad. What about Saudi Arabia? Indonesia? Syria? Myanmar? Pakistan? Turkmenistan? I mean, there have to be at least a couple murderous regimes Chomsky doesn’t support!

  56. “Scott Tennorman Must Die” was a funny episode until the end, where it just went too far. Where else can you see a pony fellating (sp?) a scarecrow?

    Another funny one was when the kids learned about “red rocket” with the local male dogs and later had to attend sex-ed classes taught by Mr. Mackey and Miss Chokesondick. Where even Chef realized that big breasts aren’t always attractive. I learned about a whole lot of phrases at the end with Mr. Garrison going over some positions with the kindergarten kids.

    For libertarianism, how about the episode where Mr. Mackey brought in some pot for a don’t-do-drugs speech so that the kids would know how bad drugs were. And then it was stolen by Mr. Garrison. Or maybe the episode where Mr. Garrison is so pissed off at the airlines, he builds a fast transportation solution that requires the driver to perform fellatio while getting sodomized, and it’s such a big hit that the government shuts him down.

    Ahh…funny times.

  57. I am far from qualified to make a decision about who is right,

    Heavens, we finally found something that Hakluyt isn’t an expert in! πŸ˜‰

    Anyway, the novel is going to concern the middle east of today and the main protagonist will be a French spy.

    How many tries do we get to guess his name?

  58. crimethink,

    Even polymaths have their failings. πŸ™‚

    As of yet, he doesn’t have a name. His name won’t be Jean bart though.

  59. As of yet, he doesn’t have a name.

    I vote for Guy Gadbois.

  60. What I both like and (mostly) object to are rather the same in the cases of Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman.

    Chomsky makes some telling attacks on US government foreign policy and on Israel/ Palestine. In other areas, his pronouncements are often idiotic. For one that uses “anarchist” or “libertarian” as descriptors of his ideology, he is woefully ignorant of anarcho-capitalism, to the point of making ridiculous comments such as characterizing it as “hateful”! He is also way lacking in knowledge of the history of American anarchist thought.

    With Krugman, I often find his big picture understanding of the economics of what is going on
    to be off target and his policy prescriptions to be insipid. However, he does cut into some specific situations quite well. I’m thinking of his descriptions of the situations where George Soros conned the British central bank with currency manipulation schemes and it worked for Soros, but when he tried the same thing on Hong Kong, it backfired.

  61. Rick –

    Yes – Chomsky, Krugman, and a broken clock, correct at least two times a day.

    The only difference between the two and the watch, is they will deliberately obfuscate the truth towards whatever ends they wish to gain, if they believe it will help them gain.

  62. “Be sure to catch Chomsky’s newest treatise, Respect My Author-i-tie, Bitch…”

    That’s “author-i-TAH.”

    There are so many excellent SP episodes. It is such a great show that my fairly conservative mother-in-law recently dedclared that she watched regularly. THAT impressed me.

    A special favorite of mine is the Rob Reiner episode, “Butt Out.” Ridicule of the type that SP heaped on Reiner was the least he deserved for parlaying the goodwill generated by his “Meathead” character and “The Princess Bride” and “Stand By Me” movies into the odious (and apparently fraudulently administered) Proposition 10 California tobacco tax. There are still rumours that Reiner plans to run for governor. If that happens, and he wins, I suppose I will have to move to Nevada. But if he runs and fails, I am hoping that “Butt Out” will have a lot to do with it. Live by the media, die by the media, Rob. Damned hippie.

  63. Rick –

    I’m a slow responder – day job and all – but I agree with your sentiment.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.