Who ‘Really’ Rules the World?: Noam Chomsky and Sreenivasan Jain in Conversation at the Jaipur Literature Festival

Jaipur: Described as the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’, the Jaipur Literature Festival is a sumptuous feast of ideas. Every year, the Festival brings together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers on one stage to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.

The 14th edition of the Festival is no different. The first ever virtual edition, saw Noam Chomsky, celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and political activist in conversation with Sreenivasan Jain on day 3 of the Festival.

The insightful conversation saw Professor Chomsky discuss the global ‘drift into authoritarianism’, post-Trump America, and the factors that make social reform possible.

The session opened with Professor Chomsky speaking of the recent storming of the United States Capitol, and how it was a turning point for the country. He shared what it was like to wake up in America in the ‘aftermath’ of Donald Trump. The duo discussed whether Trump can still pose a tangible threat to American democracy, seeing as he is no longer in power – with Professor Chomsky speculating possibilities of continued propaganda for very real support for Trump by his ‘voter-base’ and insisted that the democracy had ‘serious problems’ even before his presidency.

Speaking about the rise of authoritarianism, Professor Chomsky delved into the ‘neoliberal assault’ of the last few decades, explaining how inequality and authoritarianism appear to be inextricably linked. He mentioned an example from a study by the RAND Corporation, a well-respected quasi-governmental organization in the US, which estimates that the transfer of wealth from the lower 90% of the population to a fraction of the top 1% has been about 50 trillion dollars over the last 40 years.

The conversation also raised wider questions about the state of democracy, which appears to be in as much danger from radical majoritarianism in the United States, or in India, as it is from the European Union shifting the seat of several governance decisions away from state governments to Brussels, to an unelected bureaucracy. Responding to Jain’s question on what can be done to resist the threats to democracy, Professor Chomsky said, “There’s no magic key! “You fight it the way you’ve always fought it, with educational programs, with organization, with activism.”

Discussing solutions to push back against the radical majority, Professor Chomsky spoke about the need for the popular forces within an ideological party to press for progressive social action. He spoke about this in context of the American political system and highlighted how the Biden government’s legislative program on climate change, possibly even better than Obama’s, reflects the direct impact of activism and popular forces within the party pushing the agenda.

“Over time any political or social movement can work,” he said, pointing to the Independence Movement in India. “It takes dedication and commitment. It doesn’t happen by itself, you have to fight for social programs and reform,” he added.

Reflecting on some of the critical progressive movements like the labour movement, the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement among others, he talked about the significance of coming together in solidarity and with constant, dedicated struggle. “There is no point being optimistic or pessimistic. The point is to face the challenges, take the opportunities, get to work and overcome the problems. It can be done – and optimism says yes, let’s do it,” he said. 

The Jaipur Literature Festival 2021 will take place till 28th February on an exclusive virtual platform.

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