Chomsky: The Corporate Assault on Public Education
The following is Part II of the transcript of a speech Noam Chomsky delivered in February on "The Common Good." Click here to read Part I.
Let’s turn to the assault on education, one element of the general elite reaction to the civilizing effect of the ‘60s. On the right side of the political spectrum, one striking illustration is an influential memorandum written by Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer working for the tobacco industry, later appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon. At the other end of the narrow spectrum, there was an important study by the Trilateral Commission, liberal internationalists from the three major state capitalist industrial systems: the US, Europe and Japan. Both provide good insight into why the assault targets the educational system.
Let's start with the Powell memorandum. Its title is, “The Attack on the American Free-Enterprise System." It is interesting not only for the content, but also for the paranoid tone. For those who take for granted the right to rule, anything that gets out of control means that the world is coming to an end, like a spoiled three-year-old. So the rhetoric tends to be inflated and paranoid.
Powell identifies the leading criminals who are destroying the American free-enterprise system: one was Ralph Nader, with his consumer safety campaigns. The other was Herbert Marcuse, preaching Marxism to the young New Leftists who were on the rampage all over, while their “naive victims” dominated the universities and schools, controlled TV and other media, the educated community and virtually the entire government. If you think I am exaggerating, I urge you to read it yourself (pdf). Their takeover of the country, he said, is a dire threat to freedom.That's what it looks like from the standpoint of the Masters, as the nefarious campaigns of Nader and the ‘60s popular movements chipped away very slightly at total domination.
Powell drew the obvious conclusion: “The campuses from which much of this criticism emanates are supported by tax funds generated largely from American business, contributions from capital funds controlled or generated by American business. The boards of trustees at universities are overwhelmingly composed of men and women who are leaders in the business system and most of the media, including the national TV systems are owned and theoretically controlled by corporations which depend on profits and the enterprise system on which they survive.”
Therefore, the oppressed business people who have lost all influence should organize and defend themselves instead of idly sitting by while fundamental freedoms are destroyed by the Marxist onslaught from the media, universities and the government. Those are the expression of the concerns elicited by '60s activism at the right end of the mainstream spectrum.
More revealing is the reaction from the opposite extreme, the liberal internationalists, those who staffed the Carter administration, in their study called "The Crisis of Democracy." The crisis that they perceived was that there was too much democracy. The system used to work fine when most of the population was silent, passive, apathetic and obedient. The American rapporteur, Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard, looked back with nostalgia to the good old days when “Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” so that democracy flourished, with no crisis.
But in the ‘60s, something dangerous happened. Special interest groups began to try to enter the political arena and press for their demands. The special interests were women, minorities, young people, old people, farmers, workers. In other words: The population, who are supposed to sit obediently while the intelligent minority runs things in the interest of everyone, according to liberal democratic theory – and this is no exaggeration either. There's one group omitted in the lament of the liberal internationalists: The corporate sector. That's because they don't comprise a special interest; they represent the national Interest. Therefore their dominant influence in what we call democracy is right and proper, and merits no mention or concern.