Chomsky: The Most Powerful Country in History Is Destroying the Earth and Human Rights as We Know Them
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Over time, as societies became freer and the resort to state violence more constrained, the urge to devise sophisticated methods of control of attitudes and opinion has only grown. It is natural that the immense PR industry should have been created in the most free of societies, the United States and Great Britain. The first modern propaganda agency was the British Ministry of Information a century ago, which secretly defined its task as “to direct the thought of most of the world” -- primarily progressive American intellectuals, who had to be mobilized to come to the aid of Britain during World War I.
Its U.S. counterpart, the Committee on Public Information, was formed by Woodrow Wilson to drive a pacifist population to violent hatred of all things German -- with remarkable success. American commercial advertising deeply impressed others. Goebbels admired it and adapted it to Nazi propaganda, all too successfully. The Bolshevik leaders tried as well, but their efforts were clumsy and ineffective.
A primary domestic task has always been “to keep [the public] from our throats,” as essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson described the concerns of political leaders when the threat of democracy was becoming harder to suppress in the mid-nineteenth century. More recently, the activism of the 1960s elicited elite concerns about “excessive democracy,” and calls for measures to impose “more moderation” in democracy.
One particular concern was to introduce better controls over the institutions “responsible for the indoctrination of the young”: the schools, the universities, the churches, which were seen as failing that essential task. I’m quoting reactions from the left-liberal end of the mainstream spectrum, the liberal internationalists who later staffed the Carter administration, and their counterparts in other industrial societies. The right wing was much harsher. One of many manifestations of this urge has been the sharp rise in college tuition, not on economic grounds, as is easily shown. The device does, however, trap and control young people by debt, often for the rest of their lives, thus contributing to more effective indoctrination.
The Three-Fifths People
Pursuing these important topics further, we see that the destruction of the Charter of the Forest, and its obliteration from memory, relates rather closely to the continuing efforts to constrain the promise of the Charter of Liberties. The “New Spirit of the Age” cannot tolerate the pre-capitalist conception of the Forest as the shared endowment of the community at large, cared for communally for its own use and for future generations, protected from privatization, from transfer to the hands of private power for service to wealth, not needs. Inculcating the New Spirit is an essential prerequisite for achieving this end, and for preventing the Charter of Liberties from being misused to enable free citizens to determine their own fate.
Popular struggles to bring about a freer and more just society have been resisted by violence and repression, and massive efforts to control opinion and attitudes. Over time, however, they have met with considerable success, even though there is a long way to go and there is often regression. Right now, in fact.
The most famous part of the Charter of Liberties is Article 39, which declares that “no free man” shall be punished in any way, “nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.”
Through many years of struggle, the principle has come to hold more broadly. The U.S. Constitution provides that no “person [shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law [and] a speedy and public trial” by peers. The basic principle is “presumption of innocence” -- what legal historians describe as “the seed of contemporary Anglo-American freedom,” referring to Article 39; and with the Nuremberg Tribunal in mind, a “particularly American brand of legalism: punishment only for those who could be proved to be guilty through a fair trial with a panoply of procedural protections” -- even if their guilt for some of the worst crimes in history is not in doubt.