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Home » Transcript: Noam Chomsky – Foundations of World Order: the UN, World Bank, IMF & Decl. Human Rights 1999

Transcript: Noam Chomsky – Foundations of World Order: the UN, World Bank, IMF & Decl. Human Rights 1999

Here is the transcript of Noam Chomsky’s talk titled “Foundations of World Order: the UN, World Bank, IMF & Decl. Human Rights 1999”.


Jane Gould – Coordinator of MIT’s Technology and Culture Forum

You patient souls who’ve been here for a long time holding your seat, welcome. I’m Jane Gould, the coordinator of the Technology and Culture Forum, and I’d like to welcome you to tonight’s program, Noam Chomsky on the Foundations of World Order: Fifty years of the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Before we turn to tonight’s program, I call your attention to the Technology and Culture Forum’s next program, Reinventing Universities for the 21st Century. There’s a sign with all the information above my head and do come Wednesday, March 3rd at 5.30 p.m. in 6120.

The Technology and Culture Forum will be hosting four more programs this spring. If you’d like to be on our mailing list, you can either sign on one of the sheets of paper on the table in the hall as you leave or go to our website and just put yourself onto the list.

Now to tonight’s program. We’re all here because we want to hear Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is honored by MIT as an institute professor. His doctoral thesis on transformational analysis began his radical transformation of the field of linguistics. Honorary degrees, learned in professional societies, significant awards, his list is luminous. Few have escaped his notice.

And yet, as a public intellectual, Professor Chomsky has always taken seriously his responsibility to stimulate and lead public debate. In addition to speaking and writing on linguistics and philosophy, he’s taken on intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs, U. S. foreign policy, to name a few of his key topics.

Late this last year, I received an email encouraging me to participate in a 70th birthday card for Noam Chomsky. Online, global, hundreds, thousands, the list went on and people couldn’t resist saying how they’ve been challenged and inspired by Chomsky. Tonight he’s here to look at the last 50 years, what we created, what we have, and where we are to go. Noam Chomsky?

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Foundations of World Order

Noam Chomsky – Professor and Public Intellectual

I just realized while listening to Jane announce the title that it’s also just about 50 years since I walked into this building for the first time. But I won’t talk about that.

We’ve just passed the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was a few weeks ago. The Human Rights Regime, which was encoded in that declaration, is one of the pillars of the system of world order that was constructed on the wreckage of World War II.

There were two other major foundation stones. One was the International Political Order, which is articulated in the United Nations Charter. And the third is the International Economic System, sometimes called the Bretton Woods System, designed primarily by the United States and Britain right at the end of the war.

These three systems were closely integrated, conceptually and in fact, the thinking behind them illustrates that, as does their interactions over the years. And to a degree, that’s quite unusual in world affairs. The three foundations reflected public attitudes and concerns over quite a wide range.

For that very reason, the principles that were articulated and, to some extent, instituted– those principles were quite distasteful to elite elements, namely those who were actually in a position to construct and shape and guide the actual world order. And they very quickly took steps to dismantle, or at least attenuate, the lofty principles.

The conflicts over these matters constitute a large part of modern history– post Cold War history. That’s not the usual framework of analysis for discussing it. But in my opinion, it ought to be.

Well, large issues. There’s a lot in print. There’s many treatises yet to be written even to be researched. I don’t think the topics have been addressed with anything like enough seriousness. But I’ll try to give some indication of why I think that’s an appropriate and instructive way to view the contemporary world system. It’s our origins at the time of the Second World War. And maybe it’s likely future.

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So the main question that I want to get to is, what has been the fate of the three basic and integrated pillars of world order that were established half a century ago? And specifically, what has been the role of the United States, which has been the primary actor on the world scene throughout– remains so– and the one that’s most important for us, for obvious reasons, independently of the significance and scale of its contributions, which are usually quite great for equally obvious reasons.

Well, that’s the main question that I want to get to. But I’d like to approach it by a detour just to make life more complicated. And the detour has two tracks that I’d like to explore a little bit, and then, from them, get back to the questions.

The first track is simply to remind everyone of what you already know. We have to bear in mind that the questions are not abstract and they’re not about some distant planet. So it’s not like an academic topic for an academic seminar. We’re dealing with questions of life and death, of suffering and pain and despair.

The voices that are heard– not that one. The voices that are heard are those of the rich and the powerful, naturally. There are also those who have sought to be a voice for the voiceless. Their fate hasn’t been too happy. Some were simply assassinated by our hands, or those working for us– a chapter of modern history the one doesn’t read about too much.

In fact, they were assassinated. And there’s quite a number of them, doubly in that they were first killed and then silenced. So you can do a check and see how many of your friends can tell you the names of Eastern European dissidents and murdered. There are murdered counterparts in Central America. And how many books you’ve read by one and by the other and so on. It’s an instructive lesson.

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But the voices that we hear, the ones that remain, are typically the powerful. And that’s important because that’s not the only voice. That’s the voice of a small minority here and a tiny minority worldwide. Well, let me illustrate from right now.

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