Noam Chomsky is a singular figure on the American political scene. Love him or hate him, he has successfully stuck around for half a century as one of American society’s most vocal, serious, and controversial political thinkers. He has steadily produced thorough critiques of American society and political policy for decades, and he is considered to be a major 20th century political writer and philosopher.
Born in 1928, Chomsky received an intellectually rich upbringing. He attended an experimental, progressive school “from infancy,” and an academic, college-oriented high school. Even outside of school he was surrounded by lively, informed political discussion. He didn’t start his academic career as a political activist, or even with the intent to become one. He started out in linguistics, and he was very, very good at it. In fact, he was so good that his work was considered transformational to the field, although even in linguistics his work is controversial. He received his doctorate in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955, after four years as a junior fellow at Harvard, and was immediately hired (in 1955) by MIT.
Throughout his career, he has given many prestigious lectures, and received many prestigious awards, for both his political and his linguistic work. Chomsky’s political activism, as with many individuals of his generation, began with his dissatisfaction over the Vietnam war. Unlike most who protested the conflict in Vietnam, Chomsky made societal critique his major life work. He saw that from his position of relative comfort and security, as a tenured professor at an elite school, he had opportunities to speak out that many others did not. Besides participating in protests and rallies, Chomsky has produced a large body of work in political analysis. A few of these many works include, Manufacturing Consent (with E.S. Herman), The Culture of Terrorism, Year 501, and Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War and US Political Culture.