Chomsky and Gitta Sereny on the Holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson

Chomsky and Gitta Sereny on the Holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson

Chomsky is sometimes accused of being a Holocaust denier. This is little more than a right-wing smear. However, Chomsky's views on the Holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson, are difficult to understand.

For those who want to get a handle on this controversy, here's a pdf of the debate between Chomsky and Gitta Sereny, the author of a classic book on the Holocaust, Into that Darkness:

Noam Chomsky and Gitta Sereny, 'New Statesman', 17 July and 14 August 1981.compressed.pdf1.65 MB


Oct 29 2017 18:21

Another view on this whole issue is from Gill Seidel's 1986 book, Holocaust Denial. The relevant extract can be found HERE.

Chomsky's various biographers have expressed a range of views on the Faurisson affair. In Chomsky: Ideas and ideals, Neil Smith writes: 'Chomsky should perhaps have foreseen the negative effect of his activity and refrained from writing the way he did. Perhaps, but on balance perhaps not. Even had he seen the furore which would erupt and the degree that would ensue, the moral doctrine of defending freedom of speech is probably higher.'(p328)

In Noam Chomsky: A life of dissent, Robert Barsky says 'Chomsky's tactics may not always be the most appropriate in light of the causes that he supports but the values transmitted by his work are, according to virtually any reasonable measure, consistent with those of the libertarians.' Barsky also points out that, although, the Faurisson affair 'has had a harmful and lasting effect on Chomsky … Chomsky has refused to back down on the issue, even refusing to admit a momentary lack of judgement.'(p183-5. See also: Barsky, The Chomsky Effect, Ch.2.)

Two other biographers, Milan Rai and Chris Knight, both refer to the Faurisson affair in the context of Chomsky's uncompromising support for academic freedom for everyone including 'war criminals'. In Chomsky's Politics, Milan Rai quotes Chomsky saying that he even 'supported the rights of American war criminals not only to speak and teach but also to conduct their research, on grounds of academic freedom, at a time when their work was being used to murder and destroy.' (p130-1)

In Decoding Chomsky, Chris Knight refers to Chomsky's 1969 threat to 'protest publicly' if fellow MIT academic, Walt Rostow, was denied a position at the university. Chomsky certainly saw Rostow, a prime architect of the Vietnam War, as a 'war criminal'. Yet he insisted that MIT must stick to its principles of academic freedom - principles expressed when MIT's President Johnson stated that the university should be a 'refuge from the censor, where any individual can pursue truth as he sees it, without any interference.'(p38-9)

Howard Johnson's motivation for talking about academic freedom at this time of anti-war student unrest was largely to prevent any interference with MIT's various military-funded research laboratories. But, Knight claims, Chomsky also felt he had to extend the principle of academic freedom to unusual lengths because any 'less libertarian policy might have undermined his own conflicted position as an anti-war campaigner working in a laboratory funded by the US military.' Knight concludes that Chomsky's subsequent position on Faurisson 'did not imply any sympathy towards Holocaust denial. It was simply a logical extension of a principle common to all Western universities – one which his management at MIT felt obliged to uphold with special tenacity in view of what its own researchers were doing.'(p38)