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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 23, 1994|CHRIS GOODRICH

WORLD ORDERS OLD AND NEW by Noam Chomsky (Columbia University Press; 311 pp.). It's an interesting question: If Adam Smith were alive today, would he pat Noam Chomsky on the back or challenge him to a duel? Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT but best known for his shrill, radical politics, would bet on the former: he alludes to Smith a number of times in "World Orders Old and New," usually referring to Smith's view (found in "The Wealth of Nations") that the rich and mighty follow the "vile maximum" of "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people." Smith has come to be regarded as a champion of capitalism for his "invisible hand" theory of the marketplace, but in fact the great Scottish philosopher was wary of laissez-faire economics: He knew the system would not serve public interests unless powerful men were prevented from creating monopolies and controlling governments. Today, Smith would be shocked at the extent to which the affluent and powerful have managed to side-step market forces, and Chomsky, as always, is more than happy to chronicle their sins. He may cite facts selectively, and with a needlessly scornful tone, but in the final analysis "World Orders Old and New"--based on lectures Chomsky gave at the American University in Cairo last year--makes many points substantiating Smith's fears. His main points are two: that "The Cold War provided pretexts, not reasons" for U.S. policy over the last 40 years, and that the end of the Cold War has enabled the U.S. government to achieve its ultimate goal--"to set the terms of discussion" for virtually any issue, and thus become the ultimate empire. Chomsky must be read with many grains of salt, in order to neutralize the sort of ideological biases he criticizes so vehemently in others, but the overall thesis of this book rings frighteningly true.

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