Noam Chomsky’s Theory of the Good Life

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How do you introduce Noam Chomsky? Perhaps you start here: In 1979, The New York Times called him “arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” More than 40 years later, Chomsky, at 92, is still putting his dent in the world — writing books, giving interviews, changing minds.

There are different sides to Chomsky. He’s a world-renowned linguist who revolutionized his field. He’s a political theorist who’s been a sharp critic of American foreign policy for decades. He’s an anarchist who believes in a radically different way of ordering society. He’s a pragmatist who pushed leftists to vote for Joe Biden in 2020 and has described himself as having a “rather conservative attitude towards social change.” He is, very much, himself.

The problem in planning a conversation with Chomsky is how to get at all these different sides. So this one covers a lot of ground. We discuss:

— Why Chomsky is an anarchist, and how he defines anarchism

— How his work on language informs his idea of what human beings want

— The role of advertising in capitalism

— Whether we should understand job contracts as the free market at work or a form of constant coercion

— How Chomsky’s ideal vision of society differs from Nordic social democracy

— How Chomsky’s class-based theory of politics holds up in an era where college-educated suburbanites are moving left on economics

— Chomsky’s view of the climate crisis and why he thinks the “degrowth” movement is misguided

— Whether job automation could actually be a good thing for human flourishing

— Chomsky’s views on US-China policy, and why he doesn’t think China is a major geopolitical threat

— The likelihood of nuclear war in the next decade

And much more.

Mentioned in this episode:

On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky

Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal by Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin

“Why the Amazon Workers Never Stood a Chance” by Erik Loomis

“Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018” by Carter C. Price and Kathryn A. Edwards

“This is What Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace with Productivity” by Dean Baker

“There is no Plan B for dealing with the climate crisis” by Raymond Pierrehumbert

Recommendations:

"The Last of the Just" by Andre Schwarz-Bart

"All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw" by Theodore Rosengarten

Selected essays by Ahad Ha'am

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein.

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Rogé Karma and Jeff Geld; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld.

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