This past Saturday Concordia University welcomed noted intellectual, prolific writer, MIT Professor Emeritus, movie-maker, linguist and self-described anarcho-syndicalist Noam Chomsky to its downtown campus. Booking Mr. Chomsky, who was in town for another event later that same day was quite the coup for Concordia Student Union’s VP External and Mobilization Caroline Bourbonnière.

Despite some outcry by those who were unable to snag one of the 350 tickets, the event went off without a hitch; organizers set up a live feed that could be viewed in a adjoining room, the footage of which should soon be available to all online.  In the meantime, the transcript of an almost identical lecture can be found online.

In his talk tilted “The Neo-Liberal Assault on the Population” Mr. Chomsky discussed the chasm that exists between democracy and what he labels “really existing capitalist democracy” or in other words, a plutocracy. For examples that highlight how out of touch the political system is with those it espouses to represent, Mr. Chomsky contrasted public opinion with public policy: while a clear majority of the US population is in favour of tax hikes for the rich and environmental regulations, those in power are more concerned with deficit reduction and ignore looming environmental catastrophes.

To be sure, these issues, while viewed largely as matters of domestic policy, have global repercussions. Mr. Chomsky also pointed out that America’s always-at-the-ready nuclear arsenal and its behaviour as an irrational and out-of-control state actor as a matter of policy places us all on the precipice. Nuclear war, along with environmental degradation, are the two most serious threats the world faces today.

But Mr. Chomsky is no Debbie-Downer. Hope for a more egalitarian society in which the will of the people is truly expressed and manifested can be seen in the likes of contemporary student movements and in the move towards more worker-owned co-ops.

On a larger scale and in a not-so-historically-distant-past the strides made by the women’s movement and the increasing self-determination of Latin American states are examples of changes possible within the system. Interestingly, he claimed that it is now Canada and the United States that risk being isolated from the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

Benjamin Prunty, CSU’s VP Sustainability who helped organize the event, hopes it will galvanize the student body into action: “having such an important intellectual essentially reinforce as fact that feeling that I think many of us have, that the system is not only fundamentally failing today but is also on course to fail us all much worse in the future, will help thrust those on the verge of political action right into its throes.”

“Power is very fragile,” Mr. Chomsky reminded the rapt audience at the end of his lecture; food for thought in this world where we often feel powerless against political and corporate behemoths.

* photo of Chomsky at the UdeM conference by Marco Simonsen-Sereda (blogocram)