Brett Stephens is apparently part of the editorial stable of right-wing know-nothings and smear merchants at the Wall Street Journal; I had never heard of him prior to reader Thomas Noah sending me this bizarre piece trashing Chomsky's comments on the assassination of bin Laden and comparing Chomsky and Heidegger. (Apart from one amusingly apt line about the relative scale of bin Laden's and Bush's crimes, Chomsky's comments strike me as not very interesting in this case: the killing of bin Laden was almost certainly consistent with international law [contrary to Chomsky's assertion, though why he even thinks it is relevant in this case isn't clear], and there is obviously more reason to credit bin Laden's proud claim of responsibility for 9/11 than Chomsky's assertion to have won the Boston Marathon--but the merits of Chomsky's remarks in this instance aren't really at issue.)
Here is Mr. Stephens, in relevant part:
In 1946, Martin Heidegger, incomparably the most significant philosopher of the 20th century, was banned from teaching for five years at the insistence of occupying French forces. The crime? He had been a Mitläufer—a "fellow-walker"—of the Nazi Party during its time in power....
Mr. Chomsky is no Martin Heidegger: His contributions to linguistics and cognitive psychology, considerable as they are, pale next to Heidegger's contributions to political philosophy....
Heidegger's "contributions to political philosophy"? What contributions to political philosophy? That's the first giveaway that this is just a smear piece, and that Mr. Stephens has no notion of anyone's intellectual contributions. Chomsky invented the modern discipline of linguistics, and his work has had profound ramifications across psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science. Even putting aside that Mr. Stephens obviously doesn't know what Heidegger's philosophical work is about, it's manifestly silly to say that Chomsky's contributions "pale" next to Heidegger's (indeed, plenty of philosophers of course think not that Heidegger is "the most significant philosopher of the 20th century" but that he is the most over-hyped philosopher relative to his actual substantive contributions and originality). A quick look at, say, Google Scholar for Chomsky and Heidegger paints a very different piciture of scholarly contributions and influence.
In any case, there is no need to settle the silly question of relative contributions, especially since Mr. Stephens is pretty clearly in the dark about either man's work. His real point is to argue (seriously) that, just as Heidegger was banned from teaching, so too should we entertain the idea of banning Chomsky for holding opinions of which Mr. Stephens disapproves (but which he mostly doesn't understand). Mr. Stephens writes:
Yet when it comes to making excuses for monsters, the two thinkers are evenly matched.
No quotations from Chomsky are adduced, just the standard litany of misrepresentations of controversial positions Chomsky has taken on various topics and figures. No one, of course, disputes that Heidegger was a Nazi and spoke out clearly and unambiguously in support of the Nazi regime. No such allegation can be made about Chomsky, as anyone who isn't a pathological liar knows.
Mr. Stephens goes on to lament that Chomsky is "the recipient of over 20 honorary degrees, including from Harvard, Cambridge and the University of Chicago. None of these degrees, as far as I know, was conferred for Mr. Chomsky's political musings, but neither did those musings provoke any apparent misgivings about the fitness of granting the award." I guess our racist CUNY trustee Mr. Wiesenfeld has an ally in Mr. Stephens.
Anyway, it's certainly encouraging to know that the Wall Street Journal has now seen fit to broach the topic of banning faculty from the classroom, regardless of their scholarly contributions, if their opinions on political topics fall outside the narrow spectrum of acceptable, and largely depraved, opinion deemed acceptable in the right-wing media. Someone in this conversation does, indeed, call to mind the ugliness of Nazism, but it is certainly not Professor Chomsky.