The Radical Intellectual

I don’t have to say how pleased and grateful I am for this honor, which also offers an occasion to look back over the years. What comes to mind with particular salience is the earliest years, perhaps because I’ve thinking a lot about them lately, for other reasons. They were of course formative years for me personally, but I think the significance unfortunately goes beyond.

I’m just old enough to have memories of Hitler’s speeches on the radio 75 years ago. I didn’t understand the words but couldn’t fail to grasp the menace of the tone and the cheering mobs. The first political article I wrote was in Feb. 1939, right after the fall of Barcelona. I’m sure it was nothing memorable. I can recall a little of it, but much more clearly the mood of fear and foreboding. The article opened with the words: “Austria falls, Czechoslovakia falls, and now Barcelona falls” — and Spain with it, a few months later. The words have always stayed in my mind, along with the dread, the sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering over Germany and then Europe and perhaps beyond, a growing force of unimaginable horror. Though no one could foresee the Holocaust, Kristallnacht had taken place just a few weeks before, and the desperate flight of refugees had been building up for years, many of them unable to believe what was happening.

Noam Chomsky

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