The following is the final portion of a speech given by Noam Chomsky in Bonn, Germany, whose transcript was recently released. Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he can be considered one of the founding fathers of modern linguistic theory, and he’s widely known for his political activism as well. The full transcript can be read here.
“The last comment I’d like to make goes in a somewhat different direction. I mentioned the Magna Carta. That’s the foundations of modern law. We will soon be commemorating the 800th anniversary. We won’t be celebrating it – more likely interring what little is left of its bones after the flesh has been picked off by Bush and Obama and their colleagues in Europe. And Europe is involved clearly.
But there is another part of Magna Carta which has been forgotten. It had two components. The one is the Charter of Liberties which is being dismantled. The other was called the Charter of the Forests. That called for protection of the commons from the depredations of authority. This is England of course. The commons were the traditional source of sustenance, of food and fuel and welfare as well. They were nurtured and sustained for centuries by traditional societies collectively. They have been steadily dismantled under the capitalist principle that everything has to be privately owned, which brought with it the perverse doctrine of – what is called the tragedy of the commons – a doctrine which holds that collective possessions will be despoiled so therefore everything has to be privately owned. The merest glance at the world shows that the opposite is true. It’s privatization that is destroying the commons. That’s why the indigenous populations of the world are in the lead in trying to save Magna Carta from final destruction by its inheritors. And they’re joined by others. Take say the demonstrators in Gezi Park in trying to block the bulldozers in Taksim Square. They’re trying to save the last part of the commons in Istanbul from the wrecking ball of commercial destruction. This is a kind of a microcosm of the general defense of the commons. It’s one part of a global uprising against the violent neo-liberal assault on the population of the world. Europe is suffering severely from it right now. The uprisings have registered some major successes. The most dramatic are Latin America. In this millennium it has largely freed itself from the lethal grip of Western domination for the first time in 500 years. Other things are happening too. The general picture is pretty grim, I think. But there are shafts of light. As always through history, there are two trajectories. One leads towards oppression and destruction. The other leads towards freedom and justice. And as always – to adapt Martin Luther King’s famous phrase – there are ways to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice and freedom – and by now even towards survival.”