A Gentlemen’s Debate (in 3 languages): Foucault vs Chomsky [1971]

Foucault and Chomsky having a very polite gentlemanly debate on the forms of political and non-political structures and institutions of power, in 1971.

The Chomsky-Foucault Debate [excerpt, part 1/2]

The Chomsky-Foucault Debate [excerpt, part 2/2]

While I’m pretty sure one or both men were using off-screen interpreters, the set-up, framing and editing of the discussion is very interesting, with Foucault speaking in French, Chomsky in English, and with Dutch subtitles on the screen. Quite an entertaining exercise for the viewer.

Actually, I feel the two gentlemen are almost entirely in agreement here with regards to their identification of political and social structures of Power+ Oppression and similar advocating of activism, critiques and thoughtful civil disobedience towards these structures|institutions.
[with Foucault as always, just a little more militant and focusing on his traditional sources of political oppression, l’armée et la police, in the aftermath of the May 1968 students riots in Paris, as well as the Panopticon prisons of schools and educational institutions;



and with Chomsky already looking at non-governmental actors like the ever-growing-larger multinational corporations and latterly, the Media.

The main difference between the two thinkers I see, seem to stem from the two different philosophical traditions which each thinker more or less “inherited”, made invaluable and outstanding contributions to, and very ably and deservedly represented.

Chomsky had, by that time, burnished his reputation with his work in analytical linguistics and was probably the leading standard-bearer for the Anglo-American (but which arguably really had roots in Germany+Austria) tradition of Analytic Philosophy.
Foucault, then at the height of his intellectual powers, held sway over Continental Philosophy with his archaeology into knowledge and all things.

In the video Chomsky, analytical and particulate, measured and soft-spoken as always and true to his procedural methodology, wanted to begin with a definition of human nature, of the various structures of power+oppression, and of a future possible ideal society. Foucault, the wily Continentalist with gleaming teeth and all, declines to do so because he sees the danger and futility in defining and naming Power Structures with the very instruments/medium and under the norms, already dictated by these same institutions. Instead, Foucault advocates constant and never-ending critiques and ‘attacks’ on these institutions; in a way, Foucault does not see a solution or an end to the problem: it is a part of the human condition.

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