Chomsky in the Netherlands
As nobody in the Netherlands will have missed out, the one and only Chomsky was lecturing last week. In a few days time he did deliver speeches in Amsterdam and in Utrecht on political matters. In Leiden he spoke about linguistic matters. The speech in Utrecht was part of the lecture series The social responsibility of the artist, an University Utrecht / Treaty of Utrecht collaboration. The call to action in Utrecht was done behind closed doors, indeed a shame. But luckily we had somebody on the inside:
Although I have not personally read all 105 of his books, his impact on my life has been immense, yet to date, always at a distance. So it was with trepidation bordering on the hyperactive that I awaited Professor Noam Chomsky’s arrival in Utrecht. His clear vision on morality, his philosophy of intellectual engagement, these were ideals well persevered since student days. What would he now add? How has he grown? What would we all take home for memories?
400 people had to be disappointed; there was only room for that number in the church and double that wanted to attend. Happily, most there were very young. Priority had consciously been given to Utrecht University students. It is their responsibility to build the bridge between his legacy and the future. Mid-eighties himself, Professor Chomsky entered the space spry and relaxed, clad as ever in jeans and a sweater. After an inspired introduction by Humanities Dean van den Akker, Chomsky took the stage, took off his watch and kept us spellbound for 50 minutes. No speech written out, not even any notes.
Entitled ‘Responsibility and Integrity, the dilemmas we face’, Professor Chomsky’s lecture was a call to arms. In a way, nothing new: Chomsky has always called us to arms, engaged us in moral integrity and indeed responsibility. What was so new and refreshing about this lecture? That, once again, after a lifetime of intellectual dissidence, Noam Chomsky signals the fact that we must take responsibility despite our individual, overwhelming lack of power.
His own powerful command of historical detail, his nuanced view of who persecutes and who the persecuted are, and his truly global perspective were, once again, inspiring. We usually focus on the crimes of our enemies, those with whom we disagree. Yet, he calmly explained, in this we so often overlook our own crimes. We, who are so privileged, he explained, in our freedoms, our comfortable lives and our healthy intellects. We carry a great responsibility to make good on our privileges in the name of justice.
The Treaty of Utrecht Foundation actively supported this lecture event with Noam Chomsky. Why? Because we want to do much more than throw a big party to celebrate an historical fact. We want to engage our city and region’s citizens in a debate on enduring peace, and the responsibility to underwrite peace in an ever more demanding and uncertain modern society. We look forward to hosting more academics, artists and media personalities in the years up and including 2013, thereby engaging them, and us, in a debate on social responsibility, integrity, our new Utrecht Principles, ergo, cosmopolitan citizenship.
It was a chance in a lifetime to hear Noam Chomsky speak. Then again, there are always those 105 books we can pick up and (re-)read. Or relisten his lecture.