34 Unforgettable Noam Chomsky Quotes

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, political activist and a social critic with many more titles under his name. He is often regarded as the “father of modern linguistics” as he has done a tremendous amount of work on commentaries about various aspects of life. He has written more than 150 books on various topics such as mass media, war, politics and linguistics.

He is sometimes considered quite controversial for his views, especially his criticism of U.S foreign policy and mainstream news and media outlets. Noam Chomsky is among the most cited scholars alive.

Let’s look at some of his most famous quotes.

46 Unforgettable Noam Chomsky Quotes

1. “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”― Noam Chomsky

2. “The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on — because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.”― Noam Chomsky

3. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” ― Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

4. “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” ― Noam Chomsky

5. “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” ― Noam Chomsky

6. “Education is a system of imposed ignorance.”― Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

7. “If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.” ― Noam Chomsky

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8. “I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom.” ― Noam Chomsky

9. “That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything.” ― Noam Chomsky

10. “That is what I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism: the conviction that the burden of proof has to be placed on authority, and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met.” ― Noam Chomsky

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11. “It is quite possible–overwhelmingly probable, one might guess–that we will always learn more about human life and personality from novels than from scientific psychology” ― Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky standing with his hands in pockets
12. “Neoliberal democracy. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.” ― Noam Chomsky

13. “How people themselves perceive what they are doing is not a question that interests me. I mean, there are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, ‘That person I see is a savage monster’; instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do. If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does he will say, in all honesty, that he is slaving 20 hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods or services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees. But then you take a look at what the corporation does, the effect of its legal structure, the vast inequalities in pay and conditions, and you see the reality is something far different.” ― Noam Chomsky

14. “Do you train for passing tests or do you train for creative inquiry?” ― Noam Chomsky

15. “Responsibility I believe accrues through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility. We live in free societies where we are not afraid of the police; we have extraordinary wealth available to us by global standards. If you have those things, then you have the kind of responsibility that a person does not have if he or she is slaving seventy hours a week to put food on the table; a responsibility at the very least to inform yourself about power. Beyond that, it is a question of whether you believe in moral certainties or not.” ― Noam Chomsky

16. “Science is a bit like the joke about the drunk who is looking under a lamppost for a key that he has lost on the other side of the street, because that’s where the light is. It has no other choice.” ― Noam Chomsky

17. “It’s ridiculous to talk about freedom in a society dominated by huge corporations. What kind of freedom is there inside a corporation? They’re totalitarian institutions – you take orders from above and maybe give them to people below you. There’s about as much freedom as under Stalinism.” ― Noam Chomsky

18. “Most problems of teaching are not problems of growth but helping cultivate growth. As far as I know, and this is only from personal experience in teaching, I think about ninety percent of the problem in teaching, or maybe ninety-eight percent, is just to help the students get interested. Or what it usually amounts to is to not prevent them from being interested. Typically they come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. But if children[‘s] … normal interest is maintained or even aroused, they can do all kinds of things in ways we don’t understand.” ― Noam Chomsky

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Noam Chomsky in conversation with Bolivian Vice President
19. “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.” ― Noam Chomsky

20. “Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. The driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain, which is accepted as legitimate, even praiseworthy, on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits in the classic formulation.” ― Noam Chomsky

21. “It’s only terrorism if they do it to us. When we do much worse to them, it’s not terrorism.” ― Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda

22. “Our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. When we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, and an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder and bewilderment, not knowing what an explanation would even look like.” ― Noam Chomsky

23. “In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than just ideals to be valued – they may be essential to survival.” ― Noam Chomsky

24. “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.” ― Noam Chomsky

25. “The death penalty can be tolerated only by extreme statist reactionaries who demand a state that is so powerful that it has the right to kill.” ― Noam Chomsky

26. “The key element of social control is the strategy of distraction that is to divert public attention from important issues and changes decided by political and economic elites, through the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.” ― Noam Chomsky

27. “If anybody thinks they should listen to me because I’m a professor at MIT, that’s nonsense. You should decide whether something makes sense by its content, not by the letters after the name of the person who says it.” ― Noam Chomsky

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28. “The beauty of our system is that it isolates everybody. Each person is sitting alone in front of the tube, you know. It’s very hard to have ideas or thoughts under those circumstances. You can’t fight the world alone.” ― Noam Chomsky

29. “Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.”― Noam Chomsky

30. “The very design of neoliberal principles is a direct attack on democracy.” ― Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects

31. “No honest journalist should be willing to describe himself or herself as ’embedded.’ To say, ‘I’m an embedded journalist’ is to say, ‘I’m a government Propagandist.” ― Noam Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World

32. “We need not stride resolutely towards catastrophe, merely because those are the marching orders.” ― Noam Chomsky, 9-11

33. “The kind of work that should be the main part of life is the kind of work you would want to do if you weren’t being paid for it. It’s work that comes out of your own internal needs, interests and concerns.” ― Noam Chomsky

34. “In the US, there is basically one party – the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to these policies. As is most of the population.” ― Noam Chomsky

Best Noam Chomsky Quotes

Here is a compilation of some of the best quotes by Noam Chomsky, the renowned scholar and political dissident.


Noam Chomsky is arguably one of the greatest scholars of the modern era. His unique intellect coupled with his ability to sift through red herrings and analyze an organized system is perhaps unrivaled. Undoubtedly, one can learn a lot from him.

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Image Credit – “Noam Chomsky” by jeanbaptisteparis is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Image Credit – cloud2013 from Cape Elizabeth, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit – “Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera with Noam Chomsky in NYC” by Matthew Straubmuller is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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