Poll names Chomsky as world's top intellectual

Noam Chomsky, the American linguistics expert and United States foreign policy critic, was named the world’s top public intellectual, according to a new British magazine poll released on Tuesday.

Best known for his loud and consistent criticism of the Vietnam War and US foreign policy over the last 40 years, Chomsky (76) decisively beat Italian novelist and academic Umberto Eco and third-placed Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins to top the poll.

Now an emeritus professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky first became known for his theory of grammar developed at MIT in the 1950s, which held that the ability to form structured language is innate in the human mind.

He later became known for his political activism. He published his first collection of political writings in 1969, and has penned over 40 books.

Of 20 000 voters in the Prospect/Foreign Policy poll published this week in Prospect magazine, 4 800 voted for Chomsky to Eco’s 2 500.

Vaclav Havel, the playwright and former Czech president who led Czechoslovakia’s 1989 “Velvet Revolution” that toppled communism, came fourth.

Perhaps more surprising than Chomsky’s victory was the dearth of young and female names at the top of the list. Only two of the top 10, pro-Iraq war British journalist Christopher Hitchens and British novelist Salman Rushdie, were born after World War II, and the highest-placed female intellectual was Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein.

Voters mainly came from Britain and the United States.

Chomsky was unimpressed with the honour, telling The Guardian newspaper that polls were something “I don’t pay a lot of attention to”, adding that “it was probably padded by some friends of mine”.

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