It often remains the case that there is an underlying assumption in mass media commentary that the position of the United States, or the so-called West, remains the “right” position when it comes to matters of world affairs.

What follows is a response from Noam Chomsky to that assumption, culled from discussions that took place in January of 2006. It is a sharp reminder of the continual fight required against the ever-present spectre of imperial arrogance, which is often masked in the rhetoric of human rights, or couched in the terms of a nebulously-defined "national interest."

Chomsky is speaking to Stephen R. Shalom and Gilbert Achcar, talking about the American position in geopolitics, which is described as one of “domination,” of “running the world.” In this context, Shalom asks

Does the average U.S. citizen or West European citizen have a personal stake, a vested interest, in the U.S. government succeeding in its mission of domination?

Noam Chomsky’s reply:

If they think they do, they have to be talked out of it. The job of the progressive movements is precisely to convince the population of imperial powers that they have no right whatsoever to determine things for anyone else.

I often get invited to conferences in Europe — by fairly progressive groups, not right-wingers, or I wouldn’t be invited — which are discussing topics such as: Is it best for the world if the United States and Europe maintain world order? Who in the rest of the world wants that? That’s considered a legitimate question among people who are more or less progressive and liberal, not right-wing fanatics. And it has a long tradition: the “civilizing mission” in France; British liberals such as John Stuart Mill, calling it our responsibility to the barbarians in India to maintain order and give them good civilization. This is called Wilsonian idealism in the United States! Just look what Woodrow Wilson did, in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and every other place he touched. It was monstrous. But nevertheless we speak of Wilsonian idealism, and of our obligation to teach the world the ways of good government. The people of the Third World are like naughty children, as Wilson’s secretary of the interior put it, who require a “stiff hand.” This is just a deeply embedded imperial conception, all across the intellectual and moral culture. And it is a conception that has to be eradicated.

So, yes, it’s undoubtedly right. The ordinary person in Europe and the United States probably thinks it’s important for the United States to maintain its dominance. But that’s exactly the task of the progressive movements, to dismantle that system of morally grotesque and historically absurd conceptions.

This is from the book Perilous Power, The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice (2007).