LONDON: He is in his 70s and first became known for his theory of transformational grammar and now he is top of the thinkers' hit parade. Noam Chomsky, the Professor of Linguistics who has become one of the most outspoken critics of American foreign policy, has won a poll that names him the world's top public intellectual.
Prof. Chomsky, who was underwhelmed by the honour, beat off challenges from Umberto Eco, Richard Dawkins, Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens to win the Prospect/Foreign Policy poll.
More than 20,000 voters from around the world took part in selecting the winners from a list of 100.
The most striking aspect of the list is the shortage of the young, the female and the French. Only two of the top 10, Mr. Hitchens and Salman Rushdie, were born after the War, and Naomi Klein is the highest placed woman, at 11.
France provides one name in the top 40, fewer than Peru and Iran provide.
Since the poll was for the world's leading intellectuals, it should come as no surprise that websites manned by supporters of Prof. Chomsky, Mr. Hitchens and Abdolkarim Soroush were used to draw attention to it.
Prof. Chomsky's supporters are clearly the most energetic: he took 4,800 votes to Mr. Eco's 2,500. The voters came mainly from Britain and the U.S.
"I don't pay a lot of attention to them," said Prof. Chomsky on Monday night of the poll. "It was probably padded by some friends of mine!"
Pondering the absence from the list of younger intellectuals, David Herman asks in the new issue of Prospect: "Who are the younger equivalents to [Jurgen] Habermas, Chomsky and Havel? Great names are formed by great events.
But there has been no shortage of terrible events in the last 10 years." Only two of the Top 20 have yet to reach the age of 50.
The choice of Prof. Chomsky will be welcomed and contested by many of the same names who responded delightedly or furiously to the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Harold Pinter last week.
In recognition of this, Prospect offers some alternative perspectives, with Robin Blackburn arguing for Prof. Chomsky's right to head the list as both a brilliant expositor of linguistics and a vital critic of the U.S. abroad.
Oliver Kamm, however, dismisses him as a knee-jerk anti-American who is cavalier about his sources.