David Hawkes, Professor of English at Arizona State University, opens a review of two collections of interviews and discussions with Noam Chomsky with this paragraph:
Anyone following the career of Noam Chomsky is soon confronted with a problem. In fact, it has become known as the "Chomsky problem". Chomsky has achieved eminence in two very different fields, theoretical linguistics and political commentary. The "Chomsky problem" is that his approaches to these fields appear to contradict each other. In politics Chomsky is a radical, but in linguistics he takes positions that can easily be characterized as reactionary. He treats linguistics as a branch of biology. He traces language to a "Universal Grammar" resident in the physical brain. He believes that our linguistic nature is hard-wired into our genes. Because they diminish the influence of environment on human behaviour, such claims can be used to suggest that certain modes of social organization are natural and immutable. As a result, they have often been associated with conservative politics.
Leaving Chomsky aside here, I want to question the assumptions carried by the above lines. I won't deny that the way of thinking referred to by Hawkes is common: linking the belief in natural human characteristics to conservative or reactionary politics, while radicals are supposedly more attached to 'the influence of environment on human behaviour'. There are, though, at least two things wrong with treating these affinities as hard and fast.
First, the notion of a universal and relatively constant human nature can be deployed in favour of change as well as of an immutable social order. For example, in slave-owning societies, a powerful argument against slavery can be made on the basis of there being features of human nature which render being a slave onerous and unwelcome, at best, and harsh to unbearable, at worst, for nearly all human beings. Likewise, a society in which cruelties of one sort or another are regularly dealt out by the powerful against the powerless can be condemned in the light of the needs of human nature, since by and large the latter predisposes people against being on the receiving end of great cruelties.
Second, the assumption that all resistance to change is a bad thing and 'conservative' in the narrow political sense of that word is also open to question. A society which has banished the use of torture as a method of punishment and a means of securing information will not be the worse for sticking with this prohibition, but the better for it. Those seeking to reintroduce torture are to be resisted. One of the reasons torture is wrong is that, given the constraints of human nature, it is a cause of terrible, often irreparable, suffering.