THE status of Noam Chomsky — linguist, philosopher and eternally restless political activist - has been cement-solid for some decades. One of the world’s most influential left-wing polemicists in the latter half of the 20th century, he remains so in the 21st. Movements have risen and fallen, causes have been won and lost, yet Chomsky retains a stubborn grip upon relevancy, much to the frustration of more cowardly minds. Today, the divide between his admirers and detractors is not only ironclad, but cobwebbed; debates over Chomsky’s hard-fought, invariably controversial positions elicit a sense of not unjustified deja vu, their talking points tediously familiar, their mutual disdain immovable.

Who Rules The World?, Chomsky’s latest analysis of global power and its workings, is unlikely to change that. A harsh interpretation would be that this is the latest version of a book Chomsky has been publishing his entire professional life, each iteration suitably updated to address recent events. A more forgiving view – one backed up by the weight of Chomsky’s scholarship and the resilience of his ideas – is that the conclusions he reached concerning imperial power, class war and systemic injustice at the outset of his career are as true as they ever were. There is much evidence to support this, and with a careful elegance, Who Rules The World? marshals much of it.

Not all of it, however. At the age of 87, Chomsky’s concern may be with his legacy, and it is difficult to avoid the sense that Who Rules The World? is a valiant but imperfect attempt to summarise his life’s work, laying out the central tenets of his political philosophy, demonstrated a posteriori and presented as a cohesive whole. If that is the case, then it is a qualified failure, the qualification being that it is still a powerful, passionate, insightful polemic on the most pressing issues of our time, even if there is too little room in its 300-odd pages to fully examine them.

The opening chapter, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux is emblematic of the book’s shortcomings, which are few but significant. Only those with knowledge of Chomsky’s extensive bibliography will recognise this as a follow-up to the 1967 essay in which he eviscerated the American intellectual culture that permitted Vietnam, bringing him to prominence in the process. Obviously, an academic – particularly one as furiously productive as Chomsky – is entitled, even obligated, to build on their prior work, but it does undercut the book’s ability to stand on its own.

More than that, Chomsky is sometimes so busy engaging with himself that he does not deign to consider the wider leftist discourse to which he belongs. Chomsky’s context is Chomsky. It shouldn’t be possible to discuss the responsibility of intellectuals without considering Gramsci, but somehow, with considerable nerve, Chomsky gives it a go.

Further sections of the book feel insubstantial precisely because, consciously or otherwise, they rest upon work Chomsky has already done. In those chapters dealing with Israel and Palestine, Chomsky’s arguments seem unusually hasty and occasionally risible, perhaps because he is wary of reigniting the opprobrium spurred by his refusal to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or alternatively, because he has already discussed it at far greater length in two collaborative books written with Ilan Pappé.

Nevertheless, the sections of the book that will attract the most hysterical condemnation are where Chomsky is at his strongest. His opponents have long claimed that he engages in an anti-American double-standard; Chomsky argues that the true hypocrisy resides within those who would condemn the imperialism and oligarchy of Putin’s Russia, but forgive the same injustices when they occur under American auspices, or raise arms against the spectre of terrorism while overlooking the world’s largest terrorist state.

Yet as much as Chomsky remains wary of the American hegemony, a central theme of Who Rules the World? is the largely self-inflicted decline of the United States as a world power. This gives Chomsky little cause for celebration, as it does nothing to lessen the two chief threats to life on Earth: environmental destruction and nuclear war. In describing their almost unavoidable likelihood with terrifying clarity, Chomsky is unfortunately convincing.

Both the virtue and the chief flaw of Who Rules The World? is that, should it be the first book of Chomsky you ever read, it will not be the last. Arguments begun here can only be finished elsewhere.

We know Chomsky’s ideas all too well. Where they will lead is yet to be seen.