Daniel Pipes, nominalist

In the opening of Daniel Pipes’s reply to me at FrontPage Magazine, he criticizes my position as “essentialist” and asserts that Islam can be whatever Moslems want it to be: if they want Islam to be “moderate,” i.e., an Islam that no longer regards the Koran as authoritative, then Islam can be moderate. This reminds me of the argument advanced by arch-liberal Alan Dershowitz, in his book Chutzpah, that Judaism is whatever individual Jews (including non-believing Jewish secularists such as Dershowitz himself) say it is, and that America is whatever individual Americans say it is. It’s remarkable to see a self-described, life-long conservative such as Pipes adopting an anti-essentialist position similar to Dershowitz’s, since, if conservatism means anything as distinct from liberalism, it means that things have essences that transcend our wishes. But perhaps, according to Pipes, conservatism is also whatever conservatives say it is?

A reader’s comment on Pipes’s article registers a similar reaction:

There are moderate Muslims, but no moderate Islam.

Auster is right, Islam has an identity and it is NOT moderate. Muslims become moderate by ignoring the practice in important ways.

Pipes is wrong, Islam is not anything a Muslim says it is. Islam was defined by Muhammad. If Muslims start practicing Buddhism and calling it Islam, they would no longer be Muslims despite what they call themselves.

Pipes is correct that Auster thinks in essentials (itís called conceptual reasoning, Dan). Pipes is obviously a nominalist: words can mean anything we want them to.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 28, 2005 04:28 PM | Send

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