The deep penetrating mind of Glenn Beck, and how nominalism denies the reality of Islam

Karl D. writes:

I just happened to be flipping through the channels on my TV and came across Glenn Beck on Fox News. He was commenting on the Southern pastor who just burned the Koran, the same man who threatened to burn the Koran over the ground zero Mosque. Besides calling the man crazy Beck used an analogy I never thought I would hear regarding Islam or the Koran. He said it was like the saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” In this case, it was “Books (the Koran) don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is what passes for deep penetrating insight in the mind of Beck. I don’t think I have heard anything so stupid in quite some time.

LA replies:

But really this is not an unusually stupid comment; it is a perfect expression of how the Western liberal mind, or at least the “conservative” half of the Western liberal mind, understands Islam. Western liberals cannot allow themselves to take in the fact that Islam actually exists, that Islam is an entity defined by certain unchanging characteristics and teachings, because if that were true, if Islam had an essence and this essence commands our subjugation and destruction, then we would simply have to recognize that Muslims are an eternal threat to us and deal with them accordingly. Which would bring to an end the liberal project of constructing a single harmonious world living under a single shared (democratic, American-oriented) belief system. Therefore Western liberals, including “conservatives,” insist that Islam is not an objective category or entity which requires its followers to behave a certain way, but simply a variegated collection of people who happen to share the common name “Muslims,” but beyond the common name, they share nothing essential. As a collection of people, they are just like us; some are good, some bad, some violent, some peaceful, etc. Therefore when a Muslim commits an act of jihad, he is not following the sacred commands of Islam, he is just a misbehaving individual. In short, Islam doesn’t kill people, people kill people.

This, by the way, is precisely the way John Derbyshire, a dedicated anti-intellectual who is highly regarded in some “conservative” circles, speaks about Islam.

- end of initial entry -

March 30

Daniel S. writes:

You comment reads as a brief introduction to the conflict between the philosophy of essentialism, handed down to us by Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas, and that of nominalism which traces its roots back to the medieval thinker William of Ockham. I believe this was one of the main subjects of conservative writer Richard Weaver’s book Ideas Have Consequences.

LA replies (March 30):

Yes. But if I may say so, the important thing is to understand the issue of nominalism versus essentialism and to apply it to real problems, not to keep making references to William of Ockham and Richard Weaver, which people do constantly. Nominalism is not that difficult or abstruse a concept. It is all around us. Liberals use nominalistic arguments constantly, not just with regard to Islam, but with regard to all general ideas. One does not need to be a student of medieval philosophy to understand nominalism and how it is central to and inseparable from liberalism. In fact, being a student of philosophy would probably get in the way of understanding those things, because one’s mind would be overburdened with too much knowledge about nominalism. Why was I able to sum up the nominalist approach to Islam in a single, easy-to-understand paragraph? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve never read William of Ockham or Weaver’s Ideas have Consequences.

James P. writes:

“Books don’t kill people, people kill people.”

But isn’t it funny how often that book inspires people to kill people?

Doug H. writes:

I also turned on Fox yesterday just in time to hear Beck uttering his insane comparison between gun violence and the Koran violence. I can’t stand to watch any of the talking heads on TV, even Fox. Occasionally, I stop by just long enough to reinforce the reasons why I do not watch them. You are absolutely correct in your analysis. I will give Beck credit for getting rid of Van Jones, but I think he helps in the dissemination of liberal propaganda when it comes to the interfaith baloney.

March 31

Daniel S. replies to LA:

I was not suggesting that one need to have read William of Ockham or Richard Weaver to understand the nature of nominalism or its conflict with essentialism. A lot of it is just common sense which doesn’t require a degree in philosophy. I had only wanted to comment that you had provided an excellent introduction to nominalism and its follies and had wanted to point out that, sadly, nominalism is a philosophy with deep roots in the West. For myself, I have read little of William of Ockham, and likewise, have not yet finished Weaver’s book.

LA replies:

The comment was not intended as a criticism of you. Sorry if it sounded that way. But I needed to make that point. I have to say that in all my years reading conservative publications, I’ve seen “Ideas Have Consequences” mentioned a thousand times, but not once in all those times did the writer actually discuss an idea from that book, let alone apply it to a real problem. You and I are agreement that the thing is to understand the problem of essentialism versus nominalism, and that one does not need a degree in philosophy, or even to read Richard Weaver (which, by the way, no one I know seems actually to have done) in order to do this.

Now maybe my last remark was completely unfair to Weaver. Maybe the only reason I know about nominalism is that Weaver brought the issue to the fore, and other people discussed it, and I then picked up Weaver’s ideas indirectly from them. But I have an instinctive reaction against a book which is constantly name-dropped but never actually discussed.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 29, 2011 06:09 PM | Send

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