Artful Vacuity

Theodore Dalrymple on the mellifluous flummery of Rowan Williams.   

British intellectual life has long harbored a strain of militantly self-satisfied foolishness, and the present archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is a perfect exemplar of the tendency. In an interview with the BBC on February 7, the archbishop said that it “seems unavoidable” that some aspects of sharia, or Islamic law, would be adopted in Britain: unavoidable, presumably, in the sense in which omertà seems unavoidable in the island of Sicily…

Rarely does philosophical inanity dovetail so neatly into total ignorance of concrete social realities: it is as though the archbishop were the product of the coupling of Goldilocks and Neville Chamberlain. Those more charitably inclined point out that the archbishop is an erudite man, a professor of theology who reads in eight languages and who was addressing a highly sophisticated audience, employing nuanced, subtle, caveat-laden arguments. He was not speaking in newspaper headlines, nor did he expect to make any headlines with his remarks.

Charity is a virtue, of course, but so is clarity: and it is the latter virtue that the archbishop so signally lacks. He assumes that the benevolence of his manner will disguise the weakness of his thought, and that his opacity will be mistaken for profundity.

Over at B&W, Ophelia Benson also trawls through the verbiage.