Friday, 10 May 2013

New Atheism at Home and Abroad.

Here we find the confluence of scientism, rationalism and liberalism in its fetishism for progress, reason and freedom. Things can only get better and better, so long as we don’t let barbarous myths like religion get in the way. If we cast down the religions of the world, at the side of the road of history, we can look forward to greater freedom, pluralism and democracy. New Atheism is not exactly new. As Eagleton points out, it draws upon once vanquished grand narratives of Reason and Progress just as Western liberalism needs to rearm after the strike against it by anti-political Islamic purism.[1] By that time the world had supposedly been in a post-ideological, post-political and even post-historical age. All grand narratives could be sealed and forgotten, yet with the actions of nineteen murderers another narrative – of terror – had to be pulled open.[2] With the interventions in the Middle East came the old rhetoric of mission civilisatrice.

It was then that Christopher Hitchens decided to abandon socialism and commit himself to an aggressive secularism and an even more aggressive foreign policy. He soon found allies in biologist Richard Dawkins and, later, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. It is to their credit that neither Dawkins nor Dennett supported the invasion of Iraq. Whereas, Sam Harris argues in the event of an imminent nuclear strike by Iran the best recourse would be to compound a Holocaust. And this man has the nerve to write a book claiming that science can solve our moral dilemmas! Terry Eagleton is not wrong to view the New Atheists as the ideologists of the ‘War on Terror’. Eagleton argues that the very act of trying to close history down in 1989 is what sprung it back open in 2001.[3] On the one hand the arrogance of Western imperialism and, on the other, the ‘new enemy’ of radical Islam. The paucity of advanced capitalism was exposed to violence with no such metaphysical anaemia. All of sudden ideology was needed and with that the Bush administration reached for neoconservatism.[4]

There was a debate on the invasion of Iraq held in 2005 where Michael Parenti was called in to challenge Christopher Hitchens on his loyally pro-war position. In his opening comments, Christopher Hitchens conceded that the fall of the Berlin Wall had opened up a period of peace and prosperity, which seemed to look forward only to widening the scope of pluralism and democracy.[5] He calculates that this illusion lasted for six and a half months from New Year’s 1990. For then came the annexation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milošević had declared war on Bosnia. These events signalled that the authoritarian state-ideology was not a distant memory of a barbarous past. Then came the slaughter in Rwanda a few years later, the continuation of the Kim dynasty in North Korea, and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. All of these events made it clear, in the mind of one Hitchens, that there are still forms of totalitarianism which we must fight.

Later in God is Not Great Hitchens makes it clear that he views religious belief as inherently totalitarian in potentia to conjoin his anti-theism with his commitment to American foreign policy. The Ba’ath regime in Iraq was not a secular one precisely because it vested total authority and power in one man demanding faith from all its subjects. It then follows that the only alternative is liberal capitalism. This is why Hitchens took the view that neoliberal globalisation is a revolutionary force in the world. At one point Hitchens writes “When I was a Marxist, I did not hold my opinions as a matter of faith but I did have the conviction that a sort of unified field theory might have been discovered.”[6] He goes onto note that there is no supernatural or absolutist element in dialectical materialism, but it did have a ‘messianic’ aspect in its faith in the coming revolution, martyrs, saints, prophets, and mutually excluding papacies.

Yet the New Atheists maintain their own faith in history as Progress, that the capitalist system will inevitably bring to fruition a liberal democratic state. In Hitchens and Dawkins in particular you find this converges with a rigorous scientism. As Eagleton points out, Western liberalism is anaemic and requires more than itself to fend-off belief. This is where the need to resurrect grand narratives that had been discarded. And so Christopher Hitchens joined forces with Richard Dawkins in a bid to wage a war for reason against faith. The religions of the world are the last obstacle for Progress to circumvent. Of course, Hitchens accepted as a man who had read Freud that the religious sentiment may well be ineradicable. And what could be better than that? It’s an enemy that will always be there to justify the place of imperial America in the world. Just as the Soviet Union justified American imperialism in the Cold War.

This post was originally written for A Bigger Society.

[1] Eagleton, T; Culture and Barbarism (2008):
[2] Eagleton, T; Reason, Faith and Revolution (Yale University Press, 2008) pg.142-144
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Hitchens, C; Parenti, M; Iraq and Future US Foreign Policy (2005):
[6] Hitchens, C; God is Not Great (Atlantic Books Ltd, 2007) pg.151-152

1 comment:

mikiestar said...

Excellent, penetrating insight. You have a wonderful gift, my friend: perception. So many see but woefully few perceive. Best wishes.

Michael "mikiestar" Schweitzer
Attorney at Law (retired)
Beverly Hills, California