X Close

What really happened to the New Atheists

November 4, 2019 - 4:03pm

Scott Alexander has an interesting new post on what happened to the New Atheists

I assumed that New Atheists disappeared for the same reason you don’t hear much about anti-Corn Law campaigners. Religious observance has flatlined in western Europe, is in sharp decline in the United States, while even in the Middle East non-belief appears to be rising, perhaps driven by rising literacy, internet access and revulsion at ISIS and other Islamist groups.

Google Trends: searches for ‘new atheism’

But a political movement — and especially one filled with as much energy and righteous anger as New Atheism — doesn’t just disappear. All that kinetic force has to go somewhere, to fight someone, and so the “Blue Tribe”, as Alexander calls them, turned to social justice:

As it took its first baby steps, the Blue Tribe started asking itself “Who am I? What defines me?”, trying to figure out how it conceived of itself. New Atheism had an answer – “You are the people who aren’t blinded by fundamentalism” – and for a while the tribe toyed with accepting it. During the Bush administration, with all its struggles over Radical Islam and Intelligent Design and Faith-Based Charity, this seemed like it might be a reasonable answer. The atheist movement and the network of journalists /academics /pundits /operatives who made up the tribe’s core started drifting closer together…

Between 2008 and 2016, two things happened. First, Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush as president. Second, the Ferguson shooting. The Blue Tribe kept posing its same identity question: “Who am I? What defines me?”, and now Black Lives Matter gave them an answer they liked better “You are the people who aren’t blinded by sexism and racism.”

- Scott Alexander

This ties in with the huge radicalisation among educated white American liberals that has occurred since 2013/2014, a change chronicled by Zach Goldberg in this analysis.

This also has some parallels in Britain, where since 2016 our own “Blue Tribe” has rapidly developed out of nowhere. Lots of houses near me now sport an EU flag in their window, something that would have been surreal four years ago, but has since become associated with Britain’s very own blue tribe.

British people sporting that flag aren’t really identifying themselves with “Europe”, in any meaningful sense; they’re signalling their support for internationalism and opposition to nationalism and bigotry, and yet while Blue Tribalism looks to a world beyond borders, it signals new divisions within them.

We still obsess about the dangers of nationalism, because we’re scarred by 1914-1945 when nationalism led to inter-state conflict, but that form of warfare has been in sharp decline since then. As Paul Morland noted in his book on demography, whereas in the 1950s half of the world’s conflicts were within states, by the 1990s six out of seven were. Getting on with people across the border isn’t actually that hard; getting on with people you share the political system with is far more of a challenge.

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable


Join the discussion

Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber

To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments