One reason I find Wieseltier so interesting is that he is a staunch political liberal—he says he can’t imagine The New Republic‘s supporting a Republican candidate for president—and yet, he has been a merciless critic of the New Atheists.
His attack on Rosenberg’s new book does not come out of thin air. Rather, it reflects a consistent philosophical position that Wieseltier has been articulating for some time.
For instance, several years back he published a scathing review of Daniel Dennett’s New Atheist classic, Breaking the Spell (Viking, 2006). It was called “The God Genome,” is full of delightful jabs at Dennett’s self-importance.
At one point in the book, Dennett makes himself out to be a hero for risking martyrdom by standing up to the religious right. To which Wieseltier replies:
Giordano Bruno, with tenure at Tufts!
Best of all are some of the things he has to say about the New Atheists in a long conversation with Richard Wohlin, a distinguished intellectual historian at CUNY Graduate Center, recorded in 2010. I have embedded a video of this long, but highly stimulating conversation below (there is a handy index—the discussion of the New Atheists occurs in section #17).
Here are some of the highlights:
The new Atheists are to the liberal and skeptical tradition what the land and sea pirates of the Dark Ages were to classical civilization. It was either them or civilization. Take some comfort, if you will, from how that turned out.
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