Of course, I understand that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Yet, when one reads an appeal to libertarians, it seems reasonable to expect that the issues presented have something to do with libertarianism.
Recently a friend of mine sent me something written by an outspoken and reasonably well-known libertarian; I think it is fair to describe this individual as a left-libertarian. I am not comfortable offering the name of the author as the original reference is to a Facebook post; as I am not on Facebook, I cannot directly verify the source. Further, I am unable to offer a link. I suspect someone with a Facebook account can find this pretty easily.
So, why do I bother addressing this? Two reasons, I guess: first, the comment is on a topic that I have written about recently (more than once), one on which I place some value; second, it offers a case study to the question posed in the title (and clarified in my opening paragraph above).
Here is the post, in its entirety (based on the email I received):
Jordan Peterson is a huckster and charlatan and if you take him as a serious scholar you should not be taken seriously. He's a slicker, more credentialed Molyneux, and real scholars know that he is misrepresenting those he disagrees with and offering a one-sided take on the issues he's discussing.
To those libertarians, young and old, who are fans, you are hitching yourself to a doomed train. We can and should do much better than this nonsense. Find and follow real scholars who treat the left the way you'd want the left to treat you. Spit out this poison before it destroys you and the case for liberty. Seriously.
What he is not, however, is the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness. Peterson’s sole discovery is that “postmodernism” can be usefully exploited alongside the more familiar, established populist scare tactics. ...
As a description of what the “postmodern” thinkers actually wrote, it is very flawed. If all of Derrida’s and Foucault’s writing can be made to support one sweeping claim, it is not that interpretation is potentially infinite and therefore meaningless. It is that interpretation must be socially and historically contextualized in order to become meaningful. Much art that we now deem canonical—Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, for instance—would have struck nineteenth-century art patrons as incomprehensible garbage. The point is simply that artistic values are not universal but produced by historically situated communities of people.
Let’s be clear: Peterson doesn’t understand the major thinkers in the “postmodern” tradition who he libels for money. His grotesque caricature and slander of the humanities is very different from what actually happens in humanities classrooms."
Let’s examine this. First note, the appeal is to libertarians:
To those libertarians, young and old, who are fans, you are hitching yourself to a doomed train.
With this as the author’s concern, you would think that the reasons behind the attack would have something to do with the non-aggression principle. But I find nary a criticism on this basis; instead, the author offers:
Find and follow real scholars who treat the left the way you'd want the left to treat you….What he is not, however, is the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness…. As a description of what the “postmodern” thinkers actually wrote, it is very flawed….
I have no idea if Peterson’s views on post-modernist philosophy are accurate or not. But, as a libertarian, what do I care? I don’t. I don’t pay attention to Peterson because of his analysis and conclusions about post-modernism.
While offering no reason for libertarians as libertarians to reject Peterson, the author admonishes “libertarians, young and old” to:
Spit out this poison before it destroys you and the case for liberty. Seriously.
But what poison must I, as a libertarian, spit out? I receive not a clue from this rant. I might, as a historian or political philosopher or a leftist find reason to “spit out” something that Peterson offers, but why as a libertarian? Silence.
So, What’s Really Going on Here?
I cannot speak to why other libertarians have been drawn to Peterson. I can speak as to my interest.
I believe Peterson’s popularity first soared when he began his fight regarding the compelled use of gender pronouns – compelled by law.
I became aware of him some time after this, when someone pointed me to Peterson’s lectures and discussions regarding the value of culture and tradition in society, and specifically the value of western, Christian tradition. After this, I have also spent time on his gender pronoun topics.
That Peterson bases his views on his interpretation of post-modernism – whether a valid interpretation or not – is irrelevant to me as a libertarian.
I believe it is safe to say: if Peterson is well-known to a public broader than his university students and to libertarians in particular, it is for these two reasons:
1) He is against being compelled by law to use made-up words; he is against compelled speech.
2) He recognizes the value of the western tradition that has been developed and refined through the millennia.
So, why would a libertarian – as a libertarian – have a beef with these?
A libertarian should be fully supportive of Peterson’s stance on the first item. Government limitations on speech (on or while using my own property) are bad enough; government compelled speech is unbelievably horrendous.
The government is forcing you to say something. If you don’t say it, you could go to prison. This is about as anti-libertarian as it gets.
To the second point: it seems to me that as a libertarian, the most one could say is he is neutral on this matter. When it comes to traditions and norms, these are all outside of the non-aggression principle (although I believe that libertarianism can only survive and thrive in a certain cultural soil).
So, a libertarian as a libertarian would agree with Peterson on the first point, and at worst be neutral toward Peterson’s view on the second.
A leftist, on the other hand, would really despise Peterson for both points.
So, I ask: leftist or libertarian? From which perspective would one have a complaint about Peterson?
BTW, although I haven’t examined this thoroughly, I think Rothbard holds a similar view on the topic of the post-modernists as does Peterson (I may write something on Rothbard’s views at some point). Rothbard might be the primary reason that this left-libertarian is apoplectic about Peterson’s popularity with libertarians.