Thursday, November 30, 2017

Leftist or Libertarian?

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.

That’s it.

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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Foucault explained that the great danger of all political power lay in its tendency to incite ceaseless conflict. One group comes into possession of political power and immediately sets about using it to dominate another group. Take gays. Fifty years ago the ruling political class viciously persecuted gays. Government treated gay relationships as criminal. Psychiatry, in service to government, treated them as mental illness. Now gays eventually organized politically. The Stonewall rebellion of 1969 was the turning point. Gays in NYC fought back against NYPD who used to routinely terrorize and incarcerate gays. Governments savage persecution of gays incited a rebellion in New York which intensified and spread to the point that the ruling political class began to fear that its power was in jeopardy. They backed down, called off the police, and begin to make concessions to the gay community. Gays organized eventually capturing political power themselves. By now we have reached the point written about in Bionics article where the least trace of antipathy toward gays is what has become criminalized.

    The point is not at all to pick out who is good or bad. Rather wherever political power is in play there is a ceaseless struggle for its possession. One groups possession of it is only provisional, temporary. There is a brief opportunity for one group to dominate another which eventually gives way and the oppressed group wrests power away from the dominate group and becomes the new dominator. Political control does not tend toward stability and civility but just the opposite. It stumbles about crashing around going from one form of domination to the next.

    In contrast under a free market private property individual rights based society the dominator-dominated cycle of politically controlled societies disappear. This is what the libertarians are trying to tell us of which Foucault was a primary exponent.

  3. Post-modernism is the universal solvent.
    It doesn't HAVE to be used to dissolve everything. But people filled with envy and resentment (and that is what Peterson is making a point about) are highly motivated to do just that because it justifies their envy and resentment and effectively eliminates any restraint on that envy and resentments use for "social change".

  4. I don't see much in the Facebook critique, most like a lesson on fallacious argumentation. If this person had watched his biblical series or a semester of his recorded lectures in the Maps of Meaning course or Personality course, this would probably have been a much different post. Try it, you'll like it.

    1. I think it is precisely for what Peterson says in these videos that this person is attacking Peterson.

  5. >implying Jackson Pollock isn’t garbage

    I haven’t listened to or read Peterson but Pollock and Derrida are actually perfect examples of a diseased culture. Post-modernism is a radical break with tradition made possible by a degenerate cosmopolitan cultural elite. Apparently you have to believe we are living in the apex of culture and not in a pathetic decline in order to be a “serious” intellectual. Just like our 19th century betters would find Pollock to be garbage, students “educated” in the degenerate current year have no appreciation for the truly beautiful works of culture that our once high civilization produced. These people would like us to believe we have “progressed” and not degenerated, that we have benefited by trading Wagner and Bach for Jay-z and Beyoncé, Michaelangelo and Bosch for Rothko and Pollock, Dante and Shakespear for George R R Martin.

    Usually when someone defends the current year it’s because they themselves are degenerates. They know they wouldn’t have a place in a traditional order because they are perverts or mongrels. They want the world to be as ugly as they are and for that reason they hate European beauty above all else. This is the same reason they want to call a man in a dress a beautiful woman, it lowers the standards to something they can meet.

    I highly recommend E Michael Jones’ work Degenerate Moderns for a very hot take on what happened to culture in the modern era.

    1. "a diseased culture."

      Very good. There is nothing life enhancing about what is offered by the leftist agenda. It is life destroying, life demeaning, life enslaving.

      Isn't it Jay-Z that publicly parses Satan?

  6. I think academics resent someone like Peterson who is engaged with the public, making lots of money, and becoming famous for his intellect: they would like all these things for themselves, but are stuck inserting footnote #85 into their paper for the Journal Nobody Reads.

    I don't like it when Peterson veers into his own "intersections," and his econ pronouncements are a good example of a (very) little knowledge being more dangerous than none at all.

    One way to address the left libertarian question is simply to ask the the consequentialist question: would you still favor a libertarian society if in practice it yielded a greater degree of cultural conservatism? In other words, what if the state left people alone and the other bourgeois religious and family institutions came back to the fore? Would the cultural left-libertarian still want this outcome?

    1. I have searched and searched, but cannot find...I cited something once that Richman wrote - something to the effect: I will not sacrifice the cause to liberty.

      When I looked for references in his writing to "the cause" (or whatever similar term he used), it was leftist claptrap.

      I think this might answer your question.

    2. "Let’s be clear: Peterson doesn’t understand the major thinkers in the “postmodern” tradition who he libels for money."

      You cannot libel dead persons. Legally speaking. What I think is the more objectionable thing to the author is that Peterson is earning money while appealing to a willing audience. That's a dead give away that the author is a leftist, anti-property, stooge.

    3. "I will not sacrifice the cause to liberty."

      Pretty sure that was Sheldon Richman's bizarre "libertarian" argument for government-licensed gay marriage essay.

  7. I am not a fan of Peterson. I think that he has the characteristics of a hypocrite and a charlatan, even if I support some of his activities.

    I am reminded of his hypocritical and nonsensical excuse for banning Faith Goldy from from a "free speech forum" because she had given an interview to a controversial interviewer. Let me emphasize, she was interviewed by someone controversial, and that was enough to get her pushed out of a free speech forum with Peterson, the main subject of which was SPEAKER GETTING CANCELED which rather contradicts the point of such a forum. Peterson described Goldy as "too hot" (controversial) as an excuse for removing her as a speaker, something that he calls "ironic" (the correct word is "hypocritical" - you don't get to choose your own words, Peterson). Would it be ironic if Peterson was removed from his position because he is considered "too hot"? A lot of people believe him to be, and all you need is someone in authority that thinks like Peterson to remove Peterson.

    The other problem with Peterson is his refusal to engage and his strawmanning of people with different opinions, which is frankly disgusting. I do not often agree with Sam Harris, but I respect him because he habitually "steelmans" opponents, which is the opposite of strawmanning.

    1. "Fan" doesn't work. There are very few thinkers for whom this word works; most have too many flaws.

      Peterson is very good at what he is very good at; it need not be everything, but no one is very good at everything.

  8. List of publications of Peterson that are apparently not serious:Bibliography

    Peterson B. Jordan (1999). Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. Routledge. ISBN 0415922224.
    Peterson B. Jordan (2018). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Random House Canada. ISBN 0345816021.

    Journal articles

    Peterson J. B.; Rothfleisch J.; Zalazo P.; Pihl R. O. (1990). "Acute alcohol intoxication and cognitive functioning". Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 51 (2): 114–122. doi:10.15288/jsa.1990.51.114.
    Pihl R. O.; Peterson J. B.; Finn P. R. (1990). "Inherited Predisposition to Alcoholism: Characteristics of Sons of Male Alcoholics". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 99 (3): 291–301. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.99.3.291.
    Pihl R. O.; Peterson J. B.; Lau M. A. (1993). "A biosocial model of the alcohol-aggression relationship". Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement. 11: 128–139. doi:10.15288/jsas.1993.s11.128.
    Stewart S. H.; Peterson J. B.; Pihl R. O. (1995). "Anxiety sensitivity and self-reported alcohol consumption rates in university women". Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 9 (4): 283–292. doi:10.1016/0887-6185(95)00009-D.
    Peterson J. B.; Smith K. W.; Carson S. (2002). "Openness and extraversion are associated with reduced latent inhibition: replication and commentary". Personality and Individual Differences. 33 (7): 1137–1147. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00004-1.
    DeYoung C. G.; Peterson J. B.; Higgins D. M. (2002). "Higher-order factors of the Big Five predict conformity: Are there neuroses of health?". Personality and Individual Differences. 33 (4): 533–552. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(01)00171-4.
    Carson S. H.; Quilty L. C.; Peterson J. B. (2003). "Decreased Latent Inhibition Is Associated With Increased Creative Achievement in High-Functioning Individuals". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 85 (3): 499–506. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.3.499.
    DeYoung C. G.; Peterson J. B.; Higgins D. M. (2005). "Sources of openness/intellect: cognitive and neuropsychological correlates of the fifth factor of personality". Journal of Personality. 73 (5): 825–858. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00330.x.
    Carson S. H.; Quilty L. C.; Peterson J. B. (2005). "Reliability, Validity, and Factor Structure of the Creative Achievement Questionnaire". Creativity Research Journal. 17 (1): 37–50. doi:10.1207/s15326934crj1701_4.
    Mar R. A.; Oatley K.; Hirsh J. B.; Paz J. D.; Peterson J. B. (2006). "Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds". Journal of Research in Personality. 40 (5): 694–712. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2005.08.002.
    DeYoung C. G.; Quilty L. C.; Peterson J. B. (2007). "Between Facets and Domains: 10 Aspects of the Big Five". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 93 (5): 880–896. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.93.5.880.
    Mar R. A.; Oatley K.; Peterson J. B. (2009). "Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes". The European Journal of Communication Research. 34 (4): 407–429. doi:10.1515/COMM.2009.025.
    Hirsh J. B.; DeYoung C. G.; Xu X.; Peterson J. B. (2010). "Compassionate Liberals and Polite Conservatives: Associations of Agreeableness With Political Ideology and Moral Values". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 95 (2): 655–664. doi:10.1177/0146167210366854.
    Morisano D.; Hirsh J. B.; Peterson J. B.; Pihl R. O.; Shore B. M. (2010). "Setting, elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance". Journal of Applied Psychology. 36 (5): 255–264. doi:10.1037/a0018478.
    Hirsh J. B.; Mar R. A.; Peterson J. B. (2012). "Psychological Entropy: A Framework for Understanding Uncertainty-Related Anxiety". Psychological Review. 119 (2): 304–320. doi:10.1037/a0026767.

    1. Sorry to reply to my own comment, but I forgot to note that I lifeted this directly from Wikipedia. I would also like to add something about some of the reasons Peterson is getting attacked other than his defense of free speech. The first of these is that he believes that IQ is partially heritable. He has been attacked by people who frankly know nothing about the research in this area who suggest that this is pseudoscience. I have not seen any comment by Peterson on the issue of race differences in IQ, and there is no necessary connection between race differences and heritability. People on the left, however, rapidly draw the inference to Hitler from any mention of IQ heritability. They also tend to make the same kinds of inferences from personality psychology (Peterson employs the Big Five trait perspetive),their heritability, and their connection to gender differences. So Peterson is, by leftist standards a Nazi misogynist right from the starting lock. I am quite familiar with how people who come from his perspective get attacked since I am pretty close to him intellectually.

      As to his intellectual influences, they are also likely to be quite contrary to people on the left, although not necessarily conservative in the typical sense. Peterson draws heavily from C. G. Jng and his circle of scholars such as Eliade, Campbell, Kerenyi and ties these into more modern research on personality and human ethology (the latter being another field generally loathed by people on the left).

      I feel that Peterson would do well to read something like Hayek's The Fatal Conceit, where the three levels of instinct, tradition, and reason are separated. This might make him more aware of classical liberal/libertarian work that is quite convergent with much of the work what he has already done.

    2. Peterson has said on various talk shows and podcasts that he has long been a scholar of the horrors and mass murders of Communism. Whatever their precise philosophical heritage, Peterson notes that today’s left cannot tolerate someone suggesting that individual traits such as personality and intelligence are inherited because that would interfere with the leftist/Communist goal of remaking all people into the Glorious Soviet Man/Woman.

    3. True. No thing in the world can have its own form when one is attempting to create a perfect form out of the matter in which those forms are instantiated, whether the matter is psychological, economic, or physical.

      Here is an ecellent article I just found from Quillette.

    4. Sean, This is very new to youtube. It's JP answering "the Jewish Question." Here his argument is based in the "racial" (I'm still unclear on if being jewish is racial, but ethnic for sure) differences in IQ.

  9. I cannot evaluate whether or not Peterson's critique of post-modernism is sound. While I appreciate his sincerity and articulate speaking, I am ambivalent about his defense of Western civilization. On the one hand, I am inclined to agree and think that we have a lot to be grateful for, and I oppose those who dismiss many of our predecessors because they were flawed in certain respects. On the other hand, "Western civilization" is a mixed bag. There is a lot that deserves to be condemned, including much of the medical system currently cannibalizing our economy.

    1. Peterson would suggest that we build on what is good and refine or improve or eliminate what is not. He would not suggest that everything about western civilization is perfect.

      He would define good along the lines of life enhancing for the individual, for his family, for society at large, for today and for tomorrow.

      As to today's medical system, this does not seem to have roots in the best of western civilization.

    2. DSW - The western medical system excels at trauma, emergency and acute disease care. If it would stay there, it's reputation would be stellar, and it would be considered a great blessing to humanity.
      Medico-Pharma, however, has its fingers in, and makes its most money from chronic disease maintenance. The vast majority of chronic disease is self-caused, due to ignorance and mal-practice of the fundamental laws of healthful living.
      The Medico/Pharma duo steadfastly refuses to admit its addiction-enabling behaviour against a largely ignorant, unaccountable and irresponsible public... simply because that's where the money and power is. So yes, both parties - system and citizen - are complicit in this socially degenerating spiral.
      I suspect that we all prefer to live in a society of mature, self-reliant, self-determining, sovereign individuals. Virtually every aspect of the disease-maintenance 'health' care system works directly against that.
      To maintain sound mind and body, one learns and practices personal health care according to natural laws. Sound mind and body of the individual is Crucial to creating and maintaining sound culture and society. The correspondence is clear.

    3. B Dev - I quite agree. And I have heard statements by Peterson that he thinks that depressed people should consider taking advantage of anti-depressants, which I think is rarely the best choice for them. So he might view pharmaceutical medicine much more favorably than I do. I don't doubt that he has a nuanced position about what constitutes "Western Civilization". I am only familiar with so much of his work. But in general I am uncomfortable embracing such broad concepts, because I am not sure what people mean by them and they are likely to include a lot of things in that basket that I strongly disagree with.

  10. Is Jordan Peterson a huckster and charlatan? Absolutely!

    However, that does not disqualify his fight against political correctness, which is both real and laudable.

    Nevertheless, I become concerned when folks fail to see his failings in other areas, leading them to an unwitting support of Peterson's other nonsense.

    Regarding Peterson ... be careful out there.

    1. "Peterson's other nonsense"

      What exactly is this? Better to define what of his is sense, or not nonsense, and let me feel out the rest.

      I generally don't agree with him on his politics or economic views, or his constantly changing definition of "the State". But I still find a great deal of what he says valuable.

  11. The core of Peterson's message is to get your act together. Realize that you can (and likely will) do great evil if you don't get your act together. People filled with envy and resentment are people who prefer to blame others for getting their act together rather than do so themselves. Resentment and envy aren't limited to either side of the political spectrum.

    I'm unsure how this message can be so threatening. And that is how he's treated -- as a threat.

    1. "I'm unsure how this message can be so threatening."

      Maybe because it places focus on personal responsibility? This, for many on the left, is a problem philosophically.

  12. Jim and bionic --

    Just be careful.

    Marx wrote on mathematics (compiled as Mathematical Manuscripts). While his math was not always sound, the fact that he wrote it does not mean you must to discount his writings, and the associated math, as Marxist, and therefore not true.

    Conversely, just because Peterson is correct on a number of subjects, doesn't mean he is correct on all.

    My concern is that, because he is correct on a number of issues impacting libertarians and Christians, those very same folks will assume he is correct when he goes far astray, which is often.

    In other words, when Peterson appeals to the writings of Nietzsche, Freud, etc., as truth, and bases his central concepts and arguments on those writings, watch out. And do not be drawn in.

    Note: As I listen to his talks, I see him more and more as a huckster and charlatan, using his knowledge of a broad spectrum of ideas to weave claims that, if written instead of presented by him (he is a dynamic, though in a very subtle sense, speaker), would be discarded outright -- I particularly consider his Bible series as a modern version of the Emperor's New Clothes.

    I would never say I am a Petersonite, though many of his arguments on liberty, etc., are sound. And I would only recommend him to others with a strong caveat.

    1. I ignored your fist comment along these same lines because it was not addressed to me. I will not let this one pass.

      I will let Jim speak for himself, but I do not understand why you feel the need to caution me for such a simple and obvious issue.

      Have I called him Jesus Christ? Is he God speaking to Moses on the mountaintop?

      Really, I see comments such as this one as little more than intellectual showing off.

      "Not everything Peterson says is valid." Duh, like such a thing need be said about anyone.

      I wrote the two reasons I find him worth listening to; take issue with one of these two when addressing me directly.

    2. bionic --

      You really are prickly. I assume you have singlehandedly ruined a fair number of dinner parties.

      I believe you wrote this: An article where you fawn over hours of nonsensical biblical bloviating by Peterson.

      This is an example of where Peterson's defense of his liberties acts like a gateway drug to many.

      I won't say he fooled you because it's likely you wanted to be fooled. I do, though, caution others.

    3. Mosin, I was writing such things well before I knew of Peterson. Truly he must be a god to have influenced me so without my even hearing him speak.

      Yet it is true: destroy a culture and all that is left is the state. Why do you think the state works so hard to destroy culture? Do you really think they care about LGBTLMNOP? Refugees? Broken inner-city families?

      So instead of labeling me a dupe, deal with what I have written; instead of practicing your psychobabble on a person you do not know, namely me, make an argument grounded in reality.

    4. Mosin may think I'm 15 and unaccustomed to reading/listening critically. Thanks for the concern.

      It will be interesting to see if Horwitz et al come out with guns blazing against CATO since they just hosted a talk which railed (in fairly Peterson-esque manner) against the same people Peterson does.

      Betting not.

  13. Mosin,

    I've listened to much of the Maps of Meaning class from a few different years, and similarly the Personality and Its Transformations. I have a fairly good grasp on where I differ from Peterson. However, I think he's nailed several key problems with today's zeitgeist and why such a population so possessed will eagerly throw away liberty and even prosperity without much concern for what will result.

    I wish he'd sit down with someone, say Jeff Deist, who is familiar with both his work and libertarian/Austrian theory to explain why hierarchies with the characteristics of a state are less able to exhibit the key virtue he sees as necessary in a "state"/governance body -- attention. I see a fairly large opportunity for cooperation there. Peterson is already an advocate of secession from the uber-state organizations such as the EU, so the jump isn't as large as for some.

    1. Jim, Mosin replied to your earlier comment - and to mine. I chose not to publish these. For the past few months I have grown a little more strict in my comment moderation; I have decided that repeated failure to address the topic isn't worth offering real estate.

      If his future replies are on point, I will publish these. It is irrelevant to me if I am in agreement with him (or any other commenter); it is very relevant that the comment is...relevant.