Monday, November 14, 2022

Ordered Freedom

I will choose a path that’s clear

I will choose free will.

-          Freewill, Rush

Returning to Jordan Peterson (JP) and Peter Kreeft (PK), part four of my review of their conversation: How to Combat Hedonism

JP: Regarding the notion of free will: the universe is constituted such that it’s a greater good that evil can exist as a possibility, and that it’s a greater good that human beings have free will rather than compelled slaves.  And the downside of that is that we can freely choose evil.

Bad things happen to good people; bad people do bad things to other people.  The only way this could be avoided is if we were puppets on a string, in the hands of a god who controlled our every step, making sure nothing ever broke bad.

JP: But a world without that possibility involves pure subjugation and no choice and no voluntary assent would be a much lessor place.

When people blast God for allowing evil to exist, consider this alternative – that to be a slave.

PK (demonstrating the line which Peterson has not yet crossed):  That’s very good apologetics and theology, but it’s not yet religion.  That’s still: I am in the driver’s seat, I am making the roadmaps, I am travelling on this journey, I am making my life meaningful, and I am making my character honest.  And that’s all very good.  But that’s not yet Abrahamic theism; that’s Norse mythology.

Maybe our gods will go down in defeat, but we will go down with them.  Right is more important than might.   And that’s noble.  That’s the second-best thing in the world. 

“I am making my life meaningful.”  This is a well-known Peterson admonishment: Go do something meaningful.  But he doesn’t take the final, and necessary step.

PK: But then you have the resurrection.  Then you have the God who adds power to His goodness and His love.  But that has to come from God, not from us.

A problem since we killed Him, as Nietzsche’s madman noted.  Which explains the freefall that is certain when freewill is not aimed at man’s highest purpose, when value is not determined by something or someone outside of and above man’s reach.

JP: Nietzsche believed human beings would have to create their own values, as God was dead.  Freud believed this would be very difficult, as human beings have an intrinsic nature that is not subject to our arbitrary will. 

There is something objective in our nature, something that cannot be violated without consequence.

JP: Those values have to be discovered, not self-generated. 

“I have my truth” just doesn’t work.

JP: Plus, you just don’t live long enough.  You’re not wise enough to generate a whole system of universally applicable values out of whole cloth in the span of your trivial life.

It is fashionable to scream for diversity, inclusion and equity – to DIE.  But don’t be inclusive or equitable toward the diversity of the dead in that equation.  There is nothing to learn from them.  Those who choose not to remember the past are…condemned.

PK: In North America and in Europe we have this obsession with freedom and a misunderstanding of freedom.  We are not totally free.  Our freedom in every sense is limited; we are finite.  And we don’t like that.  We want to play god at least regarding freedom and autonomy.  That may be the biggest difference between modern western civilization and all others in world history.

There is no better freedom than being free to live according to our purpose – a purpose inherent in our design, in our being.  But our purpose limits our freedom.  We don’t like this, so we play god, as Kreeft suggests – we claim the freedom to invent our purpose, our telos, our reason for being.

Peterson then offered something that he would do in his classroom.  He would ask a student if he wanted to play a game.  The student would reply “yes.”  To which Peterson would offer: “OK.  You move first.” 

JP: That would paralyze the student.  He was now faced with a plethora of choices so utterly broad that there was no pathway forward. 

This is the freedom that people claim for themselves – the freedom of a game with no rules.  As Nietzsche’s madman offered:

Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?

The apostle Paul offered this to the Christians in Corinth:

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

We are free to make the first move – all things are lawful.  An ethic only of natural rights (the non-aggression principle) is insufficient.  In this ethic, all things (excluding aggression) are lawful.  But not all lawful things are helpful, not all lawful things build up, not all moves are helpful moves if the game is to have any meaning. 

Yes, a thin libertarianism respecting only the ethics of life and property in theory offers freedom (albeit, if ever achieved it will be short-lived).  But just as one cannot call Peterson’s game a game, one cannot call such a life a life.


Music is very tightly ordered by a system of rules.  But out of those rules comes an almost infinite array of musical expression. 

JP: With the optimal set of principles, you get the maximally desirable freedom.  It’s not freedom to do anything; it’s certainly not a hedonistic freedom. 

Just as composing by the rules of music offers both beauty and an almost infinite variety, playing by the rules offers maximum possibilities for freedom to be expressed.  Live according to the purpose for which one is created, and freedom will be properly aimed and maximized.

Is there a better definition of freedom than this?


  1. I think that is basically it. Freedom to kill yourself isn't all that valuable and doesn't result in freedom. Freedom to pursue beauty is valuable. I would even say life-giving.

    Natural rights teaches us how to identify wrong-doers and what to do with them. A good application of this is in The Ethics Of Liberty.

    But natural rights doesn't say what we SHOULD be doing. That is the place of natural law.

  2. Consider the discussion of Matt Walsh with Joe Rogan, as PVK has done. Marriage can be between any two people according to Joe, because "who does it hurt", not considering that it diminishes the institution which lives outside of any two people. Just as diminishing the definition of "woman" may not hurt any particular woman until it moves into the institutional layer and now you can have men beating women near to death in a "consensual" fight.

    1. This is a valuable point you raise. More destruction of intermediating institutions. And this means more space for the state to directly compel the individual. With fewer institutions of governance, the monopolizer will gladly fill the void.

  3. "We are free to make the first move"

    Reminds me of a Bastiat quote that I love.

    "Society is composed of men, and every man is a FREE agent. Since man is free, he can choose; since he can choose, he can err; since he can err, he can suffer. I go further: He must err and he must suffer; for his starting point is ignorance, and in his ignorance he sees before him an infinite number of unknown roads, all of which save one lead to error.” - Bastiat

    I would only amend Bastiat's quote to say that only in a state of willful exclusion of all good tradition and true Revelation would man see an infinite number of unknown roads set before him. You have to look past the natural law tradition and the history of the Church. Hopefully Peterson will stop doing this soon for his own health and for the health of all those young men and women who look to him for guidance.

    1. If Peterson would ever really focus on natural law, it would be a step in the right direction. He is intelligent enough to conclude that natural law will not have its fully-intended effect with Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who was Resurrected. But it might get him one step closer to stating that he believes this as true.

    2. That is one of the most important lessons of classical Conservatism, that we have tradition and religion to direct us to correct answers for today.