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Who’s Afraid Of Jordan Peterson?

Michael Aaron’s article of June 8th, “Evergreen State and the Battle for Modernity” wasted no time honing in on the central problem driving the current climate on many of university campuses – the conflict between modernism and postmodernism, and the beliefs, attitudes and behavior that they spawn (among faculty and students alike.) My only complaint with Aaron’s article is that he only lists instances of on-campus shenanigans in the United States. Meanwhile, to the North, similar events and debates are unfolding, causing national newspapers – The Globe and Mail and The National Post – to take note.

At the center of many of these campus controversies is Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, whose outspoken views on Marxism, postmodernism, and the use of gendered pronouns in the classroom have provoked the ire of many social justice warriors across Canada. Indeed, his ideas have been labelled “hate speech” by many who do not share his views, and – depending on who you talk to – he may be in danger of losing his job. Meanwhile, activists’ efforts to silence Professor Peterson, or to disrupt his on-campus talks – by incessant heckling, the use of bull horns and air sirens, etc. ­– are worrisome and reprehensible.

Why? The primary motivation for the demonization, dismissal, and harassment of Professor Peterson appears to be fear, plain and simple. People who conduct themselves in this fashion feel menaced when the validity of their own perspective is challenged, and cannot – or will not – muster cogent arguments in their defense, abandoning basic norms of civil discourse. Beyond that, their actions betray a fundamental unwillingness to simply engage with him and his ideas in the spirit of genuine, respectful dialogue. If these kinds of bullying tactics escalate or continue unchecked, they pose a threat to freedom of speech, and by implication, to academic freedom in Canadian universities.

Before we say more about freedom of speech on campus, what is the prevailing ideology in the humanities and social sciences? According to Professor Peterson, it is an insidious blend of Marxism, feminism, and postmodernism. In several of his recorded lectures, broadcasts, and interviews, Professor Peterson even claims that postmodernism is merely the latest incarnation of Marxism – a claim that would surprise and offend many postmodernists, and indeed, many Marxists, too. Rightly or wrongly, most Marxists subscribe to a materialist epistemology that postmodernists reject unequivocally as obsolete and reductionist. And by contrast with Marxists, who stress the formative role of labor in the ontology of social relations, postmodernists stress the primacy of language as the key to understanding human culture and development.

Moreover, with rare exceptions, postmodernists are wary or dismissive of any concept of human nature. By contrast, Marx claimed that “man makes himself in the process of his own history,” i.e. that human nature is formed and transformed through collective human agency or praxis over the course of time. Moreover, rightly or wrongly, most Marxists believe that human history and the development of human culture have a built-in telos, or goal – the eventual creation of a classless society. Postmodernists make no such claims, and tend to regard the very notion of progress (or any kind of telos in history) as nothing more than an urban myth.

But if postmodernism is not an outgrowth of Marxism, as Peterson claims, then what is it? Strictly speaking, postmodernism is merely one of many trends in Continental philosophy that migrated to our shores in the late 1970s and 1980s, including structuralism and post-structuralism, deconstructionism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, rightly or wrongly, all of these theoretical approaches are subsumed under the label of “postmodernism” nowadays. And though different, in some ways, they do share some common characteristics.

Unlike modernism, with its characteristic emphasis on selfhood, singularity, authenticity, and personal agency – modernist themes which are still very dear to Professor Peterson’s heart – postmodern thinkers emphasize the social construction and social embeddedness of all individual identities, and the role of difference and “otherization”, which render the experience of the other opaque, or incommunicable to those who do not share their (culturally and linguistically constructed) window on the world. And whereas modernism is committed to some notion of objective truth, postmodern thinkers frequently question the existence of any truth-claim free of an underlying ideological coloration or agenda. It also questions or deconstructs all “grand” or “master narratives” that attempt to impart a sense of coherence to the world, to experience, or even to a literary text by stressing the ambiguities of language, and the elements of radical contingency, heterogeneity, and discontinuity that characterize human existence.

During the last quarter of the 20th century, academics and students embraced postmodernism with considerable fervor, prompting some conservative commentators to suggest that the precipitous decline of the Liberal Arts (in terms of enrollment and power) in recent decades is linked to the ascendancy of postmodern theory. In an article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Truth About Harvard,” Ross Douthat, a well known conservative columnist, even suggested that the popularity of postmodernism in the Liberal Arts was abetted by a species of scholarly ressentiment, an unwitting “inferiority complex” that seeks “to justify academic life in the face of the fantastic accumulation of wealth that takes place outside the ivory tower.” Douthat described postmodernism as a misguided attempt to match the rigor of the natural sciences in domains that resist such regimentation, or succumb to it only by collapsing into sterile and self-serving arguments that only highly trained specialists can appreciate or understand. He openly deplored the:

. . . decades-long wade in the marshes of postmodern academic theory, where canons are scorned, books exist only as texts to be deconstructed, and willfully obscure writing is championed over accessible prose. All this has merely reinforced capitalism’s insistence that the sciences are the only important academic pursuits, because only they provide tangible, quantifiable (and potentially profitable) results. Far from making the humanities scientific, postmodernism has made them irrelevant.

No doubt, some will cringe at the sweeping severity of this dismissal. But they would be foolish to ignore it completely. The fact that the rise of postmodernism and the decline of the Liberal Arts coincide in time cannot be pure coincidence. Of course, there are other powerful cultural and economic forces that have contributed mightily to the decline of the humanities and social sciences, and the galloping enfeeblement of our dwindling professoriate – neoliberalism and consumerism chief among them. Douthat (and other conservative commentators) tend to ignore these.

Why does this matter? Well, talk of strange bed-fellows, but consumerism and postmodernism often join forces in unexpected ways. For example, in the postmodern lexicon, words like “reason”, “autonomy”, and “personal responsibility” do not denote normative ideals worth striving for, even in the context of post-secondary education. For many fashionable and avant garde thinkers (and their followers), these are merely weasel words, ripe for deconstruction – sliding signifiers that are invoked in an inconsistent and/or opportunistic fashion to legitimate a normative standard or set of social relations that is hopelessly dated or repressive.

This kind of word-play gains a lot of traction in a consumer society, where actively engaged citizens have gradually given way to passive consumers – young people who view education as a kind of intangible commodity that they (or their parents) purchase to increase their future earning power, rather than a demanding process of acquiring (or imparting) wisdom, or deepening their powers of judgment and ethical decision. On the contrary, many students prefer to remain eternal sucklings. They long to be soothed and entertained while they are learning. They loathe hard work and are afraid to be deeply, fundamentally challenged by ideas and perspectives outside their “comfort zones”, whether these “comfort zones” are politically correct, on the one hand, or politically conservative, on the other.

The cumulative impact of this unholy alliance is impossible to quantify, but it is a factor to be reckoned with, because the logic of the market place has thoroughly debased the theory and practice of university life. As a result, administrations nowadays often treat students as their customers, and treat tenured professors as service workers, who are expected to present their customers with a package of “goods” designed to their needs and specifications. And if the customers’ needs and specifications require professors to set aside our own standards and personal convictions – well, so be it. The customer is always right – no?

As a result, in the context of the postmodern university, students can often decide the fate of an unpopular professor. So, if transgender or gender-fluid students wish to be addressed with newly minted pronouns such as “zer”, “zee” or “zem” (among many, many others currently being mooted), or to change their pronouns of choice whenever they feel like it, it is up to us professors to accommodate their wishes. The reason offered for this demand is that we have a collective obligation to address, and as far as possible, to mitigate or erase, the discrimination such students face, and that we professors have an obligation to be constantly mindful of their feelings of victimization.

This sounds good, on the face of it. But in acceding to such demands, we are also constraining freedom of speech and diminishing political diversity in the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, by rendering our campuses completely inhospitable to conservatives, a process which both reflects and reinforces the political polarization that is paralyzing our political systems, and empowering extremists on both sides of the political spectrum to avoid genuine dialogue, and inhabit their respective “echo chambers.”

Jordan Peterson

Professor Peterson’s case is notable because he simply won’t bend to these pressures. Instead, he confronts them head on, preaching a gospel of life-long self-development (or self-authorship), personal transformation, and individual responsibility that stands in marked contrast to both the postmodern and marketing/consumerist sensibilities that prevail on contemporary campuses. He is an unusual guru. He counsels them to face the fact that life entails much suffering, and that inner and interpersonal conflict are inevitable – not the kind of thing most “satisfied customers” want to hear. He urges millennials to aspire to “the good” (which he defines in a quasi-Platonic fashion), and to change themselves before they seek to change the world, and to recover and renew, rather than reject, the traditions of their fathers.

Much as I admire his moral courage, it is instructive to note that mothers don’t play a big role in Professor Peterson’s concept of “cultural traditions,” or in the mythic motifs and literary figures he celebrates in his books and talks, which are all available on YouTube. Indeed, in one lecture, Professor Peterson provides his millennial admirers with his own personal pantheon, telling them that they must read Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, J.S. Mill, Nietzsche, Orwell, Huxley, and Solhzenitsyn if they wish to avoid becoming mere puppets to prevailing trends in academia. Now, there is nothing wrong with any of these recommended writers. But apparently, there are no female thinkers of comparable stature who are required reading for aspiring Petersonians. Here, and elsewhere, Peterson conveys the distinct the impression that, like a latter day Socrates, he is much more interested in engaging with young men, rather than young women. Indeed, young men comprise the majority of his vast (and growing) online following.

Now, one unfortunate feature of Peterson’s pitch to young people is that he promotes his attitudes and ideas as an antidote to “ideology.” Ideology is a dirty word in his vocabulary, which denotes a lack of judgment, autonomy, and commitment to truth. But a moment’s reflection discloses that most of his ideas and arguments – self-authorship and self-transformation, as opposed to social change, reviving rather than rejecting our father’s ideals, etc. – are actually rooted in conservative ideology.

In so saying, I am not using the word “ideology” in the same pejorative way that Peterson typically does. On the contrary, I am using it to denote a (relatively) cohesive pattern of values and attitudes that shape a person’s sense of identity and perspectives on society. And when I say that Peterson is conservative, I do not mean that he embraces the mean-spirited, exclusionary or egregiously selfish conservatism of American fundamentalists or free market enthusiasts, who proclaim – against all the evidence and plain common sense – that unfettered capitalism and Christianity are intrinsically compatible, if not two sides of the same coin.

No, though he does get much support from people like these, the conservative ideology in which Peterson’s pedagogy is rooted is the old fashioned, humane conservatism of Europe before the Great War, which fostered a culture of scholarship and artistic excellence embodied, for example, in the life and work of Peterson’s favorite psychologist, Carl Jung (1875-1961). Yet sadly, for all his erudition and astonishing artistic creativity, Carl Jung did not just embody the positive features of the older, European-style conservatism, but its negative features as well. As most contemporary Jungians (and “post-Jungians”) freely concede nowadays, on the “shadow” side of Jung’s psychology are racist and sexist attitudes that ran miles deep, and did considerable damage in their day. Reading Jung’s collected works – as Peterson has – won’t necessarily alert you to these problems or defects.

Another intriguing oddity, on reflection, is Peterson’s simultaneous reliance on English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and his younger German contemporary Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Why? Though Peterson studiously ignores this issue, Nietzsche was a fierce and outspoken apologist and advocate for slavery, while Mill was opposed to slavery with equal fervor. (Without mentioning him by name, Nietzsche’s introduction to The Genealogy of Morals offers a scathing critique of Mill and other unnamed “English psychologists” for his utilitarianism and his a-historical approach to social psychology.) While I don’t share his utilitarian philosophy, I deeply admire Mill’s opposition to slavery and his passionate defense of free speech. Mill’s writings on this score are absolutely central to the defense of civil liberties and academic freedom, prompting the reflection that the activists who disrupt Professor Peterson’s public talks are either ignorant of or indifferent to Mill’s ideas, or are just extremely illiberal, and intolerant of opposing points of view.

In addition to these striking contradictions, Peterson conveniently ignores the fact that Nietzsche, rather than Marx, was the founding father of postmodernism. Indeed, Foucault, Derrida, Judith Butler and many other postmodern notables all sing Nietzsche’s praises, and quote or paraphrase him frequently. To put all this in context, please remember that one of the striking things about the Western intellectual tradition is the way that religion and science typically converge in their conviction that “the truth shall make you free.” Of course, religion and science also diverge mightily in how they define truth, and the methods that they recommend for ascertaining it. But the fact remains that up until very recently, we considered one of the hallmarks of a good education, scientific or religious, to be a truth-loving (or truth-seeking) disposition.

Nowadays? Well, no, not so much. The educational goal of fostering a truth-loving and truth seeking disposition – which is central to Peterson’s pedagogy – has been called into question by postmodernism, and the grandfather of all the recent “isms” that “problematize” or deny the existence of truth was none other than Friederich Nietzsche. Toward the end of his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche invoked the Kant’s critical philosophy and Schopenhauer’s florid irrationalism in an effort to discredit modern science completely. And later, in The Genealogy of Morals (section 24), Nietzsche took this line of argument further, citing the medieval Muslim Society of Assassins, whose motto was: “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” Nietzsche obviously thought that the assassins’ creed was quite profound, because he then went on to say. “Here we have real freedom, for the notion of truth itself has been disposed of.”

Here, then, was a radical departure in the history of Western thought. Prior to this point, most philosophers, scientists and educators believed in the emancipatory power of truth; the idea that truth, once grasped fully, can liberate us from the shackles or ignorance and oppression. The flip-side of that belief, of course, is that lies and illusions – what Peterson calls “ideology” – enslave us, because they clutter or obstruct our vision, and must be cleared away before we can live and act in accordance with the truth. That is certainly Peterson’s view. But Nietzsche described truth, or more precisely, the “notion of truth” as an obstacle to freedom, rather than its vital pre-condition. Indeed, Nietzsche used his critique of science – which foreshadows postmodern obscurantism on this subject – to underwrite an ethical relativism which declares, in effect, that “anything goes.” Obviously, this too runs directly contrary to Peterson’s pedagogical ethos, which stresses the need for self-discipline and the diminution of unnecessary human suffering.

What is the upshot of this analysis? Well, several things spring to mind. Borrowing from Jonathan Haidt, Peterson tells his audiences that universities can have only one telos, and that ultimately, they must choose between a “social justice university” and a “truth university” – the former being devoted to the pursuit of social justice, the latter to the (more traditional) goal of seeking truth. And on reflection, no doubt, Nietzsche would consider a “social justice university” to be an abomination. Given the opportunity, he would probably re-cycle his arguments from The Genealogy of Morals, and argue that beneath all their rhetoric about equality, social justice warriors are really motivated by rancor; a vindictive tendency to devalue or demonize others who are more powerful, privileged, and accomplished than themselves, and a need to invent new vocabularies and hone new rhetorical strategies to achieve their collectivist goals – all at the expense of the aristocrat, the rugged individualist, who would become an outcast in their midst.

But would Nietzsche have supported a “truth university”? Only if he were as inconsistent as Peterson himself. Consider – if “nothing is true”, and the notion of truth is an obstacle to freedom, rather than its necessary precondition how can a “truth university” possibly flourish without extensive reliance on deception, self-deception, and plenty of false advertising? If you take him at his word, both of Haidt’s models of the university are equally untenable, from a Nietzschean perspective.

With that said, Haidt’s arguments, while persuasive, up to a point, really present us with a false dichotomy. Granted, as Peterson points out, the belief that we should devote ourselves to the disinterested pursuit of truth is codified in the mottos, emblems, and insignia of many venerable universities. And yes, we should honor these traditions and values, postmodernism notwithstanding. But it is also true that these mottos were first articulated and embraced when many of these universities were bastions of white male privilege. Indeed, many were involved in the slave trade and disqualified women from getting a post-secondary education. These deeply discriminatory practices were justified by invoking some patent untruths – namely, the fiercely held beliefs that non-whites and women are intellectually inferior to white men, or somehow unsuited or undeserving of a university education.

Fickle and flawed as they may be, universities nowadays are much, much better and more inclusive places than they were in John Stuart Mill’s day. And why are they better? Because “social justice warriors” of bygone days challenged the untruths that riddled these ostensibly truth-loving universities, and which were used to rationalize and justify blatantly discriminatory practices. Moreover, it is worth noting here that Mill, the passionate defender of freedom of speech, was not only opposed to slavery, but was arguably the first male feminist. (Peterson, by contrast regards male feminists with suspicion and contempt.) When you reflect on Mill’s life and example, and the ways in which universities have changed for the better since his time, it dawns on you that the attempt to force a choice between a “social justice university” and a “truth university” is untenable, in the long run. In order for universities to be viable, we need to uphold and embrace both models of university life, recognizing all the while that the values that they represent will always exist in a state of dynamic tension with one another, and will often come into conflict as a result.

Meanwhile, concerted effort to hound conservatives out of the humanities and social sciences, thereby reducing political diversity on our campuses, is not the way forward, and not the way to manage or negotiate the conflicts that will inevitably arise as we try to balance our loyalties to these two laudable ideals. On the contrary, this kind of collective performance, repeated often enough, will only deepen the culture wars that threaten to tear our culture completely apart. Moreover, as Bret Weinstein’s case illustrates all to clearly, it is only a matter of time before the mob turns its wrath on progressives who stick to the modernist world view.

So, to any and all professors who cheer the more extreme student activists on I say, not only is it unfair, unreasonable, and deeply disrespectful to carry on this way. It is not even in our own best interest to do so, because conflicts like these afford men like Peterson the opportunities to pose as martyrs or culture heroes, providing ammunition for right-wing cultural warriors – like Margaret Thatcher and Donald Trump, for example – who will use their political capital to hobble and shrink the humanities and social sciences even further. In other words, if we tolerate or encourage this kind of nonsense, we are really digging our own graves.

While many of his ideas and assertions are not new, or even consistent with a closer reading of the texts and thinkers he praises for their courage (or blames for our ills), Professor Peterson’s ideas and attitudes are not so far beyond the pale that they justify the shabby treatment he’s received at the University of Toronto or McMaster University in nearby Hamilton, Ontario. If students find his attitudes and opinions worrisome or offensive, let them learn to tolerate their own discomfort better, and engage with Professor Peterson (and others like him) in civil discourse, rather than rants and abuse.

Daniel Burston

Daniel Burston

Dr. Daniel Burston is a Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University (Pittsburgh).
Daniel Burston

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Dr. Daniel Burston is a Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University (Pittsburgh).


  1. kurtzs says

    I strongly support contingent, probabilistic ‘truths’ [not absolutes] over PC, and am grateful for Quillette for this article. Thanks also to Burston for an evenhanded piece.

  2. I’m a little confused. Did you say that because Peterson advises people to read Nietzsche, and yet his thinking is not perfectly in line with all of Nietzsche’s writings, then Peterson is inconsistent? Is that the extent of his inconsistency?

    • Alth1987 says

      No, he is saying that Peterson is as inconsistent as the Post Modernists in his views on Nietzsche. Nietzsche was complex, and that shines through when you see Peterson using him as a defence of modernism and pro-theism, Post-Modernists using him to reject modernism, and Atheists using him to reject theism.

      All groups are selectively picking parts of his writings. So all are inconsistent.

    • Michael says

      That’s a reasonable question – you can exhort someone to read an author and not agree with all of that author’s views.

      For example, Orwell was a socialist, remained so until his death, yet Peterson recommends that young people read his works, while Peterson is avowedly anti-socialist.

    • Daniel Burston says

      H m m m . . . No, actually. I did not say that. What I said is that Nietzsche is the 19th century precursor to postmodernism – a fact that many postmodern thinkers freely acknowledge and embrace. Peterson conveniently ignores this fact, and (mistakenly) blames Marx for postmodernism instead.

      Thanks for your question!

  3. Lady Darling says

    Peterson acquired his knowledge of Postmodern philosophy not from the original sources, but from a sloppily-reasoned book by Hicks that lumps together disparate thinkers from disparate disciplines (architecture, philosophy, etc) and calls it all an ideology. A kid with an undergraduate degree in philosophy from U of T could refute Peterson’s claims in a heartbeat.

    Love how all of these psychology professors are suddenly weighing in as specialists in and naysayers of Postmodern philosophical thought, not realizing that they themselves are… Postmodern thinkers.

    This guy offers an erudite and well-argued breakdown of what Peterson gets wrong about Postmodernism:

    • Proof that postmodernism is a religion among its adherents is that their defences of irrationality echo those traditional godbotherers throw at atheists.

      Peterson acquired his knowledge of Postmodern philosophy not from the original sources, but from a sloppily-reasoned book

      You can’t understand Derrida unless you’ve read the original text – just like you can’t understand the Quran unless you’ve read it in Arabic. There’s always some obscure text critics haven’t read so you can dismiss their broader arguments as ignorant.

      Love how all of these psychology professors are suddenly weighing in as specialists in and naysayers of Postmodern philosophical thought, not realizing that they themselves are… Postmodern thinkers.

      Yeah, and atheism is just another religion. And science is a belief system too.

      • joe says

        To call science a belief system, clearly demonstrates you don’t know what science is. Sadly this is the kind of stupid comments that are all too common in social sciences and the humanities which have clearly become completely irrelevant and intellectually vacuous.

        • To call science a belief system, clearly demonstrates you don’t know what science is.

          And you clearly don’t understand sarcasm. Practice your reading skills by reading the whole of my comment and you might notice I was attacking postmodernism as a religion.

          I’ll make it easier by repeating my opening sentence:

          Proof that postmodernism is a religion among its adherents is that their defences of irrationality echo those traditional godbotherers throw at atheists.

      • Lady Darling says

        Postmodernism isn’t a belief system. It’s the period after WWI/WWII – including now! – that encapsulates decades of thought from, as I said, disparate thinkers from disparate disciplines.

        To use your example, I didn’t argue to “read the Quran in Arabic” but to “read the Quran.” If you want to shit on postmodern philosophy, at least have the faculty to get it from the horse’s mouth. You know, think for yourself. It’s all available in English.

        In fact, if you boned up on some basic philosophy yourself you may find that your arguments will actually become logical.

        • If you want to shit on postmodern philosophy, at least have the faculty to get it from the horse’s mouth

          It’s not the mouth it issues from.

    • Daniel Burston says

      Granted, Peterson’s “knowledge” of postmodernism is pretty thin. But you appear to be lumping me and Peterson in the same category of . . . Postmodernism? Really?

      Regardless of what you think of Peterson, I think I’ve made it clear that I am not a postmodern thinker, and that there is a considerable difference between myself and Peterson – and Jonathan Haidt. If you just prefer to ignore those differences, that is your prerogative.

      • Lady Darling says

        I liked a lot your arguments: Peterson’s conservative bent; distinctions b/t PoMo and Marxism that Peterson doesn’t appear to grasp, etc etc. A very good response to Peterson overall and it was unfair to ignore the considerable differences between you.

        Peterson has been loud and arrogant about the evil cast of Postmodernism on contemporary thought and I expect better of him. We all should. He’s an academic, which you know means that his bar for raining down criticism on any another discipline is especially high. So when I see him waxing omniscient about Foucault and Derrida without citing any of their actual arguments or engaging in their actual ideas, it sticks in my craw that his cursory-of -cursoriest knowledge passes for expertise, erudition, cogency.

        There are other things I’m with him on, but in this case his lack of clarity is crapping in the pond of the public sphere. He’s supremely confused.

        But you are not. As for whether or not you yourself are a postmodern thinker, well, if you believe that it’s possible for paradoxes to exist in reality, then I’m sorry to say: you’re postmodern 😉

        • Daniel Burston says

          H m m m . . . Yes, reality is sometimes paradoxical, as opposed to being merely contradictory (on the surface, anyway.) But that is an odd definition of a postmodern thinker. Can you back it up?

    • Doug says

      I agree with you, Lady Darling. I’ve been doing some research about postmodernism lately, and though I am no expert myself, I now know enough to see that Peterson misrepresents postmodernism in itself and the nature of the supposed connection between the liberal-left and postmodernism.

      I also get your point that “these psychology professors…weighing in as specialists in and naysayers of Postmodern philosophical thought” are themselves “Postmodern thinkers.” I’m neither a psychology professor nor a Postmodern philosopher, but I can see that my own efforts to come to a stable and consistent worldview are subject to “the postmodern condition” of irreducible complexity and fragmented awareness. The explosion of contradictory information on the Internet, even concerning seemingly straightforward scientific questions, has heightened the kind of epistemologically problematic state described by some of the Postmodernists. I’m not prepared to say that there is “no objective truth,” but neither am I confident of my own ability to get at it.

      I believe some of the Postmodern thinkers can teach a useful lesson about “epistemological modesty.” I also believe that Peterson himself is need of that lesson, considering the way he sets himself up as the judge of entire university disciplines and fields of study beyond his own narrow range of academic expertise.

  4. ASF says

    You state “[f]ickle and flawed as they may be, universities nowadays are much, much better and more inclusive places than they were in John Stuart Mill’s day.” You then go on to explain that the universities are better because ““social justice warriors” of bygone days challenged the untruths that riddled these ostensibly truth-loving universities, and which were used to rationalize and justify blatantly discriminatory practices.”

    However, your explanation largely goes to the “more inclusive” prong rather than the “much, much better” prong of the improvement of universities. That is not surprising, because the implicit argument in this essay is that this is the most important factor for you. It is definitely good that universities today are more inclusive. Notwithstanding the greater inclusiveness of modern universities, how are they “much, much better?” It’s not clear to me that they are, if you strip away improvements in access to information and new technology that are otherwise available outside of the university setting.

    • Daniel Burston says

      I like your comment! And yes, saying that contemporary universities are “much, much better” now than formerly begs the question – better in what ways? Based on what evidence?

      And yes, I do lean somewhat toward a more inclusive, social justice perspective here. But on reflection,I got carried away. If someone were to trash the “Truth University” perspective I’d be equally emphatic in the opposite direction. I really do believe that both are equally necessary – and inevitably at odds with each other, sometimes; that university administrators should be mindful of the competing claims and priorities of both camps and favor neither.

      • Sarka says

        This is usually such a Punch and Judy sort of topic that it is refreshing to read your less partisan piece. On the question of the “Social Justice Warriors” of the past, though – the progressive liberals who supported the rights of women and religious or racial-ethnic minorities to become part of the university community, I am not sure that they have enough in common with today’s SJW for your argument to be solid.
        You suggest a conflict between Peterson as a “humane old-fashioned conservative” of pre-WW1 (sic!) type and SJWs as embodying a sort of enduring tendency-impulse of progressive type – manifest now in the no-platforming of anyone who by any stretch can be called a “transphobe” or a “racist” or an “Islamophobe” etc etc…but somehow equivalent to those who in the past employed then progressive arguments in favour of admission of women, or non-members of the established church, or in the US black people, to higher education institutions. Well – I suppose one might diagnose some vague “urge to justice” or “inclusivity” (is that the same thing?) in both, but actually, the strategy of the earlier progressives was to appeal to universal standards of argument and evidence to underpin (more) universal rights, precisely engaging the fuddy-duddies or nasties in debate on common terms and not to play what seems the later (and strangely totalitarian-inspired) “post-modern” game of concern not with the game itself but with disqualification from the game, so opponents never need be engaged.
        Now, I’m not sure what exactly you are thinking of when you speak of pre-WW1 “humane conservatives” – I think a pre-WW1 conservative is not something even a modern liberal conservative can easily imagine! Certainly, in my view, a pre-WW1 conservative would have excoriated both J.S. Mill and F. Nietzsche and so a person who likes both very much, even without agreeing with all they might say, is unlikely to fit that in any case archaic definition…No, if we are going to get “historical” with our characterisations of Peterson and others of his ilk, then if I were to use the word “conservative” at all it would merely be as an adjective set before “liberal” (anglo and European not US sense), and in fact I would be reluctant to use it at all, but for the fact that one of the tactics of the damn dim but ever-present SJWs is to define almost everyone but themselves as “conservative”, or – more explicitly “far right” – using these terms as magic swear words not in any remotely academic sense as having more than “boo!” content.
        No – except in relation to women, where your observations are spot on, but then again we might consider that loads of “progressives” have been a bit iffy on feminism, not just conservatives – I would call Peterson…old fashioned modern liberal academic. And only “old fashioned”, thus “conservative” because those SJW, or post-modernist or whatever persons have come to regard being genuinely liberal, or a genuine academic, as effing reactionary and unsupportable…

        • Daniel Burston says


          A very interesting response! And yes, you – and others who’ve responded to me on this point – are quite right to differentiate between the SJW’s of today, with their whiny, infantile no platforming tactics, and the attitudes and tactics of social activists of bygone eras, whose rhetoric (and methods) stressed universal norms of decency and common sense, and were actually quite different.

          But one cannot say everything at once. As a result, sometimes, we grope for shorthand expressions and end up muddying the waters. (Apologies.)

          You are quite right. Peterson’s ideas do show a strong affinity with classical liberalism – which, of course, to many contemporary “liberals” nowadays, makes him a “conservative.” (I am not tone deaf. I gladly grant you that. This kind of political slight of hand and code changing has been going on since the 80’s at least. But nowadays, many of these “classic” liberals have also embraced a kind of “free market fundamentalism” that willfully ignores the damage wrought by unregulated capitalist markets on universities and the cultural at large – a trend which Trump, in his archaic way, is trying to revive.

          Unless I am mistaken – and yes, of course, I may be, nonetheless- Peterson is not that kind of liberal. Have you read Robert Ellwood’s brilliant study *The Politics of Myth*, published in the 1990’s? It explores the political roots and ramifications of the ideas of C.G.Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell, and describes the kind of humane (European) conservatism that informed Jung’s (life long) study of myth and fairy tales; a study that Peterson obviously shares. (And btw, I recommend his interpretation of Pinochio, which despite our differences on other scores, strikes me as entirely sound.) Unless I am very much mistaken, the closest analogue to these venerable European mythographers in the Anglo-sphere (which Canadians like Peterson and myself would understand) are conservatives like Edmund Burke and John Ruskin (for example.) So it is not just the effing SJWs’ fault that he appears conservative. So on reflection, he is both “conservative” and “liberal” – though in neither case, in the ways these words are habitually used today.

          I’ll stop here for now.

          Many thanks.


  5. Chris says

    Saying that Petersen is beyond the pale – though generously only just beyond it – is a weird way to conclude. It’s also wrong to condemn him for having a masculine focus when it’s an ideology denying the reality of sexual characteristics that has tried to bring him down, an attempt which clearly resonates with young men.
    Afaics he’s attempting to stand at the side of Nietzsche, to take a look at the disastrous century that he foresaw, and to see how intellectual history might be rerun in another direction. This is truly a grand project

    • Daniel Burston says

      Apologies! I got carried away. Peterson is not actually “beyond the pale” – though he is seriously mistaken in some of his basic assumptions, and has a somewhat oversimplified take on several of his favorite thinkers – Mill and Nietzsche being merely two examples.

      • Daniel Burston says

        Permit me a further clarification! Saying Peterson “. . . is not so far beyond the pale . . .” was merely a figure of speech intended to conjure up the image many of his severest critics have of him. He is definitely not beyond the pale, and we should not be trying to hound conservatives like him out of the humanities and social sciences.

  6. Now, there is nothing wrong with any of these recommended writers. But apparently, there are no female thinkers of comparable stature who are required reading for aspiring Petersonians.

    You don’t name any yourself. Maybe you could suggest some?

    In criticising Peterson for his narrow focus you seem to be misunderstanding the concept of viewpoint diversity.

    The point isn’t that each speaker, in challenging Leftist orthodoxy, is obliged to consider every other opposing point of view, but that individual speakers are permitted to voice their own point of view.

    Peterson has taken the Jungian route. If there are speakers influenced by non-Pomo forms of feminism and who wish to promote those ideas, that’s their job.

    The last thing we need is an alternative canon of thinkers opponents of postmodernism are required to consider.

  7. Daniel Burston says

    Of course, Speaker to Animals! Each speaker is entitled to his/her/their point of view. Nor is *anyone* required to consider every other point of view! How could they possibly . . ?

    I don’t know why you attribute these attitudes to me, but I can assure you that I am interested in pursuing respectful dialogue, not in winning arguments, trouncing my opponents, etc. Nor have I expressed (or ever harbored) the desire to create an “alternative canon.” (Where did I say, or even imply, that?)

    Also, permit me to point out that I have published 4 journal articles on Jung, 3 of them in Jungian journals! I have also served on the adjunct faculty of the C.G.Jung Analytical Training Program of Pittsburgh for almost 20 years, and am a member of the International Society for Jungian Studies. So I am not mocking Peterson for taking what you call “the Jungian route”. I would only caution you that there is more than one “Jungian route” out there.

    • I’m a great deal less enamoured of Jung than either you or Paterson, mainly because I studied psychology, and I disagree with Paterson on much, but I don’t think it’s fair to criticise him for not considering token women thinkers. There really aren’t that many historically significant women of Mill’s standard and since most current generation are tied to the Pomo movement he is criticising it doesn’t look like there will be many in the near future.

  8. Flawless4385 says

    “But apparently, there are no female thinkers of comparable stature who are required reading for aspiring Petersonians.”

    I’ve tried and cannot find a female writer who can seriously compete with Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Orwell, Nietzsche and etc.

    • Daniel Burston says

      Sorry to hear that. Perhaps you should expand the scope of your reading – both in fiction and philosophy.

      • Chris says

        “Sorry to hear that. Perhaps you should expand the scope of your reading – both in fiction and philosophy.’. I’d love to – please provide specific examples. Thanks.

      • And yet you haven’t named any either. Who are these great female philosophers of old that Peterson fails to recognize? I don’t understand how having a personal pantheon consisting of men is in and of itself a problem, nor do I see how Peterson appealing primarily to young men is a problem. Were this a female professor whose work appealed mainly to women would you criticize it on that basis?

      • pbwn says

        that pc nonsense is insufferable. You might as well accuse everyone else of the same eg how many females are covered by a section in bertrand russel’s history of western philosophy? old berty, that male-obsessed swine!

    • Doug says

      Victorian novelist George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans). Her novel Middlemarch is considered by some critics to be the greatest novel in the English language. She took a masculine pen name because she thought a woman might not be taken seriously as a writer of intellectually ambitious fiction. Gee, wonder why she thought that? The narrowness of the “Petersonian canon” is positively puerile.

      Interestingly, George Eliot’s brilliant and biting examination of a pompous scholar of mythology with pretentions of intellectual greatness in Middlemarch might be of interest to people in the context of this discussion.

      • pbwn says

        why on earth would peterson have mentioned middlemarch? ps, congrats: you named a single book from a single female writer

        • Doug says

          I mentioned George Eliot in reply to this statement by Flawless4385 above: “I’ve tried and cannot find a female writer who can seriously compete with Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Orwell, Nietzsche and etc.” I gave one example of a female writer from the 19th century who clearly is in the same league with Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc.

          Here’s the most entertaining thing about Peterson’s “great books” list. He can’t find a single book by a woman worth putting on his list, but he includes a book by…himself. Here in my own country (Canada), which is hardly the center of the intellectual universe, I can think of several women authors who are more worth reading than Jordan Peterson.

          Setting the narrowness of Jordan Peterson’s great books list next to his claim that humanities departments in Canadian universities today are completely worthless, I have to conclude that his colossal arrogance and his willingness to make sweeping judgments about things he is demonstrably incompetent to judge undermine his credibility as a serious thinker.

          He may be a good psychologist. I don’t presume to have the expertise to pass judgment on that aspect of his work. But then, unlike Peterson, I believe there is something that can be learned from some of the postmodernist philosophers at their best: epistemological modesty. When he steps outside of his own narrow domain of expertise, as he so frequently and loudly does these days, Peterson could do with a little epistemological modesty.

      • Eliot is a great novelist but she is still just a great novelist. She wasn’t a great thinker.

        There isn’t a philosophical tradition based on her ideas.

        Nietzsche, on the other hand, was a great thinker.

        And a shit writer.

        • Doug says

          Yes, Eliot is a novelist like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But since Peterson’s list included writers of fiction, presumably because of fiction writers’ ability to provide insight into the human condition, it is absurdly unbalanced to have only male writers on the list.

          About Nietzsche, I agree with you. I can’t think of a female philosopher of that stature, though I wouldn’t be confident in saying there aren’t any modern or contemporary ones. (I don’t agree with you that Nietzsche was a shit writer though. I believe his status as a philosopher is, at least in part, due to the quality of his writing).

          Personally, I think it is problematic that Peterson believes he is qualified even to make a “great books” list, while writing off university humanities departments as useless or harmful. Peterson seems to believe that he is single-handedly qualified to decide what is or isn’t worth being studied or read. I guess his idea of the perfect education is one that will help to recipient to be like Jordan Peterson.

          The picture at the head of the article is interesting. It shows Peterson holding a sign saying, “Ask me anything.” Perhaps the sign is intended as joke, but somehow I doubt it. He acts as though he believes he is really qualified to field any question.

          • Daniel Burston says

            Hello Doug, Flawless, Chris, Benjamin, Speaker to Animals and all,

            (I hope I didn’t forget anyone . . .)

            I am reluctant to compile lists of “great female novelists” – or philosophers, for that matter – and offer them to others, because in my experience,doing so only sparks fierce debates about the merits of individual writers, and endless comparisons with male counterparts, attempts to whittle down or expand that list, etc. In other words, interminable discussion, with no resolution in sight. (Why bother, eh?)

            Nevertheless, if I am honest, I think that Eliot, Austen and Dorris Lessing are all first rate novelists, as are Irene Nermirovsky and A.S. Byatt.

            As to female – and more specifically, feminist – philosophers, I have great respect for the work of Susan Bordo and Martha Nussbaum. The former’s essay. “The Cartesian Masculization of Thought” (1986) and her books on “The Flight to Objectivity” (1987) and “Feminist Interpretations of Descartes” (1999) represent an illuminating and worthwhile response to Karl Stern’s book “The Flight from Woman (1965)

            Btw, Stern (1906 – 1975),the subject of my latest book, is an all but forgotten psychiatrist from Montreal whose psychological portraits of Descartes, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Sartre, and reflections on Goethe, Tolstoy, Ibsen, will likely be of interest to many here.

            Martha Nussbaum has written widely on a variety of subjects. I am most familiar with her work on emotions and the Stoics, which I admire exceedingly. But she’s also written and scathing – and to my mind, very instructive – critique of Judith Butler in an essay entitled “The Professor of Parody” (available online.)

            Finally, Speaker to Animals – not that it matters – I agree with Doug’s assessment of Nietzsche’s literary merits. I really admire the freshness and ferocity of his style, even though I deplore or disagree with many of his statements and conclusions.


  9. This was an excellent read! I’ve been watching a lot of Dr. Peterson’s videos and, while I like a lot of what I had to say, had a few reservations preventing me from becoming a total fanboy. Dr. Burston, I feel like you should try and debate him in public!

  10. Thank you for your article, Daniel. I learned some very interesting things. Yet I also felt a bit disappointed at the end, and I’d like your feedback. Most of your analysis seems to categorize Peterson’s thought (Jungian, Nietzschean, male) and then comment on the categories. This was informative and intriguing at the best of times. At the worst, though, it felt unfair or outright fallacious (ad hominem).

    What I would have liked to see more is interaction with Peterson’s arguments. It seems to me that analyzing his influencers is not even a close substitute to analyzing the arguments themselves. Perhaps that is why I didn’t get a sens for how unique Peterson’s thought is from your article.

    Recently introduced to Peterson, I find his arguments very interesting. They are a mix of recognizable and unique. He seems to me to combine a right-wing Hegelianism with Darwinianism and a heavy dose of American pragmatism. Just as an example of arguments I found interesting:

    – Postmodernist critiques of traditional “truth” rely on a modernist understanding of truth. A pragmatic definition that rests on millions of years of evolution (instead of just my subjective experience of a few years) provides a deeper insight to lived experience.
    – Arguments for subjective gender identity are often unwittingly inconsistent. They fluctuate from relying on biological factors for identity (and more permanent) and social construct (and malleable).
    – Social constructionist theories are inconsistent with what we know about evolutionary development of the sexes.

    Critiquing his views as Jungian, or as consistent or inconsistent with Nietzsche, are interesting but at the end they don’t really matter to me. I think it is clear that Peterson is not simply a Jungian or Nietzschian.

    I’d really like to hear your thoughts, as a fellow psychologist, on these arguments. Is Peterson right to claim that human and animal psychological research provides data that has implications for the debate?

    • Daniel Burston says

      Dear fellow psychologist,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful response, and for carrying the dialogue further. In many ways, this is precisely were the discussion needs to go. But you can’t do or say everything at once, can you?

      First,in my own defense, a few small clarifications. I was not actually “analyzing his influencers”, as you put it, but noting some of the more striking contradictions between them – Mill and Nietzsche, especially. And in fairness to Peterson, I suppose that if I were to list all of my formative influences, some critic of mine would note some pretty stark disparities between them, too.

      That said, my article was not so much ad hominem or fallacious, as tendentious. In other words, I was using my preliminary reflections on Peterson as a platform to advance my own arguments about postmodernism and the postmodern university. Briefly, these are that

      1) Nietzsche, not Marx, is the real 19th c. precursor/progenitor of postmodernism
      2) Nietzsche was a forceful advocate of slavery – a point that Peterson and postmodernists both conveniently ignore
      3) Ross Douthat is quite correct to point out that the ascendancy of postmodernism in the humanities and social sciences coincides with the precipitous decline of the Liberal Arts, and that this is no mere coincidence
      4) That other factors, besides postmodernism, contribute to the toxic atmosphere on many college campuses, notably neoliberalism and a consumerist sensibility that administrators pander to, usually to the detriment of faculty.
      5) That the choice posed between the social justice university and the truth-seeking university is unrealistic and perhaps potentially harmful. Haidt and Peterson say we must choose between them. I say, on the contrary, we must NOT choose between these models of university life, but try to reconcile them, where possible. When they clash – as they inevitably will – we must find ways to balance them out and or mediate between them, not grant either one complete hegemony.
      5) etc., etc.

      I think that these arguments are quite relevant to the kinds of debates that are currently swirling around Peterson. (Agreed?) That said, you are quite right, I haven’t yet addressed many of his central arguments. So here goes . . .

      Briefly, Peterson is quite right; arguments about subjective gender identity are often unwittingly inconsistent. And I completely agree with Peterson and Bret Weinstein (Evergreen State) that “human and animal research” has implications for “the debate” (or debates) at hand. We’re are primates, after all, and we’ve only been around about 300,000 years. (I am a big fan of Franz de Waal.)

      That said,I would probably disagree with Peterson on his interpretation of “the data” about sex and gender at crucial junctures. But disagreements like these are to expected – and should be welcome! – in a truth-seeking university climate. Trying to demonize, discredit or dismiss a whole research perspective because it is at variance with postmodernism, social constructionism or your own pet prejudices (whatever they happen to be) is just not kosher. It is childish, and slightly desperate. If these people gain the upper hand, we are all in trouble!

      I hopes this clarifies things a little. Thanks again for your response!


      Daniel Burston

      • Good response, Daniel. Thanks for taking the time to clarify, and also furthering the dialog. I’d be interested in seeing a follow-up article from you.

        • LukeReeshus says

          @Tom M.

          While I’m sure someone would be willing, no one could, because it’s not true. Comments above about how people misunderstand Nietzsche seem pertinent.

          Also, it was quite obvious before Peterson pointed it out that postmodernism is a bastardized offshoot of Marxism. Their first foundational principle is exactly the same: that human nature is (almost) totally malleable, and determined by culture. The author unwittingly admits this:

          Moreover, with rare exceptions, postmodernists are wary or dismissive of any concept of human nature. By contrast, Marx claimed that “man makes himself in the process of his own history,” i.e. that human nature is formed and transformed through collective human agency or praxis over the course of time.

          So in other words, there is no such durable thing as “human nature.” Good one.

          Their second foundational principle is also exactly the same: that humans’ primary social motive is the acquisition power, and that they act in concert with members of their group to attain it. For Marx the groups were economic, the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. For post-modernists it is cultural / ethnic groups. The emphasis has shifted, but the thinking remains the same.

          Thus, while it’s true that post-modernism lacks the telos, or what Karl Popper called the historicism, of Marxism, it shares the same obsession with power dynamics. It has simply emphasized them to the -nth degree, down to the measliest pronouns in a given text. So it’s true, in a sense, that

          [Postmodernism] questions or deconstructs all “grand” or “master narratives” that attempt to impart a sense of coherence to the world…

          Excluding, of course, its own grand narrative: that everything humans do and write and speak about they do for power.

          To paraphrase post-modernists, this article was… problematic.

          • Tom M. says

            Yes, Daniel Burston, please enlighten me and others with your evidence that Nietzsche was a “forceful advocate of slavery”. As LukeReeshus says, I would be surprised if what you present isn’t based on a gross misreading.

            As for the other claims in this article, I’ve no comment.

          • Daniel Burston says

            Sorry, Luke. The assertion that “Man makes himself in the process of his own history . . .” is not a relativist statement. It is really a claim about *collective self-authorship*; an idea that I discuss at some length in a book I co-authored with Roger Free entitled Psychotherapy as a Human Science (Duquesne University Press, 2006.) In that book, I point out that the idea of individual self-authorship – which is something that Peterson emphasizes! – was present and prevalent in both the humanistic and existential approaches to psychotherapy in the 20th century, because these were rooted in older (mostly 19th century) philosophical traditions.

            The idea that human cultures and artifact are expressions of collective human praxis is not unique to Marx, of course. It is actually fairly common in German thought and letters, and was anticipated (to some extent) by Herder, Humboldt and others. Indeed, the founder of experimental psychology, Wilhelm Wundt, devoted many volumes of his *Völkerpsychologie* to this idea; that specific languages and cultures are merely local expressions of a deeper, generic human propensity for culture and meaning-making. The difference between Marx and the others is that he tried to give this idea – which, as Sholomo Avineri, among others, points out, is quite consistent with a conservative world view – a new, revolutionary twist.

            That said, Marx was also a materialist, who recognized that, in order to thrive, or merely survive, all human cultures, irrespective of their unique languages or characteristics, have to address certain basic human needs, and therefore have the following generic properties (provision of food and shelter, education and acculturation of the young, etc.) In addition to these basic material needs, Marx also recognized an individual human need for what, following Hegel, he termed self-objectification – (a synonym for self-authorship, or *bildung*, in German) – which ideally in a context that is free from exploitation and oppression; where work is – or at any rate, can before – a means to creative self-expression, rather than forced labor, performed for the benefit (or at the insistence) of others, or mere drudgery performed for the sake of survival.

            So, relativism? No, not really. What we’re dealing with here is more akin to what Erich Fromm called “radical humanism” – at least, in theory. In practice?

            Will to power? That’s more Nietzsche’s thing, isn’t it? For his part, Marx believed that the bourgeoisie’s efforts to seize and maintain power was based entirely on their perceived self-interest, but also that the industrial proletariat ‘s eventual seizure of power would be a prelude to a better world: really, a will to abolish exploitation and oppression that would issue in a classless society, where work would cease to be drudgery, and would become a vehicle for creative self-expression for “the common man.” Sadly, the proletariat never lived up to Marx’s exalted ideas and expectations about their redemptive role in human history, or even carried out a successful revolution. As Lenin himself acknowledged, the Bolshevik revolution was NOT a proletarian revolution, because Russia’s proletariat was too weak, too small and disorganized to carry it off. Instead, it was a cadre of (mostly middle class) “professional revolutionaries”, self proclaimed surrogates for the working class, who seized power. And we all know what happened next. Lenin’s narrow and distorted interpretation of Marx’s idea – which were fiercely contested by Marxists humanists and democratic socialists – were used to justify a blatantly anti-democratic version of “scientific socialism” that pretty much vanished with the end of the Soviet Empire.

            So, while it is true that SOME Marxists intellectual morphed into postmodernists in the final quarter of the 20th century, they had to betray or trade in their Marxist beliefs and credentials in order to do so. The majority of Marxists, however, went in other directions, or simply vanished into the wood-work.

        • Daniel Burston says

          Tom and all,

          I can’t give you chapter and verse, but if memory serves, Nietzsche’s first (published) defense of slavery appears toward the end of The Birth of Tragedy, where he reproaches the Alexandrian (Hellenistic) world for promoting the notion of cosmopolitanism and human equality, saying that the effort to educate and/or emancipate slaves is fundamentally misguided fostering cultural degeneracy. He returns to these very same themes in The Genealogy of Morals, where his defense of slavery is veiled somewhat by his attack on “slave morality”.

          There are several places in between Birth of Tragedy and Genealogy where Nietzsche defends slavery explicitly, but I don’t have the citations ready to hand. Also, please note that his remarks on various racial groups also bear an unmistakable resemblance to the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau, whose “racial demography” he appears to be mimicking (without proper acknowledgement.) And that his friend, the Danish literary critic, George Brandes, coined the term “aristocratic radical”, which Nietzsche joyfully embraced.

          (I address these issues at greater length in chapter 4 of my book Psychotherapy as a Human Science, in the chapter dealing with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.)

          Does this mean that we should trash Nietzsche, or use his blatantly anti-democratic and racist view to discredit everything else he said and thought? Absolutely not! But if we’re going to be completely honest about the man and his legacy, we have to drop the idealizing attitude and acknowledge these disconcerting facts.

  11. Fred Welfare says

    Concerning the discussion of Nietzsche, from what I have heard from or read by J Peterson, he does not clarify what is meant by the ‘truth’ from either a modernist nor a postmodernist perspective. The distinction between whether truth is relevant to the distinction between honesty or lying, or the distinction between the actual facts including errors or interpretations of the facts, or whether the truth is nothing but ideological versions of false consciousness seems to get very little attention by Peterson or anyone else in the recent disputes over political correctness.

    It is a poor analysis that cannot detect in Nietzsche either a methodological approach to the truth, e.g. its relation to illusion, nor an historical relation to truth, e.g. will to power and eternal return AND these in relation to factual error. The problem is somewhat like Foucault’s position on regimes of truth: what some people believe is true is related more to their beliefs than to facts about what is the case during a particular historical period or location.

    It is outrageous that leftists, who are often feminists or Blacks and Hispanics by the way just to call it like it is, can reject free speech because they don’t like it but are unable to formulate arguments countering the political positions of their enemies. Instead they use force and fraud, essentially name-calling and lies, to silence and intimidate others on the basis of race and class which is supposedly their beef from the beginning! The left’s ability to argue is not much better than conservatives but radical leftist tactics of force and intimidation must be opposed. If the University administrators do not clarify and implement the rules, then it will continue to be a fight: may the best side win which is a complete travesty and will end in a disaster!

    • Daniel Burston says

      Calling it like it is, are we, Fred? Well, yes and no.

      On the “yes” side . . .

      I have often said that, from a motivational standpoint, there is a world of difference between errors, lies and illusions. Errors are innocent or inadvertent. They are due to incorrect or insufficient information or logical lapses of one kind or another. Unless s/he is remarkably vain ( or “narcissistic”), a person who is in error will usually welcome correction, not wanting to remain “in the dark.”

      Lies are not errors, not innocent or inadvertent. As Orwell knew very well, they are statements that deliberately falsify or misrepresent actually existing states of affairs, i.e. what actually is the case. All lies entail an intention to deceive, but some lies spring from benign or commendable motives – the desire to save an innocent life, or to spare someone needless heartbreak and suffering. But these are comparatively rare. Most lies spring from base motives, i.e. greed, fear or the desire to injure or exploit others, keep others “in the dark”, etc., for the sake of one’s own agenda, group, etc.

      Illusions – the category where I would place what Peterson calls “ideology” – is neither of the above; not a simple error, or just a deliberate falsehood. A person in the grip of an illusion may be perpetuating lies and errors inadvertently, but they do so because they have already convinced *themselves* (for various reasons) that they are “true.” In other words, they are in a state of chronic self-deception, or what Augustine termed “motivated ignorance”, and are unreceptive to facts and arguments that run counter to their narratives or world-views because these pose a threat to their sense of personal identity. But on a subjective level, they don’t know that they are in a state of motivated ignorance, and don’t know that they don’t know – if I may put it that way. And that is why illusions are so hard to address and dismantle – both in psychotherapy and in politics.

      (One quarrel I have with Nietzsche is that he ended up claiming that truth, indeed the very notion of truth, is an illusion, an expression of the “will to power.” But if so, and we cannot reliably discriminate between truth and illusion, what happens to the categories of errors and lies? They vanish, robbing us of the ability to address any of these issues of motivation, or what Kierkegaard called our “subjective relation to the truth.”)

      On the “no” side . . .

      I am a 62 year old white (Jewish) male working at a private Catholic university. Though I work in a conservative institution, I am a leftist, albeit a moderate leftist who – unlike your pal Nietzsche, who described democratic movements as sick, belated expressions of a “priestly” sensibility and “the Jewish slave revolt in morals” – cherishes democratic values and institutions, including freedom of speech, of the press and academic freedom. (Alas, I’d probably say I was center-left, if there actually were a center in American politics nowadays.)

      With that said, your reference to the fact that many other leftists are feminists, Blacks and Hispanics is somewhat disconcerting. Of course they are. What are you really getting at here? And what did you expect? All through recorded history, members of oppressed minorities have gravitated towards movements that address their needs, experiences and concerns explicitly, and promise to give them a voice where/when they have none. The fact that many of them may lack the ability to formulate valid counter-arguments in response to their (real or perceived) adversaries reflects on how poorly they were educated. It does NOT mean that

      1) we should demonize or dismiss them collectively (as you appear to be doing) or that
      2) the oppression they have suffered over the centuries (often at the hands of privileged white males) wasn’t real, and doesn’t have ongoing reverberations in the collective psyche (and the culture at large), or that
      3) the privileged elites that oppressed them didn’t use their own education to subjugate them, and to justify their subjugation with impressive-sounding arguments.

      So let’s be careful not to continue that trend by trading in hurtful stereotypes, OK?

  12. Robert Paulson says

    Overall good article, but there are two examples of a tendency to race and gender as arguments in-and-of-themselves that are illustrative of a certain style of left-wing intellectual discourse that deserve to be highlighted.

    First example:

    “But apparently, there are no female thinkers of comparable stature who are required reading for aspiring Petersonians. Here, and elsewhere, Peterson conveys the distinct the impression that, like a latter day Socrates, he is much more interested in engaging with young men, rather than young women. Indeed, young men comprise the majority of his vast (and growing) online following.”

    Why, exactly, is this a problem? We have entire university departments dedicated to engaging with women, we have special programs to get women more engaged in STEM and a variety of other subjects and universities have special women’s centers dedicated exclusively to the needs of women (I’m not saying that is a bad thing, but there is no reciprocal obligation for women to include men in their dialogues and institutions and nobody makes a fuss when men are “excluded” from these).

    The author unintentionally illustrates a reason I believe Dr. Peterson is popular among young men by illustrating a tendency in our culture to center our discussions on women. By immediately asking “where are the women” in JBP’s reading list and hinting that Peterson’s popularity with young men online is a problem, he centers what he perceives to be the needs of women and suggests not being “inclusive” of women devalues his message, which in turn indirectly suggests that for the message to be valuable, it must either center on women or be inclusive of them. But, again, there is never a reciprocal requirement for men to be included in messages aimed or centered around women. I doubt that the author would find fault with a women’s studies course where all the authors were female, or claim that discussions of women are somehow lacking because they do not include men.

    Second example: “But it is also true that these mottos [about truth-seeking] were first articulated and embraced when many of these universities were bastions of white male privilege.”

    Again, why is this a problem? You hint that this fact some how undermines the notion that truth-seeking should be the primary focus of the university. Is there an argument here? I can’t find one. You then go on in the next paragraph to celebrate the truth-seeking of women and minorities for challenging the untruths that had excluded them from the university. This would seem to me to be an affirmation, and not a refutation, of truth being the telos of the university.

    • Daniel Burston says

      Hello Robert Paulson,

      Yes and no.

      In order for Peterson’s message to be relevant I think it should be inclusive, though it need not center specifically or exclusively on the concerns of women. (A little more balance would be nice, though.) And contrary to what you say, I do find fault with women’s studies courses, syllabi and instructors that deliberately exclude male thinkers or authors *because* they are male, or which assume that the only relevant context in which to include discussions of men vis a vis are as oppressors.

      Since AS echoes your second point, below, I’ll address it there.

      Thanks for your comments.

  13. Sproutlore says

    I disagree with your claim,”that mothers don’t play a big role in Professor Peterson’s concept of “cultural traditions,”. Having just listened to his Myth and Meaning lectures Dr. Peterson talked about the myth of the feminine, mother nature and the female in general. True, they didn’t dominate his talks but that seems to be more a reflection of the mythic tales, which are generally male centric, than any failings on Dr. Peterson’s part.
    As for female writers, who would fit in the literary canon of Dostoevsky, Orwell and Nietzsche and fit into his lectures and is blatantly being ignored? Dr. Peterson has brought up Camile Paglia (I’m sure that’s wrong) multiple times in his lectures so again it seems more a reflection what is available than a choice.
    Enjoyed the articles.

    • Daniel Burston says

      I am reluctant to compile lists of “great female novelists” and philosophers,because in doing so only sparks fierce debates about the merits of individual writers, and endless comparisons with male counterparts, attempts to whittle down or expand that list, etc. In other words, interminable discussion, with no resolution in sight. (Why bother, eh?)
      Nevertheless, if I am honest, I think Eliot, Austen and Dorris Lessing are all first rate novelists, as are Irene Nermirovsky and A.S. Byatt.
      As to female – and more specifically, feminist – philosophers, I have great respect for the work of Susan Bordo and Martha Nussbaum. The former’s essay. “The Cartesian Masculization of Thought” (1986) and her books on “The Flight to Objectivity” (1987) and “Feminist Interpretations of Descartes” (1999) represent an illuminating and worthwhile response to Karl Stern’s book “The Flight from Woman (1965)
      Stern (1906 – 1975),the subject of my latest book, was a psychiatrist from Montreal whose psychological portraits of Descartes, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Sartre, and reflections on Goethe, Tolstoy, Ibsen, will likely be of interest to you.
      Martha Nussbaum has written widely on a variety of subjects. I am most familiar with her work on emotions and the Stoics, which I admire exceedingly. But she’s also written and scathing – and to my mind, very instructive – critique of Judith Butler in an essay entitled “The Professor of Parody” (available online.)

  14. Hi Daniel,

    I will join the chorus of commentators commending your article. I will also join those with a little criticism 🙂

    Robert Paulson above has already highlighted this passage:

    “But it is also true that these mottos were first articulated and embraced when many of these universities were bastions of white male privilege. Indeed, many were involved in the slave trade and disqualified women from getting a post-secondary education. ”

    I would like to add to his observations. How is the fact that these universities were bastions of white male privilege in the past at all relevant to the evaluation of the truth-seeking mission of the universities? Robert Paulson accurately states that the fact that the untruths these men held about women and minorities were best vanquished by that same truth-seeking mission.

    I’d like to look at this from an even wider perspective: many university founders believed things to be true which plainly were not – and I’m talking about basic things about the natural world, nothing related to social issues. Many believed the Earth was flat. Others that the Sun orbits the Earth and not vice-versa. Many defended such beliefs fiercely and condemned those who posited alternative (and ultimately true!) theories. Should we denigrate the truth-seeking mission of say, the University of Oxford, because its founders in the 13th century since they clearly held some things to be true that we obviously know today to be false?

    Second, this repeated bringing up of white male privilege in specific contexts (universities, politics, business) misses the placement of these specific contexts in the wider context of their time. Yes, universities were bastions of white male privilege – at a time where more or less EVERYTHING was a bastion of white male privilege. Universities, in that respect, were keeping with the times – and there is nothing particularly special about that. I don’t see how their truth-seeking mission was “tainted” by this fact, really. We can acknowledge that in time period Y, university X was not at the forefront of social change, or was indeed quite opposed to it, however I do not see how this is relevant on the whole.

    We can go beyond universities – should we be suspicious of democracy since, in its first known iterations, it was very restricted in its application? Athenian democracy excluded women and male non-citizens (including copious amounts of slaves), i.e. the majority of the population. Does that make it less good? Does that mean we have to constantly re-evaluate democracy as such in light of the rights of women or minorities? Ditto for modern universal suffrage, which initially applied only to men.

    Finally, we take it to the end – are some laws of physics to be questioned and whisked away simply if we find that the physicists who formulated them were racists (some, indeed, were Nazis, or Nazi-sympathizers/collaborators)? Are we to appreciate more the work of Einstein (member of persecuted minority) than that of Heisenberg (Nazi Germany’s head of nuclear research), just based on the personalities rather than on their scientific merit?

    This how I feel a lot of (post?)modern stuff gets done in the humanities – we will no longer consider X because he was a privileged white male, therefore his views are inherently tainted by this fact. Therefore we shall give supremacy to Y because he was the member of a disadvantaged minority. The actual merits of X and Y to the subject at hand are irrelevant. Now, I clearly understand you are not advocating this approach, obviously. However I feel that even having to ACKNOWLEDGE some plainly self-evident things (white males were privileged in 1750) is already conceding to this line of thought.

    Certainly, there are situations in which pointing out one’s privilege of one kind or another is quite relevant. If we are analyzing someone’s writings on the rights of women and blacks in 1840, considering the fact that the author is white male plantation owner is indeed quite relevant. However it’s quite irrelevant if we are talking about someone’s contributions to mathematics or literary criticism.

    • Daniel Burston says


      ” . . . a little criticism?” I admire your gift for understatement. 🙂

      I’ve done my level best to answer my other critics in full. But sadly, I am getting pressed for time now. So, in brief, I am relieved you’ve acknowledged the fact that I don’t – never did, and never will – advocate reverse racism or sexism, or the willingness to ignore the actual merits of individual candidates in making hiring decisions. Having been the victim of this kind of discrimination myself, I understand very well how damaging it can be.

      With that said, I fail to see why reminding people of how oppressive and exclusionary universities were in the past is a concession to people who advocate hiring policies that I deplore. How so? And am I dwelling on the obvious? That depends on what you know, and how you are situated in the debate. . . Something can be glaringly obvious to you, who knows a lot of history, and still relevant to those who are not versed in history, and are strongly inclined to forget it – which means the vast majority of undergrads in the Liberal Arts, and quite a few graduate students – or ones that I encounter, anyway. And couldn’t you (or others) be too keen to trivialize or ignore arguments based on what you consider obvious because you just disagree with my contention that universities can – and in the end, must – try to balance the two models Haidt proposes?

      Universities cannot – and cannot be expected to – provide a cure for all of society’s ills. But they can (and should) strive to more just inclusive even as they strive to fulfill their truth-seeking mission. That is my firm belief. The movements and trends that obstruct universities in their truth-seeking mission include – but are not limited to! – postmodernism, in all of its many facets. Neoliberalism and the consumerist ethos also contribute mightily to this toxic mix we’re contending with – a facet of my argument you seem reluctant to acknowledge or address.

      Nevertheless, I thank you for your time, effort and honesty.


      Daniel Burston

  15. Concentrating on “white males” is extremely jingoistic. World is not America. SJW might have had a hand in limiting xenophobia in USA but it has only strengthen xenophobia in many other places. Conflicts between gender roles and in-group preference were not mitigated by assault on the telos of Truth, but by plain and simple tolerance. It has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with just letting much different others be. Same tolerance could improve situation in South Africa that helped United States. Same groupish anti-white-male poison is corrupting both.

    Also, early American or even Medieval University was MUCH superior to what is existing now. It was of course working on a lower level, but it was functional and produced results. University now is sliding into a role of a factory of poison. Who cares how many faces have different colors in this abomination?

    As for truth being in opposition to freedom – they are obviously in conflict. But that’s where one has to decide to follow Truth. To a accept these constraints. A person on a path of Truth has significantly less options, which is in the long run a good thing as these options should not be taken. Unbridled complete freedom is not a state to be desired! Imagine having “a freedom” to murder your wife every time you see her. Deciding on every matter every time, always having the immoral, evil and irrational options open. This is also why the Western Civilization was growing fast when freedom was only “freedom from” and that it is now on the verge of self-destruction when it has embraced “freedom to”.

  16. Rob says

    It’s good to see a critique of Jordan Peterson that is civil and argues its point, rather than just making accusations of bigotry, but I think the critique does fail at every point. For example…

    – Peterson engages with men, and his ‘pantheon’ is all-male. So what? Does this make anything he says false? A true non-point.

    – “a moment’s reflection discloses that most of his ideas and arguments … are actually rooted in conservative ideology.” I don’t see this at all. It seems to me his ideas are rooted in arguments about reality, and these can only be evaluated on their own merits. “Conservative ideology” might simply align with reality. Alternately, it might entirely fail to do so, but still Peterson’s arguments might stand up on their own. Saying ‘ideology’ is not some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card. As this article suggests, when Peterson complains about ideology, his complaint is that his opponents are unconcerned with the truth. I think his point is a good one, and the reverse does not apply.

    – Jung: “on the “shadow” side of Jung’s psychology are racist and sexist attitudes that ran miles deep, and did considerable damage in their day.” True of pretty much all thinkers from past eras. I don’t see any point against Peterson here. Except in very particular contexts, it’s not incumbent on anyone to go on about the ‘shadow’ side of a historical thinker when what is of interest is where that thinker can give us insight – e.g., when discussing Aristotle’s Metaphysics, it is at best a waste of time to carry on lamenting his approval of slavery (though it would be an effective ways to signal one’s virtue).

    – Mill and Nietzsche are in certain regards incompatible. True, but the question is whether they are incompatible in ways problematic for Peterson. I see nothing here that suggests they are (and WRT slavery see what I just said about Aristotle). Peterson finds these various thinkers helpful in certain respects. I have never heard him proclaim absolute adherence to any of them, so I expect he disagrees with all of them in certain regards. That being so, they can contradict one another like heck, and it’s no problem for Peterson.

    – Marx is not the founding father of postmodernism. (A number of substantive differences between the Marxist and pomo standpoints are listed.) Peterson has made a specific argument on how Marxism morphed into postmodernism, and I don’t see that it’s been answered here. There can be all kinds of very fundamental disagreements between Marxists and postmodernists, but that doesn’t mean the one didn’t grow out of the other. E.g., Marx is clearly a particular development of Hegel, but we can certainly write “most Marxists subscribe to a materialist epistemology that Hegelians reject unequivocally.”

    – Nietzsche is the founding father of postmodernism, and Peterson doesn’t address this. I’m inclined to agree that Nietzsche is more a founding father of pomo than Marx, but I don’t see that Peterson necessarily needs to address this. Again, it could be a problem for him if he were to make specific claims in specific contexts, but we’re not given any of that.

    – “one of the striking things about the Western intellectual tradition is the way that religion and science typically converge in their conviction that “the truth shall make you free.”” I disagree. I’d rather say that one of the striking things about the Western intellectual tradition is the way that religion and science have been diverging ever more since the high Middle Ages. Yes, Nietzsche is a significant moment in all this. So is Marx, so is Hume, so is nominalism… (etc.)

    I have other problems here (e.g., the critique of Haidt), but I’ve written too much, and others have taken these things up. I applaud the (all-too rare) civility of this article, though I don’t think it got any hits in on Jordan Peterson.

  17. Henry says

    I would suggest that in many of the criticisms levelled, that you and Peterson are actually talking past each other quite a bit as opposed to actually disagreeing — or that you are perhaps misunderstanding some of his points. Like others I haven’t seen Peterson fail to acknowledge Nietzsche’s influence on post-modernism as something of concern. Nietzsche might be the most consistently misunderstood philosopher ever to write (one need only look at the National Socialist use of his ideas for a great example of this, but also towards those that think he advocates actively for nihilism, slavery in an actual physical sense, or hedonism), and from having studied both, I think the postmodernists mistake many of Nietzsche’s claims about truth while also ignoring that fact that he viewed himself as a diagnostician of problems more than someone who was expounding his own ‘system’ of thought. Peterson also doesn’t exactly lay the root of Postmodern thought at the feet of Marx either, rather suggests that its 20th century development inverted aspects of Marx’s class theory in its assumptions about the function of categories, language, and power relations. As far as I can tell this is pretty spot on, and it is hard to avoid that a lot of what constitutes postmodern thought in present academia also has a heavy Marxist bent (a relation that can perhaps be seen in best in the work of Theador Adorno), and it would be hard to imagine that Foucault and Derrida, given their backgrounds and circles had no Marxist associations or beliefs that informed their work.

    Also as far as Jung is concerned, could you offer examples of his ‘miles deep’ sexism? Some were no doubt common for the time amongst both women and men, but I think it’s also far to easy to slap that label on some of his theories, of which concerns about sexism are mostly misunderstanding the reasoning and purpose behind the placement of the feminine is his thinking. It’s the same with the mythological stuff Peterson discusses (and important that these are archetypical concepts and not real people we are talking about here): the feminine is not in a reduced role at all, but in fact a profoundly powerful one, and one that has as much to do with how these stories play out as does the masculine hero. They are complimentary opposites, not pitted against each other in a better/worse hierarchy. Also, charges of Jung’s racism are also overblown. Aside from commonly held prejudices of the time (not excusing these, but people were more ignorant then about many things and it is hard to lay charges of racism upon the feet of a lack of understanding about the broader world) that he would have possessed, this has been largely debunked.

    I must echo other commenters too in this area: I would include Camille Paglia as a worthy of inclusion as a great thinker of the last fifty years for Sexual Personae alone, and there might be a place for Sontag too, but can you really find other female philosophers on the level any of males mentioned in great numbers? I’d love for them to exist, and I would certainly read them, but ultimately why does it matter if they are men or women? Also when someone asked about that, perhaps you could have offered up some names instead of suggesting that their reading scope is too narrow. The fact that you didn’t suggests that, well, maybe there aren’t that many. Not yet at least. Having said this there is a lot of great fiction by women, but where that lies in terms of

    I have more to say on the theism and conservative angles too, but this is plenty for the time being. Good articles inspire debate — though expecting absolute consistency across admiration of thinkers and schools is something we need to do away with. It doesn’t have to be Mill OR Nietzsche. It can be both/and for particular reasons, and neither/nor in others.

    • Henry says

      *Good articles inspire debate instead of derision. To complete that point. Clearly true in this case from the comments.

      • Daniel Burston says

        Hello Henry,

        Thanks for your comments. And if you are still following along, everyone, thanks to Piotr, Rob, AS, Sproutlore and Robert for theirs, too. Much as we may disagree on specifics, I am quite encouraged by the tone and quality of this correspondence, and apologize sincerely for calling a halt to the discussion now. I may check in again tomorrow, but I have to get on with my day! Hopefully, my responses to earlier correspondents will address, if not answer, some of the points you’ve make.

        Thanks for your input.

        Daniel Burston

        • Henry says

          Daniel — I understand completely. Thanks for the response nonetheless. Hope you have a good day!

  18. Ian says

    Good read. Thanks.

    Enlighten me, why is it inconsistent to have influences that held wildly different beliefs? I don’t disagree with racists or sexists on most objective facts, how does this have any relevance to my philosophy? Not a very honest representation, but then, you didn’t go into detail as to why it matters that a scientist from the 19th century was bigoted. Wow, who could have guessed. It’s like you’re writing an intersectionalist paper, and you can’t hide it. Tell me how Abraham Lincoln’s (racist) quotes about black people make him entirely repulsive, instead of what should be considered a hero.

    Why do you fail to see the commonality between postmodernism and Marxism? It’s not hard, it’s just inconvenient to your argument that Peterson is inconsistent. They are both devoted to teaching children to tear down structures that work because of oppression and other terms that are conveniently defined by the people unaffected. Or in a more accurate way, they both see everything about human existence as relative, Marxists just have a plan for what to do next.

    Also, do you understand the difference between social and individual justice and why the two conflict? If not then, I suppose both Haidt and Peterson would seem backwards for suggesting a dichotomy, but the conflict is there. Modifying the word justice makes it worse, justice itself is an ideal, something perfect. ‘Social Justice’ is something out of 1984, individuals will not be allowed to do, say, or even think anything that disturbs the desired order. This becomes clear when you watch what goes down on universities, as you clearly have, so how did you miss it?

    Lastly, suggesting that people you like in history are social justice warriors is just blatant ignorance of the term. SJWs are collectivist, intersectionalist, Marxist loon bags who want everything redefined in an attempt to change reality itself. It’s pejorative connotation does not come from thin air. Those who built western society had vastly more realistic and humane beliefs that centered around individual freedom. You don’t get to chose which people had which ideas, you don’t get to disassociate your ideas from anyone bad who ever existed, history has a purpose.

    Mostly, it seems you are splitting hairs and being willfully ignorant of things a professor like yourself should, (and clearly does) know better.

  19. Daniel says

    Thank you for the article. You state the the choice between a “truth university” and a “social justice university” is a false dichotomy, but then seem to cop out by suggesting universities need both of these things. Certainly they do require both but perhaps not as central tenants. What about “free” universities? Free in the sense that individuals are free to agree, disagree, offend, have discourse, propose ideas, explore the political spectrum etc etc. Being subservient to a specific paradigm inherently limits freedom, doesn’t it? Precisely because the individual then becomes a slave to that point of view. This is what Nietzsche was saying (in my interpretation).
    We should be promoting freedom of ideas on campus not ideologies and, beyond that, reasoned and rational responses to those with whom we disagree.

  20. Doug Janack says

    Thanks for a good, balanced article. I would just like to point out, as a Canadian observer, the irony of Jordan Peterson’s presenting himself as a “champion of free speech” and a bulwark against “totalitarian” tendencies in Canadian society. If you believe Peterson, practically the entirety of Canadian academia outside his own classroom door has been “corrupted” (his word) by a toxic mix of “postmodernism, feminism, and Marxism.” He has mused that he would like to see entire disciplines within the humanities and the social sciences “defunded” for that reason.

    Think about that. I think we can acknowledge that overzealous student protesters–SJW’s, if you will–have behaved poorly towards Peterson on a couple of well publicized occasions. That was wrong. Peterson should have been allowed to speak, and the merits of his arguments addressed. Indeed, your article failed to mention that Peterson was well received as a guest speaker on university campuses in London (Ontario) and Calgary. I don’t personally have much respect for Peterson’s dilettantish forays into disciplines like philosophy, politics, or law, but I agree he should be allowed to speak. Peterson himself, on the other hand, would like to see entire university faculties silenced because he–Jordan Peterson, expert in everything–considers them to be ideologically tainted and “useless”. Who’s the real totalitarian here?

  21. Daniel Burston says

    Dear Doug Janack,

    Thanks for your input. I wasn’t aware that Peterson was well received in London and Calgary. And though it may surprise you, I confess, I am relieved to hear it. I found the video segments on his experiences at U of T and McMaster quite disturbing – as disturbing as the videos from Evergreen State.

    As I look survey the correspondence that my article provoked, I am struck by the sheer volume of efforts – most well meaning, and almost all quite clever – devoted to picking apart my arguments and my critique of Peterson. But in the process, all of them fail to grapple with my overarching argument. Granted, the title of my article is “Who’s Afraid of Jordan Peterson?” But the editors also chose to omit my article’s subtitle, which was “Conservatism and Free Speech in the Postmodern University”, and to intersperse my text with some striking photos of Peterson – who is already a polarizing personality – concentrating the readers’ focus relentlessly on him. But as I explained to another reader, my article is not only about Peterson. On the contrary, I was using my critique of him as a platform to explore some deeper and disturbing cultural trends, including (but not limited to) the toxic brew of postmodernism, consumerism and neoliberalism that is poisoning our universities. Though you allude to this indirectly in your letter, not a single correspondent before you has addressed this issue so far! This saddens and surprises me, to be perfectly honest.

    I mentioned to another reader (earlier on) that if circumstances were different I would probably describe my own politics as center-left, if there actually were a center left to be left of here in the USA. Is there a political center – excuse me, centre – left in Canada? I hope so. After all, we had a Trudeau in office when we celebrated Canada’s centennial, and have one again now, at our 150th. So perhaps there’s hope. But as a (very) reluctant ex-pat who has lived and worked in the USA for a quarter century now, it strikes me that the culture wars that have roiled the waters and made this sprawling country all but ungovernable have arrived in Canada, too. Peterson’s case is highly publicized and controversial, but it is hardly an isolated one. To avoid further polarization, we have to stop the current crop of “overzealous” SJWs from trying to hound conservatives (and classical Liberals) out of the social sciences and humanities. If we want to halt – and who knows, one day, perhaps reverse – the steady and seemingly inexorable decline of the Liberal Arts, we have insist on civility on campus, even when addressing others whose interpretation of history and human reality differs starkly from our own.

    I hope future readers forgive me if I call a halt to these exchanges here, with your letter, Doug. Life is short, even for long-winded people like me.

    (Oh, Canada!)

    • Hi again Daniel,

      “Is there a political center – excuse me, centre – left in Canada?”

      I would say the current government is, as Doug suggests. I would also say the Liberal Party has definitely moved to centre-left to middle-left on social issues (but because society has moved there in general, on average), whereas on everything else, they deviate from mild centre-right over the dead centre to the centre-left, depending on who’s in charge and (even more important!) what they judge to be popular with most voters. To me, the Liberal Party of Canada (at least in the shape I’ve known it – since about 1995) is the archetypal opportunist shape-shifter party, with the go-with-what’s-current offend-the-least-please-the-most-people approach. This makes them despicable if you’re a person with a defined ideology and a semi-definite world view which you ascribe to, but rather agreeable (or at least bearable) if you’re the pragmatist type who believes governing is a compromise. I had hoped that we had seen the demise of the Liberals in 2011, sine I thought we might finally see some “proper” left-right politicking here (i.e. Conservatives vs. NDP), some substantial clash of views. I guess that’s just so un-Canadian though; up here we like to compromise and get along, on average – Trudeau’s “sunny ways politics” prove it.

      (Of course, the Liberals do have one very strong ideological anchor – national unity and federalism. You have to give them that.)

      I think Canada has a far more European-like political scene, with the Liberals usually at the centre, the Conservatives on the centre-right to the middle right, and the NDP on the centre-left to the middle left. So, if you dislike the Liberals, you have the NDP (the NDP is I believe, pretty much fully equivalent in terms of ideology and policies to the European major leftwing parties like Labour in the UK, the PS in France, the SPD in Germany and so on – notice how because Canada is in North America, on our political spectrum it’s centre vs. right – Libs. vs. Cons. – with the left – the NDP – being the perennial third party; whereas in the UK, being in Europe, the centre – Lib.Dems. – and left – Labour – swap places).

      I get fairly annoyed with the influence of US politics up here, especially the media coverage. Why does the CBC spend half the National on Trumpcare vs. Obamacare? Why should I care? How does it affect Canada? Trump on NAFTA, of course, that’s huuuuge. Comey’s Senate testimony…who cares, eh?

      “to explore some deeper and disturbing cultural trends, including (but not limited to) the toxic brew of postmodernism, consumerism and neoliberalism that is poisoning our universities. Though you allude to this indirectly in your letter, not a single correspondent before you has addressed this issue so far! This saddens and surprises me, to be perfectly honest.”

      I am reluctant and annoyed to engage in discussions of “neoliberalism” perhaps as much as you are to engage in discussions of “postmodernism” – I think it’s a catch-all term which people use to describe almost anything they don’t like (primarily economic policy, of course, but not just that). Just like people on the right now throw “postmodernist” and “cultural marxist” around without due diligence, people all over the spectrum have been doing the same with “neoliberalism” for years.

      Having said that – I think you are correct: consumerism and the like is a problem here. For example, your entire passage from “This kind of word-play gains a lot of traction in a consumer society….” to “… The customer is always right – no?” is extremely to the point. I very much agree with it! Don’t take my previous comment the wrong way – I found one nit to pick in what I thought was a quite well-written article. I did not previously comment on your passage about consumerism amongst students as I was following the old adage that silence is a sign of approval. 🙂

      • Doug says

        AS, that’s an excellent characterization of the Canadian political scene. I also agree with you that “consumerism” is more relevant problem than postmodernism.

  22. Doug says

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. To answer your question, I believe our current Liberal government would be considered “center-left” by American standards. Socially, it is a bit left leaning, economically it is, I suppose, neo-liberal. (Unfortunately)

    That’s one of the bones I have to pick with Peterson. He has represented Bill C-16 to American audiences as a law by a government full of postmodernist, cultural Marxists to make it a crime to use the wrong gender pronouns. That is an absurd misrepresentation of the law and a laughable description of our centrist government.

    Peterson is wrong to presume that Bill C-16 can only be defended on the basis of cultural Marxism. I believe that it is possible to defend Bill C-16 entirely within the framework of classic liberalism, going back to Mill, and I believe that it is within that framework that the government advanced the bill. His use of the term “cultural Marxism” is nothing more than the invocation of a right wing bogeyman with little relevance to Canadian politics.

    • Daniel Burston says

      Dear Doug and AS,

      Excellent letters! I can’t resist. A brief addendum to my previous “last word.”

      First, thank you both for your illuminating analyses of the Canadian political science. And yes, Doug, I understand where you are coming from when you write:

      “He has represented Bill C-16 to American audiences as a law by a government full of postmodernist, cultural Marxists to make it a crime to use the wrong gender pronouns. That is an absurd misrepresentation of the law and a laughable description of our centrist government.”

      OK, granted. But in a previous post, you also characterized him as “dilettantish” and even as “totalitarian” for wanting to defund certain programs or approaches. You are entitled to your opinion, of course. But even so, this kind of talk makes me uneasy. Why? Well, have you considered this situation from Peterson’s point of view?

      Whatever you judge his limitations (and intentions) to be, I say, here is a very proud man who worked hard to achieve a certain status in academia,; a man whose livelihood is threatened, and is frequently subject to heckling and abuse. He perceives the threats and abuse he encounters (and/or provokes, willy nilly) to emanate from certain quarters, certain kinds of people who deem his ideas about sex and gender to be spurious and even dangerous; people who are not just attacking him, personally, but attempting to delegitimate an entire approach to the study of sex and gender that – takes evolutionary theory into account. In short, he perceives himself to be a lightning rod or point man in an emerging culture war, and decides to hit backing by menacing EVERYONE who he thinks are his actual or potential adversaries – ( in a sweeping and indiscriminate fashion) – with commensurate threats and abuse.

      In other words, tit for tat, but on a huge scale.

      I am not saying that this is a fair or judicious response – the RIGHT response, in other words. But I am willing to bet that if you found yourself in his position, you’d find his motives and modus operandi perfectly intelligible on a “gut” level. (I know I would.) And even if you find him to be unfair or injudicious, calling him “totalitarian” doesn’t help matters now. It simply pours fuel on the fire. Why? Because there is some truth to his claim that many of his adversaries and severest critics are (left-wing) authoritarians, whose emancipatory rhetoric masks a (somewhat silly, but increasingly prevalent) kind of group-think that stifles critical thinking and open debate in our classrooms, and has no place in science. And because we – i.e. faculty – have a duty to protect our fellow faculty from this kind of thing, even if we disagree emphatically with his/her/their personal political beliefs and attitudes. And because, at a broader, societal level, left-wing authoritarianism potentiates and incites right-wing authoritarianism (and vice versa) – a situation rendered all the more volatile nowadays by the internet and social media

      At this point, then, I think we all have an interest in de-escalating the situation, and toning down the rhetoric on both sides. If we can’t agree on the meaning or usefulness of the term “neoliberalism”, let’s at least concede that consumerism and “the customer is always right” approach are not working, and that faculty who care about the future of universities have a shared interest in protecting *political* diversity in the social sciences and humanities.


      Daniel Burston

      • Hi Daniel,

        “let’s at least concede that consumerism and “the customer is always right” approach are not working, and that faculty who care about the future of universities have a shared interest in protecting *political* diversity in the social sciences and humanities.”

        Most certainly.

        I’d like to raise another point – perhaps the runaway tuition fees of past years (I understand this has been the case in the US, but I forget the exact numbers) contribute to this problem?

        If you’re a student paying $30-50k (or however much it is these days; I know it depends a lot on the university; ~16 years ago I was told the total cost of Harvard per year including lodging was about 30k in the Canadian dollars of that time; I suppose inflation has done its bit since then), and looking at professors making $100k-200k, you feel like they owe a “great customer experience” to you. Most students won’t know that most of the money comes from grants and endowments; even if they do, that doesn’t change the fact that they are paying a lot of money.

        I know this isn’t the only reason, for sure, but perhaps it contributes?

        • Daniel Burston says

          Yes, of course, AS. Having put two kids through college in the USA, I understand this phenomenon well. But the facet of the problem that I am addressing – approaching education instrumentally, as a commodity to be purchased for future economic benefits, rather than a process that we undergo for the sake of self-development and/or self-discovery – begins long before post-secondary education commences, and is intricately intertwined the efforts to destroy public schools in this country by standardized testing (and teaching to the test) and the removal of music, art, literature and physical education from the curriculum.

          In other words, a whole other conversation . . .

          That said, one thing I’ll say in Peterson’s defense is that he seems to get this.I say “seems” because he doesn’t articulate his misgivings about the miseducation of our youth in precisely the same language, but – unless I’ve misunderstood his “spiel” to millennials, that is the general drift . . .

      • Doug says


        I know you need to end this discussion due to time constraints, so I don’t want to labour a point. I just want to say that I don’t see how Professor Peterson’s livelihood has actually been threatened. The University of Toronto has made clear that it respects his academic freedom. Where have you seen any indication that the University of Toronto has attempted “to deligitimate an entire approach to sex and gender”? That’s the narrative Peterson has being trying to spin, but I have seen no evidence that it’s true. The unfortunate scenes he has publicized of angry student protesters shouting him down where largely manufactured by him. He waved a red flag in front of a certain constituency in order to provoke a response. If he hadn’t done that, the pronoun issue would unlikely ever have been an issue for him or anyone else, and he would have just carried on with his career. (Mind you, he wouldn’t have been able to kick off a second lucrative career as a right wing media star).

        The truth is that Canadian universities embrace a plurality of scholarly perspectives, running from conservatives (I’ve seen conservative history profs interviewed on TV and read articles by them) to…well, yes, there undoubtedly are some actual Marxists and Postmodernists, though I’ve seen no evidence that recent graduates (i.e. high school teachers who have been my colleagues) have been imbued with Marxist or Postmodernist ideas.

        My use of the word “totalitarian” merely holds a mirror up to Peterson’s own rhetoric. He accuses both the university and the government of being run by “totalitarian” postmodernist, cultural Marxists. And on that basis he states that he would like to see the humanities defunded and universities purged of professors he considers to be ideologically tainted. As far as I can see, Peterson is the only faculty member at U or T calling for a purge of ideologically tainted colleagues. Is that not a totalitarian impulse?

        Under the circumstances, I would say that the administration of the University of Toronto has been the very model of bureaucratic tolerance and restraint in its quiet efforts to get Peterson to tone down his inflammatory rhetoric. What other employer would deal so diplomatically with an employee who regularly publicizes denunciations of his employer as “corrupt” and “useless”? I would say that academic freedom and free speech are alive and well.


        P.S. By the way, when have universities ever not had student radicals who could be easily provoked? I remember an incident when I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto in 1974 when leftist protesters almost managed to shut down a guest lecture by John Kenneth Galbraith. John Kenneth Galbraith, for God’s sake!

  23. sylvainsab says

    Carl Jung sexist and racist (but apparently it’s not visible in his works), and Nietzsche “the founding father of postmodernism” and an opponent of truth ? Damn, Mr Quillette is very misinformed. At least, what is told about the main subject matter of the article, our dear Mr Peterson, is more or less accurate…

  24. sylvainsab says

    Carl Jung sexist and racist (but apparently it’s not visible in his works), and Nietzsche “the founding father of postmodernism” and an opponent of truth ? Damn, Mr Burston is very misinformed. At least, what is told about the main subject matter of the article, our dear Mr Peterson, is more or less accurate…

  25. “Scientists and educators believed in the emancipatory power of truth. Lies and illusions – what Peterson calls “ideology” – enslave us, because they clutter or obstruct our vision”.

    Peterson is first of all a pragmatist; he operates with several definitions of ‘truth’ – the newtonian, the darwinian, the phenomenological. He does not believe anyone can attain knowledge of the thing-in-itself, and that human hypotheses and theories should be considered tools for getting from A to B, and judged by their efficiency and coherence. He judges the scientific truth by this standard, not believing for a moment that its abstractisation and extrapolation out of context becomes universal truth i.e. an objective description of the thing-in-itself. He actually advises against aiming to use science as a base for our moral values, resorting to phenomenological arguments.

    Moral values arise from a darwinian definition of truth (that which perpetuates itself in the context of a dominance hierarchy), as well as a phenomenological one (he repeatedly states that it’s more important to ask “how should we act in the world” rather that “what is the world made of” when aiming to create/rediscover a viable value system), and at this point he brings Piaget and Jung in the picture.

    All these being said, I believe it’s become clear why the above quote is a bit of a straw man. Peterson does not opperate in the empiricist positivist definition of truth; like Nietzsche he believes that the scientific pursuit (trying to understand what things are made of) and the moral pursuit of humankind (trying to understand how we should act in the world) are not necessarily convergent; this became obvious in his first podcast with Sam Harris.
    Nevertheless, Peterson still talks about truth, but from a psychological paradigm – that of being truthfull at all costs, of having faith that this will result in a better world. Not because by being truthful we discover the thing-in-itself, but because our values become corrupt otherwise – if we do not aim to be truthful, we become deceitful, we manipulate others, suffering becomes meaningless, we become resentful and finally genocidal.

    For Peterson, ideologies are not “lies and illusions”; they are unilateral; they advance one or two concepts by which they explain everything. He concedes that these concepts might be useful in their own sphere (they have some descriptive power and some practical use). However, their main sin is that they’re low resolution descriptions that cannot deal with complexity and would rather destroy it to keep their premises alive. An example would be using the ‘selfish gene’ to explain everything related to human culture and behaviour.

    Sorry for the long comment; I really appreciate your article and the desire to engage Peterson’s arguments. I only thought I spotted one or two straw men and forced dichotomies.
    All the best!

    • Doug says

      Marcus Crassus, that is an excellent explanation of Jordan Peterson’s epistemology, as far as I was able to construct a systematic epistemology from his two conversations with Sam Harris. And that raises an interesting question that others have asked: how is Peterson’s epistemology so different from the epistemologies that emerge from the work of some of the Postmodernist philosophers he so vilifies?

      • Doug,

        When JP speaks about postmodernism, he refers to those philosophers (specially Foucault and Derrida, and more recently activists of social justice) who – he claims – dismissed the necessity of having value systems and of creating grand narratives. In critiquing the ideas of ‘western male thinkers’, postmodernists have reduced all types of hierarchies (social, based on skills or merit, value structures and belief systems) to power relations – ‘discourse’ meant to deceive and oppress others, panopticism etc.
        Since everything is regarded as will to power, deception and oppression, your only task as a philosopher or activist is to deconstruct and expose all these hierarchies.
        But then, Peterson asks, what do you do when you have no more value systems and grand narratives? Why bother waking up in the morning? What should you live for? And at this point he claims postmodernists resort to their underlying marxism; since they’re so concerned with oppression, it comes natural.

        Now every talk about postmodernism is an oversimplification; Peterson is himself a nietzschean and a phenomenologist, so he’s close to the roots of postmodernism. However, he doesn’t give up on the necessity of having value systems, does not demonize hierarchies as inherently evil and believes in individualism and personal responsibility.

  26. I find this piece disingenuous, filled with all the little bits and pieces that have lead to this state of permanent social unrest, everywhere in western academia.

    Mill vs Nietzsche, is slightly bent to Slavery vs abolitionists, with this, you know, ‘if you can’t come to your own conclusions, then you’re part of the problem’. Let’s smear the messenger, is just as old as we can possibly imagine.

    Later on, the author claims Nietzsche supported slavery, without bringing any solid evidence of it. It’s simple, there are none. Master-Slave is a model of thoughts, an archetype, where the origins of morals are examined. In today’s parlance, it is also called oppressor-victim, and both models are deeply flawed.

    And even if it were true (which is not!), there’s not a single idea pre-1800s, that isn’t the result of a slave-practising culture. Not one. Should Judaism, Christianity, and Islam be burnt? Should Plato and Aristotle be buried away?

    Then of course, your usual suspects ‘white privilege and male domination’, who the author, a white male, seems to see as relevant as they were 60 years ago. Try a mild-sexist statement, see if the 60s have anything relevant to add to today’s discourse.

    Point is, what does the mind of a 20 yo activist, reading this piece can legitimately deduce? An old white conservative male uses a pro-slavery german (!) philosopher to disseminate transphobic ideas. And to his *defence* a old-white-male philosopher says we should disagree and tolerate?

    I can see an immediate benefit for you, the moral high-ground, but with the current SJW mood, both of you will end up social outcasts, or worse. Which is exactly what’s going to happen by the way.

    Socrates was sentenced to death, for ‘corrupting the Athenian Youth’. Figure this, he taught his students how to think for themselves, inventing the Socratic method, and what became the corner stone of western science. Who would have thought that ‘Think for your self’ is the most counter-culture there is today?

    I see nothing of the like in this piece.

    Just a privileged-white-male, who one day, while have to fist-fight the mad-kids he created.

  27. Daniel Burston says

    Greetings, Crassus,

    And thank you for taking the time to address these complex issues for my benefit. Clearly, I will have to familiarize myself more deeply with Peterson’s ideas about truth before I venture into this territory again.

    Having been a seeker after Truth – with a large “T” – for much of my adolescence and early adulthood, I understand Peterson’s belief that we cannot grasp the “ding an such’, and understand the temptation to work with multiple definitions of truth (truth about the physical world versus how we should behave, pragmatism and phenomenology, etc.) However, I completely disagree with the premise that moral values arise from a Darwinian definition of truth, or indeed, from any intellectual *definition of truth.* Moral values are rooted in what Jung called “the feeling function.” More on that some other time

    I define truth – with a small ‘t’ – as parsimoniously as possible, as what actually is the case. Put differently, dealing in Truth, or large scale conjectures (or models) about the nature of the world – what Kant called theoretical reason – is beyond my pay grade. (Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, chided students who offered up vague, abstract or overgeneralized ideas with the reproach: “Small change, please Gentlemen! I want small change!”) I am more interested in practical reason (ethics and morality), and as a result, I have to acknowledge that the truth cannot always be reliably ascertained. It is moot, or elusive, in many instances. Nor does it always cohere with or meld (in some Platonic fashion) with the Good, or with Justice and Beauty. On the contrary, the truth – about ourselves and our motives, about our significant others, about the world at large – is often quite ugly and disturbing. But as Orwell understood so well, intellectual honesty -compels us to acknowledge what actually is the case regardless of where our political, religious or scientific loyalties lie. And if not, we are lost.

    Unlike truth, which lends itself to a simple definition – on this level, anyway – untruth does not. Untruth comes in at least three different forms – errors, lies and illusions – and there are important distinctions or differentiations to be made within each of these categories as regards motivation. This too is a “psychological paradigm” of truth, albeit one that is pragmatic – rather than pragmatist – and which deliberately refrains from entertaining grand conjectures about Truth, in the hopes of establishing a non-ideological consensus of what is what and how we should behave (or should have behaved, in retrospect.)

    Time is short. But thanks again for alerting me to the straw men. I’ll try to do better next time.

    Meanwhile, I am struck by your non de plume! I trust that you are not a wealthy real estate speculator, like Crassus was, since that would place you in the same unsavory category as our “Confabulator in Chief”, Donald Trump. 😉

    Daniel Burston

    • Daniel,

      Thanks for the quick reply. Totally agree with your statements on truth.
      Peterson himself refrains from grand statements about the nature of the world; his main argument for being truthful (beside the pshychological one I already mentioned) is precisely Orwell’s appeal to intellectual honesty. Just as individuals need to speek their mind truthfully in order to stay sane, so do societies; free speach is thus a sort of auto-correct mechanism.

      Also, when speaking of values from a darwinian perspective he by no means refers to social darwinism, but this is a bit tedious to summarize in a comment. He goes into details in his ‘Maps of Meaning’ lectures on his youtube channel.

      All the best,

      P.S. I’m no real estate speculator; just a poor eastern european whose sole privilege is being a white male.

  28. Doug says

    Daniel, I would like to append to the comments section of your article a recent article on Jordan Peterson’s foray into Canadian politics from the National Post. I should mention that the National Post is generally considered to be a “conservative” newspaper, so this article is not coming from some “radical left wing rag.”

    You will note that the writer of the article calls Peterson “a respected psychologist.” That is important. In your article and one of your comments to me, you suggest that Peterson’s academic freedom is at stake, and that he is battling forces that wish to shut down his lines of psychological inquiry. I have seen no evidence of that in any Canadian media, though it a meme circulated by his right wing fans online.

    The article makes the point, using Peterson’s own words, that Peterson’s academic credibility is now being undermined not by PC academics but by his propensity to make crazy statements in the public forum on issues in which he is demonstrably…well, a bit of a wingnut.

    I have to say, the use of the word “social justice warrior” in your article made me uncomfortable because it used so loosely by some conservatives to dismiss the views not only of left wing extremists, but of mainstream liberals. The quotations in the article show Peterson doing just that. In a recent speech, he applied the term “SJW” not just to the kind of angry student radicals who have tried to shout him down. He applied it to Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario.

    Anyone who knows Ontario politics would realize that to call the Liberal premier a SJW empties the word of any meaningful content. Though Premier Wynne is unpopular for some reasons that have nothing to do with the issues discussed here, nobody would agree that she is a SJW. What makes Peterson’s use of the term even more inflammatory, however, is that Premier Wynne is openly lesbian, and the nutbar fringe of the Ontario Conservative Party often attacks her on that score (the fringe, not the mainstream of the Progressive Conservative Party). So let’s be clear: Peterson’s use of the term SJW in his attack on the premier and the Liberal Party is right wing dog whistle politics at its worst, calculated to appeal to the kind of people on the right wing fringe of the Progressive Conservative Party who think you Americans made an excellent choice in electing Donald Trump. The kind of people whose donations on Patreon are also making Peterson a rich man, incidentally.

    Here is the article, for anyone interested:

  29. David Kennedy says

    The author (and Peterson) could really benefit from a close reading on Alisdair Macintyre. “Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry” would be a good place to start.

  30. Jim Clark says

    Dr. Burston demonstrates a robust ‘third way’ through his approach to writing this article. I suggest that this third way is to behave in order (along with Camus) to be neither a victim nor executioner…. Burston rejects ahistorical analyses, dichotomous thinking, and the rejection of free speech. Yes, the university (unlike a corporation or club) contains a multitude of contradictions, purposes, and positions. This makes them very stressful and exhilarating places to attend or work in. The greatest gift I received from all three I attended as a student (Catholic, land grant public, and private respectively) was the confrontation with ‘the Other’–in the forms of unsettling ideas, peers, teachers, books, and courses. Working through the affective and cognitive distress of otherness helped me grow up intellectually, and gave me the lifelong hunger for more of the other (as opposed to the same). Dr Burston reflects a deep study of Erik Erikson who believed that the ‘pseudospeciation’ of the other leads to social disaster; it is the surest sign of ignorance even if it does occur in a university and is conducted by highly credentialed people…. Thanks for writing one of the best articles so far about this very strange period we are living through!

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