Jordan Peterson is a Canadian academic who has recently and rapidly risen to prominence as a spokesperson for various right-wing and conservative views on gender, intellectual life, and social issues. Here, we have collected together some critical commentary on his work. Additions are most welcome.
- Bartlett, What’s So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson?
- Beachamp, Jordan Peterson, the obscure Canadian psychologist turned right-wing celebrity, explained
- Bowles, Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy
- Freeman, Jordan Peterson may be a ‘public intellectual’, but his latest theory isn’t very clever (The academic believes violent men can be cured by the love of a good woman through enforced monogamy. And he can’t understand why people are laughing at him?) [Also see Louis below.]
- Giese, University of Toronto Prof Jordan Peterson’s Dangerous Views On Why Men Assault Women
- Haider, Postmodernism Did Not Take Place: On Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life
- Levitz, Jordan Peterson Does Not Support ‘Equality of Opportunity’
- Louis, What Does Jordan Petersonʼs Enforced Monogamy Actually Look Like?
- McCann, Jordan Peterson’s Insidious Alt-Right Rhetoric
- Mishra, Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism
- Penny, Peterson's complaint
- Poplak, Richard Poplak sets Jordan B Peterson’s house in order: a (scorching) review of 12 Rules For Life
- Robinson, The intellectual we deserve (A detailed critique of Peterson's shallow, incoherent, and intellectually worthless arguments. And why he's so popular. See below.)
- Schiff, I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous
- Smith, Thus spoke Jordan Peterson: The best-selling psychologist isn't leading young men to salvation — he's delivering them to authoritarianism
- Tabachnik, Is Jordan Peterson the philosopher of the fake news era?
- Wrate, The Shadow of Jordan Peterson - Snake-oil, lobsters and lazy-thinking Nov 30 2018
Robinson, in The intellectual we deserve, writes, “Jordan Peterson appears very profound […] Yet he has almost nothing of value to say.” Robinson describes the tactics JP uses to achieve his appearance of profundity and intellectual value. Yet his writings and speeches are “comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant.”
JP’s 1999 book Maps of Meaning offers “an elaborate, unprovable, unfalsifiable, unintelligle theory”. Because of the way he writes, some of it appears to hold true, but is so abstract that it cannot be proved or disproved. He is like other grand theorists who ‘use verbosity to cover for a lack of profundity’. His obscurantism is “a tactic for badgering readers into deference to the writer’s authority”. For example, the diagrams and figures in Maps of Meaning are “masterpieces of unprovable gibberish”. While his self-help book inflates the obvious into the awe-inspiring.
Many critics of his work have failed to note what he’s saying. But the problem of the misrepresentation of JP is that he’s highly vague and vacillating. The multiplicity of possible meanings in his work makes it irrefutable (which is bad). As Robinson comments, “he’s a Rorschach test who can be interpreted many ways”. And some of what JP says is just plain wrong. He holds an incredibly ignorant, simplistic, and dismissive view of politics and of social justice efforts.
Robinson argues that, “Peterson is popular partly because he criticizes social justice activists in a way many people find satisfying, and some of those criticisms have merit. He is popular partly because he offers adrift young men a sense of heroic purpose, and offers angry young men rationalizations for their hatreds. And he is popular partly because academia and the left have failed spectacularly at helping make the world intelligible to ordinary people, and giving them a clear and compelling political vision.”
Beauchamp (above) notes that Peterson is seen by his supporters as an avatar of reason and facts pushing back against irrational ‘social justice warriors’. His approach as a public intellectual is to ‘take inflammatory, somewhat misinformed stances on issues of public concern outside his area of expertise’. His framework allows dismissal of any kind of privilege, as a “Marxist lie” designed to enable the Marxist-postmodernist effort to seize control of the state.
There are of course defences of Peterson's work in response to such commentaries, and debates over how to understand his work. Here are some:
- Fuller, Jordan Peterson and the New York Times — a Rorschach test for the new culture wars;
- Horton, Jordan Peterson and the Failure of the Left;
- Lee, The Noble Lobster: What Jordan Peterson Understands and Pankaj Mishra Ignores;
- Peterson, On the New York Times and “Enforced Monogamy;
- Weiss, Meet the renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web