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Who the Hell Is Pankaj Mishra?

I presume you know who Jordan Peterson is. If not, it's time for you to look him up and watch a few of his innumerable, and almost invariably wonderful, YouTube lectures, interviews, and debates. A clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, he first attained a degree of mainstream celebrity two years ago when he stood up publicly to Canada's notorious Bill C-16, under which citizens refusing to refer to transgender individuals by their chosen pronouns (including freshly invented ones) could be subject to punishment. Since then, his brilliant analyses of Western society today, his challenging reflections on the need for young – and not-so-young – people to face up to responsibilities, develop competence, and seek meaning in life, and his blunt criticisms of the postmodern enemies of free speech and deniers of biology have won him a massive worldwide following, making him, in the view of many, the most prominent and important intellectual of our time. He's also become a popular object of attack by leftist ideologues and pretenders at revolution who recognize him, his thoughts, and his army of admirers as an existential threat to the domination of contemporary culture by unexamined and pernicious socialist assumptions.

One of the most recent – and prominent – assaults on Peterson was written by one Pankaj Mishra and  appeared on March 19 at the website of the New York Review of Books. Entitled “Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism,” it oozes condescension. According to Mishra, Peterson is a practitioner of “intellectual populism” whose latest book is “[p]ackaged for people brought up on BuzzFeed listicles.” Mishra's characterization of Peterson's ideas is breathtakingly dishonest. Peterson, he writes, “insists that gender and class hierarchies are ordained by nature and validated by science.” Well, Peterson does recognize that male and female are biological categories and that certain biological and psychological differences exist between the sexes – some of which operate to the benefit of men, others to the benefit of women. Mishra mocks Peterson for taking Jungian archetypes seriously and says he mythologizes “right-wing pieties.” He also alleges that Peterson's preoccupation with Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is common among “Western right-wingers who...tend to imply that belief in egalitarianism leads straight to the guillotine or the Gulag.”

In fact Peterson is not against egalitarianism but against totalitarianism – and for capitalism, which Mishra can't forgive. Peterson's other offenses, in Mishra's eyes, include his enthusiasm for “the individual striver” and his opposition to Marxism, “social justice warriors,” and the goal of equality of outcome. Peterson's way of thinking, charges Mishra, “connects too easily with such nascent viciousness such as misogyny, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia” and led to the rise of “demagogues...in twentieth-century Europe.” This is both dishonest and disgusting. Mishra goes on to drag in such figures as W.B. Yeats, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Romain Rolland, Hindu monk Vivekananda, Japanese author D.T. Suzuki, German philosopher Ludwig Klages, Russian painter Nicholas Roerich, Indian activist Aurobindo Ghosh, English Orientalist Arthur Waley, and Italian fascist thinker Julius Evola. But the whole pretentious display is exploded by an editorial correction appended to the article: “An earlier version of this essay misidentified The Gulag Archipelago as a novel; it is nonfiction.” In other words, Mishra, who sneers at Peterson and others for their preoccupation with The Gulag Archipelago, a seminal text of the Communist era, actually thought it was a novel.