The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon

When we had lunch together one afternoon a few months back, Canadian psychologist and university professor Jordan Peterson, who has risen to meteoric prominence for his courageous stand against political correctness and legally compelled speech, looked distressingly frail and was on a restricted diet prescribed by his physician. The ordeal the press and the University of Toronto’s administration, which had threatened to discipline him for his refusal to accede to legislation forcing the use of invented pronouns, had obviously taken its toll. (Note: Peterson was willing to address individuals by their chosen pronouns, but was not willing to be forced to do so by law.)

Our conversation ranged over the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, C.G. Jung and Fyodor Dostoevsky, Peterson’s chief secular resources, as well as the Book of Genesis, the Prophetic literature and the Gospel of John, Peterson’s biblical lynchpins. His meditations on these texts have obviously struck a chord with his audience. From Nietzsche’s complex web of ideas, he focuses on the notion of critical strength to combat cultural weakness and the primacy of the individual over the group. From Jung comes the theory of the hero archetype, the feral “shadow” component of the psyche which must be both acknowledged and mastered, and the “animus dominated” feminist on a quest for societal control. He elaborates on the political wisdom of Dostoevsky’s novels The Devils and The Brothers Karamazov, and expands on a favorite quote from Notes from Underground, “You can say anything about world history. … Except one thing. … It cannot be said that world history is reasonable.”

From the biblical wellspring he develops the idea of creative vitality transforming darkness into light, reflects on the Prophetic summons to integrity, righteousness and the Kingdom of God  — for Peterson the ground of the higher good and the divinity of the soul — and stresses the concept of the Logos, the principle that imposes order on chaos and seeks to make the unreasonable rational, which he identifies with the spirit of masculinity.

Peterson is clearly filling a gaping spiritual vacuum experienced by a vast community, primarily young men, who have been deprived of agency, self-confidence and life-meaning. And he is doing so by representing the insights of his sources to readers and viewers unfamiliar with these magisterial texts and cultural giants — a privation owing in large measure to poor upbringing and an anorexic education. Pajama Boys living in their parents’ basement drinking hot chocolate rather than the Castalian water of knowledge, and men young and old who have been infected and oppressed by the feminist preaching of toxic masculinity, are in desperate need of moral revitalization and intellectual supervision.

The Peterson phenomenon, then, testifies to the deep sense of spiritual emptiness in our culture. Confronting the abyss, he argues that nobility is possible despite the recognition that life inescapably involves suffering, evil and death, and contends that male vigor, fortitude and resilience are essential to cultural survival. In a culture obsessed with group rights, Peterson points out that absent its necessary counterpart, individual responsibility, social collapse is inevitable.