The Rise of Jordan Peterson and the Problem of Fascism

Church Threatened With Guillotine

Last October, the Alternative Seattle newspaper, The Stranger, reported that radical leftists had been working to block showings of a controversial new film. One church near Portland was planning to show the film until they received a message warning that “several community organizations are planning to shut down your showing of the…film.” The message went on to warn that the film was promoting fascism, ending with a threat of violence:

“…we cannot allow fascism to continue to rise and will not tolerate its presence in our city, whether it is on the streets or on the waterfront or in a church… As much as we joke about it, we really don’t want to have to bring out the guillotine to fix society.”

Since then, the self-appointed guardians of public virtue continued working themselves up into paroxysms of rage over this particular film, which they feared was bringing fascism to the United States.

What was this incendiary movie that drew such outrage from the Left towards the close of last year? Was it a neo-Nazi recruitment film? Or perhaps a holocaust-denying propaganda movie?

Continue reading

Recent Reads and Re-Reads

Here are some books I recently been enjoying, some for the first time, some for the second or third time. (If you are receiving this post in an email and cannot view the photos, please adjust your settings or click here to view this post online.)

 

 

 

Alfred the Great’s England

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great

When I was writing my book Saints and Scoundrels, one of the most fulfilling chapters was my chapter on Alfred the Great. I have been fascinated by King Alfred (849-899) ever since I was a boy and read the famous story about him burning the honey cakes. But what impressed me the most when researching for my chapter was the extent to which King Alfred laid the foundation for modern England.

Although King Alfred is considered one of the early kings of England, in actual fact England did not exist in the ninth century. Alfred was the King of Wessex, which was one among a number of small Saxon Kingdoms at the time.

Continue reading

Wisdom from St. Basil the Great

“As for those things that are of service to you in this temporary life, do not regard them as great. Through concern about these things do not neglect the life that comes first for you, but be attentive to yourself, that is, to your soul. Adorn it and take care of it, so that all the filth befalling it from wickedness may be removed through attention, and all the shame due to evil may be cleansed away, but adorn and bright it with all the beauty that comes from virtue.” St. Basil the Great

 

Identity Politics

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about the problems with “identity politics,” but what exactly is this pernicious ideology? The simplest explanation is that identity politics makes a person’s particular group paramount, so that group-identity forms the lens through which to view political issues or make policy decisions.

Identity politics draws heavily on certain variants of postmodernism which sees all of us trapped in micronarratives that define us and prevent intelligible interaction across our ideological divides. (I have discussed this in my article, ‘John Milbank and the Life of Pi.’) Society becomes reduced to a battleground among competing among groups, who are locked in a zero-sum battle for power.

Identity politics has been a growing concern in the political left ever since Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), and later the Frankfurt School, reinterpreted Marxism to no longer be about economics but about power. The resulting “social Marxism” no longer divides society into economic classes, such as proletariats and bourgeoisie, but instead divides society into various group identities, such as race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. (I have discussed the history of social Marxism in my article ‘The “Quiet Revolution” of Cultural Marxism.’)

A toxic mix of identity politics, postmodernism, and social Marxism, now dominates the humanities departments of most universities, as Rod Dreher has been documenting at The American Conservative. The result is that it is impossible to look at history, religion, literature, culture, and art, without these disciplines becoming fodder for ideology and politicization.

Although identity politics has largely been limited to the political left, it has seen a precipitous rise among right-wingers in the United States since around the middle of this decade, as I discussed in my article ‘The Republican Retreat to Identity Politics.’ Whereas left-wing identity politics owes itself to post-war social Marxism, the new right-wing identity politics comes from the long re-mapping of American conservatism in the post-cold war era, having recently been fueled by the rise of left-wing identity politics, unsustainable immigration, political correctness, and virulent attacks against Judeo-Christian culture.

Politicians who have succumbed to identity politics see little problem pigeon-holing individuals into belief-patterns based on their group identity, on the assumption that someone’s skin color, ethnic origin, gender, or sexual preferences ought to determine their political beliefs. For example, last year Democrat Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts went on television and announced,

“We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.”

Responding to Pressley’s comments in Tablet Magazine, journalist James Kirchick observed that her identity politics differs little from classic racism:

“Insisting that someone with a ‘brown’ or ‘black’ face must endorse a set of ideological precepts (presumably dictated by Ayanna Pressley)—in other words, that one’s skin color ought to determine how one thinks and acts—is textbook racism.”

Pressley was not an isolated case. Pigeon-holing people based on race is now routine within corporate America thanks to equity policies. The basic idea behind equity policies goes something like this: the different races all have their own perspective; therefore, in order for our corporation to have a access to all the perspectives, we need to put policies in place that enforce racial stratification. This theory might make some sense if members of each racial group thought and acted as a uniform block, but this is far from the case. As Jordan Peterson observed in an interview, “It’s such a pernicious philosophy because it’s predicated on the idea that the way someone thinks is inextricably tied with their group identity.” In another interview he warned that dividing people up into groups leads to “an enhancement of our tribal proclivities.”

Peterson’s point about tribes is crucial. Human beings have always struggled with the polarity between the tendency to break up into competing tribes, on the one hand, and the tendency to control social division through totalitarianism, on the other. Historically, nations avoid these extremes by being held together by common memories, customs, symbols, myths, legends, and strong social institutions that act as a hedge against both tribalism and totalitarianism. In its most rigorous and consistent form, classical liberalism de-emphasizes or ignores these deep-seated cultural-symbolic underpinnings of civil society and attempts to secularize the public life, often migrating transcendence to the claims of the state. This creates a dangerous vacuum in which citizens find themselves without the basic building blocks of national cohesion. This inevitably results in human beings looking to their most basic and primitive bonds for cohesion, thus reverting to a raw tribalism. A secular and materialistic society offers little scope for the type of roots that humans innately long for, while the isolated individualism of Western capitalism leaves humans without a sense of healthy community. All of this creates a dangerous vacuum in which it becomes easy to start looking to race and ethnicity to fulfill our need for identity and inner cohesion. The reason this is dangerous is because every time a nation goes down this road, thousands to millions of people have died. If the West continues this dangerous experiment with identity politics, it is only a matter of time before blood begins flowing in the streets.

Further Reading

Calvin’s Dual Teleology

From ‘From Calvin a Nominalist? (Part 3)

“Within Calvin’s theological metaphysics, God’s sovereignty becomes acutely fragile, threatened by anything that might undermine the creational and soteriological monergism on which it precariously hinged. The result is that instead of God and nature being related analogically, there is a univocal freedom and a univocal glory that must be partitioned out between God and creatures. A concomitant of this nominalist dialectic is that meaning and teleology no longer reside in things themselves but are imposed from outside in ways that involve explicit incongruities. The incongruities arise at the point in which the divine will-acts, now broken down into separate modes, offer a competing teleology to the same object simultaneously. For example, the distinction between God’s revealed will and His hidden will forced Calvin to set in opposition the teleology that is normative for an object with the teleology that God ultimately wills for the same object. With respect to God’s revealed will, the telos of each and every individual includes eternal union with Him, but with respect to God’s hidden will, the telos of certain individuals includes eternal disunion with Him. (And by the way, this dual-telos is a necessary consequence of Calvin’s system regardless of whether one maintains he was a supralapsarian or an infralapsarian, and regardless of whether one holds that Calvin believed in single predestination or double predestination.) However, since God reveals Himself to humankind in terms of the first mode while relating to humankind in terms of the second, a radical discontinuity is set up between God as He is and God as human beings experience Him, between appearance and reality. Accordingly, the telos that is universally normative for all persons (i.e., that the final end of all men is to be united with Him) achieves its normativity purely through God naming it to be such, even though this naming-activity remains dislocated from the actual telos of God’s hidden will (i.e. that it is not the final end of all persons, but only some, to be united with Him). However, since Calvin could not completely abandon the quest for teleological unity, the hidden generally takes precedent over the revealed will, with the latter being reduced to mere accommodatio.”

Fred Rogers vs. Oprah Winfrey

In an interview for NBC’s TODAY, Tom Hanks talked about his role in the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Sharing what he had learned from playing children’s TV celebrity Fred Rogers (1928-2003), Hanks summed it up by commenting, “It’s good to talk, it’s good to share the things we feel.”

For many children in the last half of the twentieth century, watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood may have been the only place they encountered the idea that emotions are okay.

Continue reading

The Human Side of Jordan Peterson

I just came across this video from an interview that Jordan Peterson gave last year during his tour of Australia. This interview shows us something we don’t often see, for it gives a glimpse of Jordan Peterson as a very human figure, a man clearly tired out by his new responsibilities (something he tried to downplay) and overwhelmed, almost to the point of tears, by how many young men he has been able to save by just a little encouragement.

 

Only One Half of the Lesson

There were two very hard lessons that the twentieth-century brutally taught us: (1) fascism is bad (2) communism is bad. We’ve learn the first lesson, which is why self-proclaimed fascists get in trouble. Yet millions of deaths were not enough to teach us the second lesson. Self-proclaimed communists can still find acceptance within the mainstream. Jordan Peterson discusses this in the video below, suggesting that we have only learned one half of the lesson the twentieth-century could have taught us.

Modesty and Sexual Affirmation

In some of my recent writing about the dangers of porn, it’s easy to begin thinking about modesty in its defensive and purely negative function, in so far as modesty can act as a shield from temptation and exploitation. While this is appropriate, such an emphasis can sometime overlook the important aspect in which modesty is an affirmation of sexuality.

The role that modesty plays in affirming the goodness of sexuality is something I explored in my Salvo article ‘Holy Matrimony: The Unexpected Connection Between Religion & Sexual Fulfillment‘ and my blog post ‘Why Being Modest is More Exciting than Being Immodest.’ Here is what I observed in the former article, looking at modesty first from the female perspective and then the male perspective:

The Female Perspective. Some women have told me that modesty is important to them, not only because it helps men not to stumble, but also because it helps them place a high value on their own sexuality. They have told me that modest apparel affirms the true importance of a woman’s sexual identity, since it proclaims that her body is not a tame, benign, and commonplace thing. Modesty affirms that our bodies in general and our sexuality in particular are special, charged, even enchanted, and too exciting to be put merely to common use. As Kathleen van Schaijik suggested in a 1999 article, “If we revere something, we do not hide it. Neither do we flaunt it in public. We cherish it; we pay it homage; we approach it with dignity; we adorn it with beauty; we take care that it is not misused.”

In her book A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit argues that modesty is the truly erotic option, since it makes the highest valuation of a woman’s sexual identity, affirming the sacredness of sexuality and displaying a commitment to setting it apart and cherishing it. C. S. Lewis put his finger on the same principle in That Hideous Strength: “when a thing is enclosed, the mind does not willingly regard it as common.” To dress immodestly is ultimately to reduce our sexuality to something commonplace, trivial, and humdrum.

Precisely for this reason, a modest woman significantly upgrades the significance of what is happening when she undresses in front of her husband. As Havelock Ellis observed (stumbling upon the truth for one of the few times in his life), “without modesty we could not have, nor rightly value at its true worth, that bold and pure candor which is at once the final revelation of love and the seal of its sincerity.”

The Male Perspective. Modesty also upgrades sexuality from the male perspective. The evidence clearly shows that men whose environment is saturated with immodest women (either because of the company they keep or the images they view) are generally not oversexed, as one might suppose, but just the opposite. In Denmark, where pornography is unrestricted, men are often quoted as saying that sex has become boring.

Cristina Odone observed in The Times that advertisers are finding that sex just does not sell products like it once did. The reason, she suggested, is that the advertisers have made sex so banal that it doesn’t entice us any longer. As one 16-year-old was quoted as saying in 2004, “I’m so used to it, it makes me sick.”

Frequent exposure to nudity tends to trivialize the human body, emptying it of its implicit eroticism. As someone said to me last year, when a man is exposed to too much flesh, it lowers the healthy excitement he should feel when he looks upon the body of his wife because (yawn) he sees that all the time. It therefore takes a higher sexual charge, sometimes to point of extreme perversion, to match the excitement that might otherwise be available in a normal sexual encounter. Could it be that the rise of libido-enhancing drugs is meeting a need created by the libido-squashing effects of pornography?