University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson recently made some interesting comments on the Alt Right. On the one hand, he refused to condemn its thrust to re-establish identity and roots, identifying this with the Father archetype. However, he also made several criticisms which bear some examination. Some aspects of the response here have been elaborated further elsewhere.
The core of Peterson’s criticism lay in the charge that the Alt Right is incomplete. “The purpose of identification with the Father is to become the Son…and the problem with Nationalism is that it forgets that, it forgets that the purpose of the nation is to give rise to the individual.”
Peterson believes that the Alt Right misses that the state is a “pathological monster”. He also believes that a contradiction exists in the Alt Right: on the one hand, it has criticized the Left for expanding and using the power of the state to achieve its ends; on the other hand, it sees the answer in nationalism.
Both of these criticisms which reveal the extent to which the assumptions and frame of liberalism (in the historic sense of the word from 1776 and 1789 onward) influences not only Peterson, but also many critics of the social justice Left who continue to identify as libertarians, “classical liberals”, or even “conservatives”. This is the grouping often called the “Alt Lite” by nationalist opponents, because it bases its opposition on libertarian arguments about individualism and free speech rather than civilizational or racial vision.
First, we must address the quite teleological claim that the nation exists to create the individual. Now in a certain sense, this is true. A nation exists in its individuals, the same way a body exists in its cells. However, Peterson’s comments imply a certain moral individualism: the nation’s moral foundation is in the individuals it creates. In other words, we can identify a sort of moral foundation built on the individual from which the state derives legitimacy.
It is difficult to go further than this without questioning what sort of individual is desired by the person using this definition, and Peterson is certainly no orthodox liberal in how he sees individuals. However, we can speak more toward the general view of individuals championed by the libertarian and “classical liberal”, categories with which many of Peterson’s followers identify. This tradition envisions the individual as a sovereign, rights-bearing entity which by its own reason and will chooses how it interacts with others, what its moral vision is, and what truth is. Therefore, any entry into collective identity or action is only morally permissible by the consent of the individual.
Once admitted, much theorizing is done as to why therefore concepts like the state and law are valid, often entering into Lockean, Hobbesian, or similar ideas about social contract. The most consistent application of this principle leads one inescapably to anarchism. In the words of the American anarchist Lysander Spooner, “[the secessionist] had the same natural right to take up arms alone to defend his own property against a single tax-gatherer, that he had to take up arms in company with three millions of others, to defend the property of all against an army of tax-gatherers.”
However, this attempt at creating a moral axiom inescapably finds itself at war with the telos of Man’s social nature, which not only tends to but relies on hierarchy. Universally, any human who takes part in even the human society of a family has been brought into the world by parents and has his beliefs and concepts shaped by his family. His raising is dependent on the authority his parents hold over him, which they hold because he is dependent on them, and they are older and wiser than he. This is the principle of protego ergo obligo: I protect, therefore I obligate. This protection, and the resulting obedience, is the principle which creates the authoritative structures of the family and the state alike. Sovereign authority precedes the individual, be it in the family or in the state.
Unlike the Hobbesian and Lockean thought experiments about the state of nature which characterize Enlightenment thought, the truth is that such authority is inherent to all human society. The “state of nature” never existed. As Sir Robert Filmer demonstrates in Patriarcha, this same principle of the family expands without obstacle to the extended family, the clan, and ultimately to that Power on which is built the sovereign corporative structure we call the state. As the German political and legal philosopher Carl Schmitt states in his foundational work The Concept of the Political: “protego ergo obligo is the cogito ergo sum of the state”. Liberalism historically rejected this idea; of course, as it gained ascendency it took a more realistic view, to the extent that modern “liberals” approve of social engineering programs which go far beyond anything the “tyrants” of old ever dreamed.
This conception preserves the notion and place of the individual, but does not accept that the morality of the individual exists as separate from the collectives which form him. It restores to the individual a political nature, in Schmitt’s meaning of that word. Schmitt saw liberalism as not so much a political theory, but an anti-politics. It is a pure critique, which attempts to sever any claim of state, church, or nation to the individual. While this sounds desirable in some ways (after all, claims imply possible limitations), it is also what ultimately leads to the collapses of meaning which the Alt Right has arisen in response to. Liberalism, to use Peterson’s language, seeks to end the claims of the Father.
Is there a contradiction in the Alt Right on this topic? It would be more accurate to say that this topic is a dividing line between factions. The “Alt Lite” certainly does hold that the state is pathological and makes arguments based on free speech or individualist grounds. Although they may often signal nationalist, this is often framed as a nationalism which is needed to protect classical liberal norms. The identitarian faction rejects the libertarian frame and does not make arguments based on those grounds, but rather in terms of group dynamics and collective security.
The identitarian arguments implicitly have a better understanding of the nature of political conflict. The fatal error of the liberal “anti-SJW” frame is that its logical conclusion offers rights which depend on good faith behaviour to groups which will not act in good faith. In the heyday of the 60’s and 70’s, the New Left advocated free speech in campuses in order to get their voices heard and take control of the institutions. Once this was achieved, they burned the free speech bridge. Those who defended the New Left based on free speech failed both in their own political agenda and in the protection of campus free speech.
Today, the political forces which act to eliminate any chance of restoring our civilization have moved on from free speech. Trump proves an interesting case study. While the libertarian wastes money and resources on merely winning the possibility of argument, the Trump campaign ignored this and went right to the issues at hand: immigration, family, work, and security. The President reaped the results. While the Left must of course be endlessly hammered on its hypocrisy on the speech issue, the Right must focus on those battles which will actually decide the course of history. The family must be made secure and re-normalized. Migration policy must restore demographic integrity. The power of media and academia must be harnessed. The state – which is a necessary and emergent phenomenon in all large human societies – will either act for these ends, or against them. There is no “neutral” option. If it is to work for them, it will be because those who hold sovereign power decide to work for them.
To conclude, Peterson is absolutely correct that we must restore the Father and become sons. However, achieving this on a cultural and civilizational level is inseparable from achieving this as a vision of the state. If the state is pathological, it is because the people who make it up are pathological.
In that case, the only option is for the state to sort itself out. But then, it will also have to deal with the errors of liberalism, rather than basing its response on those same deceptions.
Like many, we at Northern Dawn continue to follow the career of Prof. Jordan Peterson. As many of our readers will know, his refusal to allow the progressive apparatchiks the linguistic control their project demands has earned him vehement opposition and staunch support. Interestingly, his rising popularity has also lead many observers to become interested in the topics of religious psychology and creative thought.
Recently, the following piece was published attempting to attack Prof. Peterson from a Communist perspective. The piece is useful to read since it provides a strong example of several kinds of rhetoric and framing used by leftists to subvert healthy thinking and social structures. For the benefit of our readers, we will outline several of these instances.
This is not, however, an engagement with Communism. Let us be clear: Communism is an evil, retrograde, and abominable ideology which caused more mass death and suffering than any other ideological system in the 20th century. It remains today for only two reasons: the chameleon tactic, by which the Communist is allowed to disown such evil by claiming that they were “not real Communism”, and the active collaboration and promotion by those in academia and media who promote Communist icons as romantic idealists rather than mass murderers. We approach this as propaganda analysis, useful insofar as it allows people to spot and deconstruct common tactics of ideological subversion.
Frame #1: Defining Fascism
As is to be expected, the piece accuses Peterson of being motivated by Fascism. It holds to a typical Communist definition of Fascism as the open exercise of state power by oppressive structures (in this case, patriarchy and capitalism). While common, this definition is peculiar to the Communist lens – which historically dominated historical studies of Fascism – and not to broader historical perspectives.
A. James Gregor’s work Mussolini’s Intellectuals is a less ideologically driven account of Fascism. Gregor recounts the steps of Fascist development, and reveals it to be a philosophical synthesis of Italian nationalism, post-Marxist syndicalism, and Gentilian Idealist philosophy. Its prime motivation was the establishment of an industrial and geopolitically sovereign Italian state. Armed with this historically accurate view of Fascism, the common use of the term as a leftist slur becomes not only empty but patently ridiculous.
Frame #2: Cultural Marxism as Myth
As the concept of cultural marxism has moved beyond the circles of paleoconservative history and philosophy (Gottfried et al), the Left has begun a campaign of delegitimization against the concept. This rests on a purposeful strawman of what Cultural Marxism is. Cultural Marxism describes the transition of Marxist categories of thought from economic categories of identity (class) to a variety of other categories (gender, race, orientation, religion, culture, etc). Scholars like Paul Gottfried (a former student of Marcuse) saw the left wing of the Frankfurt School as playing a central role in this process. It may be useful to quote Gottfried at length:
The roots of this force, these critics argue, go back to the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, which was organized in interwar Germany, and to the influence its adherents exercised, especially in exile in the US after 1935.
Exponents of what the Frankfurt School called “critical theory”— like Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, and Erich Fromm—were considered by orthodox Marxists to be fake or ersatz Marxists.
But the self-proclaimed radicals of Frankfurt School did adopt orthodox Marxist-Leninist theory in depicting the bourgeoisie as a counterrevolutionary class. Like orthodox Marxists, they viewed the world, arguably simplistically, in terms of interest groups and power relationships. Like orthodox Marxists—whose break from Victorian classical liberalism in this respect was shocking in a way that is easily overlooked after the totalitarian experience of the twentieth century—they explicitly eschewed debate in favor of reviling and if possible repressing their opponents.[…]
Still and all, the Frankfurt School, and especially its second generation as represented by the fervent “anti-fascist” Jürgen Habermas, has been far more interested in social engineering than in government ownership of the means of production distribution and exchange—the classic definition of socialism. From The Authoritarian Personality, edited by Adorno and his collaborator Max Horkheimer and brought out in 1950 by the American Jewish Committee (then and now funders of Commentary), to the repeated attempts by Habermas and his fervent followers to make German education politically useful to the anti-national Left, the Frankfurt School has focused on “anti-fascist” attitudes and behavioral patterns. Whether this can be extracted from Communist practice, or from Marx’s materialist view of class and history, are open questions.
But whatever the case, Frankfurt School-intellectuals rallied to Lenin’s Russia and later sympathized variously with the Communist DDR , were close to, if not always members of, the German Communist Party, and traced their work back to Marxist concepts. In short, they were social reformers in a hurry who also claimed to be Marxists.
Now this theory about the role of a certain academic clique in the transformation of the Left has little to do with the popular Leftist strawmanning of the term. Commonly, it will be described at once as a “conspiracy theory” (notice that the Left, which has numerous historical conspiracies of rebellion, is the quickest to try and deride the concept of conspiracy altogether) that attributes every aspect of the modern Left (feminism, environmentalism, etc) to a grand design of the Frankfurt School.
Contrasting this to Gottfried’s definition, this is an obvious caricature. The Communist piece has an even more absurd take, claiming that “Fascists have blamed the chimera “Cultural Marxism” for the phenomenon of gender variance”.
Frame #3: Narrative Subversion
A third tactic which becomes evident in the piece is the attempt to erase competing narratives which would undermine the ability of leftist narratives to gain legitimacy.
The fascist offensive to erase the colonized peoples, the gender nonconforming, and a militant, partisan, and independent labour movement is an offensive against the living bearers of a history, the latter of which is an affront to the former’s mythological conception of history….The bitter and brutal history of primitive accumulation, the enclosures, the Peasant War in Germany, the working class uprisings of the Springtime of Nations in 1848, and the Paris Commune in 1871 are the ultimate affront and repudiation of their idyllic and flatly ignorant vision of Western Civilization as harmonious.
Immediately, we see the frame that those groups seen as within the Leftist coalition have “true history” whereas those outside it have only “mythological conception[s] of history”. This is incoherent within the Leftist approach itself, which sees narratives as stemming fundamentally from the interests of power structures. Given this, it is not at all obvious why the “oppressed” narratives should be regarded as any less or more mythological than “oppressor” narratives, since neither has truth as its goal.
In this case, the writer even tries to impose communist lenses on struggles that had no conception of leftist or even merely liberal norms. The peasants who participated in the Peasant War in Germany in the 16th century certainly had grievances and even a concern for their personal liberties, but saw themselves as belonging to a cohesive Christendom (even if one needing Reformation). Attempts to coopt them into the grand narrative of revolution constitutes a historical appropriation.
This same tactic is used regarding nations, religions, and cultures. We are used to seeing the Left militantly oppose Christian priests or pastors who refuse to morally approve of homosexual relations, for example, while coming out in droves to defend Islamic groups which demand harsh punishments for the same relationships. Another example is the idealization common on the Left of “indigenous cultures” and the consequent demand that they maintain land sovereignty and particularity, while advocating globalism and open borders for the rest of the world. Certain kinds of liberals will attack what they call the “regressive left” for hypocrisy or inconsistent principles; their mistake, of course, is assuming that they are witnessing applications of principles. In fact, this is an entirely consistent application of the ethics of tribal warfare: defend your own, attack the enemy.
The only guard against this tactic is a moral boundary: no one, especially no ideological opponent, can be granted the legitimacy to undermine one’s historical identity. While this should be obvious, the phenomenon occurs all too often in academic and other circles, where parties assume that these narratives are being promoted in good faith and not as part of a political power struggle.
Some Further Points
It is a common byline of not only Communists, but much of the modern Left, that ideas cannot be separated from the culture which they come from and contribute to. The piece cites Magnus Hirschfeld as a researcher who helped to prove gender variance. It may be of interest to readers to examine the cultural backdrop which Hirschfeld and his fellow-travellers operated in.
Born into a Jewish family established in the German medical industry, Hirschfeld would become among the most infamous experimenters in “sexual science” of his day. His most well-known project, the Institute for Sexual Research, opened in 1919 in Berlin.
Now what sort of culture was this project immersed in? Despite the implication that Hirschfeld was surrounded by brave fellow-travellers casting off the chains of oppression, the truth about Weimar Berlin is far uglier. A thriving underground sex-trafficking scene which prided itself on embracing decadence exploited not only men and women driven to poverty by war and depression, but even children. Prof. Mel Gordon of UC Berkeley details, in stomach-churning terms, a prevalence of child prostitution in his work Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin.
Gordon quotes a memoir by Italian journalist Luigi Barzini:
“I saw pimps offering anything to anybody, little boys, little girls, robust young men, libidinous women, animals. The story went around that a male goose of which one cut the neck at the ecstatic moment would give you the most delicious, economical, and time-saving frisson of all, as it allowed you to enjoy sodomy, bestiality, homosexuality, necrophilia and sadism at one stroke. Gastronomy too, as one could eat the goose afterwards.”
“One French journalist, Jean Galtier-Boissière, described, in sickly pornographic detail, the creeping horror of feeling a nine-year-old girl’s tiny, but proficient, fingers stroking his upper thigh while the broken-toothed mother covered his face with hot sucking kisses.”
It is important to understand that this was the culture which Hirschfeld’s work appealed to. By the standards of cultural context, Hirschfeld cannot be considered as anything other than the product of a horrifically exploitative culture dressed up in the language of sexual liberation. If Weimar Berlin is indeed the culture which such people wish to return to, then many will find “liberation” a good deal harsher and more dehumanizing than they could have ever imagined.