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.
This post originally appeared on Gerry T. Neal’s blog thronealtarliberty.blogspot.ca on April 23, 2015.
A figure who had a brief starring role on the stage of Canadian history in the early 1990s has re-emerged from the obscurity into which she subsequently receded to make an interesting observation about how an idea she holds dear and believes other Canadians do as well is faring in certain segments of the immigrant community. That figure is the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, who entered Parliament as a Progressive Conservative representing Vancouver Centre in 1988 and held a number of cabinet positions in the Mulroney government before taking over the leadership of the party and the Premiership of the country for the Parliamentary recess between Mulroney’s resignation and the general election in which the Conservatives were decimated and Jean Chretien’s Liberals came to power. The National Post, on Thursday April the 16th, reported on a panel discussion at the University of Alberta the previous day that was hosted by the Peter Lougheed Leadership College of which the former Prime Minister is the Founding Principal. She was also one of the panel speakers and the newspaper focused on her remarks.
According to the National Post she told her audience that immigration has brought individuals into our society who “come from cultures that don’t believe in gender equality” and that we have not been doing a good job at selling this “Canadian value” to them. She expressed specific concerns about cultures like that of Islam which require women to wear concealing garments. She objected both to the suggestion “that women bear responsibility for the sexual behaviour of men” and to the fact that wearing a face-concealing veil in a citizenship ceremony runs contrary to the ideal of an open society.
Now before you jump to the conclusion that this is a good sign, an indicator that some members of Canada’s political class are finally waking up to the many ways in which the open immigration policy imposed upon us by the Liberals in the 1960s has been harmful to our country and our society, note how the National Post informs us that:
She said one of Canada’s challenges is to guide the integration of cultures that don’t share this value. Better education of Canadian residents is the key, she said, adding if Canadians don’t understand their own history and values, people new to the country will find them difficult to learn.
In other words, to this past Premier, if some immigrants do not believe in or accept what she regards as an essential Canadian “value”, the problem is not with our open immigration system that lets anyone in whether they accept our “values” or not or even with our complete lack of a system for assimilating newcomers and integrating them into Canadian culture but rather with those of us who already live here and we need to be re-educated so as to exude those “values” in such a way that the new immigrants will absorb them into themselves through some kind of cultural osmosis process.
This astonishing conclusion could only be arrived at by a mind so indoctrinated in the idea of Canadian “values” that it cannot accept that one of these values, open immigration, might be incompatible with another of these values, sexual equality, (1) despite the glaring evidence that such is in fact the case.
Now both of these supposed Canadian “values” are stupid ideas in my opinion, and I could make a separate case against both open immigration and sexual egalitarianism, but having done so already several times in the past (2) and being likely to do so again, I think that it is the very idea of values that warrants further examination here.
A number of years ago, John Casey, writing in the Spectator, told of an exchange that had taken place during a Conservative Philosophy Group meeting in the early 1980s in which Enoch Powell made an important point about values to then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
Edward Norman (then Dean of Peterhouse) had attempted to mount a Christian argument for nuclear weapons. The discussion moved on to ‘Western values’. Mrs Thatcher said (in effect) that Norman had shown that the Bomb was necessary for the defence of our values. Powell: ‘No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.’ Thatcher (it was just before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands): ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’ ‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.’ Mrs Thatcher looked utterly baffled. She had just been presented with the difference between Toryism and American Republicanism.
Powell’s point, apparently beyond Mrs. Thatcher’s grasp, was that values, whatever they may be, are not worth fighting, killing, and dying for, that you only do that for something solid and tangible, your country, consisting of real people, in a real territory, with real institutions and a real way of life.
This is one point about values that I think well worth re-iterating but there is another that I wish to focus on. Interestingly, the year before Kim Campbell was elected to Parliament a book that made this point, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (3) became a best-seller in the United States, while the following year, in one of Nabokov’s “dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love”, the man who had for years been making the same point up here in Canada, died, George Parkin Grant (4). The point in question is that it while everybody speaks of values today this is a recent innovation and not one for the better. (5) Whereas we used to speak of good and evil, which were what they were in themselves and were out there for us to discover, and of virtues which were habits of behaviour or character traits that we were to cultivate because of their goodness, now we speak instead of values, which are substitutes for goodness and virtue that we create and choose for ourselves. Since different people may create and choose different values for themselves, and who is to say, now that values have replaced good and evil, that one set of values is better or worse than any other, the language of values is the language of moral and cultural relativism. (6)
Apart from the relativism of the language of values, it is also worth noting that traditional religion uses a different, much less attractive word, for those things we create for ourselves and substitute for God and the higher things. That word, of course, is idols.
The expression “Canadian values” has a particularly odious set of connotations because it is generally used to refer to those values created for Canadians by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s as a substitute for Canadian tradition. These included such things as open immigration, multiculturalism, bilingualism (at least for English-speaking Canada), feminism, and the like. These, the Trudeau Liberals decided, were to be Canada’s new values and were to be shoved down Canadians throats whether they liked them or not, and if they didn’t like them they would be called “racists” and “sexists” and other ugly names. As it turned out, apart from the intellectual elite who are guaranteed to be the least intelligent segment of any society and who in Canada adored Trudeau, these values were not to Canadians liking and so, when they had had quite enough of Trudeau’s arrogance, they gave a landslide victory to the party whose historic role it had long been to safeguard the Canadian tradition, including such things as our British parliamentary monarchy and our Common Law heritage. That party was the old Conservative Party, then led by Brian Mulroney. Unfortunately the Mulroney Conservatives seemed little interested in performing their historic role and rescuing Canadian tradition from Trudeau’s values. Thus much of their support evaporated and the party, now under Kim Campbell’s leadership, collapsed.
Our concern ought to be that newcomers to Canada accept Canada’s tradition, not a set of absurd idolatrous values created for the country by a contemptible sleazebag who adored Mao Tse-Tung. Who will speak for that tradition? Historically that was the role of the old Conservative Party but they laid down on the job and their party died because of it. The present Conservative Party gives lip service to Canada’s tradition but it began life as the Reform Party, a Western populist party whose profession of small-c conservatism proved to be false because they could not grasp that there can be no conservatism without patriotic attachment to your own country, its traditions and institutions. (7) The other parties – Liberal, NDP, and Green – are all committed to Trudeau’s values rather than Canada’s tradition. So the question remains open – who will speak for that tradition?
(1) The former Prime Minister spoke of “gender equality”. Human beings have sexes, words have genders. The substitution of gender for sex in reference to human beings is akin to the substitution of “values” for goodness and virtue.
(2) See, for example, “The Progressives’ Penance” (http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2010/09/progressives-penance.html) on immigration and “The Folly of Feminism” (http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2012/02/folly-of-feminism.html) on sexual egalitarianism.
(3) Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987).
(4) While it comes up repeatedly in his writings see especially Grant’s Technology and Justice, (Toronto: Anansi Press, 1986), in particular the essay on Nietzsche, and the essays in section five of William Christian and Sheila Grant, eds, The George Grant Reader, (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1998), in particular the first essay in the section “The Good or Values: Value and Technology?”.
(5) Both Grant and Bloom were influenced in this by Leo Strauss who had been a correspondent of Grant’s and a professor of Bloom’s.
(6) Grant, Bloom, and Strauss trace the language of values and the relativism it represents back through Max Weber to Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche believed that modern rationalism had made the religious beliefs of the past untenable, but, an atheist of the right, he condemned the rationalistic, liberal, egalitarian, democracy that he saw modern man to be constructing as condemning men to lives of mediocrity as “the last men”. He believed that man’s heroic spirit must be fed by myths (akin to Plato’s “noble lies”) and hoped that men would exercise their “will to power” to avoid the fate of the “last men”, rise to that of the “supermen”, and create appropriate new myths. He condemned Christian morality for exalting weakness, comparing this unfavourably to the old Greek and Jewish moralities which identified virtue with strength, but hoped that men would go “beyond good and evil” and embrace values, as expressions of their own will and creativity.
(7) Reform’s leaders far too often seemed to want to replace Canada’s tradition with that of the United States.
The topic of “Canadian values” has begun seeping once again into our political life. This comes thanks to statements made by Kellie Leitch, Conservative leadership candidate, whose campaign asked if immigrants should be screened for “Canadian values”. Of course, this development is nothing but positive. Strangely though, our governing classes seem to think otherwise.
We are faced with an immediate question. What are Canadian values? Leitch’s site lists the following:
- Equal opportunity – We must strive to ensure that everyone has as much of an equal opportunity to succeed as possible, especially our youth
- Hard work – Everyone must work hard and provide for themselves and their families
- Helping others – Once people become prosperous, we all are expected to give back to our communities to help others
- Generosity – Canada is a place that shows what is possible when hard work and generosity come together
- Freedom and tolerance – A Canadian identity that is based on freedom and tolerance to allow each of us the chance to pursue our best lives and to become our best selves
Nice thoughts, all around.
Just one thing: if the term “Canadian values” has any meaning, then it surely includes the values which were defended by the Loyalists in 1776, by British and allied indigenous forces in 1812, and by Sir John A. Macdonald in those first years when Canada was a united Dominion.
Let’s check out what values those generations were defending.