Why Jordan Peterson Is a Thought Leader

Posted: December 17, 2018 in Powerful Ideas

I like Jordan Peterson’s work. In my opinion, he is a thought leader, in that he makes me (and hundreds of thousands of others) think. He’s become something of a cultural icon over the last 2 years. I believe there are four key reasons for this:

  • He has reinvigorated the practice of “moral examination,” which has ancient roots in classical civilization and was advocated by Ignatius de Loyola as part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. In fact, Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Lifeis actually a distillation of timeworn wisdom about how to live one’s life and interact with others through moral examination. Rule 1 is “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” Another of the rules is “Clean up your room.” If someone takes that only literally, then they need to think more. One of the more provocative rules, in my opinion, is “Don’t let your children do things in public that would make you hate them if they were someone else’s kids.” The fact that these are basic is important, because who doesn’t need a good reminder once in a while. I certainly do. Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. That’s why we quote the Bible so often: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Or, “No one is a prophet in his home” (or words to that effect). This leads to the next point.
  • His basic message is that meaning comes from taking on responsibility. This seems to resonate particularly with young men. I believe that this comes from the general lack of a framework for transitioning men from boyhood to manhood in the Western world these days. This is the kind of tough love, teamwork, and mentoring that is provided by team sports and that comes from a coach who is a role model for youths. I got this in the army, and I think it is missing for many young men who are, let’s face it, raised surrounded by women. Not all, but many.
  • Peterson is also defending traditional Western, Judeo-Christian values, many of which have come under attack in recent decades, especially in the face of political correctness, islamophobia, ideological feminism, resurgent anti-Semitism, and cultural Marxism. Many on the Left hate this aspect of his writings and speeches, for obvious reasons.
  • The final point, which is a major aspect of the previous one, is that we risk much when we throw out ancient traditions, cultural, social and religious. Amongst other things, he claims that there is much wisdom in the Bible, if read in a symbolic, allegorical frame of mind. He has also said that nobody knows what effects recent social changes will have on our society. I see that as an antidote to the conceit of many social justice warriors, university professors, and other miscellaneous social engineers and junior dictators. These are the same people who tar anyone who questions the zeitgeist as fascists, authoritarians, and anti-this and anti-that.

All of this makes him something of a “cultural” conservative, and I, personally, find that resonates with me. It also resonates with many others. I realize that’s only an ad populam argument, but it does explain much of his appeal around the world. 12 Rules has sold over 2 million copies and is being translated into 40 languages. He’s been on speaking tour around the world for all of 2018 and has been engaging with large, enthusiastic audiences, as well as with cabinet ministers, heads of government, and deep thinkers in many other domains (e.g. Sam Harris, Roger Scruton, Camille Paglia, etc.)

He may prove to be a flash in the pan, but I sincerely hope not. Shouldn’t we at least find out what all the fuss is about?

© 2018 Richard Martin

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