The Problem with Peterson’s ‘Cultural Marxism’

(Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Jordan Peterson is one of the largest forefront thinkers in Canada. You probably know his name from his recent book ‘The 12 Rules for Life’ or his lesser-known but more important work ‘Maps of Meaning’. If not, you may probably know him as the professor that ‘owned’ a Channel 4 news anchor in a viral clip on feminism or as the populariser of the phrase ‘Cultural Marxism’.

Listening to his various lectures, Peterson hinges much of his traditionalist social commentary on this idea of fighting ‘cultural Marxism’. Cultural Marxists being people who, allegedly, aggressively promote the ideas of Karl Marx and the far left whilst censoring any dissenters. Peterson continuously alludes and asserts that cultural Marxists have infiltrated society and intelligentsia, causing many of the problems we are faced with today.

Of course Peterson, in true Peterson style, never actually provides any evidence for this. You can bet that any ‘scientific papers’ he does provide are always glorified anecdotes that suffer from the same problems as the papers on racism and gender issues that he loves to vilify. He merely asserts the existence of such people controlling society and expects his followers to mindlessly nod along, which they almost always tend to do.

Because of this, the phrase ‘Cultural Marxism’ is now seen as some kind of ‘gotcha’ term by pseudo-intellectuals seeking to vilify classical and neo liberalism. ‘You disagree with me and believe in some liberal ideology? You’re nothing but a cultural Marxist!’ they cry, chortling alone to themselves in their parent’s basement.

This brings us to the root of the issue: Liberal ideas and people are mistaken, often deliberately, with the idea of far-leftism and cultural Marxism. This is used to undermine important liberal ideas such as transgender surgery, secularism and racial equality without the person challenging those ideas having to make any real arguments against a progressive agenda.

We could, however, give Peterson the benefit of the doubt. If we assume that every time Peterson said ‘cultural Marxists’ he actually meant ‘liberals’ he may well have some kind of a point. In a recent study done on the faculty of Harvard University, it was found that a staggering 95% of professors and lecturers described themselves as either ‘moderate’, ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal’.

Even as a liberal, this disproportion of representation is strange to me. In scientific terms, we would say that this data is ‘significant’, meaning that there are less than 5% odds that all of these professors are liberal by chance alone. There therefore must be some common factor causing these professors to have liberal ideas.

Our first option would be to say that there really is a Marxist plot to infiltrate every university in the world to indoctrinate students. This is obviously a ridiculous statement with no evidence. If you really believe this, you’re probably also the same kind of person to wear tin-foil hats to protect yourself against alien mind-control. Our second option would be to assert that people who are more intelligent see the intelligence in liberal ideas. This would be an ideal argument to make, however, I think that’s probably just wishful thinking. There are obviously plenty of intelligent people who don’t necessarily subscribe to all liberal ideas.

The most likely reason, in my opinion, is that the kind of person who is most likely to pursue professorship is the kind of person who enjoys using their critical thinking in open academic debate. This is how academics works; In order to decide what is true or what is the most likely explanation for something, it is tested and debated. This kind of free speech and freedom to discuss ideas is one of the founding principles behind liberalism.

‘But the right-wing are the ones who defend free speech the most!’ I hear you screech incredulously at your screen. That may seem to be true. Right-wing politicians and commentators such as Nigel Farage or Dave Rubin seem to love giving off the illusion that they champion free speech. They love to pretend they’re heroes in the gladiatorial combat of ideas.

We cannot forget, however, that the people on the right championing free speech tend to be the very same people who cry the hardest when they’re rejected. In ‘the gladiatorial arena’, their ideas such as anti-environmentalism or pro classical Judeo-Christian values tend to get slaughtered. This always leads to cries of ‘Censorship!’ or ‘They’re de-platforming us!’ No. We heard your ideas, they sucked, shut up. That’s how it works.

Free speech is at the heart of liberal thinking. The popularized myth of Cultural Marxism allows people to make lazy, ill-informed arguments against the very causes that they pretend to care for. You’re not being ‘censored’ or ‘de-platformed’, you just can’t bear the fact you that lost the battle of ideas.

Words by Olly Singleton


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