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The Center Cannot Hold: On The Decline Of Jordan B Peterson

“All men by nature desire to know,” Aristotle famously claimed.

I am not sure I believe this maxim, but how else does one explain the sycophantic energy that ignites and maintains so many internet intellectuals. This category of intellectual celebrities is generous; it can include people like Noam Chomsky, Sam Harris, or Slavoj Žižek—anyone who, for better or worse, is revered as a thought leader on the world wide web.

Those who remember Christopher Hitchens may recall the mawkishness with which fans proclaimed their condolences at the passing of their beloved hero. It was all rather pathetic, but at the same time somewhat endearing. The whole sob scene evidenced just how profound is society’s yearning for even a modicum of mental stimulus. Little do they know, all they really have to do is “take up and read.” But I digress.

The intrigue I have for these figures rests, not so much on the content they produce, which is honestly a bit bland, but on the social phenomena they generate. Most recently I have been quite taken by the appearance of the charismatic pop-psychology professor from Canada, Jordan B. Peterson.

Peterson is the closest thing to an intellectual the “classical-liberal” camp currently boasts. This is why, in my view, he serves as the perfect metric by which to measure the status of contemporary centrist politics. In most circumstances, examining the political center is a waste of time, as it normally contains nothing but tired diffidence, if not downright cowardice. There is one occasion, however, when analyzing the center is not entirely futile. The excuse arrives in moments of extreme polarization i.e. our present-day political climate.

The collapse of the center is quite often a sign—if not the impetus—of an upcoming turning of the tide. Consider for example the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Better than many, Ferdinand embodied the centrist characteristics of negligence and irresoluteness, for which he famously developed a poor and distrusting relationship with his uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph I. Needless to say, his disloyalty did not earn him any sympathy among Bosnian nationalists. They diagnosed and targeted him all the same.

Other than not being in Sarajevo on June the 28th, 1914, there is really no other way in which Ferdinand could have escaped his fate. But there is a way he could have earned a more befitting rank in the chambers of Austro-Hungarian memory. Had he been more reverent towards his royal and national commitments, he surely would have been more fondly remembered. He could have become a hero instead of an unmissed scapegoat.

This is the same reason why the Marquis de Lafayette—to take a second example—is more of an American hero than a French one, despite the significance of his role in the French Revolution. For those who do not recall, Lafayette was Chief of the French National Guard during the early stages of the insurrection. Additionally, however, he was also openly sympathetic to the ‘rascality’ (as Carlyle calls it) of the mobs. He paid for his centrism by alienating both the king and the revolutionaries alike. When George Danton unleashed on him his band of sanguinary ruffians, Lafayette had no other option but to flee the country. His allies in France were no more.

Such is the fate of the moderate centrist.

This brings us back to Peterson and the classical liberal crusade. At the moment, both he and his crowd are rapidly being exposed for the emptiness and cheapness of their middle-ground views, pronouncing for us evermore sharply the isolation and irrelevance of their position. Peterson has always alienated the Left. This goes without saying. But lately he has also been losing whatever sympathy he may have had on the Right. Mostly this is due to his unabashed zealotry for “individualism,” which he considers to be the fundamental assumption of Western Civilization. (Apparently he thinks the West was born in the seventeenth century.)

The entire position is just plain sloppy. Notice how any analysis of what makes an individual is perfectly absent from Peterson’s rhetoric. This is because any such discussion would inevitably cross over to collectivist territory, since collectivism is both the necessary cause and the natural effect of individualism. There is no group without conscious individuals, aware of their group membership, and there is no individual without a collective identity. Collectivism and individualism are thus mutually dependent on one another. What is an individual, if not a conscious composite of relationships, shared ideas, memories, and beliefs? The collective identity of a group, precisely, is what allows the individual to see himself as a distinct yet related reality.

The West is great, Peterson continues, because of its individualist values. Why else would people from all over the world want to come here, he asks. Comparatively speaking, sure, the West is not so bad. But is belief in the individual really the reason why people come here? There are countless Asian migrants who, if permitted, would be only too happy to move to Japan. And every year, multitudes of Sub-Saharan Africans unsuccessfully attempt migration into Israel. Yet neither of these two countries is particularly individualistic. No, people migrate to the West because the West welcomes them, and other places do not.

Peterson may not realize it, but this position is only accelerating his own demise. His role in contemporary politics no longer serves a purpose. Now that his message has been received and rejected by the social justice crowd, what else does he have left? He can 1) continue to peddle his individualist ideology until it goes stale (like Ayn Rand novels). Or 2) he can return to his career as a psychoanalyst. The latter is likely the better choice. It would at least be more entertaining. (Although, if I have time to squander, I personally prefer to get my fix from Julia Kristeva.)

Peterson’s ship is sinking very surely indeed, and it is taking all of its passengers along with it. Not too long ago, there was another internet character who gained his reputation by marketing himself as a classical liberal. In particular, the said personality won people’s attention by launching an online platform for the free movement and exchange of ideas, in a classically liberal sort of way. Alas, the project has recently degenerated into a circus of sorts, entertaining low-brow conservative punditry, the occasional tranny, and anyone else claiming to be disaffected by the “Regressive Left.”

This is hardly a surprise. It is rather straight-forward actually. The reason why these free-speech lovers struggle so much at speaking is because they have run out of things to say. We already know they are enthusiasts for the First Amendment, and that they are wary of feminism and Islam. Is there more? What do they have to contribute meta-politically?

Nothing.

It is important to clarify here that irrelevancy is not the same as disappearance. Centrists will continue to advance, but only in a restricted sense. They will become an industry of grumblers, much like the era of conservative talk radio, a parade of muffled cries, utterly innocuous. This is positive news for the Dissident Right. It means that we are the only ones left with any real potential to challenge and, eventually, alter the status quo. Power is measured by impact, after all, not numbers.

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