Letters: Jordan Peterson and ‘The Hyper-Partisan Morass’

Readers discuss the psychology professor’s polarizing take on identity politics, and what it might mean for the left.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson

Recently, Caitlin Flanagan argued that the Canadian professor offers “an alternative means of understanding the world to a very large group of people who have been starved for one”—and his stardom is evidence that leftism is on the decline.

My deepest thanks to Caitlin Flanagan for articulating—succinctly, fairly, and finally—the truth about what Jordan Peterson represents: a viable and vital way out of the hyper-partisan morass.

Todd McCullough
Los Angeles, Calif.

The truth is, Peterson and his followers are just as guilty of playing identity politics as the left. They bring up race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and identity every chance they can.

So no, the left isn’t afraid of Jordan Peterson, the left is annoyed with him. The left is tired of a grifter taking advantage of angry, lonely, people and filling their heads with hateful rhetoric. That’s why they fight Jordan Peterson’s ideology with such fervor.

Mike Armstrong
Chicago, Ill.

As a Canadian watching a fellow Canadian become a lightning rod within American political discourse, it amazes me that nearly every American commentator who criticizes or champions Peterson appears to fail to understand either their own history and discourse with respect to party and partisanship or Peterson’s deft treatment of identity politics. Flanagan seems to make the same mistake Peterson makes with respect to this issue—as though identity politics is only practiced by one major party (Democrat) and the fringe elements of the right. It’s as if the Republican party, since the days of Nixon and Lee Atwater, were above it all and never played on identity couched in loaded political concepts and terms. The idea that one can assign blame and limit players of the game to a few is absurd. And if Flanagan is going to write incendiary statements like “Barack Obama, the poet laureate of identity politics,” please have her write a side-piece to defend such a beguiling assertion.

There are just so many arbitrary and qualified statements in this article that it makes addressing each and every one pointless. Her understanding of Peterson’s message fits too conveniently with her own politics and worldview, and hence fails to understand the dangers within his message of radical responsibility as tailored to a particular demographic (white and male). It is a message written by a Canadian who seems to know little of America’s history and be ignorant of how the left’s response to decades of the right’s use of identity politics has arrived to its current position, warts and all.

Andrew Downs
Port Dover, Canada

Caitlin Flanagan misses the crucial mark of Peterson’s lectures and positions in relation to not only Canadian culture, but to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and structure of government and law.

By writing an article without explaining the context of Peterson’s views and opinions and their relationship to Canadian law—and parachuting it directly into an analysis of U.S. culture and politics and “the left”—she does not address what is at hand.

We, as a society—from rural towns to our biggest cities, and in the private and public sectors—are still battling and fighting for basic fundamental rights and equality for our historically most marginalized groups. Canada is only now deconstructing and reconciling with its colonial past, and dealing with its LGBTQS+ suicide rates and discrimination, as well as its continuous battle with changing national demographics and racism. This is the new reality for Canada, proving that our “left”—our center—is indeed neither afraid nor in decline.

Andrew Hawryluk
Vancouver, Canada

Caitlin Flanagan’s recent article on Jordan Peterson purports to explain why the left fears him, but fails to engage with any of the substantive and lengthy criticisms of Peterson by left-wing writers, including the substantial work of Nathan J. Robinson and Pankaj Mishra. Mishra’s piece evidently touched a nerve, as Peterson threatened to “slap [him] happily.” Instead of engaging with these critiques, Flanagan constructs a straw man of vague leftist identity politics and consequently fails to recognize that, above all else, Peterson is a charlatan who has achieved wealth and fame by telling men what they want to hear.

Jonathon Booth
Somerville, Mass.

I think Caitlin Flanagan’s analysis is completely accurate. In certain academic and intellectual circles, professors, teachers, journalists, and activists have tied themselves into logical knots in their quest for racial justice. It is an admirable goal, but it has resulted in race and religion dictating the terms of debate rather than simply informing them. In the process, virtuosity has been replaced by absurdity.

Jason Pickart
Middleton, Wis.

Identity politics is a blight, but giving Peterson the helm of poster child of the opposition movement does not ring true to me. Your article claims that his work is grounded in common sense, but I think he provides an intellectual argument for some of society’s deepest fears and savage instincts. It’s not a mistake or an accident that “incels” flock to this man’s work in droves.

Connor Holbert
Glendale, Ariz.

Labeling something “identity politics” is like labeling something a “women’s issue.” It’s a way to denigrate and discredit the legitimate interests of those who have been shut out of power. It’s also a dog whistle to angry, insecure people who think they deserve to continue receiving more and better just because they have always been on top. It is only because we treat white men (and the women who ally with their power structure) as the standard that it is even possible to cast issues that do not primarily affect them as lesser “identity politics.” The phrase is right up there with the “War on Christmas” as signifying an acute case of silly and selfish, or worse, self-aware and selfish.

Maggie Riordan
Park City, Utah

Caitlin Flanagan replies:

Like so many others, I was deeply moved by John McCain’s final message, including these powerful words: “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil … We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries.” To the correspondents who ask if “identity politics” is a relevant or meaningful concept, I believe that it is, and that it is what McCain admonishes against in this powerful, final statement. “Blood and soil” versus the greatest idea in the history of the world: America. Peterson has amassed his legion of admirers by reminding them that there is a different way to understand their culture and their place within it than the one so confidently espoused on so many college campuses and within so many channels of the media. What is going on in these places—to borrow a phrase from Christopher Hitchens—is a war between everything I love and everything I hate. Jordan Peterson is on the right side of that war.