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Listen, Jordan Peterson: Marx Is Your Friend!

Peterson should also reconsider his antipathy towards Marx because—perhaps surprisingly—if properly read, Marx would come across more as Peterson’s ally, rather than the origin of everything that is wrong with modernity.”

It seems that Jordan Peterson’s bête noire is Karl Marx. No wonder, then, that—in the film The Rise of Jordan Peterson—Peterson ridicules a portrait of the 19th Century German thinker. Occasionally, Peterson rants about “Cultural Marxism,” allegedly a movement that seeks to undermine the tenets of Western civilization—all in the name of progressivism. In his now-famous debate with Slavoj Žižek in April, 2019, Peterson hammered Marxism over and over, in particular Marx and Engels’ 1848 The Communist Manifesto. For Peterson, this document is perhaps the foundational text of everything that is wrong with our culture.

Yet, it seems Peterson is more concerned with later-generation Marxists than with Marx himself. In Twelve Rules For Life, he attacks more vehemently Horkheimer and Derrida, and, more emphatically, the political results of Marxist-inspired regimes: “When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivized. The result? Tens of millions of people died,” Peterson writes.

While Peterson is surely correct in detesting Soviet totalitarianism and the intellectual nonsense of Derrida and his acolytes, Peterson should also reconsider his antipathy towards Marx because—perhaps surprisingly—if properly read, Marx would come across more as Peterson’s ally, rather than the origin of everything that is wrong with modernity. 

For example, a prominent left-wing thinker, Edward Said, criticized the German philosopher, not so much for the content of Marx’s argument but, simply, because, “…every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.

Now, of course, Marx was a radical egalitarian, who would never accept Peterson’s enthusiastic embrace of lobsters and their hierarchical structures. But, even Marx is a victim of attacks from the modern, identity-fixated Left, simply for his having been European. For example, a prominent left-wing thinker, Edward Said, criticized the German philosopher, not so much for the content of Marx’s argument but, simply, because, “…every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric. This should be a preliminary indication that—at least on some of the battlefronts of our culture war—perhaps Marx and Peterson would find themselves on the same side. 

Many on the Left typically confuse egalitarianism with relativism. For them, equality is not just about opportunity or even outcome in the social and economic realms; equality also applies in the cultural and epistemological realm. On account of their extreme egalitarianism, these leftists believe that all cultures are of equal worth, and they also believe that someone who claims that Western secular democracy is superior to, say, Islamic theocracy is a racist. If we are all equal, so the argument goes, then surely Western civilization cannot be superior to any other culture. 

Marx would have none of that nonsense. He was an egalitarian but never a cultural relativist. Precisely because Western civilization strove for greater economic equality (and was closer to the proletariat revolution), Marx believed Western civilization to be superior to the rest. Marx emphatically made this point in The British Rule in India. Whereas today’s modern left is likely to romanticize the primitivism of pre-capitalist, non-Western societies, Marx called for a much-needed reality check: “…we must not forget that these idyllic [Indian] village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath the traditional rules.” 

Marx was not exactly a suck-up to British imperialist aristocracies, however, so he was not in the least naïve about Britain’s ruthless self-interest: “England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them.” But, very wisely, Marx was sensible enough to understand that—despite its viciousness—in some aspects imperialism could also be a force for good—and that British rule in India would be a step forward in progress: “The question is, can mankind fulfil[l] its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.” Naturally, post-colonialist academics hate Marx for calling a spade a spade. But, perhaps these ivory-tower academicians should ask India’s own native contemporary rulers whether British imperialism had any positive aspect. Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh certainly thinks so; he is grateful for, “free press, constitutional government, professional service, modern universities and research laboratories.” I am reminded of the Jewish anti-imperialist revolutionary in The Life of Brian, who, upon asking “What have the Romans ever done for us?” receives an embarrassment of riches as response.

Jordan Peterson is a fan of the Western Canon and a “Great Books” curriculum, against the strides of social justice warriors, who—in the name of multiculturalism—dismiss Shakespeare as an irrelevant dead white male. In this endeavor, Peterson should see Marx as an ally. Marx would not be among those clueless kids who scream, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go.” Marx himself wrote a doctoral dissertation on Democritus and Epicurus (in the worldview of the modern left, two more irrelevant dead white males). Also, despite Marx’s criticisms of oppression in Western civilization, he realized that—far more than any other civilization—the West also had the potential for liberation. 

Surely Peterson’s rise to fame was due in large part to his crusade against identity politics. Being a self-avowed “classic liberal,” Peterson is consequently a sympathizer of Enlightened universalism, with no love whatsoever for what Arthur Schlesinger called the “cult of ethnicity.” Well, once again, Marx would be on his side.

In 1848, Europe was also a hotbed of identity politics. Back then, it was called “nationalism.” The Romantic notion of Volksgeist was a boost to this trend. According to the enthusiasts of this philosophy, if you were, say, a Serbian subject in the Austro-Hungarian empire, then you should associate only with fellow Serbians: so as to form a nation and strengthen its Volksgeist. In order to do that, one would  make his ethnic identity the most important aspect of his life, and everything should be seen through the prism of ethnicity. Sound familiar?

Marx, once again, would have none of this. In the Communist Manifesto (the very same text that Peterson mercilessly attacked in his debate with Žižek), Marx and Engels wrote: “The working men have no country… National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.”

Workers needed unity. That much is clear in perhaps Marx’s most famous saying: “Workers of the world, unite!” Marx, thus, would have little patience for the NAACP, National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS), or any other association that allegedly seeks to defend the oppressed—but only of a particular skin color. Marx believed that nationalism was a trick used by the bourgeoise to weaken solidarity among workers and prevent a revolution. Nationalism convinced a German worker that his enemy was a fellow worker, who happened to be French, whereas the German aristocrat exploiting him was his natural ally, simply because they were citizens of the same nation. To the disillusionment of many Marxists (most notably Rosa Luxemburg), European workers danced to this tune and then eagerly went to die in the trenches of World War I, all in the name of national identity.

Is it any different today? Of course not. Peterson is no fan of Marx or Marxism. Whereas Marx wanted to abolish private property, Peterson is a strong defender of property rights. However, Peterson is also aware that impoverished whites in the United States must not be abandoned to care for their own. By contrast, many social justice warriors care about workers, except if they have white skin. (Unsurprisingly, as a recent study shows, the more liberals learn about “white privilege,” the more they hate poor whites). In their worldview, somehow, millionaires such as Oprah or Michael Jordan are oppressed by a far from well-off voter in Appalachia wearing a MAGA hat. Some of these individuals on the Left even have the nerve to, “explai[n] white privilege to a broke white person.” Peggy McIntosh’s infamous essayWhite Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” disregards class and fetishizes race. This is exactly what Marx warned about: by obsessing with ethnicity, a poor black worker would think a poor white worker oppresses him more than, say, a black Wall Street crook. And yet, this is precisely what is now trendy in the United States and other Western countries.

Marx was surely wrong about many things, and the world may well have been a better place had he never been born. But, Jordan Peterson, I implore you: give the devil his due! As Ben Burgis has argued, Peterson ought to offer fairer critiques of Marx. I further add: given that Marx himself would have no sympathies for much of the current agenda in vogue on the Left, perhaps Peterson can reconsider Marx’s value. The enemy of my enemy can be my friend, and—in this age of mindless relativism and identity politics—we need such friends.

Dr. Gabriel Andrade is a university professor. He has previously contributed to Areo Magazine and DePauw University’s The Prindle Post. His twitter is @gandrade80

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Todd Glatfelter
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Todd Glatfelter

I can’t believe I wasted 5 minutes reading this article.

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

It’d be better if you offered a precise objection, pal.

Mike Kerezman
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Mike Kerezman

I agree. The Marx diabolic ideas are resonsible for mass muder of my ukrainian ancestors. No attempt to baptize his ideas is ever gonna fly in my family any more than a justification for slavery.

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

I don’t like Marx’s ideas. But, they are hardly responsible for mass murder. He never favored such things. Surely, in the name of Jesus many horrible things have been done. I wouldn’t blame him for that, though. The same applies to Marx.

Criss Cross
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Criss Cross

His ideas brought unprecedented prosperity, education, and a high standard of living to my Yugoslavian ancestors (i.e. my parents), till capitalism/nationalism were reintroduced, and war, poverty, and corruption ensued.

Bob
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Bob

Do I get to say the same thing about capitalism because of my Irish ancestors and the potato famine? Or my British ancestry and the deaths by millions resulting in capitalist industrialization?

Tim
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Tim

Luckily I came across your comment first and saved myself lol

Maria
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Maria

You’re just a closet communist, living in the first world, of course. Try going to countries that are suffering under communist regimes and telling them that Marx and his ideals are good.

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

1. I am not sure the country where I live qualifies as First World. But, even if it did, this all becomes a race to the bottom, playing the my-country-is-more-oppressed-than-yours game. I am sure Dr. Peterson would urge you not to play that victim game, and while you are at it, he would also teach you a thing or two about ad hominem attacks.

Maria
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Maria

Lol next thing you’ll be telling everyone how good Chávez’s bolivarian revolution is! All from the comfort of 1st world capitalism! Is this really what you left Venezuela for? To brainwash people with nonsense?

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

Sweetheart, please check the other articles I have written (in Merion West and other venues) about Venezuela and Chavez, and then we’ll take it from there.

Niko
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Niko

So in summary: Peterson and Marx should get along, because they are both white.

That’s great and all, but the moment you open the Communist Manifesto, any argument for the two of them finding any substantial grounds for agreement quickly disappears. It’s a HUGE mistake to reduce the nationalism that Marx fought against to an equivalent of modern-day identity politics. If anything, Peterson would be pro-nation as an important cultural “first person plural” for any group of people to share (in the words of the late Roger Scruton), while still being anti-identity politics, as the cheap grouping of people with nothing in common but their skin color. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels clearly espouse globalization, which few modern conservatives/classical liberals could agree with.

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

1. To say that Peterson and Marx should get along simply because they are white, is the kind of identity politics that both authors would emphatically reject. I also reject that. They should get along, because they are both interested in the Enlightened tradition that, a) affirms the universality of values, regardless of ethnicity; b) refuse to downplay the achievements of Western civilization
2. You are wrong to say that it is a huge mistake to claim that the nationalism Marx fought against is the equivalent of identity politics. 1848 European nationalism was all about blood and soil, i.e., ethnicity. That was identity politics, pure and simple.
3. You are wrong to say that classical liberals would be against globalization. Most classical liberals (Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, John Locke, etc.) defended the universality of values, and that implied that all of humanity would be more connected, this weakening national bareers.

Dauvit Mac Niel
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Dauvit Mac Niel

What drivel. Glad i stopped after the first couple of paragraphs.

Kirk
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Kirk

How arrogant to critique what you haven’t even read! Such close minded certainty has been the driver of all the disastrous governments Jordon Pederson warns us about.

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

Right on. Dr. Peterson is a great defender of free speech. I’m sure he wouldn’t be thrilled with people judging an article’s value by only reading the first paragraph.

Fred Penner
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Fred Penner

So your doing Precisely the kind of thing Jordan Peterson often warns about?

Isaac
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Isaac

Why “give the devil his due”? What’s the point?

Hitler was a vegetarian! Why do so many people criticize him without ever praising his ethical diet?? Why not give the devil his due?

Because what’s the point? Even the most confused of men have some good in them. Doesn’t mean we should encourage anyone to ‘give them any due’.

For what it’s worth Gabriel, I found the article interesting because I didn’t know that Marx was so opposed to race politics. It’s an interesting tidbit to know and I’m not criticizing you as a writer with my comment, I’m just playing “devils” advocate to the thesis of your article.

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

The point of giving the devil his due is that, quite simply, there are bigger fish to fry. And, by giving Marx his due, he can even be helpful in frying those bigger fish.

bruno
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bruno

He never was vegetarian

Knut P Lindsley
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Knut P Lindsley

Can we plan on seeing the same magnanimous type of openness from Marxists to, say, Libertarians in the near future?

James
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James

Why try to draw a any similarities between Jordan Peterson and Marx? What is the motivation? It’s like saying Moses and Satan had things in common. It’s like hearing the Joker tell Batman that “we’re the same”. Complete insanity. In the same analogy, Marx gave birth to Jordan Peterson

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

The things that Marx and Peterson have in common are not trivial. They are both defenders of the Enlightenment universalism that runs counter to the relativism and postmodernism that permeates throughout much of the Left today. That is a major concern in our current culture war, and in order to win that war, you must not be in the business of alienating potential allies.

xSinCarax
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xSinCarax

No he wouldnt what? Must be referring to the wrong Marx

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

I love Groucho, and I am sure you would love his movies. But, you might become just a tad more enlightened if you read Karl.

Joey Musacchio
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Joey Musacchio

Xi Jinping, may also disagree with much of today’s left, but that won’t make me have a greater opinion of him or of communism, part of my family is from Poland, Russia, Germany, and are Jewish. I respect peoples rights, as human beings we all have fundamental rights such as the right to food and shelter, to be free from persecution for what we believe in and so forth… but I don’t have to respect a person beyond these fundamental rights as a person who I honor and respect. For that type of respect has to be earned, and I am the sole owner of the rulebook governing who gets respect beyond basic human rights from myself. So I will forgive Jordan Peterson if he has trouble looking on the bright side of things when considering Marx may have had shared his distaste of the political arena today becausehe feels the negative impact of Marxism outweighs other considerations. I may have things I agree with Adolf Hitler about such as… Read more »

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

Xi Jinping may disagree with much of today’s left, but he has nothing significant to contribute. That is not the case of Marx. Marx defends universal values and the wroth of Western civilization, and that is something to be praised. Jordan Peterson may well say that, in balance, Marx’s influence has been negative (I myself say so in the last paragraph of the article), but, he must give the devil his due. Today, the top of the agenda in the culture war is to fight identity politics and the bashing of Western civilization, and in both things, Marx is an improtant ally.

Badman Von Prole
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Badman Von Prole

“Marx was surely wrong about many things, and the world may well have been a better place had he never been born.'”
Citation needed

John Cruz
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John Cruz

first, the writer assumes Peterson is somehow ignorant to a text in which he’s read multiple times and commented extensively on during his career. (before any of this gender nonsense even started) The notion that a “journalist” with no obvious credentials is somehow more insightful on Marx than an actual professor who lectures matter is embarrassing.

Second. The writer assumes what exactly Marx would or wouldn’t have enjoyed based on a their own personal agenda is childish.

The communist manifesto has caused just as much harm to the mind and society as Mien Kamf.
FIND BETTER LITERATURE AND ROLE MODELS

sorry if there are errors, you get the point. This site is a nightmare for mobile comments

Gabriel andrade
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Gabriel andrade

Dude, what journalist are you talking about? I do not claim to have Peterson’s academic standing,, but I am a professor of philosophy. But, I am pretty sure Dr. Peterson himself would teach you that all that stuff is irrelevant. We call it “appeal to authority”. What is important, is what Marx’s texts actually say. And believe it or not, pal, you can verify on your own what Marx himself says. It won’t kill you. It’s called “studying”.

Eli
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Eli

When you have to write 50000 words on the subject that doesn’t make sense.

Constantin
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Constantin

Interesting article. My objection is that it seems to ignore that Marx played another type of identity politics (more specifically, class identity politics) which is Peterson’s biggest criticism of him. I don’t think they would get along, Peterson detests any ideology that groups people based on a small number of specific attributes and do not place the individual in the center.

gabriel e andrade
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gabriel e andrade

It is true that Marx appealed to his own brand of identity politics based on class. You have a point there. However, I think in our society, ethnic identity politics is much larger and harmful than class identity politics. So, if I were Peterson, I would be more sympathetic to Marx, at least as a way to counter the pernicious everything-is-racist mentality.

Human Side Press
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Human Side Press

Constantin nailed it.

Peterson’s argument is against ANY politics that refuses to acknowledge the individual. Peterson siding with Marx on class based groupings of individuals as “less pernicious” and a counter to race-based is silly. Class or race-based politics, he argues, will have the same violent result (see the Bolshevik Revolution where executions were carried out based purely on class; or Mao’s executions; or the Khmer Rouge; Cuba; etc). Marx’s rejection of the individual renders any shared objective with Peterson an impossibility.

If you were interested in similarities in their thinking you might have remarked on the Judeo-Christian structural elements apparent in both as well as the influence of Hegel. But that, of course, would hardly result in the Peterson take-down you seem to be looking for.

Yoyoma
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Yoyoma

I think if there’s anything to be learned from this experiment, it’s that leftists trying to reach out to Jordan Peterson fans is pointless.

Elaine Supkis
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Elaine Supkis

All, without exception, all far leftists believe there is some Marxist regime that isn’t miserable, brutal, vicious and destructive, killing millions of people. They want us to believe that these could be created, somehow and all previous efforts which were hideous, monstrous mass killers, were ‘not correct Maxism’ and we all know if they take over any country today or tomorrow or next year, it, too, will be horrible, violent and starve or kill millions yet again. Jordan Peterson recognized this.

Stephen D.
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Stephen D.

>Jordan Peterson should have sympathy for Marx because Edward Said criticized all Europeans for being racists
My jaw dropped when I saw the guy who wrote this is a university professor

God
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God

LOL, Marx hated Blacks and Jews. JP doesn’t. They have nothing in common.

Jmarck
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Jmarck

I appreciate this. As a JP fan, I knew he wasn’t giving Marx a fair assessment, and learning of Marx’ low tolerance for racial and national grandstanding makes me appreciate him more

C M
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C M

That is an interesting take, thanks!