“Not only ought Gabriel Andrade resist implying there are parallels to be found by Peterson and Hitler, but he also should keep in mind how many lives have been positively changed thanks to his ideas.”
n a recent Merion West article, Dr. Gabriel Andrade asserts that Jordan Peterson “needs to think harder” about the detrimental effects of his Nietzschean/Randian-inspired philosophy and “must try harder to disavow some of the tendentious readings that people make of his words.” Andrade depicts Ayn Rand as a substandard philosopher and Peterson as an inferior version of Rand—more aptly a “self help motivational coach,” whose ideas resonate with young males and also some of the worst individuals in society, such as members of the alt-right.
Although Andrade wonders what all the “hand-wringing surrounding [Peterson] is all about” and may prefer the “Cliffnotes version of his ideas,” many fans view the Canadian psychologist as a modern-day hero. This is something Andrade seems to recognize when he contends that Peterson has seized the mantle as the “new right-wing intellectual guru.” In doing so, Peterson, according to Andrade, is filling the right’s thirty year intellectual vacuum that has been in place since the death of Ayn Rand.
Unlike some of his peers, Andrade is very careful in how he structures his arguments. Although he never directly compares Peterson to Adolf Hitler, his assertions are fraught with innuendo as he leaps from one unsubstantiated claim to another. He points out that “Nietzsche was not guilty of the way his philosophy was abused by the Nazis” but that he “gives credence to the thesis that his ideas did sow the seeds of totalitarianism.” Andrade is also concerned that “underneath all the talk about responsibility, order, and anti-political correctness, there may be something more sinister going on with Peterson,” presumably given the fact that some members of the alt-right and Men Going Their Own Way are counted among Peterson’s supporters.
Most unfair of all, however, is when Andrade suggests Peterson might be encouraging thinking along the lines of: “If you worry so much about being a Superman, then ultimately it is not so hard to conclude that weaklings must simply disappear from the face of the Earth.” As such, Andrade engages in the very tactic some commentators, including Conrad Hamilton, have accused Peterson of: suggesting various implications about a writer’s work, while allowing enough distance to disavow said implications if they are explicitly suggested by readers.
Attempting to invalidate another’s position on the basis of direct or indirect insinuations that there is a comparison to be found with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party makes for an exercise in one of the least excusable of the logical fallacies: Reductio ad Hitlerum. Rachel Maddow, for instance, was one of the mainstream journalists to most notably turn Nazi comparisons into a political strategy. In her effort to equate Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign with the advent of a “well organized national fascist party” in America, she asserted that “fascism was not just a word or a way to insult one with whom you disagree with.” Maddow continued, “…it is a specific thing…a specific form of far-right politics that involves a sort of narcissistic cult of superman action around the party.”
In contrast, Princeton Professor Gianni Riotta warned in a January, 2016 Atlantic piece that though xenophobic rhetoric, demagoguery, and populist appeals certainly “borrow from the fascist playbook, “there is no fascism without a rational plan to obliterate democracy via a military coup.” Riotta said that the fascists who marched on Rome in 1922 were “relentlessly, violently focused on a clear goal: to kill democracy and install a dictatorship,” which was clearly not a part of the Trump presidential campaign.
Moreover, the frivolous use of the word fascism, “not only belittles past tragedies but also obscured future dangers.” Since Maddow’s prime time codification of the newest iteration of Reductio ad Hitlerum in 2015, it has become a favorite tactic of many on the left. Politicians such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke, and Tom Steyer’s willy-nilly Hitler references are a terrible insult to the actual victims of Nazi genocide, yet they have recently been joined by entertainers such as Linda Ronstadt. They have done it to Trump, and now they do it to Peterson, the latter of whom even devoted many of his own lectures to explaining how the evil of Hitler was truly unparalleled.
The Left might not own the means of production, but it greatly controls much of the discourse in cultural institutions, the academic world, and the mass media.
Not only ought Gabriel Andrade resist implying there are parallels to be found by Peterson and Hitler, but he also should keep in mind how many lives have been positively changed thanks to his ideas. For Andrade, who argues that Peterson, “still has time to avoid going down the path of Ayn Rand” and that his “unchecked views may be promoting a world that few sensible people would want,” I would counter that Andrade still has ample time to avoid going down the path of individuals whose negative fixations on Peterson have resulted in substandard scholarship.
Maybe, instead of belaboring a perceived failure of Peterson to disavow certain subsets of his readers, Andrade should disavow the absurd comparisons of thinkers one disagrees with (or disagrees in part with) to Hitler. So, Andrade writes that, “many, many contemporary intellectuals who have far more interesting things to say than Peterson.” Yet, after reading Andrade’s tired indulgence of a lazy logical fallacy, I am afraid that I can now say the same about Gabriel Andrade.
There is something Andrade can do to regain the credibility that he has lost in his latest article. It is to give Peterson the respect he deserves as a scholar and refrain from writing articles that reflect the very “unhealthy conspiratorial thinking” that Andrade claims to oppose. Otherwise, Andrade risks continuing the collectivist drift of his thinking and accepting his destiny as a contributing author to Everyone I Don’t Like Is Hitler: a Children’s Guide to Online Political Discussion.
But Andrade is correct about one thing; Peterson is someone truly resonating with people, and in turn, he is making some people very upset. All things considered, it is not Peterson—the person himself—that causes many of his detractors to feel such revulsion and anger but, rather, the ideas he promotes, ideas that are a repudiation of the identity politics of the left.
It is not so much the messenger as it is the message. Peterson offers an alternative means of understanding the world for so many, thus diminishing the power of many on the left as a result. I believe that there is a faction within the left that supports a type of authoritarian progressivism as nefarious in all aspects as the kind that Peterson is accused of supporting. The left might not own the means of production, but it greatly controls much of the discourse in cultural institutions, the academic world, and the mass media. Anyone interfering with that process would be attacked similarly.
Free speech is just one of the ideas that Peterson and his detractors disagree on. It is an ironic twist of fate that Peterson is now the preeminent spokesperson for today’s Free Speech Movement, which had its origins within the counterculture of the Left. Mario Savio was in many ways the Jordan Peterson of his era. He is considered to have been the voice of the Free Speech Movement, and, at one time, he was under investigation by the FBI.
In an address given at Sproul Hall, University of California in 1964, Savio asserted that:
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part…And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop…”
Despite the protestations of those such as Andrade, for many (in the United States and around the world), the idea of the heroic protagonist is intrinsic to our identity. For those of us who strive to uphold the principles of individualism, Peterson is a genuine hero, a paragon of virtue, and a man of great moral courage. We are indebted to Peterson for drawing his line in the sand—and doing what needed to be done in his effort to stop the machine. Little wonder that all his detractors have in response are the pettiest of cheap shots.
Tony D. Senatore graduated from Columbia University in 2017, at the age of 55. He is a well-known bassist and musician and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The artwork for this piece was contributed by Chris Baamonde, who can be reached at email@example.com.